Artwork Found Project In New Bern

Jan 10, 2014

We talk about a local community art project promoting creative awareness and leaving random acts of artistic kindness around town.

Art.  It’s created with imagination, it expresses feeling and sometimes it’s found in the most unusual places.  Take a stroll in downtown New Bern and you might find handmade treasures hiding in trees along the sidewalk.  A project called Artwork Found seeks to promote creative awareness by leaving small pieces of art around public places in hopes someone will find it and give it a good home.  Michaelé Rose Watson is a local conceptual based artist and ceramics instructor at Craven Community College. 

“This is making random acts of art to put in public spaces for other people to find, just for strangers to find because what you want to do is share the experience of art.”

Watson is also the founder of the Artwork Found project.  Similar projects are happening across the country but she says the idea came from an art conference she attended in 2012.

“It seemed to me that this is a new thing that’s going around for schools and universities is to have students make things and have them leave them around campus for other people to find. So I made an assignment at school, it started two years ago at Craven Community College and I made it an assignment for my students and they each had to make 10 pieces of art, of something out of clay, and leave it all over campus.  It was a huge success and we just kept going with it.”

Eventually, other local artists heard about the idea and wanted to participate. Watson started the website in January of last year as a way to let local artists submit their work and to keep track of lost art that’s been found.  Watson says last November was the largest lost art event in downtown New Bern to date.

“We made a little blurb on our Facebook page hey who wants to be a part of “losing art” for Black Friday and we had 50, 60, 70 artists just come together and say we want to do this. So on Black Friday, we just had paintings and jewelry and all kinds of things all over downtown.  It was just this huge, huge wonderful thing that happened.”

There is a variety of art that has been placed around downtown New Bern, including vases, decorative ceramic tiles, pottery, jewelry, and small paintings.   Watson encourages artists to be creative in coming up with items to hide.  But this artistic freedom yields some pretty unusual items, such as ceramic eyeballs, whimsically painted birdhouses, and a sphere painted like a Poke Ball, from the animated tv show and card game Pokemon. Each item includes a tag with the words, “FREE” and “if found, please send a message and photo of new home.”

“People have been sending in emails of things that they’ve found.  So if you go to the site, you’ll see artist what they’ve left, and then there’s a section of what’s been found. It’s just all these people that have found work and art and they’ve taken it to their home and have a little something to say and it’s pretty cool.”

Mary Anne Horn is an artist and board member of Community Artists Will.  Her primary medium is acrylic and watercolor paint, but loves experimenting.

“I would consider myself a dabbler.”

Horn’s first Artwork Found experience was during the Black Friday lost art event.  Since then, she’s placed four different pieces downtown for people to find, including small paintings and a pair of copper earrings she made.

“It’s very exhilarating you know what I mean?  First of all, to share, it takes a lot of courage to share, especially a new artist.  It’s so exhilarating.  I have to say, I peeked to see someone pick up one of my pieces.”

Most of the lost artwork is placed on Craven and Middle Streets in downtown New Bern.  However, Michaelé Rose Watson says when some of the artists that are part of the project go on vacation, they leave their art in a public space with the tag attached hoping someone will find it.

“We’ve had pieces go to Canada, California, up north, Massachusetts, New York, we’ve also had… I also have a lot of students that are Marines, you know spouses whatnot. So their spouses are taking pieces of work over to the Middle East and leaving them over there.”

Watson has hopes of Artwork Found being a global project, maybe even reaching out of this world.

“If an astronaut finds a piece of something and it ends up orbiting the planet, I mean nothing would please me more than to see something, you know with that little tag floating in space, it would just be the best.”

Watson says almost all of the lost artwork is found.  However, only about 5% of people send a message saying they’ve found a piece.  Of the people who reply, most of them have a great story to tell.  Chris Wagner, an acrylic painter from New Bern placed a small painting in Mitchell Hardware in downtown New Bern.   

“With the help of the owner Greg, we found a nice little spot on a wine shelf. And I went back that afternoon to see if we had had any luck on it. And he said yeah, I got this great story. This woman came up clutching your painting with this huge smile on her face and she says we have a dog just like the one in this painting and it reminds us so much of him. When they were able to get home, the image of my painting was a boy sitting with a dog, they recreated it with a photograph. And so they posted at the lost and found website. So it’s kinda neat to see my image with the one they had taken.”

The goal of the project isn’t so much to track the piece of art and find out where it eventually ends up.  Rather, Watson says it’s to inspire and encourage people to reflect on how important art is in our lives.

“I put out several hundred of these packets little ceramic seeds for people to hold on to and what they are, Seeds of Possibilities. It’s your ideas, what are your ideas?  How do your ideas differ from our ideas, my ideas? Anyone elses?  What is it that you love and want to create that I haven’t thought about? You know, surprise us.  Let’s surprise each other.  How creative can we be?  And that’s what I want, I want to bring back that spark in our world, in our culture, in our community.”

Anyone can be a part of the Artwork Found project by leaving a random act of artistic kindness in a local public place.  There are some tips on places to leave your work so it will be found and what types of work to leave at the project website,  We’ve provided a link at our website- along with some photos of the art that you might find hiding in downtown New Bern.