Local Artist Jay Jacobs Featured in Community Foundation Office
Through a grant from the Porter Fleming Foundation, Augusta-based artist, Jay Jacobs, created this 5-panel polyptych to introduce the community to some of Augusta’s most important creative figures. Augusta’s iconic landscape and architecture are used to ground the loose historical timeline using tertiary imagery to define time and place. As much as this work was an opportunity for the artist to research and learn more about Augusta’s creative history, it was also developed as an educational resource for the community.
Panel 1 is used to introduce us to what Jacobs considers Augusta’s earliest piece of public art and oldest man-made structure – the fish wares you can see now from the I-20 bridge crossing over the Savannah River. The Westo natives built these fish traps, which earlier in life Jacobs always thought were rock patterns and structures built by children/teens playing in the river.
Panel 2 includes an ambiguous figure meant to represent any artist or visiting artist in the community at the time. The figure is a composite of Jacobs’s friends. The subject is painting a portrait of the founder of North Augusta, James U. Jackson. The furnishings, fashion and accessories are based on research from the period to make the image historically accurate. Moving down the panel, Dave Drake, also known as Dave the Potter, is pictured making a coil vessel representing Edgefield Pottery. Drake was an enslaved African American person living in Edgefield, South Carolina in the early and mid-1800s. The books near Drake reference his ability to read – a rarity, as enslaved people were often forbidden from literacy. There are conflicting stories about how Drake lost his leg. The black and white painting depicts an image of the Augusta Art Club taken in front of Ware’s Folly (completed in 1818), now known as the Gertrude Herbert Institute of Art. The Augusta Art Club represents the first incarnation of a collective of Augusta artists. They worked all summer and had exhibitions in the wintertime when northerners would come south to escape harsh winters. Augusta’s art season follows a similar calendar to this day.
Panel 3 begins with Horace Talmage Day on the left. In 1936, he was named the first director of Gertrude Herbert Institute of Art (GHIA). He grew up a missionary in rural China and moved to the US as a teen. He was later appointed as director of GHIA and exposed to the southern landscape. As a plein air painter, he especially loved the Lowcountry. The vehicle is representative of a truck model that was made in the same year he became director. Again, the tertiary objects pictured in the painting are used to give you a sense of time and place. Author and artist Berry Fleming is pictured near the center of the whole painting with his book, Colonel Effingham’s Raid. Known for dismantling the Cracker Party in Augusta, Fleming’s fist is shown balled up to reference the power of his work and his influence. The easel behind Fleming features one of his paintings. The easel is later passed on to his friend, artist Edward Rice. Freeman Schoolcraft, a painter and sculptor, is shown in the top right corner. Schoolcraft was a mentor to Edward Rice. In fact, Rice married his daughter. The clouds in the background are in the style of artist Maxwell Parish. Freeman Schoolcraft hung Parish’s first exhibition in the South at GHIA.
Panel 4 introduces us to Edward Rice in the top left – the first living artist in the painting. When Rice met Freeman Schoolcraft (see Panel 3), he saw that being an artist could be a full-time career. Rice is a well-respected artist in Augusta. His studio is in North Augusta in the former city jail. The dormers behind him are stylized versions of Rice’s actual work. Fun fact, Rice is a musician. At one time he played in a band with his twin brother and even opened for Tom Waits once. Renowned artist, Philip Morsberger is seen at the bottom of Panel 4 in his signature red sweatshirt, turned inside out and covered in paint. This is the first incarnation of Mr. Morsberger that Jacobs remembers. Morsberger came to Augusta in 1996 to be the William S. Morris Eminent Scholar in Art at Augusta University. He served in the role until 2001. The imagery behind him is representative of Morsberger’s most iconic imagery/characters – the fish, the hat, the turtle, the dog, etc. Kathleen “Kath” Girdler Engler is pictured in the top right with her figurative sculptural work. Engler’s sculptures can be found in high visibility areas like Children’s Hospital of Georgia, Walton Rehabilitation Hospital, Walton Way and 13th Street and in front of the Maxwell Theatre. Jacobs never met Kath but remembers admiring her work at Westobou Festival before she died. The Greater Augusta Arts Council named their annual public art award in her memory.
Panel 5 begins at the bottom with artist and Augusta University professor, Raoul Pacheco wearing a Soul Bar t-shirt. Pacheco was a student of Mr. Morsberger. His pots and characters are pictured in the bottom right of Panel 4. The tall vase depicted is the same vase that is on the coffee table in the lobby of the office. Jacobs met Pacheco in the 80s – they would get together at Soul Bar and draw with several other artists. There was a point where Jacobs realized they were all making better work. After a quick survey, he realized they were all learning from Morsberger. You could see the intelligent use of color and deliberate play in their work. Jacobs feels like he got a secondhand education from Morsberger. Next, we see Leonard “Porkchop” Zimmerman with a green paintbrush on his tiptoes. Zimmerman used the HAPPY robot imagery to heal his deep depression after the loss of his partner. The robot head is purposefully placed under Leonard’s feet to symbolize how he used the robot to elevate himself, both personally and professionally, as an artist in the community. Jacobs references Zimmerman’s glossary of images by placing the red bird on the brush in front of the artist. On the top right of the panel is Baruti Tucker. Tucker is a co-founder of Humanitree House – a juice bar and vegan café Downtown. Humanitree House is also Tucker’s studio – set-up as an avenue to educate and explore, in Jacob’s opinion. Tucker uses his hands as his tool – a blatant rebellion against what he was told he wasn’t allowed to do. At the time of Jacobs’s visit to meet Jennifer Onofrio she was creating the body of work pictured at the bottom right of Panel 5. The sculptural works explore issues or mortality and remembrance. Onofrio, artist and professor at AU, has exhibited widely in the US and has work in several private and public collections. Locally, the temple-like sculptures were exhibited at Westobou Galley in the summer of 2020. Above Onofrio’s head, in an otherwise vacant space, Jacobs placed one of his paintings, he admits, to include himself in the timeline. The painting uses the yellow and blue paint from the mural he did on the side of the Jessye Norman School of the Arts (JNSA). He chose to include a representation of a young African American girl. It is a nod to JNSA and to his hope for the future story of arts in Augusta.