Millie Dearing and the Athens Art Scene

To represent this part of Athens cultural history, the Heritage Room exhibition displayed one of the tangible links to this history that we have: Millie Dearing’s scrapbook, in which she describes and commemorates her work with the Athens Art Association and the Georgia Museum of Art.

Note: Normally the Heritage Room would be changing out our display cases for the summer months right about now. However, with the closure of the building, only a few patrons got to see the exhibit put up in March featuring important women from Athens. Instead we’ll be posting a brief blog post about each woman here. Check back to see more of our virtual exhibit series.

Athens may be known for its architectural treasures and its musicians, but we should also add art to this ever-growing list! From the Lyndon House to the Georgia Museum of Art, art and artists have flourished in Athens. This is due in part to the efforts of the Athens Art Association, founded in 1919 and still a part of the Athens community to this day. According to the AAA, they support local artists through exhibition and networking opportunities. You may have seen this exact mission carried out if you stopped by the Baxter Street library building in the Summer/Fall of 2019; the gallery space next to the Heritage Room hosted an exhibit of the work of 45 current members of the association, including work by Hildegard Timberlake and Harold Rittenberry. Curated by Christine Langone, the exhibit was part of a series hosted across town, including the Georgia Museum of Art, Lyndon House Arts Center, and the State Botanical Garden over the course of 2019.

Of course, there would not be an Art Association today without founding members. The founding of Athens Art Association is largely due to the efforts of women: Laura Blackshear, Sally Goodwin, Lucy Stanton, and Millie Dearing. These women were not only organizers, but also artists themselves some of whose pieces are part of the Heritage Room Art Collection today. To represent this part of Athens cultural history, the Heritage Room exhibition displayed one of the tangible links to this history that we have: Millie Dearing’s scrapbook (MSS 040), in which she describes and commemorates her work with the Athens Art Association and the Georgia Museum of Art.

A portrait in grey scale of Millie Dearing with her hair in a bun and cat eye glasses standing beside the Georgia Museum of Art sign in 1963.
Millie Dearing, 1963.

Dearing became an active contributor to the Athens arts scene in the 1950s, when she moved to Athens after the death of her father, A.L. Dearing. Upon her move to Athens, Dearing began working at the Georgia Museum of Art as the secretary to Alfred Heber Holbrook, the founder and first director of the Georgia Museum of Art. (For more information on the founding of the Georgia Museum of Art, consult the New Georgia Encyclopedia article). Dearing did more than just secretarial work as well; newspaper clippings in her scrapbook show Holbrook and Dearing hanging images together after subsequent renovations to the original space allocated to the museum. Dearing’s work demonstrates her knowledge of art history and an appreciation for the original art work that began the collection. Dearing remained the secretary for the next director of the museum — Bill Paul.

In her scrapbook, Dearing collected the history of the Georgia Museum of Art through newspaper clippings and photographs. Showing off a sense of spirit for the University of Georgia from its UGA cover, the scrapbook contains clippings from what was essentially the foundation of the museum through the tenure of Holbrook as Museum Director. Throughout her scrapbook, Dearing remembers times that she was able to display her own art and times in which the Georgia Museum of Art received upgrades and new quarters. [To advance the slides, click the arrow buttons on either side of the image.]

Dearing was also an active member of the arts scene as a painter herself. Sections of her scrapbook are dedicated to clippings and programs from her own art shows where she exhibited her own oil paintings. Her scrapbook tells users that she displayed her paintings at Athens Art Association exhibitions from the 1950s onward.

Dearing was committed to improving her art; she apprenticed with community artist and founder of the AAA, Laura Blackshear. Her art continues to be displayed at AAA retrospective events every year as her work demonstrates some of the best of hobby artists in the twentieth century in Athens.

Dearing’s pieces demonstrate a keen eye for the beauty of nature and encourage viewers to slow down to experience them. Her artwork owned by the Athens-Clarke County Library show a series of beautifully painted flowers, reminding viewers to slow down and smell the, in this case, camellias.

Furthermore, Dearing’s scrapbook gives artists and researchers alike insight into the process of an artist in Athens in the mid-twentieth century, including those artists who worked another job alongside their passion for art. Her scrapbook and the varied contents, including a design for a wedding invitation to photographs of her work, provides insight into a sliver of the arts and cultural scene of Athens in the period.

