In the Kingdom of Dreams and Madness: Clark Ashton’s Druid Hill

“Art wasn’t supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.” – Rainbow Rowell, Eleanor & Park

Clark Ashton remembers the first time he saw him. There was a man who wore the three-piece white suit; he would hang out on the street corner, swinging a gold chain. To a young Ashton, this man was fascinating. The man who fearlessly stood out in the small town of Augusta, Georgia. He was unique, inimitable.

For a new generation, Ashton has become a similar figure, “that strange man over on Druid Hills road.” Each year, for the past twenty-four years, he has sat on a throne in his front yard, waving at local school children who are trapped in morning traffic. He is trying to show kids that it is okay to be different, that people can prosper in alternative lifestyles. In his view, independent thought and action are increasingly important in a highly regimented society. Most people react favourably, but a few laugh or yell. It doesn’t bother him. Ashton believes in what he is doing. Continue reading “In the Kingdom of Dreams and Madness: Clark Ashton’s Druid Hill

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The Original ‘Cut & Paste:’ Scrapbooking’s Cultural History

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A scrapbook from the DeKalb Historical Society that relays the history of the county from the 1880’s – 1955 (Image courtesy of Samantha Mooney)

“My dad takes most of the pictures in our family, and he makes scrapbooks. This means he gets to figure out what’s important for us to remember… I guess my mom could make a scrapbook, but she doesn’t. And I could do it and so could my brothers… I know the scrapbooks we’d make would be different from Dad’s. But the person who does the work gets to write the history.” – Holly Sloan, Short

Scrapbooking seems geared to a mature audience. Younger generations rarely develop nostalgia because they live in the present. Age causes a greater cognizance that time is fleeting. This can cause a desire to capture special moments, either for those who will live beyond or as a hobby for the self, a genie-in-the-bottle cure-all to commemorate important things in daily life.

Early scrapbooking was a method to sift through and organize the onslaught of information. Beginning in the 19th century, reading proficiency grew exponentially. Newspapers became a cornerstone of society, creating a populist literary culture. Yet, people fretted about the transience of new literary forms such as magazines and newspapers. Colored ink became widely available, and people liked its rich aesthetic potential. In a culture that was changing, readers needed a way to capture the best parts so they pasted and collated them into the familiar form of a book. Interests ranged widely: housewives documented effective stain removers and home remedies while morbid newshounds made clippings of the most gruesome obituaries. Newspapers began featuring columns named “For the Scrapbook.” This was a “retweet” button before its time, a way to influence popular thought. Newspapers tried to anticipate what scrapbookers would be most interested in and competed to garner the widest circulation. 

Scrapbooking was a precursor to social media. It had the functions of Pinterest or Tumblr, a method organize the onslaught of information and preserve the most important for later access. A whole lexicon developed around practices. Like “pinning,” tweeting, and “posting,” scrapbookers preserved “gleanings.” Scrapbooking is perhaps the most like Tumblr, a curated way to display the things that people were most passionate about. Moving into the twentieth century, people began collecting items from their own life. People often ‘causally’ left their scrapbooks in high traffic areas such as the parlor table where people would just ‘happen’ to see them. This allowed for a curation of lifestyle akin to Instagram and Facebook.

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A design scrapbook featuring a sketch of a 1950’s dress and photo (Samantha Mooney)

Continue reading “The Original ‘Cut & Paste:’ Scrapbooking’s Cultural History”

‘Second-Hand’ Information

“Time in itself, absolutely, does not exist; it is always relative to some observer or some object. Without a clock I say ‘I do not know the time’. Without matter time itself is unknowable. Time is a function of matter; and matter, therefore, is the clock that makes infinity real. – John Fowles, Áristos

Time is one of those things that we never think about. In a way, we take it for granted. Our lives are paced out according to the dictates of the hour, minute and second hand. What are our days other than a collection of hours? Time elapses, and we live in the seconds in-between. Yet, keeping time has not always so easy. Unlike the easy convenience of digital time, our ancestors had to painstaking wind clocks weekly, taking care to reset the time.

Similarly, in the historic DeKalb County Courthouse, the clock is wound without fail on Saturday. Access to the clock is restricted due to the difficulty of reaching the clock. Visitors rarely think about it, but the clock remains as it was when the courthouse was rebuilt in the early 1900’s. The first picture shows the clock as it is wound, while the bottom images depict the clock mechanism. Symbolically, it connects the past to the present. Time is always passing, advancing our lives forward. If you listen closely, you can hear the next tick coming.

Written by Samantha Mooney

America’s ‘Black Mecca:’ It’s Complicated

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The DeKalb History Center was honoured to have Dr. Maurice Hobson, an associate professor at Georgia State University, lecture at our July Lunch & Learn about his new book The Legend of Black Mecca. In his talk, Hobson argued that Atlanta’s status as a “Black Mecca’ is complex. Poor African-Americans were disenfranchised by the city’s political elite and were left outside of the city’s prosperity, problematizing common understandings of Atlanta’s racial dynamics.   

There is some truth to every legend, but at some point, the story gets embellished. It is only natural as human beings that we expand the truth, stretching it to be more entertaining, to be bolder, to be more than the sum of its parts. Such has been the case with Atlanta’s reputation as a Black Mecca: a place where African-Americans could achieve their economic, social and political goals. Dr. Hobson complicated this idea, stating while this experience has been true for some, it has not been the reality for all. Continue reading “America’s ‘Black Mecca:’ It’s Complicated”

Little England in Georgia: Avondale Estates

 

“There, Clover found the “gardens and great trees and old cottages…so beautiful” that seeing them exhausted her. It was as if, she joked with her husband, “this English world is a huge stage-play got up only to amuse Americans. It is obviously unreal, eccentric, and taken out of novels.” ― Natalie Dykstra, Clover Adams: A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life

Imagine this: you are driving along, baking under the hot sun that never stop s beating down. You feel a trickle of sweat bead your forehead, and you wipe it away, a bit absentmindedly. As you continue, you see all the hallmarks of suburbia: cookie-cutter houses stamped out one after another, interspersed with the occasional business. Yet, suddenly you spot a Tudor building, and then another! Soon a miniature English village surrounds you in the middle of Georgia. What is this place? You have found yourself in Avondale, a quaint town located twenty minutes from the center of Atlanta.

Avondale is a mimicry of an English town, transplanted into the South. George F. Willis, a  pharmaceutical magnate purchased the entire town of Ingleside to create his vision in 1924. Willis had recently travelled to Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare. This influenced the architectural style and bequeathed the city its name, Avondale. The visual look of the estates was an important aspect, intended to create a harmonious life. One advertisement claimed that “art is a part of the everyday life of Avondale Estates,” and buildings were “graceful,” roads were “symmetrical curves,” and shrubbery was “artistic[ally] arranged.”

 

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Avondale was the first planned community in the Southeastern United States. Avondale had many amenities: paved streets, a lake for fishing, leisure boating, and swimming, a pool, tennis courts, dairies, and a business district. The community sought to bring nature into the community, creating a sense of idyllic peace and “beckon to restful pleasures.” Avondale described itself as “[a] magnificently appointed community… where neighborly friendship reigns.”

Continue reading “Little England in Georgia: Avondale Estates”