Saturday, April 19, 2014

Pretty Historic

“It has been said that, at its best, preservation engages the past in a conversation with the present over a mutual concern for the future.” 
 -William Murtagh, first keeper of the National Register of Historic Places

An article about Andalusia was recently featured in the online magazine ArtsATL ( The writer mentioned that a couple of rooms in the main house had been painted. In response a commenter posted “Two newly painted rooms? Part of the beauty of this house is the original paint on the walls from O'Connor's tenure there. I pray to god that this new director doesn't destroy the character and authenticity of this cultural treasure in an attempt to pretty it up!” Rest assured dear reader, everything we do at Andalusia is preservation wise and follows the principle of ‘do no harm’ appropriate to best practices for a National Register property. Yes, the rooms that were added to the house in 1950 as quarters for weekend visitors and were used as the ‘back parlor’ have been painted. This intervention can easily be reversed (we saved paint samples of the original gun-metal gray walls). In any event, an exact re-creation as we see it in historic photographs of the writer in the back parlor is not practically feasible. The over-sized book case that distinguished it in Flannery’s day is now ensconced, along with her books, desk, typewriter and other items, in the O’Connor Room at Georgia College where visitors are treated to an overview of Flannery as both a writer and a visual artist. At Andalusia, fresh colors in the back parlor signal for the visitor the threshold where historic interpretation of the house proper transitions to contemporary program space for lectures, exhibitions and media (how great would it be to show visitors the newsreel clip with a five year old Flannery and her backwards walking chicken!?). Having this flexible program space helps us advance our quest to extend the visitor experience of the site and has the added benefit of unburdening the 1850’s farm house dining room from program use. Long-time visitors to Andalusia will recall dining room lectures in which audience and speakers had to work around the existing (and original) furnishings. Indeed, we are fortunate to have so much of the original furnishings and architectural fabric of the main house. I very much look forward to the day when we can plan and implement a full restoration and interpretation of the home in which Flannery and her mother lived and in which one of our country’s most important writers produced an unparalleled literary oeuvre. Meanwhile, there are structures on-site that are literally falling down and the main house has to take its place in the queue. Our short-term strategy is two-fold: 1) immediate triage (do what we can now to stabilize threatened structures) and 2) deploy various means of engagement, both indoors and out, on the web and in print. On site we are activating the new program spaces, opening the Cow Barn and the Hill House, and paying attention to the vestigial garden beds and plantings to stimulate the conversation between the past and the present to consider the future. In so doing we hope to lay a foundation for ongoing and sustained support. Let’s call it a muster. Are you with us?

- Elizabeth Wylie, Executive Director
The Flannery O'Connor-Andalusia Foundation

No comments: