Archive for March, 2009

Wren’s Nest Conservation Update – Joel Chandler Harris Bedroom


Written on March 31, 2009 at 4:26 pm, by Lain Shakespeare

The most distinctive room in the Wren’s Nest is Joel Chandler Harris’s room.

Esther LaRose Harris, his widow, insisted that his room remain “unmessed with” (don’t worry — it’s a technical term) if the Wren’s Nest were to become a museum.

Joel Chandler Harris's Bedroom, More or Less Unmessed with since 1908

So, the bedroom remained more or less the same for the past 100 years.  The artifacts are cataloged, and Miss Nannie dusts in there from time to time, but that’s really about it.  For better or worse, it’s rare to have this sort of preservation in a monitored setting.

When it came time for IFACS to start cleaning the room, we had one major concern — the matting on the floor.

Rugs and Matting in Joel Chandler Harris's Bedroom

The matting is original to the room, but it’s beat up, dusty, falling apart, and detrimental to the surrounding artifacts.

Our solution was this — buy a similar matting, distress it, and place it over the original.  This would preserve the original matting much better, not to mention the surrounding artifacts.

After snooping around inside the room, the IFACS folks made a glorious discovery — there’s additional original matting under the top layer!

Matting in Joel Chandler Harris's Room, Before and After

On the left side, the top layer of matting has been rolled up to reveal even more original matting in pretty excellent condition.  On the right side, you can see how the top layer was falling apart.

So, instead of buying anything new, IFACS merely rolled up the top layer and stored it safely.

Matting on the floor of Joel Chandler Harris's Room, Now Clean

In person, you can even see the faded pattern on the “new” matting.  The pattern looks a little bit like it was modeled after some of the enemy spaceships from Space Invaders.

Spring Break (Woo!) Storytelling Extravaganza at the Wren’s Nest


Written on March 27, 2009 at 3:21 pm, by Amelia

That’s right, the Wren’s Nest is hosting a Spring Break (Woo!) Storytelling Extravaganza!  Between April 7th – 10th join us for storytelling each day at 12 pm.

Even better, it’s buy-1-get-1-free admission!

Storytelling will be outside (weather permitting), and everyone is encouraged to bring a picnic lunch.  Tours will follow the performances or the lunches.

To prove how serious we are about this excellent excuse for getting the kids out of the house, we even wrote a press release. If you exclaimed “Big Time!” you were right.

Our track record with press releases is spotty.  For proof, check out the press releases under our “News” tab — proudly updated last in 2007.   It’s odd, because we have written press releases since then — we just didn’t make them public.  Pretty savvy, I know.

Just in time for Spring Break (woo!), we’re turning a new leaf.   You should come celebrate this new side of the Wren’s Nest with us at, say, the Spring Break (Woo!) Storytelling Extravaganza between April 7th and 10th at noon.  Just an idea.

Oh, and if you’re all “boo-hoo this is for kids only,” pull yourself together and listen — it’s also during your lunch break, goofball.

Illustrations and Music from Jump! — the Brer Rabbit Adaptation by Van Dyke Parks and Barry Moser


Written on March 25, 2009 at 5:01 pm, by Lain Shakespeare

Have you heard of Van Dyke Parks?

He’s the musical genius from Mississippi who wrote and recorded SMiLE with Brian Wilson.  He turned down joining The Byrds.  He’s arranged for Danger Mouse …and just about everyone else.

Parks also wrote the score for a musical and children’s book (along with Malcolm Jones) called Jump! based on the Brer Rabbit stories in the early 1980s.  He followed Jump! (the book) with Jump Again!

Jump Again!

Both books have been at my mom’s house ever since I was little, but I never bothered to pick them up.  I grew up with enough Brer Rabbit, okay?

On Monday I was at my mom’s house in a hazy, food-poisoned delirium and I stumbled across both books.  Renowned illustrator Barry Moser provided the water color illustrations.  And boy howdy, these are easily my favorite Brer Rabbit illustrations.  I can’t believe these books have been staring me in the face for all these years.

I’ve included 9 illustrations below, but there are plenty more where these came from.  Make sure you click ’em for full size versions.  Listen to the title track from Jump! while you take a gander to really do it up right.

Barry Moser's Brer Fox

Brer Rabbit Prepares for Brer Wolf

Brer Bear in Jump!

Brer Rabbit Rides Brer Fox

Barry Moser's Tar Baby

Miss Molly Cottontail

Barry Moser's Brer Rabbit

Brer Terrapin

Barry Moser's Miss Meadows Place

Miss Meadow’s Place is my favorite.  You just don’t see houses of ill repute with big Coke signs out front anymore.

