“Lean back and relax. Make yourself comfortable” he says as his eyes glance towards the lever on the dark blue leather recliner where I am sitting. He sits across from me in a matching chair. Clearly he has no trouble relaxing himself. I lean back and awkwardly bump my head on the reading lamp above it. I, however, am new to this.
I’m sitting at the home of local artist, professor, board member, philanthropist, executive director, iconoclast, neighborhood “mayor”, all around Renaissance man, Nick Bragg. He is a man of many titles. He is also my colorful neighbor and this is the first time we are having a proper chat.
When I first mentally committed to starting this project a few weeks ago, after many years of simmering on the idea, I instantly thought of Nick. To date, the only communication we have had involved him teasing me in someway as he casually walked by with his beloved companion, his pup, Mara. He has repeatedly threatened to steal from my garden when I’m asleep, calls my son Jesus because he’s convinced it was an immaculate conception (I assure him otherwise) and reminds me to vote (only if I’m a democrat, that is). We have a great banter but I have always been so curious to learn more. Everyone seems to know and adore him. And there I was, right around the corner clueless of it all.
When I pitched the (very loose and again, awkward) idea of this blog to Nick at the Cobblestone Market, he without hesitation said, “I’m in!” He gave me his card, donned with his caricature, and that was that.
That was three weeks ago and since then Nick and I have spent many lively hours perusing the city together. With his encouragement I have become fearless with pursuing this idea and even more passionate about becoming a dedicated and involved citizen in this community. “We need you,” he says and reminds me regularly to “be brave” when creating.
The thing is I’m not the only one who receives this encouragement and support from “don’t-call-me-Mr. Bragg”. Through stories and in-person I’ve witnessed him do this for countless others in and around the Winston-Salem community. His protégés have graced the pages of Architectural Digest, performed on Broadway, named their children after him, become wildly successful entrepreneurs and artists in their own right, and he still keeps in touch with them. Personally, each one. He might possibly be one of the most generous creatives I have ever known.
One of the first things he shared with me back in his gallery as I sat leaned back in that recliner was that “nothing of significance is created in isolation”. We often spin in our own orbits, doing our own thing but it’s imperative that we connect the dots. “And that’s what you’re doing,” he said. “History is everything,” he states with assuredness. “You cannot talk about war without talking about the art of the time. You cannot talk about art without considering the literature of the time.” He stands so firmly in this belief that he developed an entire graduate program for Wake Forest University called American Foundations for students to explore the arts freely as they relate to historical events.
His passion for history is also evident in each of the murals he creates. You most likely have laid your eyes on at least one of his commissioned murals around town – at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, the new Innovation Quarter complex or the Winston Salem Foundation offices. We realized how small this world really is when he shared one of his most recent pieces exploring the history of Oxford, North Carolina, which happens to be both his hometown and that of my stepfather as well as the setting of my uncle’s book. A book he actually cites for his piece in the extensive bibliographies that accompany each of his works.
His art is intentional just like his life. “Everyday I paint, I play piano and I write,” he shares. When I ask why, he says simply, “because that is my life.” He has both ADD and dyslexia, which has been a misunderstood struggle for him for most of his life. “I have to stay busy,” he says. But one of the most important things he has learned is to “stay present” in the day, in each moment. “It took me a long time to get to that understanding; it is imperative to a happy life.”
When I originally sat down to chat with Nick I was labeling him as an artist, which he is, a phenomenal one at that. But I quickly realized there is so much more to his story. He is really a master of connection. “A gift to this city,” another Townie shared. He is generous with his time and energy. He believes in others and especially this city. “Winston-Salem is in the middle of a renaissance. I came here during the heyday of tobacco. We both agreed we are thrilled to witness this new revival being led by innovation and the arts.
It has only been three weeks since I began this project and I am already grateful for the experience. If nothing else comes because of TowniesWS, I am forever thankful that it led me to Nick and I now have the pleasure of calling him my friend. ~Andrea