Telfair Museums History

History

Telfair Museums is the oldest public art museum in the South. The legacy of one visionary Savannahian, it was founded in 1883 through the bequest of prominent local philanthropist Mary Telfair, who left her home and its furnishings to the Georgia Historical Society to be opened as a museum. Today, Telfair Museums consists of three unique buildings: the Telfair Academy and the Owens-Thomas House, two National Historic Landmark sites built in the early nineteenth century, and the contemporary Jepson Center.

WEB_Rotunda(c.1896)Each of the museum’s three buildings represents an innovative expression of its time, and houses a collection corresponding to the era in which it was built. Designed in the Regency style by English architect William Jay, the Telfair Academy houses nineteenth and twentieth century American and European art. The Owens-Thomas House, also designed by William Jay (though notably different in style) is considered one of the finest examples of English Regency architecture in the country. In addition to the historic house museum and decorative art ranging from the late eighteenth to the early nineteenth century, the site includes rare intact urban slave quarters and a lovely parterre garden. Rounding out the Telfair’s trio of landmark buildings, the Jepson Center, designed by the internationally acclaimed architect Moshe Safdie, is devoted to the art of today. Together, these three unique buildings and three distinct collections bridge centuries of art and architecture, illustrating the continuum of art and history in Savannah.