I just got back from a short trip to Columbus, GA, a small city south of Atlanta right on the Alabama border. It is certainly the most “Southern” place that I have ever visited.
Situated on the Chattahoochee River (I mean, come on, HOW Southern is that name), Columbus was “officially” established in 1828 as an industrial city and cotton export center. The city/region was originally home to the Muscogee people, who were forcibly removed after The Creek War of 1836.
Factories and manufacturers popped up in the mid 1800’s to produce Confederate military supplies and machines, but the USS Jackson was just barely complete when Federal Troops invaded in April, 1865. The Battle of Columbus was the last large-scale battle of the Civil War…and we all know how that story ends.
HISTORIC BADASS WOMAN TIME: After the Civil War, the Ladies Memorial Association (particularly secretary Marry Ann Williams) called for a specific day to honor those who died in the Civil War. We know this as Memorial Day here in the U.S., and it is possible that the holiday originated in Columbus. However, there are a lot of contradictory sources on this matter — around 25 other U.S. states claim that their people founded Memorial Day.
After the Civil War, the city became an industrial, textile, and commercial center. Fun Fact: Coca Cola was invented in Columbus at Pemberton’s Eagle Drug and Chemical House around 1866, when John Pemberton (a Confederate Colonel) was attempting to create a safer version of morphine (he was addicted).
When we visited, it was the day after Christmas — the city was almost entirely empty. We also stopped at the National Infantry Museum, which, in my opinion, is a very scary place.
I was particularly interested in the public art in Columbus. Below, on the top left is “Architectural Quilt…Bits and Pieces of Columbus” by Garry Pound, and on the right is “When Now Becomes Then” by J. Seward Johnson Jr. On the bottom left is an Untitled mural by Hense. Let me say straight off the bat that I was not a huge fan of any of the artworks I saw (but I didn’t see half of them). This city is DRIPPING in public art — it’s literally on every corner. As a snobby New Yorker, I was shocked that Columbus, GA is a hub for public art
Public art is always a tricky topic. It is usually sculpture, and it is usually pretty straightforward so as not to offend anyone. The artworks in Columbus were very straightforward, and a bit too sentimental and/or abstract for me. But I TRULY appreciate the city’s commitment to bringing in artists and artworks. My only criticism: the works need to be maintained. I would rather see a handful of quality, well-maintained pieces than a ton of windblown works.
Thank you for reading this rambling, part-history-lesson/part-public-art-criticism post!