Tag Archives: Georgia Art & Artists

Lizzie Jackson Monument, 1883, Milledgeville

The headstone marking the final resting place of Elizabeth “Lizzie” Jackson (15 January 1850-15 March 1883) in the African-American section of Memory Hill is worthy of special mention as a singular work of art. More importantly, it serves as validation that the influence of artistic movements generally associated with White communities also reached African-Americans. As headstones go it’s quite diminutive, scarcely a foot-and-a-half in height, but its visual appeal is unmistakable.

Lizzie Jackson was likely born into the institution of slavery and, though little is known of her life, research by Cynthia Jennings found that she was living at the time of the 1870 Census on Franklin Street, the same street Memory Hill Cemetery is located on. This section of town was predominately African-American well into the 20th century. Lizzie resided at the time with a Susan Palmer, who may have been her mother or grandmother. She was married and had a son (Randall) and daughter.

Dutch Henderson has studied this marker, and a couple others which have since been removed from the cemetery. The “missing” markers are similar to this this one and all feature a sunflower. They are all believed to have been accomplished as “side jobs” by an employee of the McMillan Brick Works of Milledgeville. This example is signed [R.J], which may represent Lizzie’s son, Randall. He would have had the schooling necessary to write the words. Lizzie’s husband and son were both involved in the brick industry at the McMillan Works.

As to the importance of artistic influence, the patterns draw heavily upon the emerging Arts and Crafts movement of the early 1880s. The movement focused on natural forms and the sunflower is among its notable icons. The top of the marker is “diapered”, a term for brick made with a repeating diamond pattern.

Vines and flowers were recurring themes of the movement, as well, especially in the patterns of William Morris, one of its most influential artist/designers.

National Register of Historic Places

Crawfish Monument, 2009, Woodbine

This whimsical crawfish sculpture was crafted by Camden County educator Carlos G. Jones, Jr., in 2009 for the annual Woodbine Crawfish Festival and is located at the Satilla River Waterfront Park.

Ebenezer Cemetery, McIntosh County

Izear Day [5 February 1915-18 January 1931]

Though the headstone pictured above is the most unique in the cemetery, I have chosen to document the site due to its considerable collection of vernacular headstones. Ebenezer (spelled Ebernezer on the sign) is actually two cemeteries, located off Churchill Road near I-95. A fenced section is the white cemetery while the surrounding larger cemetery is the domain of African-Americans, a few of whom were born into slavery and others who represent the first generation after emancipation. The African-American section is what is represented here.

Charlie Ifield Thorpe [Circa 1877-1914]

The predominant vernacular form in this cemetery is the homemade star-adorned headstone, a locally made type that is well-represented in the nearby Gould Cemetery at Harris Neck. It’s possible that all of these were the work of the same maker. They follow in no particular order but many of the examples are memorials for the Thorpe family.

Thelma B. Thorpe [Unknown-18 November 1941]
Alice Thorpe [5 December 185116 September 1923]
Eddie Thorpe [Circa 1880-1922]
James C. Thorpe [20 August 1847-16 March 1939]
Affie White [1842-16 August 1931]
Ida Leake [Circa 1885-1921]
Irvin Weldon [16 August 1909-19 February 1936]
Rachel (York) Shellman [1881-6 October 1923] Born at Broxton GA
Susie G. Ross [25 September 1855-6 April 1943]
Reverend Pompie Anderson [12 September 1870-7 May 1949]
James B. Churchill [17 January 1897-19 February 1951]
J. C. Churchill [22 May 1867-16 May 1951] This stone features an O. E. S. Masonic emblem but is eroding quickly.
Mary E. Churchill [5 July 1879-17 July 1968] Wife of J. C. Churchill
Mary J. Jackson [Unknown-9 September 1925]
Proverb R. Roberson [6 June 1910-18 December 1955] Private 548 Quartermaster Service BN World War II
Pernellar Roberson [Unknown-3 January 1925] Born in Buckville SC, Died in Christ
The headstone for Brother Willie N. Alston is professionally made, but his footstone (below) and those of two other family members are more modern interpretations of vernacular types common in African-American cemeteries of the early 20th century.
Brother Willie N. Alston [15 January 1895-December 1974] Footstone
Brian Keith Alston [1 September 1975-6 December 1983]
Jessie Alston [29 July 1941-14 July 1968]
Hattie Hillery [15 September 1881-10 January 1928] This stone is the same style as two found in Behavior Cemetery on Sapelo Island and may have connections to those.

Smith Grove Cemetery, Jefferson County

This well-maintained African-American cemetery contains a collection of vernacular headstones of statewide importance, both as artifacts of ingenuity in the face of adversity and as sacred ground to the loved ones of those interred here. Thanks to Cynthia Jennings for making me aware of the site. Smith Grove [Smiths or Smith’s in some references] members made the best of what was available to them, which was typical of rural congregations. Many of the memorials are nearly unreadable*, but consider that at the time they were made, most rural African-American schools were grossly underfunded and were barely able to provide the basics of an education, and the makers of these were likely “drawing” the letters as opposed to writing them. I believe Smith Grove Cemetery should be on the National Register of Historic Places.

