Hosting guests this weekend took me to the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History in Kennesaw, Georgia. It has been a while since I last visited and I’m pleased to say it remains great. The showpiece is the General, the locomotive hijacked by Union troops under the command of James Andrews on April 12, 1862, thereby inaugurating the Great Locomotive Chase: the rightful conductor, William Fuller, first pursued on foot, then by handcar, and then using successively the engines Yonah, William R. Smith, and Texas (which will be put on display at the Atlanta History Center later this year).
Congratulations to Prof. Ken Wheeler on his paper delivered at the Annual Meeting of the Georgia Association of Historians this past weekend at Georgia Highlands College in Rome, entitled: “Racial Expulsion and a Myth of Whiteness: Why Reinhardt Normal College Abandoned the New South and Became a Mountain School.” This is based on an article forthcoming in the Appalachian Journal, which I have had the privilege to read, and which begins:
Founded in 1883 at the edge of southern Appalachia in northern Georgia, Reinhardt Normal College initially reflected a New South ideology of its German-American founders, who saw the school as part of a larger vision that included mining, business development, and transportation improvements. By 1900, however, a second generation articulated a different story of the college, in which they presented Reinhardt as a missionary outpost among an isolated and ignorant, though promising, population that required moral uplift. For the founding generation, the hilly, even mountainous, topography surrounding their school signified the waterpower that could be harnessed to power mills and factories, but for the second generation the landscape signified a geographically and culturally remote locale in which the school operated. What stayed constant was a racial outlook in which the first generation advocated ridding the area of people of African descent, and the second generation either echoed that aspiration or presented the school as though racial purification had already happened and Reinhardt existed in an all-white setting.
(Cf. VPAA Mark Roberts’s talk last fall, wherein he argued that the Appalachian “hillbilly” was the valued repository of an unsullied original “Anglo-Saxon” culture.)
Given this history, one can see why the admission of James T. Jordan was such a significant event, and worth remembering.
Congratulations are also due to Prof. Wheeler on being awarded a sabbatical leave next spring to work on his book, Creation and Destruction in the Cherokee Country: Georgia’s Etowah Valley 1829-1865.
From Arts Atl, courtesy my friend Gene Harmon. This looks like fun:
Preview: Atlanta History Center’s “Atlanta in 50 Objects” is as Eclectic as it is Evocative
January 11, 2016
By JEFF STAFFORD
If you could choose one object to represent a favorite memory or iconic experience from your life in Atlanta, what would you choose? A childhood memory of riding Priscilla the Pink Pig at Rich’s department store or visiting Willie B. at the zoo? Perhaps it would be witnessing Hank Aaron hit his 600th career home run. Or maybe it would be a defining moment in civil rights history like Dr. Martin Luther King’s acceptance speech for the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize.
Atlanta in 50 Objects, an exhibition at the Atlanta History Center which will debut January 16 and run through July 10, marks a distinct departure from the museum’s previous shows: It was curated by Atlanta itself.
Overseeing the project were Don Rooney, director of exhibitions, and guest curator Amy Wilson. Rooney’s organizational efforts with Wilson’s eye and creativity managed citizens’ suggestions which were solicited through social media, radio, newspaper ads and on-site suggestion boxes. The exhibit’s final selections are representative of the top 50 finalists. As expected, it is an eclectic but evocative reflection of a city in transition that reflects on its past (a figurine from the original diorama at the Cyclorama) while contemplating the present (Michonne’s sword from The Walking Dead television series).
Certain objects distinguished themselves as front-runners from the outset, such as Ramblin’ Wreck. Acquiring the automobile wasn’t quite as simple as some may assume — there’s more than one Ramblin’ Wreck. “The history of Ramblin’ Wreck at Georgia Tech,” Rooney notes, “dates back 60 years or so now. There are three official Ramblin’ Wrecks. One doesn’t have an engine in it and it goes to events. One is driven out onto the field at football games and the one we have has most recently been living at the Georgia Tech Hotel & Conference Center.”
More at the link.