Sources

Millie Dearing collection, MSS 040, Heritage Room, Athens-Clarke County Library. https://aspace-arls.galileo.usg.edu/repositories/2/resources/47

“About,” Georgia Museum of Art, 2019. https://georgiamuseum.org/about/

Ramsey, Bonnie N. “Georgia Museum of Art.” New Georgia Encyclopedia. 09 June 2015. Web. 13 July 2020. https://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/arts-culture/georgia-museum-art

“Solidly Built and Architecturally Beautiful:” The Preservation of Seney-Stovall Chapel

Chaffin was involved in the Foundation’s movements to save the Fire Hall from demolition for a new Civic Center, advocate for the passage of the Historical Preservation Ordinance, and convert the former Church-Waddel-Brumby House into the Athens Welcome Center. Of even more interest in this collection is Chaffin’s behind-the-scenes work with some of the earliest Heritage Foundation projects.

One of the benefits of working with archival collections is the opportunity to see how history, architecture, and people are connected. While working on our extant collections, I began to explore the Ethel T. Chaffin papers (MSS 059). Ethel T. Chaffin (1921-2018) was a founding member of the Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation, as well as a graduate student and instructor in dance and theater. Chaffin donated her papers to the Heritage Room in 2002 and continued to update the collection over the intervening years prior to her death. Her collection began as the notes for her Master of Arts thesis project “Professional Theatrical Entertainment in Athens, Georgia: 1865-1888” which she finished in 1982. But, as deep dives into the archives show us, everyone is multifaceted! As I sifted through her later donations, I was excited to see stacks of newspaper clippings and documents from the founding of the Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation.

Founded in 1967, the Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation (now known as Historic Athens) was formed to save the Church-Waddel-Brumby House, Athen’s oldest residence, from demolition to make room for a new federal building in an Urban Renewal Program. Chaffin was involved in the Foundation’s movements to save the Fire Hall from demolition for a new Civic Center, advocate for the passage of the Historical Preservation Ordinance, and convert the former Church-Waddel-Brumby House into the Athens Welcome Center. Of even more interest in this collection is Chaffin’s behind-the-scenes work with some of the earliest Heritage Foundation projects.

One of the Heritage Foundation’s most talked about projects was the preservation of buildings on the former Lucy Cobb Institute site – most prominently, the Seney-Stovall Chapel.

A picture of the octogonal chapel taken from the side. The stairs to the front door are located on the left. The building is made out of orange brick, with Victorian detailing.
A picture of the restored Seney-Stovall Chapel from Digital Library of Georgia

The Seney-Stovall Chapel was a project that was on the radar of members of the Athens community prior to 1980. The New Georgia Encyclopedia entry on Lucy Cobb notes this about the preservation of the Chapel:

In the 1970s a group of Athens preservationists, many of them children or grandchildren of alumnae, received a federal grant to renovate the exterior of the institute’s Seney-Stovall Chapel. This renovation effort was led by historian Phinizy Spalding, the grandson of alumna Nellie Stovall, who was instrumental in the original construction of the chapel.


Sarah Case, “Lucy Cobb Institute”

From my reading of Ms. Chaffin’s correspondence, however, it became clear that the preservation of Seney-Stovall was not just led by Spalding, but also by the behind the scenes work of Ms. Chaffin and through a community effort.

Chaffin clearly received community support for her work: T.M. Tillman states in 1981 that he “has been working on the University to take care of, and improve the Lucy Cobb property for twenty (20) years, and I hope you have better luck than I have had in the past” (Figure 1) and Spalding reveals that he “marvel[s] at your [Chaffin’s] ability to come up with so many good ideas in relation to this one project” (Figure 2).

Furthermore, Chaffin’s correspondence demonstrates that she worked tirelessly as the face of the project by writing letters to local newspapers about the project, organizing events, and other community building efforts. Included in the collection are handwritten and carbon copies of letters written to local newspapers (The Red and Black and Athens Observer) in 1980 expressing her support for the preservation of the Chapel.

