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Counties included: Chatham, Bryan, Effingham, and Liberty (Georgia), and Beaufort and Jasper (South Carolina)
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Telfair Museums presents Sylvia Shaw Judson’s iconic sculpture Bird Girl within the context of the history and art of Bonaventure Cemetery. Made famous by Jack Leigh‘s photograph for the cover of John Berendt’s bestselling novel of Savannah, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Judson’s sculpture was removed from the cemetery to Telfair Museums where it has been enjoyed by visitors for decades.

This exhibition will connect visitors to the history of Bonaventure, from Mary Telfair’s visits to the cemetery in the 19th century to the present day. The exhibition includes Henry Cleenewerck’s 1860 romantic painting of the cemetery on the eve of the Civil War as well as twentieth-century impressionist and realist paintings by Emma Wilkins and Louis Bouche. Bonaventure’s beautiful natural and sculptural environment are represented in photographs from 19th-century stereographs to twentieth-century images by Edward Weston and Jack Leigh. The exhibition will include works from Telfair’s permanent collection as well as ongoing loans from the city of Savannah and local private collections.

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Henry Cleenewerck (Belgian, 1818–1901), Bonaventure Cemetery, 1860, oil on canvas, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Gordon Washburn in memory of Mrs. James Cary Evans, 1967.10

Henry Cleenewerck is best known for Romantic landscape paintings created during his wide travels from the jungles of Cuba to the American West. Cleenewerck studied art in his native Belgium before traveling to the United States in the 1850s. He arrived in Savannah in 1860 or earlier and opened a studio on Broughton Street. A March 1860 Savannah Morning News article stated that Cleenewerck had completed two paintings of Bonaventure, praising him as one of the country’s finest landscape painters. He exhibited the paintings at Savannah’s Armory Hall that same May. Cleenewerck’s time in Savannah was short, possibly due to the outbreak of the Civil War. The same year he completed the Bonaventure paintings, the artist made a drawing, reproduced as a print, showing crowds raising the flag of secession in Savannah’s Johnson Square.

In this painting, Cleenewerck depicts a romanticized view of Bonaventure. As in T. A. Richards’ earlier painting, well-to-do white Savannahians are shown enjoying the cemetery’s moss-draped arcades of oaks. A well-dressed couple strolls in the foreground while two others ride past in a carriage followed by a likely enslaved African American nursemaid holding a small, white child by the hand. Recognizable features include the Clinch tomb and original rustic entrance gate on the far right, older obelisks on the left, and a view to the Wilmington River in the background. Cleenewerck exercised artistic license, rearranging these features to appear in the same view.

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Thomas Addison Richards (American, b. England, 1820–1900), Entrance to Bonaventure Cemetery and Bonaventure, from Harper’s Weekly, December 1, 1860, engraving on paper, Telfair Museums

Thomas Addison Richards illustrated and wrote numerous travel guidebooks, his volumes dealing with the South frequently including Savannah and Bonaventure in suggested itineraries. Richards also contributed writing and illustrations to major publications such as Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, including expanded illustrated essays such as “The Rice Lands of the South,” which mentions Bonaventure. Two illustrations of Bonaventure appeared in the December 1, 1860 issue of Harper’s Weekly. One image, signed “T. A. Richards,” depicts the original entrance to Bonaventure, a rustic arch made from whole trees. The companion image on this page shows various figures visiting the cemetery by carriage and on foot. The latter composition is nearly identical to Henry Cleenewerck’s 1860 oil painting of Bonaventure, suggesting that either Richards or an engraver based the image on Cleenewerck’s painting or that Cleenewerck was working from an earlier sketch by Richards.

