Category: Announcements

What is it about the Wren’s Nest?

Today’s blog post was written by our new Managing Director, Dean Baker. We are thrilled to have Dean as part of our team!

I have always had an interest in the past, knowing what has come before and how it still informs and shapes the present. During my life, this interest has taken different forms in working to help share, uncover and preserve the past. Growing up outside of Saint Paul, I was fascinated by the interconnected buildings on the Skyway System, a project that considered and connected historic buildings in a new and different way. This interest connecting the past in different ways has shown through in efforts as the Urban Designer in Roswell and Planning Director in Woodstock where we introduced new ways to recognize the story of the past,  while developing the future. This was followed by over a decade at the State Historic Preservation Office, where I helped preserve hundreds of buildings, mostly train depots, while getting to learn the broad history of Georgia. Later, about the same time I first came on the board at The Wren’s Nest, I was able to take on a couple of projects that helped to share more of Atlanta’s Civil Rights Movement story. One was teaching at the Georgia State University Honors College where I got to work closely with one of the main instigators of the Atlanta Student Movement and Civil Rights leader Lonnie King in helping to start the Herndon Human Rights Initiative. I continue to work with a number of classes at Georgia State to research and share more of the story of the Atlanta Student Movement. The other project was working with Central Atlanta Progress and Portman Holdings to list Peachtree Center on the National Register of Historic Places. This was groundbreaking preservation work and one that connects all of the pieces of modern Atlanta history, a story that really begins about the time The Wren’s Nest represents.  

When I started working full-time at The Wren’s Nest, not too long ago, I reached out to our board members and friends of the Nest to ask their advice. The most memorable response was a very long period of deep laughter, followed by, “I guess I should say congratulations!” I’m not going to name the particular board member, but the response was both encouraging and a reality check. While this place of joy has certainly not been as filled with laughter as it should be, especially recently as we await the opportunity to freely open our doors to our friends and neighbors we have been missing. Like the Harris family when they left Savannah for Atlanta in 1876 to escape the yellow fever epidemic, this unusual time also reminds us what is truly important and that whatever plans we may have made, we can only operate within the world we find ourselves in at the present.

I have long been a fan of the story of Atlanta, a city created through something of an accident of geography and time. The Wren’s Nest represents one of these true Atlanta stories of people coming together to create a special place that allowed them to be released from previous social and class restrictions. In our case, it can be best summed up as “when country comes to town.” Joel Chandler Harris was undoubtedly a product of his rural upbringing in Eatonton, and he was able to create a home within this city that was connected while being a place apart.

The idea of The Wren’s Nest as a retreat from an overwhelming world that is too often difficult to understand continues to be an appealing one. We are now coming back to the concept of The Wren’s Nest existing as a state of mind, one that can now easily reach people all over the world, while still also being an integral piece of our neighborhood and city. We will continue to offer all of our programming virtually, even when we are finally able to welcome visitors back into our beloved home. This place for storytelling needs to become what it will be next, and that is the challenge we are facing today.

What is the Next Nest?

The Wren’s Nest has long been a place filled with joy, family, friends, conversations, life, happy memories, warm feelings, and an ongoing love of stories. Today, we find ourselves unable to welcome our friends and family in the ways we are used to, and we are working on finding different ways to help bring more happiness, joy, and stories to those who love The Wren’s Nest and everything it has long stood for in our changing and often chaotic world.

The Wren’s Nest has always been an oasis in the ever-growing Atlanta that surrounds us. We want to make sure we can provide a place that is focused on the foundational stories from many cultures that have made their way to Atlanta. This is not just an academic approach, but one that shows the constant threads that connect us to where we began, long before anyone arrived in Atlanta, and how these stories will continue on long after we have gone.

The Next Nest looks to shift our approach from getting people to come to the West End to hear stories with us, to sharing stories from the West End in new and different ways, with the whole world.

