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The Start: A Southern Art Mystery


New Orleans: 1917

Robert Wadsworth Grafton and Louis Oscar Griffith sat in their temporary studio in the lobby of the Saint Charles Hotel. Surrounded by a throng of people, you could feel the excitement buzzing as they watched the pair of artists work in tandem to carefully blend colors and brush strokes on dual canvases.

Topped by a gleaming white dome that was visible for miles, the Saint Charles Hotel was the grandest in the South and the first of all great American hotels. To commemorate the revitalization of horse racing in New Orleans, the grand hotel commissioned two paintings – “The Start” and “The Finish” – to capture the exhilaration of the horse races taking place at the newly opened New Orleans Fair Grounds, originally called Union Race Course.

Delighted onlookers, tourists, fellow artists and art students watched as the two American Impressionist painters, Grafton and Griffith, employed a dazzling array of colors to emphasize the brilliant Louisiana sunlight reflecting off the muscular bodies of the horses jockeying for position – the intensity of the race clearly etched in the faces of the jockeys.

The finished canvases were hung on display in the Saint Charles Hotel’s Men’s Café. Art reporter Flo Field loved the painting so much that in an article in the February 18, 1917 issue of the Times-Picayune paper, she wrote: “It isn’t a picture. It moves! The horses aren’t painted. They are racing.”

Grafton and Griffith made an immediate and enduring impression on New Orleans. During the early twentieth century, the two Midwestern artists wintered in the Crescent City and became active members of the artistic and literary community centered in the Vieux Carre. After the completion of the murals, the pair maintained an enduring relationship with the Saint Charles Hotel and even hosted an impressive exhibition of their New Orleans paintings at the hotel in 1922.

Although the Saint Charles Hotel was a local favorite and host to Mardi Gras balls and society events, after two fires and rebuilds, the hotel was torn down in 1974.  With the fall of the South’s first grand hotel, The Start and The Finish melted into obscurity. Then, in January 2007, “The Start” burst back onto the art scene when it was presented at an estate auction in New Orleans. Grafton and Griffith paintings of New Orleans are highly prized today. With interest from several southern institutions, the painting sold to the Morris Museum of Art for a record price and was added to their permanent collection.


Today, visitors to the Morris Museum in Augusta, Georgia can get a glimpse of the New Orleans Fairgrounds through the eyes of Grafton and Griffith – just as they would have seen it nearly one hundred years ago. “The Start” is rich with details, including the presence of a timekeeper in a wooden tower, a crescent shaped moon clock announcing the time of the next race at 4:10 p.m., and the results board with two men readied to place the winning horse’s number in the appropriate slot.

It should be noted that there are indications that the painting could have originally been “The Finish” – but with the fate of the second painting still a mystery, visitors have to decide for themselves.

To see “The Start” along with other art that captures the South and works by southern artsits, visit the Morris Museum of Art at 1 Tenth Street in Augusta, Georgia. For information on upcoming exhibits and events, visit TheMorris.org or call (706) 724-7501.

4 Secret Shopping Spots in Augusta, Ga

Gift shops – the place most people go when

A.)  They’re in a hurry

B.)  They can’t think of a single good gift idea

C.)  They’re in a hurry AND can’t think of a single good gift idea

Luckily for us, the gift shops around town happen to be awesome. And most people don’t know they’re awesome. But we do. In the spirit of gift giving – we’re letting you in on our secret shopping spots. So put down that tacky shot glass. (I mean, come on, does Uncle Bill really need another one to add to his collection?) And let the fun begin. Need some inspiration? Check out our Augusta Gift Guide with gift ideas for under $100, $50 and $25.


Morris Museum of Art: We can’t say enough about how cool the Morris Museum of Art store is. Inside you’ll find everything from handcrafted wooden bowls made by Augusta artist David Welter to super cute owl felt birdhouses. And did we mention jewelry? Affordable rings, necklaces, bracelets and earrings by local artists sit alongside cufflinks and other items by Gogo Ferguson. Throughout the year, the Morris store also hosts trunk shows for various artists, providing the opportunity for visitors to meet the artist in person. The Morris Museum of Art is located at 2 Tenth Street in downtown Augusta – right off the Augusta Riverwalk.


Sacred Heart Cultural Center: Hidden beneath the beautiful stained glass windows that characterize Sacred Heart Cultural Center, you’ll find their gift shop. Inside is a wide array of options, including pashminas, clutch bags, original art works and prints depicting the beautiful architecture of Sacred Heart and Southern cookbooks. Each year, Sacred Heart hosts the Garden Festival in April, providing the opportunity for visitors to purchase garden and home décor, and the Holiday Open House in early November, providing the opportunity for visitors to purchase holiday home décor and locally baked goods. Sacred Heart Cultural Center is located at 1301 Greene Street in downtown Augusta.


Augusta Canal Discovery Center: The gift shop inside the Augusta Canal Discovery Center is as diverse as the Canal’s offerings. In addition to playful outdoor and yard décor like wind chimes and birdhouses, the gift shop also carries CDs with music by artists who perform live on board the Petersburg Boats during the seasonal Music Cruises. Gift certificates are also available for special Petersburg Boat and Music Cruises. The Augusta Canal Discovery Center is located at 1450 Greene Street inside the Enterprise Mill in Suite 400.


