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The Start: A Southern Art Mystery

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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.

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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.

Augusta Calendar of Events: 9/19 – 10/6

The A List

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

September 29 – October 8

Music and art and dance…oh my! The Westobou Festival goes into full swing this month – transforming Augusta into the coolest place on Earth. Not convinced? Check out these awesome events that are just oozing “cool factor”: 1. A Film Comedy Evening with Peter Teschner. Who’s Peter Teschner? Only one of the most well know movie editors of our time with comedy classics like The Little Rascals, Borat, Dodgeball, Semi-Pro and Horrible Bosses under his belt.  2. Botanica by MOMIX. You might have seen the world class ballet troupe MOMIX on a Target commercial or on T.V performing on stages in some of the biggest and best cities in the world.   3. John Williams Spectacular. John Williams is the man. If you’ve seen any Indiana Jones, Star Wars or Jurassic Park or Home Alone movies then you’ve heard his work. The Symphony Orchestra Augusta brings all that to life…complete with Star Troopers.

 

October 7 – 9

Hola! Antio! Hello! Goodbye! The annual Greek Festival and Hispanic Festival offers the chance to eat as much food as possible in three days – all in the name of a cultural experience! See live performances, hear live music and devour everything in sight without feeling guilty.

 

October 7 – 9

If walls could talk… Get a glimpse into Augusta’s most beautiful, eclectic and historic homes in the Summerville community during the Summerville Tour of Homes. The walls may not be able to tell you their story, but you can still hear it from the spirits of the past! Historic Augusta’s annual Walk with the Spirits event features the ghosts of previous owners of the very houses you’ll see during the Tour of Homes!

photo courtesy of http://gregconnellairshows.com/2011/07/boshears-skyfest/

October 15 – 16

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No…it’s SkyFest! Boshears Skyfest brings planes, parachutes, helicopters and more to one place for a weekend full of family fun! I plan to take a helicopter ride. Afraid of heights? Then live vicariously through the parachute tricksters during one of their shows or ride one of the carnival rides.

October 13 – 30

Trick or Treat! Give me something fun to watch. Learn how to kill identify and kill Zombies (you know, just in case we ever have an outbreak) during Le Chat Noir’s haunted interactive attraction, Zombie Apocalypse Training Camp. Gun shy? Then sit safely in your seat and experience the classic story of Young Frankenstein. October’s ALIVE!

Augusata Canal Boat Tour and Picnic

Need something unique to do while in town? Take a tour of the Augusta Canal on a Petersburg boat. You can learn about some of Augusta’s history along the canal while observing birds and wildlife. My favorite thing about this tour is that you can bring along your own picnic basket and beverages to enjoy on the boat. This is an attraction you do not want to miss while you are in Augusta.  Call the Canal Interpretive Center at (706)823-0440 to make your reservations today!

Augusta, Georgia in St. Augustine.

It was a recent trip back from visiting my family in Florida when we discovered Augusta in St. Augustine, Florida. We stopped at the Castillo de San Marcos in downtown St. Augustine. The fort was built to protect and defend Spain’s claims in the New World.

 Today it is a National Park and a great place for kids to run around and learn hands-on about history. The Castillo still stands today – undefeated after 330 years of colonial warfare and intrigue. The reason could be because of the 16th century technology centered on black powder. I tell you all this because Augusta, Georgia is where they got their black powder or gunpowder during the Civil War.

The fort has plenty of ammunition and weapons on display – cannons, cannonballs and rifles. But in a special case downstairs is a small bag of ammunition stamped “Augusta, Georgia.” It was a great discovery.

The history of the Augusta Confederate Powder Works thanks to the National Parks Service: At the beginning of the Civil War gunpowder supplies for the Confederate armies were insufficient.

In 1861 Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, charged Colonel George Washington Rains with solving this issue by creating a local supply of gunpowder. Rains chose the flat lands by the Augusta Canal as the most suitable site for making the much needed gunpowder. He named Major Charles Shaler Smith as architect to design the Confederate Powder Works. The Confederate Powder Works, the only permanent edifice constructed by the Confederate States of America, was in operation until April 1865. During its lifetime, the facility produced approximately 7,000 pounds of gunpowder per day for a final total of 2,750,000 pounds. The Augusta Powder Works produced enough gunpowder to fully meet the needs of the Confederate armies and still retained a surplus of 70,000 pounds at the end of the war.

Click here for more information:
http://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/augusta/sibleymill.html

There is a lot to learn in Augusta about the Civil War even though a battle was never fought in Augusta. And apparently there is a little something to learn about Augusta in St. Augustine, Florida.

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