I have a book coming out before Christmas that will be a guide to Southern oddities (The History Press). It will be the perfect accompaniment for road trips through the South. Below is one of the stories that will be in the book about Pope’s Store Museum:
There is no parking lot, no sign, or even a place to pull off the road to see some of the most important art surviving in Georgia. Set along a residential road in Ochlocknee off Georgia Highway 111, an unusual concrete entryway leads to a home whose façade was embellished by one of the first female roadside artists in the country. The property of Laura Pope Forester (1873-1953), which includes a house and a store, was once home to more than 200 statues and bas reliefs but the majority were tragically destroyed, leaving the entry gate, the decorated home and a few other pieces of art inside and around the house.
In addition to being one of the only folk-art gardens created by a woman, it is also the nation’s oldest. The farm became a tourist attraction during Pope’s lifetime – it was featured on postcards and referred to as “Pope’s Museum.”
Forester made the impressive archway leading to her home, which bears a series of sculpted faces, in the 1940s. The 15-foot high, 100-foot long entry gate is decorated with “lacework” made from cast-iron sewing machine legs, wagon wheels and other items.
The majority of the statues and busts were of women but sometimes men were featured, including Douglas MacArthur and Dwight Eisenhower. She added marble slabs engraved with the names of all local people who died in World War II on one side and the authors of the 1945 Georgia Constitution on the other.
In addition to the gate, a surviving sculpture is a monument to the Red Cross nurses of World War I that was sculpted in 1920. It features the life-size figure of a nurse, a list of Grady County men who died in WWI, and the bust of a woman from Atlanta who Pope said was “killed on the Marne.”
Inside the home, a few of Pope’s paintings survive.
Pope’s Store Museum
192 Pope Store Road in Ochlocknee, Ga., 31773
Gate and home visible from the road. Tours can be booked by visiting www.popesmuseum.com or calling Michelle Dean at 229-307-0037.