*-All names and dates that follow are presumed to be correct but the nature of the script makes it difficult to be completely accurate

Triangular Headstones

There are four triangular memorials, likely all accomplished by the same maker. Dates on Findagrave for these stones are not completely accurate. The way the numbers are positioned makes it nearly impossible to determine an actual date, in most cases.

Alex Stone (10 August 1862-22 November 1930). The date of Mr. Stone’s birth would indicate he was likely born into slavery.
Ed Way (1873-?)
Billie Lee Way (1865-1902).
Reverend B. T. Smith (1900-?). It is possible that Reverend Smith was the first pastor here and of the family for whom the church was named. [The name is listed as B. C. Smith on Findagrave, but I believe that may be an error in translation].

Unique Headstones

Inell Belle (2 December 1932-1944). This unique memorial is perhaps the most interesting of all the vernacular headstones at Smith Grove. I believe it represents a crown and/or the trinity.

This is the back side of the Inell Bell monument.

Unknown Memorial. It appears at first to resemble a keystone, but I don’t know if that was intentional. The rectangle in the middle likely once served as a frame for a piece of glass that held something of importance. The grave of PFC Robert W. Lockhart (not pictured), while a simple form, also has such a space and retains the original glass.
This side of the memorial has an even more complicated appearance, including incised areas that seem to be purposeful.
Tora Hymes (18 February 1864-?). This is a small wedge-shaped stone. I am not sure if the name I have given is correct.
Unknown. Stacked stones were once a common way to mark burials in African-American and white cemeteries, especially in rural locations.

Round Headstones

Sanie Brown (2 December 1932-1944)
Jessie Campbell (1931-1953)
Willie J. Hymes (1895-1945)

Traditional (Rectangular/Square) Headstones

Mell Berrie (1890?-February 1930). This is identified as Nell Berrie on Findagrave but I believe it to be Mell.
Unknown Avera (1850-1936). The first name is unreadable but contains an “o”, and an “r”. The surname is misidentified on Findagrave as Iveya. Avera was a common name in the area at one time.
Elex Tyler (14 November 1933-14 July? 1934)
Tom Hymes (February 1886-January 1920)
Professor L. W. Seabrook (January 1864-October 1956). Many of the later headstones in the cemetery use a form slab and stenciled letters.
The beautiful churchyard at Smith Grove.

Bessie McKnight Jones Memorial, 1929, Sandy Bottom

Situated in a small isolated cemetery, this vernacular headstone is an extraordinary work of African-American folk art. Details indicate the hand of someone with above-average skills in the medium, especially the braided pony tail and the eyes and eyelashes. And though time has been relatively kind to the sculpture, gravity is now its greatest threat. The grave is buckling and, without stabilization, the headstone will likely fall face-forward in the future. At this point, there is no way to definitively determine the maker, but such memorials were often created by a parent or husband.

Very little is known about Mrs. Jones, but her death certificate states that she was a housewife and married to Lonnie Jones. Her father, John McKnight, was born in South Carolina in 1888, and her mother, Amelia ‘Mealie’ Montgomery, born in 1890, was also a native of South Carolina. They were all living in Clinch County in the first decade of the 20th century [this section of Clinch became part of Atkinson County upon its formation in 1917]. Bessie was born in 1908 and was 21 years old at the time of her death from malaria, on 2 November 1929.

I’m grateful to Cynthia Jennings for bringing this treasure to my attention. Cynthia and Mandy Green Yates accompanied me to the cemetery on a recent photo trip. Cynthia notes that she has encountered quite a few difficulties in researching Mrs. Jones’s family but has learned her husband Lonnie was a turpentine laborer, was 20 years older than Bessie, and that she was his second wife. She also notes that some of the McKnight family were in Virginia by the 1930s. She identified the following siblings in Bessie’s family tree: Prince; Mitchell; Lizzie A.; Venis; Varnetta; Hettie; and Maggie McKnight. Hopefully, these clues will lead to more information.

Randolph Cemetery, Harrisburg

Randolph Cemetery, set on a precipitous hillside southwest of Milledgeville, has the appearance of a typical early-20th-century African-American burying ground, with many handmade headstones and grave markers sourced from local materials. This monumental folk art arch makes it anything but a typical cemetery. [It might also be of interest that it is believed that a descendant of one of George Washington’s slaves is buried here].

The top of the arch contains relief carvings of oak leaves, plus some possible clues about the builder. Below a random series of letters and numbers [K PL47, perhaps designating Knights of Pythias Lodge 47?] and the phrase “He Watches Over Me” is what appears to be the date 1923 and the initials F B and ARB. It’s possible that the B is for Brown, as there are several Browns in this cemetery, but that is only a guess.