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John B. Hogg (American, c. 1823–1888), Map of Evergreen Cemetery of Bonaventure, n.d., actual-size reproduction of original drawing, courtesy of the City of Savannah, Municipal Archives

This reproduction shows Bonaventure’s layout after its establishment as a privately managed public cemetery known as the Evergreen Cemetery at Bonaventure. In 1846, Peter Wiltberger purchased Bonaventure from Commodore Josiah Tattnall III, planning to develop 70 acres as a cemetery and maintain the original Tattnall family cemetery. After Wiltberger passed away in 1853, development of the cemetery and sale of lots was conducted by Wiltberger’s son, William, who formed the Evergreen Cemetery Company in 1868.

The finely drawn map was made by John Hogg, Savannah’s City Surveyor, who may have created this document for the Evergreen Company rather than in his official capacity. Hogg was born in South Carolina and is first listed in a Savannah census in 1860 as a peddler. By the following year he is recorded as a surveyor, and by 1867 he appears on a list of City Officers as City Surveyor. Hogg changed his last name to Howard around 1879 and continued to appear in City reports until 1887. Hogg’s map of Bonaventure, with its numerous hand-drawn trees, exemplifies the landscaped setting essential to a garden cemetery. The ox-eye shape in the plan’s center is thought to be the site of the original plantation house.

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Stereographs of Bonaventure

Stereographs are a form of three-dimensional photography popular from the mid-19th century until the 1920s. Stereo views are made by taking photographs with a special camera with two side-by-side lenses. The photographs are taken at slightly different angles, printed and mounted next to each other on cards. When you look through the lenses of a stereopticon viewer, your brain blends the two photographs together into one 3D image.

Many stereo views were made of Savannah in the late 19th century, and Bonaventure was one of the most popular subjects, appearing on hundreds of cards. Photographers who made stereographs in Savannah included Daniel J. Ryan, Jerome N. Wilson and O. Pierre Havens, and many other card makers outside of Savannah printed and reprinted stereo views of Bonaventure.

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Unknown Maker, Iron Gate Fragment from Bonaventure, 19th century, on loan from the City of Savannah, Department of Cemeteries

Bonaventure, like Laurel Grove and Catholic Cemeteries in Savannah, is a repository of beautiful wrought iron and Victorian cast iron. This ironwork reflects designs from local and Northern foundries that supplied fencing and gates for Bonaventure plots in the mid-to-late 19th century. Sadly, some ironwork from Bonaventure and other cemeteries has been stolen over time, underscoring the need to preserve and protect these artistic elements that contribute to the beauty of Savannah’s cemeteries.

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Unknown Makers, Victorian Garden Tiles, 19th century, on loan from the City of Savannah, Department of Cemeteries

Bonaventure and Laurel Grove contained large numbers of decorative ceramic bricks and tiles used as edging for cemetery plots. Sometimes mistakenly called “slave tiles,” the source of some of these ceramics is still not firmly documented, but large numbers of them are found in Savannah. Some may have been made in Milledgeville or elsewhere in middle and north Georgia. Others were clearly imported from England, including the rope border tile seen at the far right of this group. Frequently found designs include crosshatch, sunburst, rope knot, and rope border motifs. Like ironwork, ceramic tiles have been subject to theft over time, but public awareness of these historic artifacts and their importance to the cemetery’s historic environment has grown in recent years.

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John Walz (American, b. Germany, 1844–1922), Carl L. Brandt (1831–1905), 1891, plaster, Telfair Museums, TC14

Sculptor John Walz, a native of Germany, first came to the United States to live with his older sister in Philadelphia after the death of his parents. Walz learned stonecutting as a youth, saving his earnings to pursue artistic training in Europe. Walz studied in Paris with sculptor Aimé Millet, and in Vienna, Austria, at the workshop of master sculptor Victor Tilgner. There, he assisted with the carving of the five life-sized artist portraits commissioned to stand outside the new Telfair Academy by the museum’s first director, Carl Brandt. Walz came to Savannah to oversee the sculptures’ installation and later settled here. The industrious Walz became Savannah’s most prominent sculptor, creating hundreds of markers for the city’ historic Bonaventure, Laurel Grove, and Catholic cemeteries and elsewhere. Walz is best known for his lifelike sculpture Gracie in Bonaventure, carved for the grieving parents of a 6-year-old girl. Walz also carved sculptures for buildings in Savannah, including monumental figures that adorn the entrances to what is now the Savannah Chatham County Board of Education building on Bull Street. Walz maintained a home and studio on East Liberty Street for many years until his death in 1922. His widow, afraid that others would copy his work, burned his monument designs.