By special arrangement with the author, below is the full text, and some of the illustrations, of Theresa Ast’s talk today in Hill Freeman Library. Be sure to stop by the library in the next month to view more of this remarkable woman’s oeuvre.
Wanda Maria Kowalska Ast was my paternal grandmother, my BABCIA (Polish for grandmother). I will be sharing some of her artwork with you, but I also want to tell you a little bit about her life. Babcia was born in Germany in 1909 and shortly thereafter her family moved to Poland where she spent the next four decades of her life, where she married and had four children.
The Ast Family, Wanda, her husband Edmund who was a sculptor, and their four children – Jacek, Marek, Justin, and Krystyna – survived the Nazi invasion and occupation of Poland. They were Catholic, so they were not specifically targeted by the Nazis as were the Jews, Gypsies, and people on the political Left, but this is not to say that the Nazis treated anybody in Poland with respect or benevolence. Everyone was afraid of the Nazis, as they were violent, cruel, and perhaps worst of all, unpredictable.
Whenever Nazi detachments or tanks came rolling through their small, usually quiet, town, Babcia and her children would grab the pillows and quilts off their beds and hide in a nearby forest. The quilts and pillows kept the children comfortable and just in case they were still hiding after dark they could sleep in the forest. Edmund was away serving in the Polish Air Force as an aerial photographer, but he and his fellow airmen were quickly captured and he spent the duration of the war in a German POW camp. Wanda and her children lived with her husband’s parents after Edmund was captured.
When the first “liberating” Soviet troops marched into Poland, in the winter of 1944, the Polish people felt hopeful. They did not realize at first that the Soviet Communists would soon be an occupying army rather than a liberating army. The family did not fare well at all under the post war Soviet occupation, not because they had been Nazi sympathizers, but because they were capitalists! My great-grandfather, Wanda’s father-in-law owned a substantial business employing twenty workers and lived quite comfortably prior to the war. So to the occupying communist authorities, the Ast family was suspected of being Western-sympathizing capitalists.
When my grandfather Edmund was liberated from the POW camp in 1945, he did not return to his hometown. He had been warned by family and friends not to come home while the Soviets soldiers still occupied the it. He made it to the American Occupation zone in Germany on foot. A year later Wanda joined him there and they worked various jobs for the American Military Government for five years, started saving money, and planned for their future and the future of their children. Meanwhile the children, who ranged in age from six to twelve remained in Poland in the care of their grandparents.
Babcia emigrated with her husband and children, just as soon as they had saved enough money and could book passage from West Germany to America. When they left Germany, they each had one suitcase; they had to leave everything they owned and everybody they loved behind. A Catholic sponsor family was waiting for them in Maryland; they would help them adjust to their new life in America. They arrived at Ellis Island in 1951 and spent a few weeks with their sponsoring family. Fortunately, the local community had connections in Georgia and they secured Edmund a job in Marietta, Georgia.
After they moved south, Edmund, who earned his living as a sculptor in Poland began working for a local marble and granite company that polished headstones and grave markers. They bought a house on “Marble Mill Road” in Marietta. Their three younger children started attending school and the two boys, Marek and Justyn, were in the same class together and really liked their teacher. Babcia told her sons to ask their teacher if she would be willing to tutor adults in English. Their teacher, Betty Jo Baker agreed to give Wanda and Edmund English lessons, and started visiting the family home. The oldest son, Jacek, at 17 was not in school, but worked alongside his father to help support the family. He married the school teacher in 1953 and I am the oldest of their four children.
I did not have a typical relationship with my Polish grandparents. My father joined the Air Force and we often lived far away from Georgia. However, I did return to Georgia to attend college and got to know my grandparents quite a bit better. They were intense people: very hardworking, opinionated, creative, volatile, artistic, self-assured, demanding, loving, and challenging. Spending time with them was always a memorable, and occasionally, even a mildly disturbing experience. Wanda was extremely verbally expressive, intensely curious, a perennial student in every way possible, quite emotional, with a decided flair for the artistic and the dramatic.
