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Watson Brown

Backroads: The Down East Photography of Watson Brown

“…I’d rather just take this book of county maps, go to a county, and just start driving. I get lost all the time, but I don’t worry about it,” Watson Brown said of his methods in his hobby-turned-second career as a photographer. Brown now spends his days journeying down rural roads in search of glimpses of lives once lived. He documents everything from abandoned houses and aging structures, to old furniture and lonely landscapes, seeking to immortalize the forgotten and rapidly disappearing places that make Eastern North Carolina so unique.

Historic preservation has always been a passion for E. Watson Brown.

As a young adult, he received his Bachelor’s degree in Geography and Urban Planning from Eastern Carolina University, and subsequently his Master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning from UNC Chapel Hill. Through a 30-year career in public service, Brown served as both the Planning Director of Tarboro, NC and the Senior Planner of Raleigh, NC. Managing to intertwine his passions with his job, his work often combined the Arts, Urban Design, Landscaping, and Historic Preservation. Notably, Watson Brown was incredibly influential in Tarboro’s acquisition of the largest collection of works by NC artist Hobson Pitman in the country. These works are now housed in the General Thomas Blount Mansion located in the Tarboro Historic District. Brown retired from City Planning in 2004, leading him to leave Raleigh and return home to Eastern NC, where he continued to explore his passions and restored his family’s 1854 plantation home.

Upon the completion of the majority of this project (maintenance of the plantation does, of course, necessitate ongoing attention), Watson Brown felt he was going stir-crazy. He no longer knew how to put his interests into action, as he had spent his life doing, up to this point. So, he took to photography, hoping to capture the ways of rural life before they disappeared altogether.

“My photography records memories. It creates a unique artistry that takes your mind and soul back to another place in time. It evokes feelings of your childhood, your parents and your grandparents, and of those simpler times of long ago. It documents how we once lived and worked, and the places that we called home,” Brown once described.

Though a self-taught artist, Watson Brown has carved out a niche with his work, creating a distinctive art form through the use of textures, light, shadow, and unique overlays which endow his work with an almost haunting aesthetic sense of nostalgia. Brown’s photographs are even often mistaken for paintings.

Gallery C proudly represents Watson Brown. Prices range from 200.00-400.00. Call or email for pricing.

The artist can be contacted by email at planterboy@embarqmail.com, and his work is also featured on Flickr, viewable here.

Watson Brown has been named “Tarheel of the Week” by the Raleigh News & Observer,  and was featured in a Salt Magazine article by William Irvine, titled “Preservation Man” (viewable here).  He is also an “Order of the Long Leaf Pine” recipient– a prestigious gubernatorial award. Furthermore, Brown was featured on WRAL’s “Tar Heel Traveler” segment, which can be viewed here.


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