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

Shark Tales

Happy Shark Week, everyone! This week, the Discovery Channel continues its tradition of airing over 20 hours of shark-related content in what’s come to be known as “Shark Week.” You can find more information, including the full schedule of programming, here

Sadly, there is no Brer Shark in the Uncle Remus tales. This is unsurprising, though, considering it is highly unlikely that the people who told the stories ever encountered a shark in their lifetimes, including Joel Chandler Harris. Fortunately, middle Georgia remains relatively shark-free. 

There is a shark story, though, in Tanzanian folklore called, “The Monkey, the Shark, and the Washerman’s Donkey” that strangely features a trickster hare. 

Sharks feature prominently in other folklore, primarily in island cultures. This makes sense since island cultures share territory with the toothy, underwater predators. In most mythologies, sharks are gods or demi-gods that can change their forms from human or god to shark and vice versa. What’s interesting is that sharks seem to occupy a gray-area space in folklore, sometimes the heroes and sometimes the villains of the stories. 

In Fijiian mythology, Dakuwaqa is the shark-god. He most famously tried to conquer Kadavu Island by battling a goddess who had taken the form of an octopus. The Octopus Goddess defeated Dakuwaqa, pulling his teeth out with her eight legs and rendering him useless against her. After his defeat, Dakuwaqa promised never to attack the island again and instead became its protector, protecting fishermen from the dangers of the sea.

(By the way, you can see a real-life version of this battle here. Don’t mess with octopuses, guys.)

In Japanese folklore, “isonade” are sharks with barbed tails

On the other hand, in Japanese folklore, isonade (or ō-kuchi-wani) are shark-like creatures with barbed tails. They appear during storms and use the hooks on their tails to capture boats and drag their passengers into the water to eat. Sometimes, they even come close to the shore, swiping the beach with their dangerous tails and devouring prey that way. 

Similarly, in Greek mythology, there are shark-like creatures called Ketea that represent “insatiable” hunger. There’s also a shark-god called Lamia who is the daughter of Poseidon and who eats children. 

Hawaiian mythology seems to have the most and the most complex shark characters. It makes sense that there would be at least nine shark-gods in Hawaiian mythology considering there are approximately 40 species of sharks native to waters around the islands. I won’t go through all of them. Instead, I recommend reading this blog post I found, which did a good (and amusing) job breaking down the different Hawaiian shark-gods — or as the author called them, the “Guardians of the Ocean.” 

I did want to call out one shark-god, though: Kane’apua, the Trickster God of Sharks. Like many other shark-gods, Kane’apua was a god that could take the form of a shark. You can watch a performance of the legend of Kane’apua performed by a storyteller at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu. 

Humans and sharks have — and continue to have — a complicated relationship. It’s fascinating to see how that relationship is reflected in these varied shark tales.

The Underrated Julia Collier Harris

Earlier this summer, we launched the first phase of a new digital educational tool: an interactive version of the Harris family tree. We decided to launch the tool in phases in large part because … well, there are a lot of members of this family! And as I continue to research each family member — diving deep into Ancestry.com and old newspapers as well as personal records and stories from living descendants — I’m impressed with their accomplishments and amused by their unique attributes and interests. 

No one has impressed me more than Joel Chandler Harris’s daughter-in-law, Julia Collier Harris. So, I feel compelled to let everyone know how incredible she was.

Julia Florida Collier was the daughter of Susie and Charles Collier (a one-time Atlanta mayor), born in the city in 1875. After attending boarding school in Boston, Julia graduated from Washington Seminary in Atlanta. In secondary school, she began studying illustration under Henry Sandham, a Canadian painter and illustrator and charter member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. She continued her education at the Cowles Art School and the University of Chicago. 

Unfortunately, her career pursuits were cut short when her mother suddenly became ill and she had to return home to Atlanta to care for her six younger siblings. In 1896, she and Julian Harris — Joel Chandler Harris’s oldest son and a budding journalist — became engaged, but the wedding was postponed after Julia’s mother’s health took a turn for the worse and she died. The two were “quietly married” the following October. Because Julia was still caring for her siblings, Julian moved into her childhood home, assisting his wife in the caretaking of the younger Colliers. 