In this plaster bust, Walz depicts Brandt, a fellow German immigrant, as he would have been seen by early visitors to the Academy, with his goatee, artist’s smock, and fez. The portrait is a rare surviving example of Walz’s studio work. Brandt, like Walz, is buried at Bonaventure.

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Edward Weston (American, 1886–1958), Bonaventure Cemetery, 1941, gelatin silver print, museum purchase with funds provided by the Gari Melchers Collectors’ Society, 2018.5

In Leaves of Grass, published in various versions between 1855 and 1892, poet Walt Whitman (1819–1892) sought to create an American epic. Half a century after Whitman’s death, the Limited Editions Club of New York commissioned renowned photographer Edward Weston to create a series of images of “real American faces” and “places” to accompany a high-end portfolio edition of the book. Weston spent much of 1941 traveling the United States in his own epic photographic journey. He said that he was not out to merely “illustrate” Whitman and hoped the project would result in the best work of his life. Weston took some 700 images for the project, 49 of which were printed in the two-volume edition published in 1942. Although Weston was unhappy with the book’s design, the project yielded some of the photographer’s most poetic images, from a faded Louisiana plantation house to an elderly Texas couple looking not unlike Grant Wood’s American Gothic characters.

In Weston’s image of Bonaventure, an iron fence separates the viewer from the realm of the dead, a grouping of monuments clustered under an arch of sun-illuminated Spanish moss and curving oak branches. The Telfair family tomb appears at the far left edge of Weston’s composition.

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Emma Cheves Wilkins (American, 1870–1956), Iron Gate at Bonaventure, before 1942, oil on canvas, on loan from Richard Meyer III

An important figure in Savannah’s art scene for more than 50 years, Emma Cheves Wilkins painted portraits, still-life subjects, and landscapes, documented some 300 historical portraits in Savannah, and advocated for the preservation of the city’s trees and squares. Both her mother and maternal grandmother were miniature painters. She was among the first art students at the Telfair Academy, studying painting with director Carl Brandt. Beginning in 1895, Wilkins spent several summers studying art in Paris and Germany and began teaching art in Savannah soon afterward.

This work by Wilkins focuses on the gate to the R. W. Farr plot at Bonaventure flanked by the vibrant red azaleas that fill the cemetery with intense color every March. Wilkins exhibited Bonaventure subjects at Telfair on several occasions. This painting may have been exhibited under the title Iron Gate at Bonaventure in her solo exhibition at Telfair in February 1942. Wilkins assuredly felt a connection to the cemetery beyond its natural beauty. Her parents, along with several siblings who died as young children, were buried there. Wilkins was buried at Bonaventure in 1956.

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Louis Bouché (American, 1896–1969), Bonaventure, n.d., oil on canvas, gift of Marion Bouché, 1969.12

Louis Bouché is noted for his painterly, realist depictions of American people and places. Bouché was exposed to European art at a young age and studied art in Paris until the outbreak of World War I. He trained at the Art Students League in New York and worked in modes ranging from Impressionism to Cubism. This undated painting reflects Bouché’s realist approach in his work of the 1940s–1960s. Local newspapers mention Bouché in Savannah twice during that period, and Telfair’s Board minutes regarding the painting Bonaventure state that it was made when he was involved with an “art colony” in Savannah. This may refer to Bouché’s friend Alexander Brook, whose Savannah studio on Bay Street was a focal point for other artists in the 1930s and 1940s.

