The Telfair Museums in Savannah Georgia

Entrance to the Jepson Center of Contemporary Art

Just had another wonderful weekend in Savannah!  A few months ago  I wrote a post about the SCAD Museum of Art, which I didn’t get to this trip because the SCAD Senior Fashion Show took place at the museum last weekend and it was closed for that event.  I saw SCAD’s production of Steven Sondheim’s Into the Woods at the Lucas Theatre which was excellent!  And, I had a second visit to another set of museums that are definitely worth seeing if you are in Savannah.

The Jepson Center designed by Moshe Safdie

The Telfair Museums comprise three buildings which are three completely different museum experiences.  You can buy a pass for all three for $20 which is good for the entire week if you want to spread your visits out beyond a day.

Entrance to the Telfair Academy

A good place to start is at the Telfair Academy,  it is one of the oldest museums in the country opening to the public in 1886 after the Metropolitan in New York, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts,  and the Chicago Art Institute.  It is a former mansion built in 1819 for Alexander Telfair, son of a Revolutionary War patriot.  It houses their permanent collection of twentieth and nineteenth century art from American Impressionists who studied and painted with French Impressionists in Europe and  also works by artists from the Ashcan school.  One will see paintings by: Alfred Smith, Gari Melchers, Frederick Carl Frieseke, Childe Hassam, and William Merritt Chase to name just a few.  They also have traveling exhibitions and featured a show recently on artist Robert Henri, Spanish Sojourn: Robert Henri and the Spirit of Spain which is now at the San Diego Museum of Art.

Main Lobby of the Jepson Center

Just to the right on Telfair Square is the Jepson Center of Contemporary Art.  This amazing building was designed by architect Moshe Safdie, and opened in 2006, after some controversy over whether the contemporary design fit in with the historic district of Savannah.  This museum features a collection of twentieth century contemporary artists, including Jasper John, Chuck Close, Robert Rauschenberg, Richard Avedon and others.  Among it’s 7500 square feet of gallery space are traveling contemporary exhibitions.  Currently on display are five different exhibitions including Marilyn: Celebrating and American Icon presented in a variety of media celebrating Marilyn Monroe, Helen Levitt: In the Street, photos and a video of Manhattan neighborhoods in the 1940s.  In conjunction with this, is a video installation called Street by UK artist James Nares, who shot high def video out of and SUV  of current streets scenes in Manhattan, slowing the source material down to view at more than a slow motion speed which would last 61 minutes if you watched the whole thing.  At normal speed it would last all but three minutes.  It is a mesmerizing time capsule of daily life on the streets of Manhattan.

By this time you may be hungry, but not to fret, the Jepson has a wonderful cafe on the second floor that features dishes prepared with fresh local ingredients.  You can also lunch there without paying the museums admission.


The Jespon Cafe

The last building on the Telfair Museums excursion would be the Owens Thomas House.  Just a few blocks walk from the other two.  This can be visited via guided tours which take place every 15 minutes.  Just show your day pass to get tickets for the tour.  This former mansion was designed by William Jay, an architect from Bath England, who also designed the Telfair Mansion mentioned above. Competed in 1819 it is considered to be the finest example of English Regency architecture in the United States. It is a national historic landmark due to the fact the Marquis de Lafayette, hero of the American Revolutionary war stayed here with his son.

The Back Entrance to the Owens Thomas House

There have only been three families live in the Owens Thomas house, aside from the brief stint it served as a boarding house before the Owens purchased the home.  The original owner who commissioned Jay to design and build the home had amenities that no other house in the US could boast at that time. It had three cisterns that collected thousands of gallons of rain water, to provide water for all the indoor plumbing features, sinks, bathtubs, showers, and toilets.  This was unheard of for that time period, 1819, and it wouldn’t be until a few decades later that other homes in the US had these luxuries.

The Garden and the Carriage House, Former Stables and Slave Quarters of the Owens Thomas House


A good plan of action for a weekend visit is to take your time at the Jepson Center and the Telfair Academy and save the Owens Thomas house for the next day.  There are also tours on Sunday.

Also, don’t forget to see what might be happening at the Lucas Theatre!

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