During the years when we did not live in Georgia, Babcia had kept house, raised her other three children, worked as a dietician in a local hospital, refused to learn to drive a car (I never found out why), remained a devout and practicing Catholic walking about fifteen blocks to Mass several times a week, and kept working on improving her spoken and written English (she already spoke Polish, French, and German).
Before long she began writing stories and poetry, lots and lots of poetry, often winning awards from the Georgia Writers Association. Then, as her younger children grew up and moved out of the family home she shifted her interests to drawing and painting; she began by drawing in chalk (primarily Biblical scenes – I remember a chalk drawing of the young shepherd boy David facing the Philistine giant Goliath- unfortunately I do not have any of her chalk drawings as they do not hold up well over time. After chalks, Babcia moved on to working with watercolors in the early 1970s which is just about when I returned home to attend Kennesaw State College, as it was known as the time.
I inherited quite a few of Babcia’s oil paintings and batiks, but I do not have any of her original watercolors. What I do have are photographs of a few of her watercolors. From 1975 on she was busy painting, taking an occasional art class, and preparing her watercolors for various exhibits and art shows. She had art shows at colleges, including Georgia State and Kennesaw State, in local churches and parishes, at art fairs on the Marietta and Roswell city squares, and at some of the larger banks. Banks, closed on Sundays of course, often offer their lobbies and common areas as spaces for painting or sculptural exhibitions. At many of these art exhibits, someone was usually taking pictures, so a record has been preserved even though the originals are gone.
Babcia did a few representational watercolors (in other words she did paint lifelike scenes from nature), but many of her watercolors were abstract. All of her life she experimented with different formulations and types of watercolors, as well as a variety of painting surfaces, including canvas, paper, and fabric. Her experimentation with different materials was part of her lifelong fascination with, and attempt to achieve, a variety of textural effects. In this, she was not unlike any number of impressionist painters for whom texture was as important as color palette or composition.
During the years when I was raising my children, Babcia moved on to oil paintings. She took several classes at Georgia State University, both Art History courses and Studio Painting courses. She spent a short time experimenting with abstract paintings, where there is no clearly identifiable object or scene. However, all of the individual portraits on display here were based on models who came and sat for the classes, they are drawn in a realistic style, although Babcia always tended to utilize intense and heightened color combinations in her work.
As far as I know she did not paint her family members or friends, or if she did, those paintings were either sold or given away before I ever saw them, and I can find no photographs. Lastly, I want to point out that you can see the influence of artists from the Modern period, roughly 1880-1940, particularly in her nudes. Many of them are impressionistic, with blurred lines and very intense color palettes, showing the influence that some modernist painters had on her. However, she never went through a Picasso Phase, for which I am grateful.
In her seventies Babcia began experimenting with, and mastered, the physically arduous process of “batiking” – which involved applying hot wax to fabric, letting it completely dry, and then dipping the fabric into large tubs of hot dye, then pressing the fabric between layers of absorbent paper with an iron to remove the wax.
Repeating the labor intensive process again and again would eventually produce breathtakingly beautiful and elaborate designs, some abstract and some representative. Her batiks, just like her oil paintings, were exhibited at numerous Georgia colleges, banks, and several fine art centers.
As the base material for a batik, she experimented with many different types of fabric – linen, cotton, burlap. She used some fabrics that were smooth and some fabrics which had a great deal of texture. Babcia made quite large batiks, meant to be hung on the wall; they usually measured anywhere from three feet by three to five feet by five.
In her eighties, no longer able to spend hours on her knees bent over a bath tub full of dye, she began to make small batiks suitable either for framing or for making personalized cards. She continued to experiment with a variety of styles, colors, and textures of paper to serve as the backdrop for her batik cards. And she seldom used repetitive patterns or motifs in her work, preferring to develop her abstracts by apply the paraffin wax mixture free hand with a paint brush.
The word batik usually refers to cloth that was produced using manual techniques of wax and dye application. Batik or fabrics with the traditional batik patterns have historically been produced and worn by the local populations in Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, India, China, Sri Lanka, and in certain regions of Africa.