Augusta Visitor Center: Although the Visitor Center has a great deal of information and brochures on Augusta area attractions, restaurants and hotels, it’s also a great source for clothing and other items with the Augusta, Georgia logo as well as golf themed gifts and regional food items like spiced pecans, barbeque sauce and Augusta’s signature cocktail mixer – The Azalea. If you’re hosting guests from out of town, Augusta or Georgia-themed gifts are perfect additions to welcome bags or baskets. The Augusta Visitor Center is located inside the Augusta Museum of History at 560 Reynolds Street in downtown Augusta, Ga.

The A List: November 2013

Top 5 things to get excited about in Augusta, Ga this November

Oka’Chaffa Indian Festival: November 9 -10, 2013

Two days full of Native American art, crafts, dances, music, food, games and a tribal drum competition – all in the beautiful Phinizy Swamp. For more info, visit NaturalSciencesAcademy.org.

Sacred Heart Holiday Open House: November 14, 2013

Last year we got a loaf of Cinnamon Apple Pecan Bread and we’ve been talking about it ever since! Get freshly baked goodies along the halls downstairs or stop by the gift shop to see what kind of holiday décor and gifts they have for the season. For more info, visit SacredHeartAugusta.org.

Christmas Made in the South: November 15 – 17, 2013

Hundreds of local and regional artisans bring their hand-crafted products to one place for your shopping pleasure. Find hand-made toys, refinished antiques, home and outdoor decoration, ornaments and lots more. For more info, visit AugustaEntertainmentComplex.com.

Annual Holiday Gingerbread Village: November 21 – December 1, 2013

Creative locals build iconic Augusta landmarks from gingerbread, icing and all manner of sugary snacks and put them on display in the Augusta Museum of History. Browse the sweet collection surrounded by a life-sized winter town in the Augusta Museum rotunda.  For more info, visit AugustaMuseum.org.

Image courtesy of the Augusta Chronicle.

Christmas in the Backcountry: November 30, 2013

Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the light displays and gift giving. Get a glimpse of how early colonists and their slaves observed Christmas. The Living History Park will be bustling with live exhibits to show the simple celebrations that gave meaning to the holiday season for the early settlers. For more info, visit ColonialTimes.us.

For more information on attractions, restaurants, hotels and events in Augusta, Ga visit AugustaGa.org.

Check off your Fall Bucket List in Augusta

I don’t know about you, but Fall makes me want to walk among the changing leaves, listen to ghost tales and warm up with a hot cup of coffee or hot cider. With that in mind, I made my Fall Bucket list with lots of fun ways to celebrate the changing of the season in Augusta! Below, you’ll find helpful links so that you can start planning your Augusta adventure too!

1. Make a Forever Pumpkin at Tire City Potters: https://www.facebook.com/tcpotters

2. Admire the changing colors along the Riverwalk: http://www.augustaga.org/Things-to-Do/Attractions/Augusta-Riverwalk

3. Go on a spooky adventure with the Augusta Ghost Trolley: https://www.facebook.com/AugustaGhostTrolley

4. Take a moonlight hike through Phinizy Swamp: http://naturalsciencesacademy.org/calendar/

5. Eat pumpkin muffins from New Moon Cafe: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-New-Moon-Cafe/461891810716

6. Drink hot coffee from Buona Caffe: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Buona-Caffe-Artisan-Roasted-Coffee/419877860272

7. Visit The Maize at Steed’s Dairy: http://www.steedsdairy.com/projects.html

See you soon!

The “A” List

Top 5 things to get excited about in Augusta, Ga this October

Westobou Festival: October 2 – 6, 2013

From film and music collaborations like Joan of Arc + Kim Gordon with Body/Head to up-and-coming artists JOHNNYSWIM to world renowned Mark Morris Dance Group and “modern day Mark Twain” writer Roy Blount Jr., Westobou Festival brings innovative indie art and culture to the front and center of Augusta’s scene for five full days. For more info, visit WestobouFestival.com.

The Color Run: October 5, 2013

What do you get when you add head-to-toe paint to an untimed 5K that you can run, walk or both? The “Happiest 5K on the Planet”! Regardless of your age or athletic ability, you can experience the fun. At each kilometer, participants are doused in powder paint until they reach the party at the finish line! For more info, visit TheColorRun.com/Augusta.

Augusta Hispanic Festival: October 11 – 12, 2013

The Augusta Common is bursting with awesome authentic food and cultural performances during the Hispanic Festival! I dare you to try and walk downtown with being lured in by the smell of the food and the promise of fresh piña coladas served straight from the pineapple! Click here to see the Hispanic Festival video on YouTube. For more info, visit Elcervantino.org.

Augusta Greek Festival: October 11 – 13, 2013

You don’t eat no meat? That’s OK. They’ve got lamb. And baklava. Shop for great gifts at the bazaar, sit down and watch a traditional dance or two and make sure you try the food! You’ll feel like you’re part of a big Greek family before you leave. Click here to see the Greek Festival video on YouTube. For more info, visit HolyTrinityAugusta.org

Dark Corners: The Appalachian Murder Ballads: October 17, 2013

Asheville North Carolina artist, Julyan Davis, discusses his exhibition accompanied by a performance of murder ballads by folk musicians Greg and Lucretia Speas during the exhibition opening. You’ve gotta admit that a little macabre art and music is perfect for the festive and fun atmosphere leading up to Halloween. For more info, visit TheMorris.org.

October is a great month in Augusta and there’s lots more to do – check out our online calendar for a full list of events!

See ya’ll around!

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