Conveying Grief Through Art

Student exhibits art project on Lenoir's lost furniture industry

The city of Lenoir, North Carolina lost thousands of jobs when the furniture manufacturing industry moved overseas for cheaper labor. Growing up, Appalachian State University student Jennifer Livingston knew her hometown's economic future looked bleak. Years later, she began asking laid-off workers about their mental and emotional anguish.

The senior art major used digital video equipment beginning in Fall 2007 to record interviews with residents who lost their jobs during the furniture industry's exodus. Her project, titled "Lenoir: Former Furniture Capitol of the South," culminated in a solo exhibit in Lenoir's historic Bernhardt-Seagle Building in April.

"I started the project by talking with my uncle and looking into different things relating to my hometown. After interviewing him, I felt passionate about this and decided it was something I wanted to pursue," said Livingston, who plans to pursue an art career on either the West or East coast.

Livingston interviewed 15 people in their homes, asking how they felt about their jobs and what it meant to be laid off, as well as what they predicted for Lenoir's economic future.

"They were very open," she said. "Most were sad because they felt the industry was here for so long and all the people in Lenoir gave so much to the furniture industry. They weren't angry, just sad."

Most weren't sure what the future holds, but most agreed that some similar manufacturing industry needed to come back.

Livingston took the four best interviews, edited each to five minutes, and then projected each one onto a white-painted piece of furniture similar to furnishings in that person's home. She hoped the installation's 3-D effect would help personalize a community concern.

"We all know what's going on, but we don't think about how it really affects people besides just the obvious financial ways. It also affects people mentally and emotionally. If you don't have money to pay your mortgage and are facing foreclosure, that becomes more than just a financial strain," she said.

Livingston has exhibited her work regionally in group shows since 2004. She presented her first solo exhibition—a large-scale, site-specific installation addressing consumer consumption and waste—in Looking Glass Gallery on the Appalachian campus.

Livingston has worked as a gallery assistant for the university's Catherine J. Smith Gallery and the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts for the past three years. In 2006, she received the Windgate Museum Internship Fellowship and worked as a curatorial intern at the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum in Wausau, Wis.

She will graduate in August with a bachelor of science degree in art management and a bachelor of fine arts degree in studio art.

Funding for "Lenoir: Former Furniture Capitol of the South" was provided by Appalachian's Prestigious Scholars Grant and other campus funding.