Tuesday, June 24, 2014

All Flannery All the Time

I have to say that I am so enjoying life on the farm. Well, not life as in the kind of day-in-and-day-out life that Flannery and her mother lived at the farm, but the kind of work-a-day life that characterizes a professional career in the museum world. Those of us who work at historic house museums and historic sites know well the ways in which ALL aspects of the place seep in to your consciousness. It is a daily delight for me, as I go about 'bidnis' at the farm, to experience themes and images from Flannery’s writing (fiction and non-fiction) that was so shaped by place: Andalusia, Milledgeville, and Middle Georgia. Some of the behind the scenes tasks of ‘opening up’ the farm for visitors take me directly into Flannery’s fiction and her letters. When I swing open the big door and enter the now defunct milking parlor in the Cow Barn the ghosts of cows with names like Scotty, Big Margie and Primrose seem to lurk at the edges. I think of Flannery’s short story “Greenleaf’ and the consternation of the self-righteous Mrs. May when she realizes the ‘white trash’ Greenleaf boys have a better milking parlor than she does. The protagonist is grappling with the post-war breakdown of social stratification and the threat of ‘progress’ and new technologies on the old comforting ways. The themes coursing through this story, and others, can be read in the remnants of the Cow Barn, the materials in the Equipment Shed, and in the early 1950s newspapers that line the walls of the rooms where farm workers lived. "Jobs...and the Air Age! No spot on earth--however isolated by land or water barriers--is inaccessible to the airplane."  

When I walk across the barnyard to open the Hill House for the day, I can feel the former activity of the farm with tenant workers, hired hands, local vendors and casual visitors. It is true that I have been doing nothing but reading Flannery O’Connor for the last six months and I was thrilled to take Bruce Gentry’s O’Connor class at GCSU, so naturally all of these connections are in the forefront for me. What about our visitors? Do they get it? They run the gamut. There are devotees who have traveled far to visit the place and easily mine all these connections from every aspect of the house, the vestigial farm operation, and the landscape. There are hipsters sporting peacock tattoos and “Flannery’ messenger bags who want to know everything about the super cool artist who, at about age 25, had to go home to live with her mother. There are folks on their way someplace else and stop by Andalusia because they saw the characteristic brown highway sign “Andalusia, Historic Site” and pulled in. There are local residents who report they “have lived here all my life and never been to this place” and those who come every week because the “kids love the peacocks” or they walk the trail for exercise. Some have read everything Flannery, others have their favorite story they read in high school, some have never read her work, and some admit they really don’t understand or like her writing. 

We welcome all of these people. We want all of them to ‘make the connection’ between the place and Flannery’s writing, because that is why we are here after all. We do this in active ways, verbally in tours through the main farm house, and in passive ways, through signage and exhibitions on site and through social media for Andalusia’s world-wide audience. Now that I have been here six months and cleared my eyes from my celebrity crush on Flannery, I am fully aware of the challenges of stewardship of this place. There are of course all the many preservation and conservation needs of buildings and land. If we didn’t pay attention to this there would be no Andalusia and no connections to make. A tandem challenge—interpreting Flannery and helping our wide range of visitors make the connection between this place and her writing—is in fact one of the most compelling of opportunities. It is exciting work and requires smarts and creativity, innovation and imagination in order to reach each and every one of the thousands of visitors with a message about the value of literature and of reflection on the array of themes that Flannery explored in her too short life. For us at Andalusia, it is all Flannery all the time! 

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

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