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Monet to Matisse: Masterworks of French Impressionism is on view now!

The Telfair Academy Sculpture Gallery, originally called the Sculpture Hall when the museum opened in 1886, once was filled with plaster casts of sculpture from Greek and Roman antiquity: emperors, philosophers, gods and goddesses, mythological creatures, popes, poets, kings, and military heroes. Over time these casts were damaged, vandalized, painted, and repainted and were becoming a conservation nightmare. Though they were a wonderful educational resource, they were now deemed of negligible artistic value.

On May 26, 1966, at the 91st annual meeting of the Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences, Inc., the suggestion was made that a fountain be installed in the center of the Sculpture Hall, at that time referred to as the Cast Room. This would necessitate the removal of the largest of the casts, the colossal Toro Farnese or Farnese Bull, which then dominated the center of the room. At the June 9, 1966, board meeting, the unanimous agreement was that the plan would be put into effect and that most of the casts, including the Toro Farnese, be removed so that the fountain could be installed. This plan would also free up wall space, enabling the display of paintings that had been relegated to storage.

A newspaper photograph taken September 15, 1966, heralds the beginning of the Telfair season with a photograph of the Cast Room, now called the Fountain Gallery, with the fountain in place. A special sculpture purchased for the center of the pool would soon arrive: William Zorach’s Mother and Child, a bronze cast of a marble statue in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

A New Direction

After only seven years, renovations were planned once again for the Fountain Gallery in 1973. The gallery walls and windows were covered and the fountain was removed. The pool remained, to be adorned with a mosaic liner designed by nationally noted mosaic muralist Marjorie Kreilick of the University of Wisconsin. The removal of the fountain made possible the addition of more paintings to the walls and the reinstallation of plaster casts that had been in storage since the fountain’s installation.

Since that renovation in 1973, the Sculpture Gallery has changed a few more times.

  • Fast forward four more short years: In 1977, the walls of the gallery — now referred to as the Sculpture Gallery — were covered with beige carpeting.
  • Around 1985 the pool was covered.
  • The latest renovation project was conducted in 2013 when the room was restored to its original 1885 appearance.

Today, the sculpture gallery displays the museum’s remaining plaster casts, sculpture loans from the City of Savannah and, until recently, the Zorach Mother and Child (now housed at the Jepson Center) as well as some of the finest paintings in Telfair’s collection, exemplifying regionalism, Impressionism, the Ashcan School, and works by Khalil Gibran.

Sources:

  • Memorandum to the Trustees of the Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences, Inc., November 24, 1965, Project II, Rehabilitation of the Cast Room.
  • Minutes of December 2, 1965, Item II of Mr. Labrot’s letter concerning the rehabilitation of the cast room.
  • Minutes of the 91st Annual Meeting, Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences, Inc., May 26, 1966.
  • Minutes of June 9, 1966, Movement that the Farnese Bull be removed at once.
  • Photograph: “Telfair Academy Season Opens,” Savannah News-Press, September 16, 1966. Photograph by Bill Durrence for the Savannah News-Press.
  • “Telfair to Get $10,000 Statue,” Savannah Evening Press, July 30, 1966.
  • Photograph: William Zorach’s, Mother and Child in place in the fountain, the cast made especially for the Fountain Gallery of the Telfair Academy, photograph c. 1966, Waldrop Photography, Savannah, Georgia.
  • “Renovation Set At Art Academy,” Savannah Morning News, Savannah Evening Press, December 10, 1972.
  • “Telfair Academy Sports ‘New Look’,” Savannah Morning News, Savannah Evening Press, Section B, Cover story, January 21, 1973.
  • Photograph: Pool in the Sculpture Gallery with Marjorie Kreilick’s mosaic liner, c. 1973.
  • Minutes of January 13, 1977, Item II of Mr. Labrot’s letter concerning the rehabilitation of the cast room.
  • “Physical Changes,” Telfair Newsletter, September 1977
  • Postcard: “View of Sculpture Gallery looking west,” H. K. Barnett, Allison Park, Pa., c. 1977.