On both sides of the arch, there are relief depictions of traditional miners’ tools.
Considering that mining activity has persisted for the better part of two centuries in this area, it’s possible the builder was involved in the industry in some way. I even believe he may have used rock from his job in the construction of the arch. The shovel on the right (above) also has initials ending with the letter “B”.
Nearly as fascinating as the arch is this adjacent headstone for Cora Randolph (31 December 1875?-26 July 1924). If you look closely at the top of the marker you will see a handprint to the left. I’m grateful to my friend Cynthia Jennings, who has documented cemeteries in all 159 Georgia counties and has a particular interest in African-American cemeteries, for suggesting I find this place. It immediately became one of my favorite African-American cemeteries and I hope to learn more about the arch. It’s among the most important vernacular funerary monuments in Georgia.

Huie House, 1928, St. Simons Island

This early example of the International Style, designed by Macon architect Fred Stroberg, uniquely employees the local building material known as tabby to make a bold statement about the past and the future. It has also been referred to as “Mediterranean House” and the outline of a shed roof on the side indicates it may have had such a decorative element at one time, but it’s decidedly International in appearance and spirit, making it an even more significant landmark.

The house is primarily associated with the late Mildred Weigle Nix Huie (1907-2000). A native of Augusta, Mrs. Huie received a degree in Classical Education from Florida State University. She and her husband Carl purchased the house in 1967 and it remained Mrs. Huie’s home and studio until her death. Mrs. Huie was an accomplished Impressionist painter, sculptor and historian, and upon establishing the Left Bank Art Gallery in 1962, became an integral part of the St. Simons cultural scene, through the fostering of other artists and the free access she provided to her own collection as well as philanthropic pursuits.

Mrs. Huie’s daughter, Millie Wilcox, maintained the home as the Mildred Huie Museum for more than a decade after her mother’s death.

The property was the first site acquired by the St. Simons Land Trust in 2018 and though the museum itself is closed, the grounds are a welcome respite from the busy commercial area of Frederica Road, open and free to all.

Recycled Sculptures at Sunrise Farm, Warren County

These recycled iron/scrap sculptures represent mythological and real creatures. I’m not sure who the artist is, but it may be farm owner Mark Chalker. You can’t help but notice them as you drive past.

Sea Horse

Sea Turtles

Octopus

Phoenix, or Firebird. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but the Phoenix is mine. (The octopus came in a close second).

The Gourdmaster’s House, Sylvester

As I was driving through Sylvester with my parents recently I turned on a side street and this delightful home immediately caught my eye. I got shots of all the other houses I was interested in and couldn’t wait to take a closer look at this one. Moreover, I was surprised I’d never noticed it before.

It wasn’t easy tracking down information, but my father recalled having seen a fascinating story on the Albany news about a gentleman who was working on a community garden in Sylvester that included a banana farm. He thought, just perhaps, this could be his home.

I’m always excited to find a new art environment and this one was special. As I approached the house, I felt it wasn’t the work of a traditional folk artist, but rather that of a skilled and trained professional. I also knew the creator was sharing a vision. The images depicted on the house blend Native American and African iconography and seem to pay tribute to displaced and endangered peoples.

After a bit of research I discovered that it was, in fact, the home of the gentleman my father had suggested. His name is Sam X White, and he’s known by many as The Gourdmaster Sam X, for his masterpieces of gourd art. But Sam is a Renaissance man. He’s a community activist, art educator, supporter of 4-H, and the man behind Sylvester’s Village Community Garden. He’s an ambassador for so much more than art and I hope his neighbors love his work as much as I do. I hope to meet him in the future.

Iron Horse, 1954, Oconee County

Sculptor Abbott Pattison designed the 2-ton, 12-foot Pegasus Without Wings in 1954. The work was first sited at Reed Hall, but was immediately unpopular with students, who attempted to melt it by burning tires beneath it. The protest was so unwieldy that the fire department had to turn their hoses on the estimated 700 students to gain control of the situation. As a result of the controversy, the sculpture was removed, stored for a time in a warehouse, and in 1959 transported by night to a field owned by UGA horticulture professor L. C. Curtis near the Oconee-Greene County line. The “Iron Horse” stands here today, and visiting it has become a rite of passage for many UGA students . I met two, who extolled the benefits of visiting the countryside and their love of the sculpture, while I was photographing.

The sculpture has become perhaps the biggest tourist attraction in Oconee County and curious visitors from all over stop by to pay homage these days. The sculpture can be hard to spot when the surrounding fields are full of corn or sunflowers, but a crude parking lot off the side of Georgia Highway 15 across from a UGA sign identifying the location as the ‘Iron Horse Plant Sciences Farm’ lets you know you’re in the right place. Recently, the fate of the sculpture has become unclear, as the family who owns it wishes to transfer ownership back to the university, while keeping it on the farm. The university doesn’t want ownership unless they can return it to the campus. I think nearly everyone who loves the Iron Horse would agree that it should stay just where it is. Hopefully, they can figure it out.