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Two New Exhibits Open April 8 at Georgia Museum of Agriculture Folklife Festival

March 20, 2017

Visitors will gain insight into the life of a traveling circuit judge and imagine themselves in an old-fashioned barber’s chair when two brand new exhibits are unveiled for the first time during this year’s Folklife Festival on April 8 at the Georgia Museum of Agriculture and Historic Village at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College. A ribbon-cutting ceremony for both exhibits will take place at 1:30 p.m. at the Village drug store.

Polly Huff, the assistant director and the curator at the Museum, said an “out-of-the-blue” phone call planted the seed for the two fascinating new exhibits.

“I received a call from the great-great granddaughter of Judge J.L. Sweat, a traveling circuit judge who lived in South Georgia in the late 1800s,” Huff said.  “She was simply looking for a place where she could donate her great-great grandfather’s law license.”

As it turned out, the height of Sweat’s career in law fit perfectly into the Museum’s interpreted time frame of 1870-1910.  After a one-hour phone conversation, the idea for a permanent exhibit came to life.

Museum intern Hailey Glover, an ABAC rural studies politics and modern cultures major from Cairo, dived head first into the project as a key part of her intern experience at the Museum.

“This project gave Hailey the rare opportunity to build a portfolio on a project she would participate in from beginning to end,” Huff said.

The Sweat family funded the research, design, and installation of the exhibit. Initially, the exhibit was to focus on Judge Sweat’s training and practice while showcasing his office as a part of the Historic Village. With the help of Sweat’s family, the Museum staff gathered rare and preserved artifacts from the life and practice of the judge in the late 1800s. In the process of researching Sweat and gathering the preserved artifacts, Huff realized there would be a variety of treasures which could tell the story of his practice and legacy.

In a room above the Historic Village’s drug store and as a part of the professional complex of the Village, a law office began to take shape. Period-correct paints and textiles, reclaimed period ceiling tin tiles, reproduction Victorian fixtures and lighting were all a part of the office design.

A building team led by Huff and Museum restoration specialist David King built a law library from scratch following period design and filled it with over 300 volumes of law books dating back to the late 1700s.

Other office artifacts were pulled from the Museum collection, which helped complete the staging of the Sweat exhibit.  These artifacts included period type writers, notary presses, a safe, lamps, and a lawyer’s desk. A historic textile specialist even reproduced a judge’s robe from that era.

A restoration photographer brought original photos to life, and a local design company, The Big Picture, led by ABAC alumnus Valerie Touchstone, turned those photos and the pages of oral histories into exhibit interpretation panels.

“We made a decision to add a second room to the exhibit, which would depict the judge’s home life and give the perfect background for the display of the many artifacts he used on a daily basis,” Huff said.  “Period fixtures, paints and textiles were utilized to turn the second room into a home vignette, complete with a hand-carved rope bed displaying the judge’s quilt, a tea table with family china, a corner displaying his son’s and grandson’s clothing, a reading chair, and books.

“A travel wall was added to the exhibit to show the span of the judge’s mode of travel during his practice, which he started by riding in a buggy pulled by a mule and ended by driving one of the first cars in his hometown.”

The result of many hours of exhausting research work is the creation and installation of a tremendously detailed permanent exhibit which not only honors the legacy and home life of one of Georgia’s first circuit judges and respected politicians of the area, but also provides an important research resource for those with an interest in the practice of law in the late 19th and early 20th century.

As an extra added attraction in the 18 months that followed the initial phone call, the Sweat descendants decided to also support a bonus installation, a barber shop booth.  This was an exhibit which had been on the Museum dream list. A second curatorial intern, Tift County High School senior Jackson Short, assisted Huff with the barber shop exhibit’s research, design, and installation. The Big Picture created the permanent interpretive panel for the exhibit.

For more information on these exhibits, interested parties should contact Huff at phuff@abac.edu.
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