Originally created 04/08/04

History has many channels

Charles Fordham clips and prunes gardenias and other shrubs outside the Lucy Craft Laney Museum of Black History with meticulous diligence.

"You see me clip, clip, clipping, but I'm not cutting a lot - I'm perfecting. On any given day you'll find me here," the groundskeeper said of the museum's period garden.

The garden was created in 1995 as homage to Ms. Laney, four years after the Laney-Walker district home she once owned was restored and reopened as a museum.

Ms. Laney, who died in 1933, taught and founded the area's first private school and first nursing school for blacks in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

"A student from the University of Georgia designed the garden, and only plants and flowers were included that would have been around during Ms. Laney's time," said Christine Betts, the museum director.

Featuring camellias, lilies, azaleas, irises, roses, nandinas, hydrangeas, chrysanthemums and dogwood trees, the garden has become almost as much an attraction as the exhibits inside, Ms. Betts said.

The museum showcases a new exhibit every other month.

Charleston artist Dorothy Wright's three-dimensional mixed-media exhibit, featuring tangible objects incorporated with paintings on canvas, will be on display through April.

"We had a couple hundred schoolchildren come and they were fascinated with the work," Ms. Betts said. "They get to learn to appreciate art."

Monica Moss, of Columbia County, particularly liked the Ebony Legacy. As one of the museum's four permanent collections, the exhibit displays pictures of blacks with connections to Augusta who have contributed to the area. Individuals featured include actor Laurence Fishburne, opera singer Jessye Norman, actress Butterfly McQueen, boxer "Merciless" Ray Mercer and soul singer James Brown.

"It's so beneficial to have a resource in our community that captures the spirit and the essence of the African-American contributions made to Augusta," Mrs. Moss said.

Items in the other permanent collections include paintings and African artifacts from a former Paine College professor, a typewriter from the late 1800s and historical documents from the Pilgrim Health and Life Insurance Company, the oldest black-owned insurance company in the state, which closed in 1992.

Ms. Betts said the children's center offers arts, crafts and computer skills classes.

"Parents are encouraged to come and tour and share the experience with their children," Ms. Betts said. "They'll get a good African-American history and art lesson."

Reach Samantha McKevie at (706) 823-3552 or samantha.mckevie@augustachronicle.com.


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