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Moonshine Shack Wins Top Award for ABAC’s Georgia Museum of Agriculture

TIFTON—Nestled in the deep woods near the legendary Satilla River, the old moonshine still could probably tell some fascinating stories of how it hid from revenue agents while gurgling out its eye-popping illegal home brew.

Now those stories have come to life at the Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College Georgia Museum of Agriculture and Historic Village in the form of The Moonshine Shack, the winner of the Best Exhibit Created on a Small Budget by the Georgia Association for Museums and Galleries (GAMG). Polly Huff, assistant director and curator at the Museum, received the award on behalf of ABAC at the recent GAMG conference in Rome.

“That old moonshine still was in our collection for over 30 years, and I decided it was time to put it to work,” Huff said. “I was so proud that the awards committee called the exhibit ‘significant, creative, resourceful, innovative, and designed by a very dedicated staff.’”

Huff said the Museum staff is always looking for ways to create significant exhibits on a small budget. The Moonshine Shack proved to be a perfect opportunity to do just that.

“Every component of this exhibit was reclaimed from found and discarded lumber and tin, wood and metal barrels, and other recycled elements,” Huff said. “To make it even more of a challenge, we decided to construct the exhibit in less than two months and open it as a surprise to our guests and the Museum staff at the Folklife Festival last April.”

Working with a small team consisting of interns Crystal York from ABAC and Jackson Short from Tift County High School, Huff utilized the services of Museum exhibit builders Michael Willis and David King as well as Valerie Touchstone, an ABAC alumnus who heads up the local marketing and graphic design firm, The Big Picture.

“Michael and David worked from my design and did a great job building it,” Huff said. “Jackson wrote the copy for the interpretive panel as a part of his high school senior year internship.”

Huff labeled York and the rest of her group the secret “Shack Team.” They scrambled around the 95-acre Museum site and located piles of reclaimed lumber, cut nails, rusted roof tin, and rocks. Huff pulled the moonshine still out of storage along with some beautiful ceramic and glass whiskey jugs, tin cups, tin funnels, lanterns, and other “shack” artifacts.

The team turned an old pile of lumber, which had felt the sharp edge of the Museum sawmill, into shelves for the shack, each board showing beautiful saw marks. The team quietly built the shack, and in the week before the Festival and opening day, all the artifacts found their places underneath it. Ben Willis, working at that time as the Museum blacksmith, offered a tanned deer hide, which was stretched on one of the shack walls for added interest.

After scouting out locations for the exhibit, the “shack team” picked a spot just off the railroad tracks, where The Moonshine Shack would be viewed by all guests as they entered the site on the Museum’s steam train.

“A lot of thought was also given to the Museum’s Nature Trail,” Huff said. “To boost its use, the Shack was located where the railroad tracks meet the Trail, on the creek, and behind the sawmill and turpentine still, a very likely natural location for a moonshine still.”

A reader rail was constructed from more reclaimed lumber, and Touchstone created an aluminum educational panel about corn and moonshine shacks. The use of reclaimed wood, nails, and tin in the construction of the shack, coupled with the location and the addition of Spanish moss which was draped all over it, gave it the look of having been there for 50 years or more.

On opening day, Museum Volunteers Coordinator Lynn McDonald persuaded retired Department of Natural Resources’ agent Noel Jackson to play the role of a moonshiner with a glorious beard and ragged denim overalls.

“He greeted over 1,000 guests who were delighted beyond words to see this surprise exhibit,” Huff said. “We anticipate this low-budget exhibit to be a family favorite and the spot for many stories to be told for many years to come.”

Huff serves on the GAMG Board of Directors and its State Legislative Group. She is also the chair of the GAMG Membership and Grants committees. Besides receiving the Best Exhibit Created on a Small Budget on behalf of ABAC’s Georgia Museum of Agriculture this year, she was also a presenter on the Curatorial Professionals’ Panel.


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