In the west batik printmaking is often used to produce works of art of great beauty and complexity. But much of the batik fabric sold in the west and used in clothing is now mechanically mass-produced. These designs involve a great deal of repetition and although they are beautiful, they do not really meet the definition of art.
Postscript: also on display was an edition of the Reinhardt Hiltonian from the early 1970s, which head librarian Joel Langford had found and which featured an article about Wanda Ast’s visit to Reinhardt, at the invitation of long-serving art professor Curtis Chapman.
County histories remind us of need to preserve historical records
In 1929 the Georgia General Assembly passed a resolution urging counties to compile their histories in honor of the state’s upcoming bicentennial (in 1933, 200 years after the founding of Georgia in 1733). More than 100 counties appointed official historians, and nearly three dozen published their histories. These books varied, but they typically included chapters on geography and natural resources, Native Americans, the Civil War, churches, schools, newspapers, and so forth.
Among the authors of these books were teachers and lawyers, preachers and journalists, school superintendents and county court judges, and leaders of local historical or patriotic societies. The published histories tended to be long—an average of nearly 500 pages, from Schley County’s 33 pages to Upson’s 1,122. Many of those pages consisted of census records, military rosters, lists of county officials, and reprints of newspaper articles. Some books had lengthy biographical sections, with histories of prominent individuals or families. Many included general sections on life in the old days—quilting bees, militia days, barn raisings, corn shuckings, log rollings.
David Kyvig and Myron Marty, authors of Nearby History: Exploring the Past Around You (1982), noted that the county histories written in the early 20th century tended to be “long on local pride and short on critical observations.” The first part of that formula was certainly correct. The title page of the Coffee County history explained that the book was “a story… showing that Coffee County, in South Georgia, is God’s Country and a good place to live.” Walker County residents were “a hardy, brave and patriotic citizenry,” and those of Chattahoochee were “splendid men and women… whose lives are a credit to the civilization of America.”
The books were certainly “long on local pride,” but were they “short on critical observations”? In many cases, yes. A number of the county historians uncritically embraced Lost Cause ideology, a historical perspective that downplayed the role of slavery in the coming of the Civil War, overstated the support of white southerners for the Confederate cause, and distorted the nature of Reconstruction.
Perhaps the Lost Cause is most evident in the discussions of slavery. The Dougherty County historian noted that the institution “was a feudalism as illustrious as that of any medieval country of Europe. The barons were the slaveholders—the serfs were the negroes, and perfect tranquility in relations prevailed.” In Schley County, “White settlers were kind to their slaves, clothed and fed them, and allowed them to worship with them in their churches.” In Upson County, “Everyone knows that slaves were treated very kindly indeed, and only in rare instances was there any trouble between slave and master.” In Walker County, “There were generally, almost universally, the kindest of relations between master and servant.” And in Coffee County, “The training the negroes received while they were slaves has been a great blessing to them.”
Embarrassing sentiments, to be sure, but not universal ones. Find out more at the link.
A joyous occasion this afternoon in Hill Freeman Library as the University celebrated the acquisition of the ceremonial swords of its two founders, Augustus Reinhardt and his brother-in-law John Sharp, who had been officers in the army of the Confederate States of America. These had been in the possession of the Sharp family for four generations; Sharp’s great-granddaughter Sherry Gray of Pennsylvania donated them to Reinhardt University this past summer. Here she is with her cousin Jim Davis (a grandson of Sharp’s and a local resident) presenting the swords to Reinhardt’s president Kina Mallard:
Here is a closeup of the sword hilts. They will be temporarily on display in a glass table in the library, until they can be permanently mounted in a specially built case on the wall.
Here are images of the two original possessors:
These two photos were part of a display put together by Joel Langford, which featured documents from Reinhardt’s early days:
And here is Reinhardt history professor Ken Wheeler in action. The text of his speech for the occasion is reproduced below, courtesy the author.
