Friday, May 30, 2014

Off On the Right Foot

Today marks the end of my second week at Andalusia, out of the ten weeks I’ll be working here. It’s remarkable how much I’ve already learned historically and technically. I did a video production experiment yesterday with April Moon, the operations and visitor services manager, that required me to sit in the back of her hatchback SUV and film the green canopied driveway. I call it an experiment because I didn’t know how it was going to turn out with all the pebbles and gravel crunching under the tires. It was a success, and a good thing too, because that clip will be seen at the beginning of every Andalusia Youtube video.

It was really important to study and develop a plan for how to film that intro video because it’s not just a title in the beginning of a video. It’s a representation of the entire 544 acres that is Andalusia squished into 22 seconds that will be seen by anyone who watches an Andalusia video. There’s an importance in the message. What aspects of the farm are most important? It was not an easy decision to make with all that acreage.

I ended up starting the introduction video with that hatchback drive up to the cow barn and Hill house. That’s the first thing people who visit in person see so why not have it as the first subject of the video as well. I ended up picking the O’Connor house and side yard for the second clip because I fell in love with the lush greens. The peacock, Manley Pointer, had to be in it, especially showing off his big wispy feathers. I highlighted the Hill House with a nice slow pan across the front porch and finally I ended the video with a nice gentle tilt down to the O’Connor house. I saved the biggest attraction for last as a nice summarizing representation. That way it starts as “Welcome to Andalusia” and ends at “Come on in!” And after seeing the intro and the Andalusia videos hopefully people will do just that.

Kayla Doetsch, Media Intern
The Flannery O’Connor – Andalusia Foundation

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A Thoroughly Modern Woman

This past week, Andalusia welcomed our new media intern Kayla Doetsch (, a mass communications student from Georgia College and State University. Over the next few months, Kayla will be helping to ramp up Andalusia’s social media interaction – posting her photographs and videos to our various sites. As Kayla explores the different ways to involve Andalusia with social media, we could not help but wonder what Flannery would have thought of all our endeavors. 

We are not the first to follow this line of purely speculative inquiry – Paige Henson of The Telegraph, and Mark Jurgensen, Andalusia’s former Visitor Services Manager and intrepid blogger, both delved into the subject in November, 2013 ( Henson conjectured that O’Connor would have likely taken to social media, while Jurgensen was not so certain, suggesting that O’Connor was a Luddite due to her dislike of the “newfangled” electronic typewriters. The term Luddite is an interesting one – originally referring to a group of English workers from the early 19th century who, believing industrialization threatened their livelihoods, went on a rampage destroying the machinery that was thought to supplant them.

Luddite has since come to refer in general to those who oppose new technology or industrialization. While pondering this term, I reflect on the ways in which O’Connor and her mother, Regina, could hardly qualify as such. While the farming operations at Andalusia weren’t necessarily on the cutting edge of farming technology, they certainly kept up. O’Connor had even purchased a Hotpoint refrigerator/freezer for her mother in 1956 after she sold the TV rights to her short story “The Life You Save May Be Your Own,” as well as a window A/C unit for her bedroom in the early 1960s. And although it is true that O’Connor preferred her Standard Royal Typewriter to the “newfangled” electric one, it was not because she was averse to advancements in technology – in fact, she had tried an electric typewriter provided by the Whipple Office Equipment Company for several weeks before sending it back, requesting they return her Standard Royal. While time distances us from O’Connor, it is worth remembering that she was not only a contemporary writer, but the various modern conveniences that she invested in also help to remind us that she was indeed a woman of her times.

April Moon, Operations & Visitor Services Manager
The Flannery O’Connor – Andalusia Foundation

Friday, May 16, 2014

Saving Stuff

Museum-a-holics like me tend to find themselves in some out of the way places looking at some pretty strange objects and artifacts and wondering who saved this and why? A related question also arises—why and how is this tiny museum committed to responsibly caring for this item in perpetuity? I emphasize ‘responsibly’ because as the Heritage Health Index (Heritage Preservation and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, 2005)  has laid out, the sad fact is most collections are in a pretty sad state in sub-standard housing, in sub-standard buildings with security, environmental, and disaster risks looming. Where are the resources (human and financial) and what stories can the object tell that are relevant and engaging to visitors who stumble in (as we did) and how can staff and volunteers keep visits fresh for locals? These are the questions that occupy all museum professionals and those volunteers who are charged with running our country’s 17,500 museums, roughly 80% of which are small.