In Bouché’s painting of Bonaventure, three young women are shown visiting the cemetery’s historic Kollock plot against a backdrop of Spanish moss. Their casual attire suggests spring or summer and that the women may be tourists. The woman on the right holds a folding camera, popular in the 1940s. The woman in red stands in front of an urn-topped obelisk (destroyed by a falling tree during Hurricane Matthew in 2016) that marked the grave of Ann Marion Johnston. Of the painting, the artist’s widow Marion Bouché wrote: “Louis considered it one of his best. And how hard he worked on that Spanish Moss which he loved!”

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Jack Leigh (American, 1948–2004), Midnight, Bonaventure Cemetery, 1993, printed 2000, gelatin silver print, gift of the artist, 2002.2.1

Jack Leigh was one of Savannah’s most respected photographers, known for his books of photo essays documenting his native South. He studied at the University of Georgia, discovering his medium in a documentary photography course, and later learned from influential photographers George Tice and Eva Rubinstein. After traveling in Europe and living in Virginia, Leigh returned to Savannah in the 1970s. Here, he patiently recorded the lives of oystermen and other Southerners rarely seen in photographs.

In 1993, author John Berendt recommended Leigh to Random House to create the cover image for the book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Leigh arranged to work in Bonaventure for two days, obtaining keys to the gate so that he could stay after hours. Leigh discovered Sylvia Shaw Judson’s bronze Bird Girl sculpture as the light was ebbing, and shot the image using a technique known as lens compression to make the sculpture appear monumental. Afterward, he manipulated the image in the darkroom, using filters and the method of “dodging” to lighten the area around the Bird Girl. This highly constructed image attests to Leigh’s traditional photographic craftsmanship. The book cover made Leigh internationally famous and enabled him to open the Jack Leigh Gallery. The book’s success also spawned a movie version, and Leigh became involved in a legal battle over promotional images for the film similar to his Midnight image. Leigh passed away from cancer in 2004 at age 55 and is buried at Bonaventure beside his parents.

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Sylvia Shaw Judson (American, 1897–1978), Bird Girl, 1936, bronze, on long-term loan from the descendants of Lucy Boyd Trosdal

Bird Girl is perhaps best known as the subject of Savannah artist Jack Leigh’s photograph for the cover of John Berendt’s book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1994). Bird Girl was purchased around 1938 by Lucy Boyd Trosdal for the family plot in Bonaventure Cemetery. After Berendt’s book brought thousands of visitors to Bonaventure, threatening the sanctity of the site, the Trosdal family removed the sculpture, later loaning it to Telfair Museums for safekeeping.

Chicago sculptor Sylvia Shaw Judson originally designed Bird Girl as a garden statue in 1936. Judson was a National Sculpture Society fellow, a member of the National Academy of Design, and attended the Art Institute of Chicago. She also spent a year in Paris under the tutelage of sculptor Antoine Bourdelle. Judson created six original castings of Bird Girl, five in bronze and one in lead, which are dispersed across the United States.

Bird Girl’s pose does not actually symbolize the weighing of good and evil, rather, the bowls in her upturned hands were intended to hold food or water for birds. She was also originally designed to potentially function as a fountain, as indicated by the small holes in the bottom of her bowls and the slots at the front for water to overflow. Overall, Bird Girl recalls Greek archaic sculptures with her static pose and simple columnar form, which invokes a quiet charm that is evident to the many viewers who continue to visit her to this day.

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Unknown (Roman, 2nd to 3rd Century AD), Janus Head Herm (male), marble, on loan from the City of Savannah, L.2.1965

Unknown (Roman, 2nd to 3rd Century AD), Janus Head Herm (female), marble, on loan from the City of Savannah, L.3.1965

Savannah-based art collector Spencer P. Shotter traveled to Rome in 1912 purchasing antiquities to place on the grounds of Greenwich. At the time, Shotter was embroiled in an anti-trust case that would later lead to his sale of the estate. In 1912, Roman antiquities were still legally leaving Italy through sale by galleries and dealers. These sculptures were acquired by art dealer Allesandro Marcocchia from Galleria Sangiorgio in Rome in 1905, before sale to Shotter. The gallery sold art now in major museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art. After buying Greenwich in the 1930s, the city placed 14 art objects from the estate’s grounds in storage. These works emerged in 1965 when they were loaned to Telfair. Six of the works remain on regular view at the Telfair Academy.

