Doesn’t every place we love deserve a postcard tribute? The mountain cabin, the beach cottage, but also the everyday scenery — our homes and favorite walks, the routes we drive daily?

Chapel Hill artist Elaine O’Neil specializes in the joy of place, and though her version of a postcard is larger and far more intricate, it functions the same way: Hang a piece of hers and let it conjure up your memories of a location. See how people take in the scene, how they step forward, drawn by the bright colors, and — wait! From far away, it looks like a painting, but this single piece is made up of many pieces. It’s a textile collage, layers of cotton and wool, velvet and silk.

“Some people don’t know it’s a textile collage until they can come up and touch it,” O’Neil says. She declares fabric, with its warmth and textures, “perfect for an heirloom piece like this.”

People commission portraits of their favorite places, and O’Neil recreates not only a scene but also a memory. “I want it to look the way you feel, not the way it looks,” she says. “That happiness you’ve experienced.”

And so her pieces have their own geography, whimsical details, and an energy that sets trees and buildings at a tilt. A collage O’Neil created for a recent Wake Forest University graduate portrays his dormitory inches from a map of his trip to Europe; the Demon Deacon on a motorcycle; and, if you look closely, the graduate’s many lost iPhones, scattered like Easter eggs in the shrubs.

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O’Neil spends hours planning, cutting out, and stitching together these little worlds, many of them places in North Carolina. Her yearly “Luv This Place” calendar features scenes of our state, from farmers markets to Fontana Dam.

When O’Neil and her family moved to North Carolina from Maine in 1996, they found “students learning and doctors healing, mountains and beaches. Everything is here,” she says. “When you’re new to a place, you’re dazzled by it; you don’t see it the same way as someone who grew up there.” Nearly 20 years later, her unflagging enthusiasm help reminds us why we love it here. Her collages are more than just postcards. They’re love letters to our state, as layered as memory itself.

This story was published on

Saintsing is an assistant editor at Our State magazine and a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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