This summer in a crazy caravan trip with my family we traced the old familiar route we took as children from Oklahoma to Colorado for our annual mountain vacation and respite from the heat. Driving west we wound our way on back roads (typically no one in sight for miles!) over several days. We poked around through the Texas panhandle with a slice through New Mexico (defunct volcanoes!) and up into Colorado, elevation rising as the mountains drew nearer and the air became crisper. In three separate vehicles we pulled into Dalhart, Texas and arrived at the XIT Museum for a stretch, a rest room, and some fun as we poured out of the cars and into the lobby of this small museum. The lone attendant was clearly a volunteer; it was unclear if he was a retired teacher or rancher or ran the local Dairy Queen. Either way he seemed knowledgeable and had an air of pride as he welcomed us out of the heat and into the air conditioning. He was delighted to see such enthusiastic visitors and encouraged us to sign the register where we saw other far away zip codes. Two in our group were from Germany and two from Boston. Had the visitors from Virginia and California also arrived with the expectation of a kind of kitsch adventure mixed with local history?  The first and still only visitors of the day, we fanned out, one calling out about the collection of rooster-themed objects—kitchen items, lamps etc.—another commenting on the typological display of barbed wire (a requisite in these parts), and still another beckoning from the natural history display of taxidermy snakes and coyotes, hawks and roadrunners in mock action poses. There was a map of the United Stated rendered in postage stamps. Artists in the group critiqued the lack of imagination as the stamps were simply pasted over an existing map (“It would have been cooler had they started from scratch!”) and one member couldn’t stop laughing at the strange period room with bedroom set and mannequin wearing what was identified in tiny type, in a tiny bound book, on a tiny easel on the dresser across the room: “Chemise, Drawers and Nightgown, part of a trousseau used in the year 1879. Loaned by Mrs. G.H. Finch, Dalhart, Texas.  Boudoir  lace cap, owned by Mrs. Frank (Ruth) Tatum. ”

As the group made its way deeper into the rambling galleries a clarion call was made…ELEPHANTS! Lo and behold…casework crammed with a local woman’s collection of elephants. Grouped by materials, the elephants trumpeted their trunks and stood in global unity despite their wide ranging origins as venerated spirit animals in teak or goopy grinning, long-eyelashed elephants in carnival colors. Wow! My sisters and I stood awe-struck before the florescent lit shelves recalling how a collection can run away like a freight train (e.g. my sister’s fondness for owls has morphed into a bursting collection as word got out and everyone brings her owls). Finally, we were called into the last gallery where folks were gathered around a huge tangled mess of wire, some four feet across. The label explained it was a crow’s nest made of bailing and barbed wire worked by the birds. Typically lined with dirt, twine, hair and feathers, these were common during the Dustbowl era when there was a scarcity of trees and are evidence of the crow’s ability to adapt. For me, I coveted the nest as an art object, a Dadaist dream of found beauty. I also found in it a poignant call to action. Museums must continually adapt in order to not just survive but thrive. Recalling Andy Warhol’s 1970 ‘Raid the Icebox’ exhibition at Rhode Island School of Design, I was wondering what an artist might make by raiding the icebox at this small museum and working with the collections to make new combinations and connections, to help locals see their history anew and to create a buzz and a destination for travelers. I wondered what could be created from raiding this collection. Playful pachyderms on parade anyone?

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

Friday, May 9, 2014


Art requires a delicate adjustment of the outer and inner worlds in such a way that, without changing their nature, they can be seen through each other.” - Flannery O’Connor, Collected Works

