Saturday, June 9, 2012

9 June 1898: Summer Art Lessons with Miss Jennie

On this day in 1898, at the bottom of a column on the front page of the Athens Daily Banner, was this advertisement:

Miss Jennie Smith had been the art teacher at the Lucy Cobb Institute since her own graduation from the school in 1880. She continued to study art, going to Baltimore, Maryland, and Paris, France, for instruction, after her graduation. In 1886, she had exhibited her own art and her pupils' creations in the Athens Cotton Fair. The local paper extolled that

Perhaps, in the whole city of Athens, there is no young lady who has so decided a talent for painting and etching as Miss Jennie Smith. There is hardly a home where decorative art is admired and appreciated that has not some specimen of this young lady's skill. Miss Smith loves her work with all enthusiasm of youth, and her handiwork is rendered all the more attractive as it is the result of a cultured and strikingly original mind. 

For some time past she has been engaged instructing a class of young ladies. That she has been a diligent and successful teacher is demonstrated by the beautiful and elaborate display of art at the fair grounds and that she is proud of her pupils is illustrated by the conspicuous positions their work occupy.  --Athens Banner Watchman, 16 November 1886, p. 3, col. 2.

Her summer classes were likely to help augment Miss Jennie's income. The salary of a school teacher was not high, and she had a passion not just for creating art, but also collecting. She collected china, brass, period furniture, and in 1891, bought Harriet Powers's Bible Quilt for $5 "and enough calico to make a new quilt." Her appreciation of art as a creator is likely why she welcomed Mrs. Powers to "visit" the quilt while it was in her possession. The quilt now hangs in the Smithsonian.

Miss Jennie's students loved her, "even though she was a hard taskmaster." She's remembered for always wearing black, "the shirtwaists and flaring skirts of the late nineteenth century, which she never gave up," short, plump, "like a little black teddy bear. Oh, she was so jolly and fun!" 

She lived in a small stone house "crammed with art stuff and memorabilia of her life" behind the Lucy Cobb Institute, even after the school closed. It was there she also had her "quaint studio," and when Lucy Cobb closed in 1930, the new owners of the property, the University of Georgia, allowed Miss Jennie to stay there until her death in 1946. Most of her collections were given to UGA in her will, and some of her acquisitions are in the President's House on Prince Avenue.

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