I couldn’t find these books on any publishers’ website, so I don’t think they’re still in print.  Stinks.  We would make a fortune selling them.  They’re just wonderful.

Also, how do we get Jump! the musical produced in Atlanta?  Or, even better, how could we get Van Dyke Parks to play a concert in our back amphitheatre?  Maybe we could bring Barry Moser to the Decatur Book Festival?  Got any schemes to share?

For more on Van Dyke Parks and Jump! check this article from Musician magazine in 1985.

Wren’s Nest Conservation Update — Cleaning the Interior


Written on March 24, 2009 at 12:29 pm, by Lain Shakespeare

You will be pleased to know that the Wren’s Nest is being cleaned after many years of accumulating dust, grime, and jam (you know, from the jam hands of oh-so-many children).

IFACS Cleaning the Ceiling

Don’t ask me how we got jam on the ceiling.

The crew from IFACS will also repair artifacts and explain what they’re doing to curious and apathetic visitors alike. Then they’ll casually namedrop places that they’ve worked at like “Buckingham Palace” and “King Hussein’s Palace” and “The Sultan of Brunei’s Palace.”

IFACS and HEPA Vaccum

Then they’ll continue vaccuming.

Here’s the basic outline (.pdf) of the work plan.  It’s subject to change as I find the answers to questions like —

  • Is the hall ceiling devoid of wallpaper because it has always been that way or because we ran out of money 20 years ago while restoring the home?
  • What’s the story, exactly, with the matting on the floor of Joel Chandler Harris’s bedroom?

I’ll keep y’all posted.

MAACC Suggestions and Comments — Take Two


Written on March 19, 2009 at 2:21 pm, by Amelia

We’ve gotten slightly side-tracked in the comments section of our last post, so we wanted to start anew.

The goal is to use this space — well, technically the space below — to continue the discussion of successful practices in the current economy that began at Monday’s Town Hall meeting.

For example, Alex Trouteuad of Spry PR highlighted a great marketing trick that had worked well for the brain geniuses at Synchronicity Theatre.

Alex From Spry PR's Tweet

The main questions we’re looking to answer are:

  • Which specific strategies work for your arts organization in this economy?
  • Which strategies don’t work?
  • What can the Atlanta community do to help your organization?
  • Did you think that the MAACC event was helpful?

Hopefully, these answers will create an ongoing dialogue for members of the arts and culture community.  It’s so great to be able to learn from everyone else’s experiences, and I would love for the discussion to continue.  (Here.)

And, if you’re bored enough, you can even read other posts on our blog.  Let’s just hope things don’t get that bad.

Metro Atlanta Arts & Culture Coalition — Keep The Dream Alive


Written on March 18, 2009 at 2:12 pm, by Amelia

On Monday night Lain and I attended a Town Hall meeting at 7 Stages Theatre to discuss “Survival Strategies for Arts & Culture Organizations in the Current Economy.”

The event was hosted by the Metro Atlanta Arts and Culture Coalition.

Metro Atlanta Arts and Culture Coalition

Over 160 representatives from arts and culture organizations attended.  A panel of experts spoke about how cultural groups can use more strategery in current economic times.*

Big-time speakers included —

Karen Beavor, President & CEO
Georgia Center for Nonprofits

Mary Pat Crouch, Vice President
Coxe Curry & Associates

Penny McPhee, President & Trustee
Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation

Shirley Mitchell, Senior VP, Market Development
Bank of America

All of the speakers were effective, encouraging, and (very importantly) concise.

The audience then shared their own success stories (following one man who, apparently after wandering into the wrong meeting and tuning out the entire presentation, spoke about traffic issues and asked us to make a change.  Buddy, I’m flattered you think I have that kind of pull!).

Not everything was applicable to the Wren’s Nest (our HR department is actually a squirrel out back), but what didn’t apply to us was made up for by the $1 beers, which always apply to us.  And let me tell you, arts and culture folks really know how to knock 1 or 2 back.

But enough about us.  We want to hear from you.  Please, choose a question below and answer it in the comments.

  • Which strategies work for your arts organization in this economy?
  • Which strategies don’t work?
  • What did you think of the event?

Don’t be shy!  We’re waiting with bated breath.

*They stink.

Historic Tourism and Steve Martin’s King Tut Sketch on Saturday Night Live


Written on March 17, 2009 at 1:24 pm, by Lain Shakespeare

Amelia introduced me to the classic Saturday Night sketch, “King Tut,” with Steve Martin.  Have you seen it? It’s very funny.

Just before the King Tut saxophone solo, the satire really stung me.  Steve Martin sings, “He gave his life …for tourism.”

