South Georgia Roots
Popes Museum is a national treasure with its roots in South Georgia that exemplifies the importance of the arts in women’s history, civic pride, and historic preservation. As such, Popes Museum is a core player in strengthening the community of South Georgia specifically targeting the areas of the arts, education, and historic preservation.
Found in Grady County, Pope’s Museum is the former home of Laura Pope Forester, a self-taught artist, notable not only for creating a large art environment of high artistic quality around her rural residence and store but also as one of the few female artists to do so in the twentieth century.
Certainly, she had no formal training other than 3 months from a traveler, and her art was not featured during her lifetime in any art exhibits as are traditional artists. Yet before her death in 1953, she had created 200 sculptures, wall-to-wall murals, and gardens of exquisite design and intention. She also spent her life working to open up possibilities for women, often with her art.
Because of her position on opportunities for women, Laura’s message was just as revolutionary as her art. She intentionally created replicas of women and men (usually women) that demonstrated a trait that she found admirable. Some examples are Nancy Hart – The Georgia Heroine who single-handedly captured and hung 6 British military officials during the Revolutionary War, Cleopatra, and Mitchell’s literary heroine Scarlet O’Hara. Using such common objects as Model T wheels and sewing machine parts, sand from Pope’s Creek, and berries from the estate she created an emporium of architectural marvels, large wall murals, and statues that were statements of her convictions. She was also a patriot. Statues of the Red Cross nurse of World War I, Women in Industry, and the Queen Mother are embedded with hand-hewn marble slabs of the veterans from our area who served our nation in the World Wars. Along with honoring our veterans, her message resonated with the value of women in our society.
With direction from a lawyer and an accountant, owners Dan and Michelle Dean created an IRS-approved nonprofit 501c3 organization to preserve, rehabilitate, and acquire the surviving works of Laura Pope Forester. Validation of preserving Laura’s artwork has been given at the governmental and artistic levels. Specifically, the site received contingent approval to be on the National Register of Historic Places for art, recreation and leisure, and women’s history. Also, Laura’s work and Pope’s Museum were featured by the High Museum in Atlanta as part of their outsider art exhibit that ran from March to May of 2019. Community support has been strong whether restoration of the artwork, the home, or the historic gardens. The future opportunities for Pope’s Museum are expanding quickly. Expected to be the next hot spot for special events such as weddings and parties, as well as private and corporate retreats, the Renaissance of Pope’s Museum combines more than architecture and art with gardens and groves. It is beauty with elegance and history with art. The rebirth of this national treasure is a story that resonates across the generations and the genders.
Award and Recongition
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Board of Directors
Michelle Dean, Executive Director and Founder of Popes Museum Preservation is inspired daily by what she sees in both people and places. As a literature teacher and public speaker, she knows that every person and place tells a story and that stories motivate people to dream grander, reach higher, and strive longer. Popes Museum is no exception. Using Popes Museum and its stories in a way that strengthens the relationships and the economy of South Georgia is what keeps her focused.
Daniel Dean, Property Manager, brings a hands on approach to the vision of Popes Museum and Farm. Dan has been married to Michelle for 29 years. Dan recently completed a career as a deputy sheriff. He works with property management and bookkeeping for both the museum and farm sites. Additionally he and Michelle are the parents of four children.
Todd Butler is trial lawyer whose home office is in Cairo, Georgia. He is originally from Pelham, Georgia. He is a Navy veteran, and he claims both Thomas University in Thomasville and Florida State University in Tallahassee as his almae matres. He graduated in 1999 from Mercer’s Walter F. Georgia School of Law in Macon. Todd is an avid supporter of education and the arts in southwest Georgia.
Rich Curtis was born and raised in North Alabama. He received his BFA from the University of North Alabama in 2000. After a year of working at the Birmingham Museum of Art, he entered the graduate program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Curtis received his MFA in 2004. He is currently Assistant Professor of Art at Thomas University.
Della Wheeler Lovett is the successful small business owner of Wheerlers Christmas Tree Farm and Mazie Daze Fleecery in Grady County. She is also the creator of the Elevate Artisan Market, which is Southwest Georgia’s premiere showcase for artisans and craftspeople from throughout the Southeastern United States. The market is held every October at her farm, featuring more than 150 artists and attracting over than 5,000 attendees each year.
Ellen M. Jeter
Ellen M. Jeter’s interest is preservation and it stems from 25yrs of custom framing where she was personally involved with the cleaning and repairing of old family portraits and original paintings. Working with these personal treasures gave her a respect of rare family and community as well as national treasures. When she was asked to join the Popes Museum team, she was honored and excited to be able to use her experience to help preserve such a community and national treasure.
Kristin Bailey, Assistant Director. Kristin recently moved to Cairo from Tallahassee, FL. She is a geologist by day, but has a passion for technology and marketing of Popes Museum. She manages the Popes Museum Farm website, all social media accounts, and assists Michelle in planning and implementing activities and events for the museum and farm.
Johnny H. Moore is the Senior Pastor of Family Worship Center, a steady growing congregation in Cairo, Georgia. He is also known as a motivator, encourager and equipper of pastors and leaders. He is the founder of AimHi Incorporated, a leadership development company, Ruralpastor.com, a company that develops resources and materials for Rural Pastors and Churches, and the author of three books.