Book of photos of country stores full of history
“Country Stores in North Carolina,” by Tony Craig. Mock Turtle Press. Mount Clemens, Mich. 151 pp. $34.95.
By Deirdre Parker Smith
Tony Craig’s first book is “Country Stores in North Carolina,” but his work as an artist goes back to childhood.
This book of black-and-white photographs is a horse of a different color for Craig, an artist who had his dream job with Disney for 15 years.
An animator for shows like “Tiny Toon Adventures,” “Timon and Pumbaa” and “Animaniacs,” among others, he’s still working as a freelancer for “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse,” but he’s focusing now on his own art.
“I was going to do a book about Route 66,” but someone beat him to it, so he scrapped the idea. “But I had all these photos.” A woman who worked with him on “Rescuers Down Under” saw the pictures and suggested he keep shooting.
He did a show of his photography, all North Carolina pictures, and realized he could do an entire picture book of old country stores alone.
He grew up in Albemarle and his parents still live there. He’s looking for a studio/gallery/performing space in Salisbury. He envisions rustic walls for display and a “front porch kind of thing” inside, for some of the bluegrass musicians he has met. Maybe with a gas pump, too. Non-functioning, unfortunately.
The process of actually getting his book out took a little longer than he hoped. October was the first goal, to hit the Christmas shoppers, but it was April before the book, published by Mock Turtle Press, literally arrived on his doorstep.
When it’s your own work, unloading 6,000 pounds of books isn’t as crazy as it sounds.
Now, with a booksigning scheduled for Friday’s Night Out on the Town and a June 17 event planned at the Bob Timberlake Galleries in Lexington, it’s all worthwhile.
In addition to animation and photography, he paints highly detailed photorealistic watercolors.But with this book, which showcases several of Rowan’s stores, and old places all round the state, he’s thinking of a television series about the stores.
The “Country Stores” book includes a forward by Sue Blanchard, in which she writes, “With his photography, Tony shows us a window into a long lost world. Look through that window, and you may find some of your own memories peeking back at you.”
Craig writes in his introduction that his family’s trips from Albemarle to Atlantic Beach, a 25-year-tradition, triggered the idea for the book.
“It wasn’t until I began driving myself and meeting up with the rest of the family that I began to take notice of the empty, forgotten buildings that once served as local country stores, gas stations, or cafes.”
He divides the book into sections: The first, “Lingering Ghosts,” shows places that are abandoned and slowly disintegrating; the second, “Vintage Signs,” displays advertising signs from the stores; the third, “Silent Stations” is about abandoned gas stations; the fourth, “Gas & Grocery” shows places that still serve; and the fifth, “Continuing Tradition,” shows stores that have survived the years and keep on going.
Because he lives in an old grist mill in Stokes County, Craig has a number of pictures from that area.
Rowan County pops up several times, in a photo of an unnamed store on U.S. 52 and in several pages of signs from Gary’s Bar-B-Q. There’s also Kluttz Grocery and Fifty-Fifty.
There’s a familiar “square-ness” to many of the oldest stores, many with a stepped front wall, as if the architecture announced, “Stop here.”
Voracious vines attach themselves to the old wood, forcing it apart as the buildings decay. Craig has captured some of these buildings just in time.
Gary’s Bar-B-Q in China Grove provides much of the fodder for his signs section. Most of Gary’s signs are clean and clear, while some of older ones are decorated with rust and bullet holes.
Two popular country stores, Mast General in Watauga County and Todd in Ashe County, show the diversity of what survives.
Todd’s store looks like it has taken root in the past, with its metallic, printed block siding, and its hunched position in the hillside.
Bustling Mast Store, with its bright, white building seems to wave at the tourists looking for a little nostalgia.
Craig’s book would be an ideal gift for anyone in the state or for people who like to see history in the most basic of structures.
Tony Craig will sign iCountry Stores in North Carolinaî on Friday, 7-9 p.m., at Literary Bookpost, 119 S. Main St.