In order to become what we will need to be next, we are going to have to change how we do things. The first change is focused on our programming. We will have three distinct programming seasons each year that will include panel discussions, author talks, virtual and physical exhibits that will now be shared in other ways to spread our stories across the world, without giving up our Southern accent. As an ongoing effort, we begin programming focused on children with a series of storybook readings and we will, of course, continue to highlight our outstanding storytellers, finding new ways to highlight and share their talents. This is an opportunity for us to experiment with how and where we share our programs and stories.  

While we will be reaching out with our programming starting in 2021, we also want to remember our roots in Atlanta. Our yard and amphitheater will continue to welcome our neighbors, but now we are more conscious of crowd size and social distance. This holiday season, we are getting ready to test how we will welcome visitors, to determine how we can operate safely as possible going forward. We seek to safely welcome visitors once again for our authentic Atlanta experience, but now we will require reservations and masks so that we can help keep everyone safe. Please watch out for notification on these events coming very soon.

As we move forward into our changing world, looking to become the Next Nest, we will need to open ourselves up to new ideas and experiences. To continue bringing more joy and happiness to the world, we will need to rely on those who have loved and helped us in the past, while we seek new people with new and different ideas to share, that will help us get to where we need to be next. I hope you will join us on this journey as we seek out what our Next Nest will become.

Please let us know your thoughts for what is to come for The Wren’s Nest. As we go forward in our new world, we will need all the help we can get in creating our Next Nest. I can be reached at dean@wrensnest.org.

Something to Smile About

The Wren’s Nest is excited to announce that you can now support our organization when you shop on Amazon! 

That’s right. We are now a registered organization on AmazonSmile. This means that when you select us as your charity, Amazon will donate 0.5% of the price of eligible purchases to The Wren’s Nest. It is the equivalent of a cash-back option on a credit card, but with the cash-back going to the charity of your choice.

Of course, we would prefer you to shop locally, especially at our West End neighborhood businesses that have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic

However, if you are going to use Amazon for your shopping, you can now do so while helping us preserve Georgia’s oldest house museum and the home of Brer Rabbit.

How it works:

  1. Go to www.smile.amazon.com and sign-in or create your Amazon account.
  2. If you have created a new account, you will be directed to this landing page:
  3. In the box to “enter charity name,” type in “Joel Chandler Harris Association” (which is our official organization name) and then press search.
  4. This screen should appear:
  5. Press “select” and The Wren’s Nest will now be your charity organization!
  6. Remember that for us to receive the donation from your Amazon purchases, you need to go www.smile.amazon.com each time you shop!

 

 

If you already have an AmazonSmile account, to select The Wren’s Nest as your charity, you can follow this link

Alternatively, when you log into your account, hover your mouse over your currently selected charity (it should appear under the search bar at the top of the screen). A pop-up will appear with an option next to the name of your charity to change it. Then follow steps 3-6 of the above instructions.

We hope you will consider using AmazonSmile and have your future purchases make a difference towards preserving the art of storytelling.

It would certainly make us smile!

A Rabbit of Many Looks

The Brer Rabbit Gallery is now available for viewing!

In a previous blog post, we did a deep dive on the original illustrators for Joel Chandler Harris’s Uncle Remus books, including Frederick S. Church, James H. Moser, and Arthur Burdett (A. B.) Frost.

We shared these illustrators’ stories and work in an effort to inspire our audiences as they participated in a Brer Rabbit Drawing Challenge this past May. You can see all the beautiful and fun results of that inspiration in this gallery on our website.

But Brer Rabbit has had many looks between Frost’s original vested, dapper sketch and our contest submission of a futuristic Brer Rabbit Bounty Hunter. And now you can explore a few of those iterations in our new Brer Rabbit Gallery.

In this virtual art gallery, you can explore and learn more about the various illustrations, sculptures, and other depictions of the famous rabbit from different artists that we’ve found in our collection. Now you can see how the trickster has changed across cultures and throughout time while still remaining the same beloved, cunning rabbit.

This is by no means an exhaustive collection of every artists’ depiction of the character, but we hope that this gives you a peek into how ubiquitous and yet unique Brer Rabbit really is.

