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The Shrine Room in Carrboro is meant to inspire

Objects hang on the walls of The Shrine Room at Cameron's in Carrboro. Photos courtesy of Bridget Pemberton-Smith. 

Objects hang on the walls of The Shrine Room at Cameron's in Carrboro. Photos courtesy of Bridget Pemberton-Smith. 

Inspired by the many shrines of South America, Danny Cameron brought a little bit of his travels back to his craft store, Cameron's, in Carrboro — and The Shrine Room was born.

Current co-owner Bridget Pemberton-Smith, who took over Cameron's with her sister after Cameron retired to Mexico, said he came back and wanted to design a similar space he saw in other countries 15 years ago.

“He was inspired by the shrines in the people’s yards and their houses — I think it is very cultural, where they have shrines for different things, and he was inspired by that and wanted to do something like it in the store,” she said. “However, he wanted it to be non-denominational because a lot of the shrines in those countries are Catholic based. He wanted a shrine that anyone could enjoy and where nothing was for sale.”

Cameron said the only purpose of the space is to make it a place that people came out feeling happier from.

“I got the idea of a space that was very tranquil, and originally there was something written on the wall that sort of said, ‘Step out of virtual reality for a while and enter a space where everybody is included, every religion, et cetera,’” he said. “We found a song, ("Always Look on the Bright Side of Life") and put that on a loop, and the whole idea was just for someone to be caught by surprise when they are in the store and not know exactly what it was." 

Pemberton-Smith said the shrine room has both spiritual aspects, relaxing qualities or is just a place to ask Elvis for help. 

It all depends on the visitor.

“It’s pretty much a rectangular space, where we have covered the walls and the ceiling all the way up and down with colors and objects," she said. "There is a lot of religious imagery from different religions like Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism — we try to represent as many as we can, but there are other things that are fun and whimsical that could be spiritual for other people, such as water or the sun.”

Kara Ikenberry, a long-time employee at Cameron’s, was put in charge of arranging the new shrine room after Cameron’s moved from University Place to it’s current location near Cat’s Cradle.

“When we moved here to our new location, about 80 percent of people would ask about The Shrine Room, so they asked me about putting it back together,” she said. “It’s been very important to people. I knew it was going to be different, but I really wanted people to like it and so far the response has been positive."

One visitor, Jane Ann Wambaugh, said that the shrine room is a must-stop place for her every time she visits Carrboro, because every time she comes by there is always something new to see.

“It makes me feel like I’m with old friends,” she said.  “There are always the things that I look for and always find. I left a picture of my youngest son and his wife’s engagement picture and I always find it there.”

Wambaugh said she felt compelled to leave the picture because she wanted to share the important moment with others who visit the shrine room.

“I have left other things but that was the most important and nobody ever touches it, it is always there," she said. "It's a great place for trust."

It has gotten so much attention that Meg McGurk, the organizer of the 2nd Friday Art Walk, asked to have The Shrine Room become its own venue for the walk, Pemberton-Smith said. 

“The Shrine Room is kind of an art installation itself — it changes and is an evolving art piece — and last month was sort of the debut for The Shrine Room in the art walk,” she said. “We celebrated the opening with an Elvis focus to it where we had donuts sponsored by Rise Biscuits Donuts, which were Elvis's favorite snacks.” 

From tiny pictures of loved ones left in corners, chairs made of golden macaroni, depictions of Jesus, images of Frida Kahlo or Elvis to various quotes and pieces of paper with thoughts left behind by previous visitors, The Shrine Room is always changing.

And that is one of the many reasons why Wambaugh is drawn to it.

“What I love about it is that it is both spiritual and ridiculous, and I think that that is the whole intent of it— you get out of it whatever you want out of it.”


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