Brief Remarks on the Lives and Careers of Captain Augustus M. Reinhardt and Lieutenant Colonel John J.A. Sharp
In 1861, at the beginning of the American Civil War, Augustus Reinhardt and John Sharp signed up to fight for the Confederate States of America. Augustus, born in 1842, was still a teenager. He stood 5 feet, 6 inches, he was fair complected, with blue eyes and dark hair, and he spent the first year as a private, serving in Virginia, but he became so ill that he was discharged and sent home in December. By March he was able to re-enlist, in a new unit drawn mostly from the Waleska area, and perhaps because he had more experience than the others he was first a lieutenant and soon the captain, leader of a company of 145 men. Presumably this is when he acquired his sword. Reinhardt’s company fought in Alabama, Tennessee, and Kentucky, and then went to Mississippi. There, in May, 1863, at the Battle of Baker’s Creek, or Champion Hill, east of Vicksburg, Reinhardt’s unit was decimated, and Reinhardt was shot in the knee. He would recover but have a limp for the rest of his life. Evidently he and his men retreated to Vicksburg, where they and thousands of other Confederate soldiers came under siege for a month and a half, and were pretty much starved into submission. The Union general, Ulysses S. Grant, who captured this Confederate army released them, and Reinhardt and his men made their way back to Georgia. It was a discouraging time, and in January, 1864, Reinhardt resigned his commission—quit the Confederate cause. Enlisted men could not resign, but officers could, and Augustus Reinhardt left the army over the year before the war ended. Perhaps his knee never fully healed, but we really don’t know.
John Sharp, born in 1828, was in his early 30s at the outbreak of war, had served as a militia colonel, and he raised a company that he served as captain, and he climbed the ranks to lieutenant colonel as he fought all four years. In addition to a variety of smaller engagements, Sharp saw action in the battle of Seven Pines, at Antietam, at the battle of Fredericksburg. He was captured at the battle of Chancellorsville and held in a prison in Washington, D.C. for twenty days and was then exchanged, after which he saw more Confederate military service from Virginia to Florida before he was shot down and wounded severely while leading a charge in North Carolina at the battle of Bentonville, in March, 1865, just weeks before the war ended. Afterward, he did not romanticize the Confederacy. In 1866, he signed a published letter defending Alexander Stephens. Before secession Stephens told his fellow Georgians not to leave the Union. “The greatest curse,” said Stephens, “that can befall a free people, is civil war.” Sharp and others now recognized Stephens as “the Prophet, who… warned us against the fatal error” of secession and civil war, “which we all now lament and are anxious to correct.”
At war’s end, Reinhardt and Sharp beat their swords into plowshares—well, not literally, but they successfully re-entered civilian life. Reinhardt, still just 23 years old, moved immediately to Atlanta, studied law, and became an attorney. He speculated in real estate, and helped found a trolley company that made his suburban plots of land accessible to people who wanted to live close to the Ponce de Leon Springs but still have quick access to the downtown. In politics, people elected Reinhardt to Atlanta’s Board of Aldermen, which basically ran the city, and he lobbied against alcohol, helped open Grady Memorial Hospital—and in his final year he served as head of the aldermanic board—he was mayor pro tem of the city of Atlanta.
Meanwhile, Sharp stayed in Waleska. He had married in 1859, but his wife died during the war, and in 1868 he married Mary Jane Reinhardt, a sister of Augustus, making the men brothers-in-law. Sharp, like Reinhardt, got into politics and served two terms as a state legislator. Sharp, like Reinhardt, invested in a local gold mine. Sharp, sort of like Reinhardt, opened a real estate business. He ran his Waleska farm and his store. In the mid-1870s he edited a Canton newspaper, the Cherokee Georgian. He, like Reinhardt, was interested in transportation and championed an effort to make the Etowah River navigable from Canton to Rome, Georgia, where it becomes the Coosa River, so steamboats could go all the way from Canton to the Gulf of Mexico. Sharp and Reinhardt partnered on another transportation venture, a proposed railroad, the Kingston, Waleska, and Gainesville Railroad, which would run across northern Georgia. The railroad was never built, but the point here is that Reinhardt and Sharp made big plans to develop northern Georgia and make it prosperous. And, no surprise, Sharp, a former schoolteacher, published editorial after editorial in the Cherokee Georgian promoting education. In “How to Build Up A Town,” he argued that “an enduring prosperity” depended on the combination of “two forces… the moral and the educational… The influence of a flourishing school, liberally supported by a community, penetrates into every walk of life.” “Education,” Sharp concluded, “is the only instrumentality by which permanent improvement can be affected in any human pursuit or acquisition.”