Julia and Julian were a formidable couple, eventually co-owning a newspaper and sharing a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service (more on that later). What I love is that the foundation of their relationship was so sweet. The two were so in love that in his letters, Joel Chandler Harris teasingly nicknamed the two “Lovey” and “Dovey.” In a biography she wrote about her father-in-law, Julia remembered how he, “could not resist teasing us a little on the subject of lover’s raptures, yet it was always done with so much geniality that we had no doubt of his sympathy and understanding.” 

Julia Collier Harris and her younger son Pierre

Julia’s father died in 1900, the beginning of a stretch of tragedies that would affect her throughout her life. Two years later, when they decided the Collier house was too big to maintain, she and Julian moved into a new house down the road from The Wren’s Nest. In addition to the couple, their household consisted of two of Julia’s sisters, one of her brothers, and the couple’s two young sons: Charles and Pierre. Julia later recalled that the two years immediately after they moved in, “were the happiest years of all — tranquil and secure — a golden interlude in life before sorrow took possession of us.”

Between December 1903 and April 1904, Julia and Julian lost both their sons. Their deaths came a mere four months apart. Both children were under five. When writing her father-in-law’s biography nearly fifteen years later, she said, “Even after the lapse of so many years, to recur to such losses is anguish.”

Unsurprisingly, the multiple losses so close together took their toll on Julia. She suffered from bouts of grief and depression, or as Joel Chandler Harris described it, “nervous collapse.” It affected her health so much that she took periodic rest cures in various sanitariums in the years after her children’s deaths. She recovered her health after a few years but still had relapses throughout her life.

One reason I love Julia Collier Harris is that she suffered these devastating losses that could have left her flattened, but she didn’t let them. 

Instead, in 1907, she began her journalism career. She started contributing articles to Uncle Remus Magazine, a publication that Julian and his father started and produced out of The Wren’s Nest. When the magazine folded in 1913, Julian and Julia continued their journalism pursuits. He would move from paper to paper and she would go with him, contributing articles and columns for the same papers, including the New York Herald and the Paris Herald. In fact, Julia was one of only two female reporters to cover the Treaty of Versailles. 

In 1922, the journalism power couple purchased the Columbus Enquirer-Sun in Georgia. And I do mean the couple. Julia was a co-owner, an associate editor, and the vice president of the paper! The newspaper became famous for its editorials (particularly Julia’s) that pushed for Progressive reforms in the South on issues like literacy, racial justice, and evolution (Julia and Julian even covered the famous Scopes “Monkey” Trial in 1925). It was at this paper that the two won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service, for the “service which it rendered in its brave and energetic fight against the Ku Klux Klan; against the enactment of a law barring the teaching of evolution; against dishonest and incompetent public officials and for justice to the Negro and against lynching.” 

Julian and Julia Harris, 1950s

Julia was largely responsible for the award because, by his own admission, she was a better writer than her husband and it was her editorials that garnered notice. In accepting the prize, Julian said, “Associated with me in the ownership and editorial management, is my wife Julia Collier Harris. … She is a trained newspaper woman, and as fearless as she is intelligent, unyielding in the face of injustice of any kind, and a constant inspiration.” Again, reaffirming for me that these two were definitely “couple goals.” 

As if all this wasn’t enough, Julia also wrote three books. The first was called The Foundling Prince and was a collection of Romanian folktales. She also wrote two biographies of Joel Chandler Harris (The Life and Letters of Joel Chandler Harris and Joel Chandler Harris: Editor and Essayist) that we’re still referencing today (including for this blog post) to find out about the more personal aspects of the author’s life.

Julia retired from journalism in 1936 when another bout of depression was serious enough that her doctor advised her to stop working. However, she continued to meet with, advise, and encourage young writers until she died in 1967. 

She was (rightfully!) inducted into the Georgia Women of Achievement’s Hall of Fame in 1998 and the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame in 2019. 

It feels like sacrilege to say, but given all she accomplished in an era when it was still uncommon for women have a career let alone be so career-focused and in spite of repeated personal traumas that caused her to suffer from a poorly understood mental disorder, I think she is actually more impressive than Joel Chandler Harris himself. And in case it isn’t clear from this post, I definitely think we should be talking about her more!