That line really made me think about what we do at the Wren’s Nest.  Well, that one and “he’s my favorite honky.”

It’s hard to ignore the fact that the Wren’s Nest staff (especially us bloggers) are not unlike what Steve Martin satirizes above.  See–

  • “Kids!  Read Brer Rabbit stories.  We’ll give you a tshirt!”
  • “Dads!  We have Brer Rabbit golf balls in our gift shop.  They’ll keep you out of the Briar Patch!”
  • “Internet!  We have this goofy blog (and now a Twitter account)!”

Wren's Nest Tuesday Tweet

Sometimes it’s tricky to balance (a) a mission that requires commitment to historic preservation, (b) the need to bring in earned income, and (c) the waning attention span of the public in an increasingly competitive and wired world.  In other words, it’s easy to forget that we’re here to preserve the heritage of African-American folklore and the legacy of Joel Chandler Harris.

Ideally everyone would come clamoring in for tours of an historic home to hear the Brer Rabbit stories, especially since they are such a unique and indispensable part of American culture.  Too bad it doesn’t work that way.

So, I guess my question is this — when we’re competing for tourists and field trips with the likes of the Aquarium and the Coke Museum, are our gimmicks really that bad?

Better yet, have you seen any other museums that’ve successfully raised awareness on the cheap without sacrificing their integrity?  We didn’t have much integrity to begin with, so I guess we have a leg up there.

Join Bruce Bickley and the Wren’s Nest for Uncle Remus Night


Written on March 16, 2009 at 3:15 pm, by Lain Shakespeare

This Thursday — that’s March 19th — at 7:15 pm you will be at the Decatur Library for Uncle Remus Night.  Why?

Because Daren Wang of the Decatur Book Festival told you to attend, on WABE’s City Cafe no less.  Listen here.

Dr. Bruce Bickley, an authority on Joel Chandler Harris from Florida State University, will give his talk: “Joel Chandler Harris’s Uncle Remus Tales on the Cultural Big Road.”  According to the Georgia Center for the Book website, I will have a few things to say too.  Gulp.

Also, I am excited to announce that we have permission to display an original, unpublished, and rarely-before-seen Uncle Remus depicted by Norman Rockwell in oil and charcoal.

It’s on loan from a donor.  I will do my best not to drop it.

Other reasons to attend:

  • The talk is free.
  • I’ll be there stuttering, selling books, giving out free tickets, and perhaps even wearing a collared shirt.

This event is our main contribution to the Southern Literary Trail, and we couldn’t have done it without partnering with the Georgia Center for the Book.  Thanks, y’all, and please spread the word.

Wren’s Nest Conservation Project — New Brick Path and Secret Tunnel


Written on March 12, 2009 at 9:21 am, by Lain Shakespeare

A garden of loose rubble has traditionally comprised the entry to our basement.  It is delightfully dangerous.

Loose Rubble in Front of the Wren's Nest Basement

Too bad it’s a problem.  The rubble limits accessibility and begs for twisted ankles whilst wide-eyed volunteers carry heavy things across the threshold.  So that they may better do my bidding, we’re extending our brick path to the basement entry.

It’ll meet the old brick path and basement entry at grade.  And it will encourage the use of wheelbarrows.  Everyone likes wheelbarrows.

New Path to the Wren's Nest Basement

Note how this gentleman is hacking away at a little crevice.  That’s for the secret tunnel.  You know, the secret tunnel where we divert rain water from the roof away from the house.

We’ll use sweet, sweet PVC pipe underground like so:

Secret Tunnel, PVC Pipe, Wren's Nest Basement Path

Thus the secret tunnel will prevent moisture from wreaking havoc upon the house and better preserve the painted brick.  PVC, I would be lost without you.

Wren’s Nest Storytelling at Little Shop of Stories Tomorrow!


Written on March 11, 2009 at 11:51 am, by Amelia

Little Shop of Stories (which I keep writing as “storeos”) is probably the best children’s bookstore ever.  While I have not been to every bookstore in the whole world, I have been to over 3 and I feel very confident in my assertion.

Little Shop of Stories 2

One of the things that makes it so great is their thrice-weekly Storytime.  And tomorrow we’ll be lucky enough to get in on the fun!

Yep, tomorrow, Thursday March 12th, Wren’s Nest Rambler Josie will be performing at 7pm.  Not only is Josie great and the audience pretty much guaranteed to be adorable, but there will also be milk and cookies!

Bonus: since Little Shop is in downtown Decatur, right on the square, it will be pretty easy to make a night of it, if you’re into that sort of thing.  Though I can’t guarantee the whole night will be story-themed.  Personally, I am up for the challenge.

See you there!