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Protest art up another year

Mannequins splattered with red paint and protest signs spouting “Go faster!” have lined a stretch of N.C. 18 for nearly a year. According to the owner, the art is here to stay.
“I was going to take them down because there had not been a wreck since July 8,” said Rachel Watkins, who lives on N.C. 18 in west Lincoln. “But I guess I’ll keep it up another year.”
Watkins initially created the protest art after a car crashed in her yard right outside her bedroom window.
She hoped the spectacle would draw attention to the dangerous curve and prompt the Department of Transportation to make changes.
Since the night of July 8 when she feverishly put together the work, no wrecks have occurred. Vandalism, however, is a different story.
Mannequins have been stolen, pumpkins have splattered and most recently her yard was poisoned.
At first, Watkins just thought someone had cut her grass too short, but on further examination she realized what really happened.
“When I saw the trees turning rust colored, then I knew,” she said.
The spray was spread 10 feet wide through the length of her yard. She called a soil specialist to come take a sample of the site.
“This was not somebody with a little squirt bottle of round up,” Watkins said. “This was somebody with equipment to shoot 10 feet high.”
With her 100-year-old magnolia tree partially hit, Watkins became angry and decided not to retire the mannequins and signs.
“I was just devastated,” she said. “You know, we’re sending people to Iraq and Afghanistan to have a democracy and freedom, and yet people here get angry when people practice their freedom.”
Watkins considers her front yard a matter of free speech. Many neighbors, however, consider it an eyesore. They’ve called up the Department of Transportation requesting she be forced to take it down.
Watkins is doing nothing illegal, however, and it’s her prerogative to keep the art up another year, which is just what she’s decided to do.
She says she gets positive comments all the time. One man even stopped by and offered her a cash donation for more supplies.
“I guess the ones who don’t approve don’t speak to me,” she said.
As for the curve next to her house, she still considers it a safety hazard, but changes have been made since her initial protest.
The speed limit was lowered to 45 mph and reflective stickers were placed the road outside of her house.
On a snowy day, a snow plow lifted the reflective stickers off the road. Watkins gathered them all for later use.
She’s also unimpressed with the lower speed limit.
“The only thing that’s been done is that the speed limit has been reduced to 45 miles an hour, which has not been enforced,” she said.
She is now requesting a guard rail for the road outside her home, and she’s doing everything she can to get it.
Since the struggle began, her reputation has grown so much that some colleagues refer to her as famous.
“I don’t know about famous,” she said. “Maybe infamous.”

Mannequin parts and a row of wreaths and crosses reminds drivers to be safe. Sarah Grano / LTN Photo

by Sarah Grano

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