Friday, December 27, 2013

Looking Back

As 2013 recedes in the rear view mirror, I am acutely aware of the many changes that have occurred at Andalusia during this past year.  In April we celebrated the restoration of the Hill House with a reception to mark the completion of this two-year project.  To top it all off, we received The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation award for excellence in restoration at a ceremony held on April 26 in the Old Capitol Building.  In addition to bestowing this award, the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation gave us a $2,500 grant to continue our work on the cow barn.  With their help and a generous $10,000 grant from the Watson-Brown Foundation Junior Board, we were finally able to put a much-needed new roof on the structure.  Now that we have a new roof and the barn is stabilized, we hope to be able to open it to visitors at some point in the future.  In 2013, we finally were connected to city water service.  It is such a relief knowing that we now have a dependable source of water and don't have to worry about the well running dry in the midst of a summer drought (though, as luck would have it, 2013 was the rainiest year in Georgia's history).  Much credit for this and the aforementioned preservation/restoration work goes to our former Executive Director, Craig Amason.  Yes, I did say former.  The biggest change of the year, as far as I'm concerned, was the departure of Craig last month.  Having been at Andalusia just about as long as Flannery (13 years), Craig left us to take a position with Piedmont College in Demorest, where his wife, Amy, is also employed.  In November, after having interviewed many qualified candidates, the Flannery O'Connor-Andalusia Foundation chose Elizabeth Wylie as our next Executive Director.  She comes to us from Boston and brings with her a broad background in museums and management of non-profits.  She has a proven track record in fund raising and is brimming with innovative ideas.  I look forward to working for her and have every confidence that we are going to be well-served by her leadership. Next week, we will take a look at what's ahead in 2014.
- Mark

Friday, December 20, 2013

Faith as a Romance

Last week, a friend sent me a review from The Christian Century of Carlene Bauer's first novel, Frances and Bernard, that came out earlier this year.  Written in epistolary form, it is loosely based on the friendship between Flannery O'Connor and Robert Lowell.  In writing the book, Bauer drew heavily on the letters of O'Connor and Lowell. Since I have not read the novel, I am not in a position to review it.  However, based on the review by Amy Frykholm in The Christian Century, Bauer's novel does not exactly follow the trajectory of either writer's life.  The author, instead, "illuminates interior dilemmas, asks theological questions, and explores the dimensions of a life of faith and of romantic love."  Like Flannery, Frances's faith is more robust and deeply rooted than Bernard's/Lowell's.  Unlike O'Connor, however, both Frances and Bernard wrestle with the doubts, challenges, and agonies of faith.  For these fictional characters, faith ends up being more of an "obstacle" than a "way forward."  In the end, their romantic love and artistic ambition "provide a greater sense of redemption than faith, which seems only to stir things up, create unanswerable dilemmas and cause the characters to live too much in their imaginations and not enough on the ground." While basing fictional works on historical characters can be problematic, Frances and Bernard sounds like a compelling read.  In closing, I want to wish you all a very merry Christmas.  Due to the way the holidays fall this year, Andalusia will be open during our regular hours the weeks of Christmas and and New Years.
- Mark

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Catholic Writer Today

Writer of the "Golden Age"
In the December issue of First Things, there is an interesting piece by poet and former NEA chairman, Dana Gioia.  His article, The Catholic Writer Today, has sparked quite a lot of buzz on the blogosphere.  Gioia's premise is that Catholics today do not have the same kind of visible presence in the arts, especially literature, that they once enjoyed in the middle of the last century.  Gioia goes on to explore why this has occurred.  Rather than recapitulate every point he makes, I offer a few reflections.  First of all, Gioia rightly says that the golden age of American Catholic writing was not a renaissance.  It was, and so far remains, America's only Catholic moment in the arts.  For readers of this blog, it is worth noting that Gioia dates this era to the time Flannery O'Connor was writing.  It begins around 1950 and ends with her death in 1964. One could argue there was a lot of good Catholic writing that came both before and after that.  Ernest Hemingway (who Gioia claims was Catholic - hmmm), was already a major player before O'Connor was out of diapers.  At the other end of her life, by 1964 Walker Percy was just beginning to hit full stride and many of Thomas Merton's poems had yet to be published.  I do agree with blogger Eve Tushnet that Gioia fails to take into account how much the world of writing and book publishing has changed in the last 60 years: "There’s no acknowledgment of how completely the structure of artistic production and audience has changed since 1950. The change has been seismic. Publishing is an especially extreme example, and it happens to be Gioia’s example, so let’s roll with it. Both making books and finding the books you want to read are totally different now. Telling a young Catholic writer to go have a career like Flannery O’Connor’s is like telling a young Catholic father to get a good stable union job at the Chrysler plant. Thanks, yeah, I’ll get right on that."  To read more of Tushnet's review go to her blog.  For another interesting take on Gioia's article check out the Dec. 8th post on Heather King's blog.  And by all means, do read The Catholic Writer Today.
- Mark

Friday, December 6, 2013

A Rare Sighting

On Monday a Georgia College student finishing up an environmental studies project at the cow pond informed me that he had spotted a peregrine falcon.  He went on to say that this bird of prey is on the endangered species list and that seeing one anywhere is a rare treat.  He also noted the very fact that a peregrine falcon would find Andalusia such a congenial and protected habitat speaks volumes for this farm.  And indeed it does, since this is not the first time that such birds have been seen here.  Next time you're visiting Andalusia be sure to check out the brochure we've printed up that lists all the birds that have been spotted at the farm.  On it you'll find every kind of bird from cedar waxwings, to bobwhite quail, and the elusive Kentucky warbler.  The list of 167 species is by no means exhaustive.  I wouldn't be surprised that if some day the passenger pigeon miraculously reappears it will show up at Andalusia.  Back in 1934, the Milledgeville city fathers decided that the motto for our community would be: "Milledgeville: A Bird Sanctuary."  Old signs proclaiming such can still be seen downtown.  In recent years to draw more tourists to town, the slogan was changed to "Capitals, Columns, and Culture." I prefer the old motto.  If Milledgeville no longer considers itself a bird sanctuary, we here at Andalusia consider the farm to be so.  It was when Flannery O'Connor lived here, it still is today and we hope will remain so in the future.
- Mark