This correspondence sets the scene for the preservation of the Chapel circa 1980-81: fairly bleak. It is partially Ms. Chaffin’s renewed passion for and interest in the project that resulted in the completion of preservation work in 1997. By putting her energy and passion into researching the history of the building, the importance of the architecture, and the potential uses it had for the university and community, Ms. Chaffin helped ensure that this building would remain standing for generations to come.

Now the chapel stands as a unique testament to what happens when preservation and reuse are combined. Rather than simply leaving the building preserved as an almost mausoleum to the past, the Chapel is instead restored for use by a variety of university groups, community groups, and individuals, from a UGA undergraduate production of Company to hosting author Jeff Vandermeer to serving as a recording site for R.E.M, the Chapel allows for the interaction of past and present.

Have more questions? Email us at heritageroomref@athenslibrary.org.

Works Consulted:

Case, Sarah H. “Lucy Cobb Institute.” New Georgia Encyclopedia. 21 August 2013. Web. 24 June 2020. https://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/education/lucy-cobb-institute

Community Web Archiving in Athens

The Heritage Room works actively to collect the culture and history of Athens-Clarke and the surrounding counties and cities. With the advent and rise of online communication, much of that culture and history is produced on the internet. Remember when we all thought that everything on the internet would live on forever? As it turns out, that is the furthest thing from the truth — at least without the proper archival practice, which is where web archiving comes in!

The Heritage Room has been using Archive-It to archive community websites and preserve them since 2018. This project, however, relies on our community support. We want to preserve what is important to you — our community. This post serves as a hub to explain what web archiving is, why institutions web archive, and to describe how you can get involved.

What is web archiving?

Web archiving is the process of collecting portions of the World Wide Web to ensure the information is preserved in an archive for future researchers, historians, and the public.

Parham Habibzadeh

Web archiving is the process of preserving copies of websites and pages at a certain point in time. This process preserves the function of the website and the look of the website, and allows users to access a “copy” of the page even if the page or site is taken down.

Archived webpages are not just an image of the page: it preserves the functionality of the site itself. The look and feel and “clickability” of the site are all preserved. Since sites often change, web archiving will “crawl” the same site repeatedly over multiple months and years to continue to preserve updated information. All of these copies are available in a web archive.

A common example of web archives is the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. Try clicking on the link and entering the URL of a website you know well. On the site timeline, click on the first year you see activity. What has changed? This information is all captured through web archiving. Note how the site operates just like a regular website! This is what we mean by preserving functionality of the site.

Why is this important?

Despite what we were told in the 90s, the internet is ephemeral! As websites are no longer feasible to maintain or no longer relevant to the moment, they are often taken down and that information is lost to time. This means that information like a local political campaign or website for a local event may be lost.

Web archiving further preserves materials that may have been designed to be viewed online. A screenshot of an image is not proof, and may not contain all of the possible information. By preserving the full “interactive” element of a website, a web archive ensures that no information is lost.

How to Get Involved

The Heritage Room, and broadly the Athens Regional Library System, has been using the online tool Archive-It to create an archive of regional websites. You can view our archive here (link opens in a new tab). As of the time of writing (July 2020), we are collecting under eight main categories:

  • Business and Industry
  • Contemporary Visual Art, Music, and Literature
  • Food Culture
  • History and Community
  • Politics, Government, and Activism
  • Athens Regional Library System (library websites)
  • Athens-Clarke County Library Heritage Room
  • Athens, Georgia Area COVID-19 Response

Our parameters for collecting are general in these areas. Websites must relate to the Athens-Clarke County area, or surrounding counties, and must relate to the topic of the collection. We periodically crawl the sites to make sure that they are up to date as well.

Most importantly, however, we can’t grow this collection without community input. This archive is built for the public to use and thrives on public input. We would love to hear from you, especially about suggestions for what to archive. We are asking for community feedback on our web form here: http://www.123formbuilder.com/form-5563923/document-athens-now-submission-form (link opens in new tab).

The Heritage Room also recognizes that you or your group may feel uncomfortable with submitting your website without speaking with a staff member or introducing us to your organization. We are truly here for the entire community and would love to be in touch about how we can build a community with you and your organization. Please get in touch via phone (706-613-3650 ext. 350) or email (heritageroomref@athenslibrary.org) if you would like to talk with us in more detail.