And so in 1883, when Reinhardt came to Waleska and talked to John and Mary Jane about founding a school, they acted at once. Sharp purchased a saw mill, and Reinhardt went to talk to the Methodists (both the Sharp and Reinhardt families were Methodist) about obtaining a teacher, and the school opened the following year. When they applied to the state for a charter, they explained that the school was “for the education of the youth of both sexes in the usual branches of our English and classical education… solely with a view to advancing the educational interests of the County.” The school they founded has flourished, and everyone associated with Reinhardt University today owes a debt of gratitude to Augustus Reinhardt and John Sharp, for their values, their vision, their interest in future generations, their belief in the power of education to elevate and transform lives. It is a pleasure and a privilege today to accept these tangible reminders of who they were.
A great talk this evening by VPAA Mark Roberts at the Bartow History Museum in Cartersville, an interesting disquisition on the Appalachian “hillbilly.” Is the “hillbilly” the valued repository of an unsullied original “Anglo-Saxon” culture, or is he an embarrassing holdover from a former age, needlessly impeding American Progress? If nothing else, he had great music! Roberts treated us to numbers by John Dilleshaw (“Seven Foot Dilly and His Dill Pickles”), and the Carter Family. He also showed a Betty Boop cartoon “Musical Mountaineers,” and proposed that all of this was taking place in a parallel dimension (signified by the moonshine jug “lens” at the beginning and the cartoon surreality). However, at the end of the cartoon, moonshine substitutes for gasoline in Betty’s car, suggesting that Appalachia could serve as the “fuel” for modern America. In other words, both positions are true!
They kindly kept the museum open afterwards. I was impressed. I had not seen it since it moved to the old courthouse, and it’s really well done.
Head Librarian Joel Langford writes:
Do you want to learn more about Reinhardt’s founding fathers? Do you want to see artifacts from the Civil War? If so, then please plan to join us for an historic presentation.
Sword Presentation Ceremony
Thursday, October 1st
Top Floor of the Hill Freeman Library and Spruill Learning Center
The Civil War swords of Captain Augustus M. Reinhardt and Lieutenant Colonel John J. A. Sharp, the founders of what is now Reinhardt University, have come home to Waleska.
Sherry Gray, the great-granddaughter of Lt. Col. Sharp, had the swords in her home for many years. She has kindly donated the swords to the University and will present them to Reinhardt President Dr. Kina Mallard in a ceremony on Thursday, October 1st in the Hill Freeman Library and Spruill Learning Center. Dr. Kenneth Wheeler, Professor of History, will present brief biographical sketches of the two co-founders. Afterwards, the library will display the swords for all to see.
Please join us at 1:30 PM on the 3rd floor of the library. Refreshments will be served.
Enjoyed a talk at the Funk Heritage Center last night, entitled “The Cherokee Trail of Tears: Memory and Meaning” by Chief Justice Troy Wayne Poteete of the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court. Chief Justice Poteete is executive director of the National Trail of Tears Association and has served as a delegate to the Cherokee Nation Constitutional Convention.
The Funk Heritage Center is now a certified National Park Service Trail of Tears interpretive center, and has received a challenge grant from a foundation that will match donations up to $50,000 for the purpose of exhibiting artifacts excavated at the Hickory Log site in Cherokee County. Donations must be received by November 1, 2015. If you are interested in making a donation, please contact Barbara Starr at 770-720-5967 for information.