Popes Museum is a national treasure with its roots in South Georgia that exemplifies the importance of the arts in women’s history, civic pride, and historic preservation. As such, Popes Museum is a core player in strengthening the community of South Georgia specifically targeting the areas of the arts, education, and historic preservation.
Found in Grady County, Pope’s Museum is the former home of Laura Pope Forester, a self taught artist, notable not only for creating a large art environment of high artistic quality around her rural residence and store, but also as one of the few female artists to do so in the twentieth century.
Certainly she had no formal training other than 3 months from a traveler, and her art was not featured during her lifetime in any art exhibits as are traditional artists. Yet before her death in 1953, she had created 200 sculptures, wall to wall murals and gardens of exquisite design and intention. She also spent her life working to open up possibilities for women, often with her art.
Because of her position on opportunities for women, Laura’s message was just as revolutionary as her art. She intentionally created replicas of women and men (usually women) that demonstrated a trait that she found admirable. Some examples are Nancy Hart-the Georgia Heroine who single handedly captured and hung 6 British military officials during the Revolutionary War, Cleopatra and Mitchell’s literary heroine Scarlet O’Hara . Using such common objects as Model T wheels and sewing machine parts, sand from Pope’s Creek and berries from the estate she created an emporium of architectural marvels, large wall murals and statues that were statements of her convictions. She was also a patriot. Statues of the Red Cross nurse of World War I, Women in Industry and the Queen Mother are embedded with hand hewn marble slabs of the veterans from our area who served our nation in the World Wars. Along with honoring our veterans, her message resonated the value of women in our society.
Laura Pope Forester’s art and message captured the attention of newspapers and print throughout GA and even the nation. Some examples are Thomasville Times, Macon Telegraph, Atlanta Journal Constitution and the Smithsonian Magazine. There are dozens of files of her work in the United States Library of Congress, Atlanta’s High Museum, and Georgia State University. Even today, travelers walking through the main terminal of Denver Colorado airport see a wall sized US map featuring two places from each state that travelers are encouraged to visit. For Georgia, Pope’s Museum is one of those two featured attractions.
With direction from a lawyer and an accountant, owners Dan and Michelle Dean created an IRS approved nonprofit 501c3 organization to preserve, rehabilitate and acquire the surviving works of Laura Pope Forester. Validation of preserving Laura’s artwork has been given at the governmental and artistic level. Specifically, the site received contingent approval to be on the National Register of Historic Places for art, recreation and leisure, and women’s history. Also, Laura’s work and Pope’s Museum was featured by the High Museum in Atlanta as part of their outsider art exhibit that ran from March-May of 2019. Community support has been strong whether restoration of the artwork, the home, or the historic gardens. The future opportunities for Pope's Museum are expanding quickly. Expected to be the next hot spot for special events such as weddings and parties, as well as private and corporate retreats, the renaissance of Pope’s Museum combines more than architecture and art with gardens and groves. It is beauty with elegance and history with art. The rebirth of this national treasure is a story that resonates across the generations and the genders.