A moment of odd coincidences and what feels like fate brought this Pacific Northwest girl to the rural South. During the summer of 2017, I read an article, “20 Female American Authors Every Female American Should Read,” a list that included Flannery O’Connor. I thought back to my first encounter with the Southern author, when I read, “A Good Man is Hard to Find” in high school AP English. I had enjoyed it and thought I should read more of her writing.
The next day, as I waited for my order at the local coffee shop, I browsed the adjoining independent bookstore, and there on the table lay the book I had just added to my ever-growing list of books to read. Drawn by June Glasson, a stark-white paperback with a beautiful watercolor peacock, I picked up “The Complete Stories.” I loved how the design’s dark vibrancy radiates in contrast to the haziness of the painting style, reflecting the brilliant depths of O’Connor’s work. I purchased the book and started reading. As I began to work my way through the collection, its second story, “The Barber,” became – and remains – my favorite. Often overlooked, the story represents a period in time that still echoes today.
Earlier that spring, I graduated with a Master’s in Museum Studies from the University of Oklahoma. After working for six years in Idaho museums and a summer internship at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, I was ready for something new. I applied to positions all over the country, looking for just the right fit, including a position as the curator at The Old Governor’s Mansion, part of Georgia College and State University. When the director made the initial interview call in October, he informed me that the position was actually for the first-ever curator at Andalusia: The Home of Flannery O’Connor. Was I still interested?
My heart stopped.
Flannery O’Connor? The Flannery O’Connor, who I was in the middle of reading? The Flannery O’Connor whose book I bought after happenstance presented it to me? The Flannery O’Connor who had me continually reeling with joy, anger, intrigue, and suspense?
Goosebumps. This was it. The job I had been waiting for.
In November, I accepted the position, and in January 2018, I packed up my life and moved to the small town of Milledgeville. In O’Connor’s world, I had the unsettling feeling of being an outsider, but I tried not to let it phase me. I was there to offer care and management of artifacts in a collection, no matter the subject. Thanks to years of training and experience, I knew I was ready for the challenge.
My first step was accessing the collection. Without appropriate care or cleaning since the home had been lived in, the items were in dire need of attention. I also had to address the misuse of artifacts, items in the collection had been previously used for fundraising dinners and social events. They were exposed to sun damage and regularly handled by people, causing a building up of oil and grime. By creating preventative planning like a Collections Management Policy and Integrated Pest Management System, I was ready to begin.
I started with the most critical room: Flannery’s first-floor bedroom and office, and I then proceeded to the dining room, kitchen, and collection storage. I assigned a three-digit accession number for every object in the house, establishing each object’s place in the collection. With the help of our docent core, I documented, cleaned, and photographed each item before numbering it and preparing it for exhibition or storage.
The real surprises came in the summer of 2018. After months of working with what I thought were our only artifacts, we were notified of not only one but two off-site storage units. These revelations extended our collection from roughly 500 items to more than 2,500. From the first unit, we discovered Regina O’Connor’s desk. We knew exactly where the desk belongs, as the imprint of the dark wood partner desk can still be seen in the floorboards of her central office. With this addition, we were able to design a more fluid interpretive tour while adding information about her extensive contribution to the Cline estate by managing the farm.
It was the second off-site discovery that really extended the collection. In four 10×10 units, I uncovered furniture, clothing, archives, fabric scraps, office supplies, and kitchen items. These things had been boxed up and set aside without another thought for more than a decade. As I sorted through the units, I was both overjoyed and disheartened. Finding such unique items excited me. I knew they would help exhibit the Cline-O’Connor story at Andalusia on a whole new level. I was, however, dismayed by the lack of care they had been given. From under layers of dust and grime, I uncovered Flannery’s painting kit. I pulled clothing from copy paper boxes that had suffered severe staining and deterioration due to the acidic nature of the cardboard.
Once again, with the help of interns and docents, I began to accession the additional items and, most importantly, update their storage conditions. Since the summer of 2018, textiles have been appropriately tagged and placed into acid-free boxes, historical documents and archives have been processed, and objects and furniture have been more appropriately organized. While Andalusia does not yet have a proper museum storage facility, the work I have done will set it up for future success and better management until that time.
Over the past three and a half years, I have also had the privilege of curating five exhibits, starting this blog, managing the museum’s Instagram, teaching and training docents and interns, receiving several major donations, and collaborating with varying Georgia College departments. I have learned who Flannery was and how her life at the farm so intricately shaped her writing. I found a deep appreciation for her letters and for the genuine humor you find in their pages. My work with the artifacts has given me a better understanding of Flannery, the person, versus O’Connor, the author. And for that, I am so much more grateful. As my time comes to a close at Andalusia, it has been an experience to remember. I take pride in leaving it better than I found it and am ready for the next curator to make their mark.