Golden Belt provides an artistic community

By Jessica Seaman
UNC Co-Editor
the Durham VOICE

In Christine Long’s art studio about 12 oil paintings of various sizes hang on a wall made of beige Italian plaster. The painting that stands out among the many landscapes and still lifes is a painting that is 5 feet tall and is 3 feet wide. Besides the size, the painting attracts attention because unlike the other paintings, it tells the story of a person.

In 1996, Christine Long began studying the classical academic approach to oil painting with a teacher who had taught himself the techniques of the Renaissance, that artists like Leonardo da Vinci used. Here she works on a still life. (Staff photo by Jessica Seaman)

The painting is of a black man that is clothed in only a red loincloth and has a muscular body. He is turned to the side as his hands are restrained in a metal chain that is wrapped around a white column that he faces. On the man’s faces is a look of struggle as he tries to break free from the chains.

“It’s about overcoming adversity,” Long said about the painting.

The 63-year-old artist said her inspiration for the piece of art came from a 19-year-old patient she met when she was a nurse in 2005. Long said the patient was an athlete from Durham who entered the unit because he had cancer in his chest—just outside of his lungs. Long said although the student later died, his strength during his fight against the cancer inspired her to create the painting titled, “The Triumph of Samson.”

“He had such spirit in trying to conquer his cancer,” Long said. “That was what I was trying to memorialize in the painting.”

“The Triumph of Samson” hangs in Long’s art studio at Golden Belt Manufacturing Company, which is home to about 40 artists.


Golden Belt is an old textile factory that used to process cotton into thread and produced pouches for Bull Durham tobacco. Golden Belt quit operating as a textile factory in 1996 and since then it has been restored to be a place where people work and live, according to Golden Belt’s website. There are now lofts, studios, offices and restaurants at Golden Belt, which is located at 806 E. Main St. in Durham.

Golden Belt has 35 open-air artist studios that encircle the central gallery in Room 100 which is run by the Durham Art Guild, said Jessie Brown, management assistant for Scientific Properties, the company that owns Golden Belt.

Rachel Campbell, 47, who also has a studio at Golden Belt and appreciates the secure feeling at the studios, said, “I never had any worries. No one has felt threatened.”

In fact, she says the studios at Golden Belt actually have a community feel.

Artist Matt Tomko agrees. “It’s been an awesome place to interact with other artists as well as to meet with the public,” he said. “Third Friday seems to get better each month. Crowds are getting larger and more of the area continues to find us.”

Third Friday is a Durham-wide art event when the artists are on-site with their studios open, said Brown.

Long and other artists said that having studios at Golden Belt has helped them get more public recognition

“There is a lot of walk-in traffic,” said artist Chad Hughes, 53. “More people are beginning to find us.”

Long said the increase in traffic has helped her sale more paintings in an economy where art has become luxury.