We hope you enjoy your virtual gallery tour! And please, feel free to share more fun, interesting, or even weird depictions of the Brer Critters you might come across via our social media accounts:

Facebook: /wrensnest
Instagram: @wrensnestatl
Twitter: @TheWrensNest

The Wren’s Nest Comes to You

The Wren’s Nest is excited to announce the launch of its first guided virtual tour, now available here!

In the wake of COVID-19, The Wren’s Nest has been closed to visitors since mid-March. Like so many businesses and museums, we have shut our doors until we know it safe for visitors to return. It’s been a shame to have this house, which has been a museum for more than 100 years and is a physical link to the historic West End neighborhood’s past, sit empty for months. But the great challenge of a physical link to the past like a historic house is that it’s just that: physical. It’s not something you can easily send or share with others.

Thank goodness for technology. Because now you can take a guided tour of this Atlanta fixture from the comfort of your own home. That’s right: This is a tour you can take without ever putting your shoes on. Or your pants. It is #quarantinelife after all and we’re not here to judge.

 

This general information tour provides an overview of some of the museum’s highlights. Using Google map technology, you can move throughout the house and discover facts about the rooms and/or the objects in them. Discover how we got our name in the East Parlor; move to the Girls’ Bedroom and learn why there’s a mirror on the floor; or stop in at Joel Chandler Harris’s Bedroom and see a room basically untouched by time.

In a strange twist of fate, we have actually been working on this tour for several months, before the pandemic ever struck. We were fortunate enough to receive a grant from Georgia Humanities funding the project and have been working with the talented Google Trusted Independent Photographer DJ Jennings from Atlanta Street View Inside to make the idea a reality. It just so happens that now more than ever, a virtual guided tour of the house is the only way to take a guided tour of the house.

We hope that will change soon. In the meantime, we hope you enjoy this virtual tour. And we hope to bring you more of them highlighting different subject areas in the future. We look forward to the day when we can welcome visitors back in person to actually walk through the museum. Especially since we were busy renovating the house before COVID-19, so there will be a few changes the next time you visit.

And we will insist that you wear pants and shoes then.

Passing of Longtime Docent Nannie Thompson

The Wren’s Nest has employed scores of tour guides in its 107 years as a house museum, but few if any were as beloved as Nannie Thompson, who died on March 19 at the age of 88.

“Miss Nannie,” as she was known, was an Alabama native who for many years ran a restaurant with her husband, Fred E. Thompson, in southwest Atlanta: Fred’s Fine Foods. “She’d feed strangers off the street if they didn’t have any other way of getting a meal,” recalls her granddaughter, Teresa WellmakerGibbs. “She was that kind of person.”

Miss Nannie started at the Wren’s Nest as a housekeeper in the late 1990s. With her outgoing personality and her experience in customer service, she quickly became a docent. “She was so funny,” says longtime office manager Jeri McWilliams. She was especially popular with schoolchildren and seniors visiting the house.

There’s a file on Miss Nannie in the Wren’s Nest archives that’s full of fan mail and thank you letters. After a school tour in 2007, Asher and Annette wrote: “We think you are a really good tour guide and have a really good job.” Will added:”I still don’t get how tour guides memorize all that stuff. It must be hard work!” And Mallory chimed in: “It is amazing what Joel Chandler Harris did and how you were his housekeeper!” (Sorry, Mallory, Miss Nannie didn’t go back that far.)

And then there was a note from Jane, an adult visitor, who showed her gratitude by sending Miss Nannie laminated recipe cards for baked squash, broccoli casserole and corn pudding.

“She was thought of as a Wren’s Nest treasure,” says former program director Kalin Thomas, who recalls a day when Miss Nannie was cleaning the house and feeling blue thinking about her husband, who had passed away. She grew weary and decided to take a nap in Joel Chandler Harris’s bed. “She said she felt his presence, and it made her feel better.”

Which is exactly how Miss Nannie affected people at the Wren Nest; she made them feel better for having met her.

Rest in peace, Nannie Thompson, mother of three, grandmother of eight, great grandmother of 12 — and tour guide extraordinaire.

 

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