John Lewis and the Wren’s Nest

There’s so much history at the Wren’s Nest that it’s easy to forget some of it. Former Executive Director Sue Gilman reminded us late last week, for instance, that the late John Lewis was once a member of our advisory board. Really?

Lewis, the veteran congressman and hero of the voting rights struggle of the 1960s, will be memorialized this week at Martin Luther King Jr.’s Ebenezer Baptist Church and then laid to rest in Atlanta’s Southview Cemetery. The congressman was a great friend of the arts in his adopted hometown, and we’re happy to say that the Wren’s Nest was indeed one of the organizations that benefitted from his counsel.

Lewis joined the advisory board during a transitional period for the Wren’s Nest. While the house museum had been desegregated by a federal court order in 1968, it remained unwelcoming to African Americans through the 1970s. The institution didn’t really change until a new board intent on opening it up took over in 1983.

The new management recruited board members and advisory members committed to making the Wren’s Nest get with the times, including three notable Black leaders: Fulton County Commission Chairman Michael Lomax; the Rev. Ralph David Abernathy, the civil rights legend and pastor of the next-door West Hunter Street Baptist Church; and Lewis, then an Atlanta city councilman.

“We knew we needed to open ourselves up to the community,” remembers Madeline Reamy, executive director from 1984 to 1987.

In a 1985 article, United Press International asked Lewis why he was involved in rehabbing the home and
reputation of Joel Chandler Harris, the creator of Uncle Remus. “Whether or not we agree with everything Harris did, said and wrote, he was a historical figure,” he explained. “His house is history. Some people want to destroy the past, or revise it. But I think we should preserve it. We can learn from it.”

Lewis was elected to Congress the following year, and his stature only grew over the coming decades.

Of all the reasons we have to honor the memory of John Lewis, his thoughtful regard for the Wren’s Nest and its complicated legacy is a minor one. But remember it we will. Thank you, Congressman Lewis. We are honored that you are part of our history.

Brer Rabbit Hits the Sauce

It’s high grilling season, and with more of us stuck at home cooking for ourselves and our families, we thought it was a good time to revisit “Brer Rabbit’s Modern Recipes for Modern Living.” That’s the retro recipe booklet put out around 1950 by Brer Rabbit Molasses, a brand that started in New Orleans in 1907, the year before Joel Chandler Harris died. It’s still marketed in parts of the country by the conglomerate B&G Foods.

We posted a recipe for Molasses Ginger Rabbit Cookies in April and were pleased when The Atlanta Journal-Constitution picked it up for their “Community Cooks” feature in the Sunday newspaper. Unfortunately, the booklet does not include a barbecue sauce recipe as such. So we combined the closest thing — a Molasses Sauce for ham on Page 48 — with a Kansas City barbecue sauce recipe I included in my book “Smokelore: A Short History of Barbecue in America.” That recipe derived from one Kansas City barbecue legend Paul Kirk gave me years ago when I was writing about food for the AJC.

Pam and I used this sauce last weekend on smoked chicken quarters. But you can put it on anything, from ribs to smoked tofu. It’s sweet, but as you’ll see in the recipe notes, you can customize it by reducing the sweetness and jacking up the heat and tartness. 

Whatever you do, don’t use this sauce on grilled rabbit. As you may recall, Brer Fox wanted to “bobby cue” Brer Rabbit (as seen here in Floyd Norman’s illustration). While we like that story, we don’t want to encourage that sort of behavior when it comes to our No. 1 bunny and star attraction.

We’re looking at you, Brer Chicken.

 

 

Brer Rabbit Molasses BBQ Sauce

2 cups ketchup

¾ cup cider vinegar

⅓ cup molasses

¼ cup brown sugar, tightly packed

2 teaspoons dry mustard

1½ teaspoons chili powder

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

¾ teaspoon ground red pepper

Combine wet ingredients and whisk in dry ingredients, mixing well. Pour into a saucepan and cook over low heat for 15 minutes, stirring often. NOTE: This is a sweet, Kansas City-style sauce with an undertone of spiciness. To make it less sweet, decrease the ketchup and sweeteners and add more vinegar, chili powder and red pepper. But do so in small increments, tasting as you go.

Makes: About 2 cups.

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