The Life of Laura Pope Forrester
Laura Pope Forrester, a self-taught artist, created an impressive museum at her home with over 200 sculptures and mesmerizing murals, signifying her artistic brilliance and early feminist beliefs. Born in 1873 as Cordelia Atkinson, Laura initially came from a location close to her museum, where she resided for the majority of her life. Her journey began in 1894 when she married her schoolteacher, Benjamin Hill Pope, and later, Julian Forrester in 1914 after Benjamin’s tragic passing in 1911.
Laura’s house, constructed in 1854, became her canvas as she expanded and transformed it over time, adding stories and sculptures. Her unwavering dedication to her close-knit Grady County community is evident through her artwork. Her story is not only an inspiration but also a testament to her innate artistic talent and her early feminist stance. She is considered one of the oldest self-taught outsider artists, a term that may be unfamiliar to many, referring to artists unrecognized by the mainstream art community during their active period.
Laura’s work comprises over 200 sculptures, including a 15-foot high, hundred-foot-long entry gate serving as a World War II memorial. It’s adorned with cast iron sewing machine legs and large busts, symbolizing unity during the war effort. She also created lifelike busts of notable figures like Martha Berry, founder of Berry College, and honored women in uniform. On the western side of her property, she carved the names of local soldiers who didn’t return from war onto marble slabs, providing a place for local families to pay tribute to their ancestors.
Her artwork not only holds historical significance but also carries a profound artistic message, emphasizing the power of determination to break through societal barriers and norms. Laura’s art continues to inspire with its beauty and equality-focused message. Her museum, known as Pope’s Museum, welcomed visitors from around the world, showcasing her message that America is strengthened by the family, the military, and the contributions of women.
Her artwork and message received notable public support during her lifetime, with recognition in publications like the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Macon Telegraph, and the Albany Herald. However, it gained even more prestige after her death. In 1977, an exhibit with over one hundred photographs of Pope’s Museum was created in collaboration with the United States Library of Congress. In 1983, Smithsonian Magazine featured her as an innovative and impactful outsider artist, and the New Georgia Encyclopedia recognized her as one of Georgia’s earliest self-taught outdoor art environments. Most recently, in 2020, Laura Pope Forester’s museum/home qualified for the United States National Register of Historic Places in categories such as Art, Recreation and Leisure, and Women’s History.
In essence, Laura Pope Forrester’s life and art epitomize the enduring and foundational truths of human skills and gifts. Her museum, Pope’s Museum, remains a clarion call, resonating with its message of equality, enduring through time.