These two Janus-headed sculptures are called herms. Janus was the Roman god of transitions, beginnings, and endings and is depicted with two faces, one looking forward, one looking back. Herms are rectangular stone pillars topped by a carved head. Originating with Greek depictions of the messenger god Hermes, herms were placed beside doorways and used to mark boundaries, including entrances to markets and gardens. At Greenwich, two herms were set within an oval coping at the entrance to Shotter’s gardens.

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Greenwich

Bonaventure was expanded in 1937 when the City of Savannah purchased the nearby Greenwich estate for use as a public cemetery, designated as the “Greenwich Addition to Bonaventure Cemetery.” Greenwich, like Bonaventure, occupies a beautiful location on a bluff overlooking the Wilmington River and was once a colonial-era plantation where some of the first soybeans were grown in North America. In 1896, Greenwich was purchased by naval stores magnate Spencer P. Shotter, who built a lavish Beaux Arts mansion and extensive gardens there. Shotter, who was born to a British father, attempted to emulate the effect of an English garden at Greenwich. He outfitted the grounds of his estate with expanses of lawn, boxwood hedges, imported plants, decorative pools, and classical statuary purchased in Rome in 1912. These sculptures remained on the site after Shotter lost his fortunes following an antitrust lawsuit and sold the property to Dr. H. N. Torrey of Detroit in 1917. The house and grounds were used as the setting for several silent films, including one starring Rudolph Valentino, before the mansion burned to the ground in 1923.

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David Delong (American, 1930–2001), Bonaventure III, 1997 (printed 2006), etching on paper, on loan from Harriett Delong

A multifaceted man, David Delong was an award-winning athlete, Golden Gloves boxer, and race driver. He also studied art at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and enjoyed a 50-year career as a visual artist. Delong’s work ranged from paintings and etchings of his beloved motorcycle racing to figures and mythological subjects. Delong and his artist wife Harriett moved to Savannah in 1994. After his death in 2001, the museum mounted an exhibition of his work and created an accompanying catalog in 2006.

Delong was taken with the environment of Bonaventure, particularly its figurative sculpture, and created a series of related etchings. In particular, Delong focused on monuments featuring figures of children and women. In this example, Delong depicts the John Walz-sculpted figure atop the Dieter monument.

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Maria Von Matthiessen (American, 1944–2001), Crowning Glory Hairdo, 2001, chromogenic print, museum purchase, 2001.11.11

Long a burial place for Savannah’s white elites, Bonaventure became an unlikely setting for photographs celebrating the creativity of African American hairstyles. Maria Von Matthiessen, a white, fine art photographer visiting Savannah, became entranced by the hair of local African American women. Von Matthiessen, whose celebrity portraits appeared in publications such as Life, Town & Country, and Harper’s Bazaar, also completed books such as Songs from the Hills (1993), featuring portraits of country musicians. In Savannah she collaborated with stylist Delores Screen, who created hairdos and coordinated with other stylists to interpret a variety of locations in the city through hair. Among these sites were the Shabazz Restaurant, the Owens-Thomas House slave quarters, and cemeteries including Bonaventure.

The Crowning Glory Hairdo, one of two images shot in Bonaventure, shows a model with hair piled in curls on her head in the form of a crown. She is positioned beneath a carved headstone in which two hands are shown descending from the clouds, appearing to place a crown on her head. The model’s eyes are closed, suggesting sleep or death, the solemn mood accentuated by the use of black and white. Von Matthiessen completed the series, called The Magical Self, shortly before her death from breast cancer in January 2001.

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