Across the country historic house museums are having trouble. Trouble with the ‘gate’ as attendance numbers are declining; due to a general (dis)interest in history and the decrease in funds and time for school field trips. There is trouble with collections care as the number and range of items, materials, and structures can be staggering and funds to do right by them are in short supply. And, there is trouble with relevancy (why poke around a historic site when you can play real historical looking video games?). This is not new of course. Museum and preservation ‘industry’ conferences have long had session titles like “Historic House Museums Malaise” and there are books like “New Uses for Historic House Museums” that acknowledge the risks in narrow interpretation bandwidths at historic sites. The good news is there are very successful models for turning historic sites inside out to engage visitors in ways that are relevant and compelling. Adjusting the inner (past) and outer (new) worlds to see through each other might now be a trope for connecting old stories to contemporary issues. In the UK, the National Trust and English Heritage have teamed up with Commissions East on a series “Contemporary Art in Historic Places.” Artist Fred Wilson’s wildly popular 1993 installation “Mining the Museum,” at the Maryland Historic Society, was a mash-up of collection items to provoke a rethinking of traditional historical narrative, e.g. casework with ornate silver ware also included a pair of iron slave shackles. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston reeks with history and the bell jar ‘don’t-move-anything’ approach stipulated by founder Mrs. Gardner in her will. While valued such stasis results in a been-there-done-that visitation pattern that discourages people from coming again and again, the lifeblood of healthy museums and historic sites. But wait! Mrs. Gardner was an art patron in her day, supporting writers, visual artists and musicians. In a conscious effort to bring in new audiences, museum staff revitalized that kind of patronage at the museum through residencies, changing exhibition space, and a concert hall that features the best and brightest living artists. At Andalusia, we now have two installations of contemporary art in underutilized rooms re-purposed as flexible program space. The response so far has been terrific. Artist journals offer field notes in memory mapping and a site specific piece celebrates the peafowl just outside the window while commenting on the ephemeral. Flannery was a contemporary writer in her day and she was fortunate to have a supportive environment in which to pursue her art. Stay tuned as we continue to develop a program to showcase and support the best and the brightest contemporary artists, to turn this old farm inside out and make contemporary connections with the enduring themes in Flannery’s writing.

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

Artist, Crystal Wagner, in the process of installing her piece, Ersatz Flora, in the Back Parlor at Andalusia.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Taken Aback

 "This boundary stream, that mound, the scattered vestigial enclaves and their speech forms, the lime-washed sacral enclosures; so far by means as fragile, vulnerable and scarcely tangible, these the elusive things of the world have, in a tattered fragmentary sort of way, been tabernacled for us."
 - David Jones,1959,The Dying Gaul + Other Writings

"The mystery of memory is in its loss, the process of oblivion, which brings a flood of recriminations and a multitude of second memories: screens of memory, shows of memory. But the dirt, the ashes and the air of memory still lie around the city. The language of every fragment must be collated with its imagery, with its noise - the components stripped down, with utter brevity, as raw material for identity."
- Stephen Barber, 1995, Fragments of a European City
I and my family have had the pleasure of living in Milledgeville for almost five months in conjunction with my Newell Scholar Residency at Georgia College. On my third day in town I met Elizabeth Wylie on her third day in town. It was kismet. I learned about the beauty and historical fabric that is Andalusia and discovered her approach to engagement and improvisation is like mine. Wham! a collaboration was born. It has yielded an astonishing array of convivial activities from farm-to-table dinners to an exhibition by my seminarians to launch Andalusia's new exhibition and program space. In my seminar "Taken Aback" we engaged place and collective memory. We began by binding a 16th century journal – a field dossier. Our work then involved inventing cartographic translations of remembering, reclamation, and resistance. We traversed the uncanny, and the unknown, regarding place. We looked for fractures, niches and recesses in the continuity of the fabric of our lives, as temporal inhabitants of place; sought the unexpected evidence of histories amber-trapped all around us. We identified intervals, incongruities and ruptures as portals. We laid claim to memories on which we had no moral purchase and then fought for their legitimacy. The seminar involved field research across our town, the study of ecological patches, relearning tools, philosophical readings and discussions, community meals in our portable kitchen, and the printing and binding of our investigations. The prototyping of a book, to eventually send our ideas back out into the world, launched the seminar. In our concluding exhibition at Andalusia, we welcome you to taste the ideas and possibilities we brought to ground to celebrate our urban entanglements and our material archive.  In the exhibition, in collaboration with Elizabeth Wylie and Andalusia, we now present data from our walks, journeys, dreams, and investigations over the last 15 weeks. It is our hope that we have conjured a chorus of voices, situated somewhere between the claims of the past and the needs of the future.  No solutions, just clues.

- Leon Johnson
Georgia College Martha Daniel Newell Distinguished Scholar 2014