Savannah shares its vibe with sleepy small towns of yesteryear, towns where everyone waves and sweet tea is shared on front porches. But it isn’t a small town and it isn’t sleepy. It just has this look, especially in the historic district. Savannah has this innate ability to nod to its past while keeping its eye firmly on the modern. Its museums, ranging from restored 18th century homes to contemporary art to artist-made shops that feel like a high-end Etsy, reflect Savannah’s ever-evolving taste.
If you’re going to spend a day indoors exploring museums (and you’ll probably want to do so unless your body is adapted to extreme heat and humidity), then I’d suggest getting a Telfair Triple-Site pass. You can use it at the Telfair Academy, Jepson Center for the Arts, and the Owens-Thomas House. If you’re a student it won’t save you a bunch since your fee is already reduced to $5 a person, but if you need an adult pass then it cuts your cost to less than half.
I chose Telfair Academy for its historic and restored rooms, not necessarily its art (though that’s worth a look as well). The former mansion’s decor and architecture gives you at least as much to relish as the paintings and sculptures throughout the property.
The Jepson Center for the Arts stands out as the most contemporary of the three museums. Even from the outside, it stands in direct opposition to the more traditional homes and surrounding buildings with its enormous glass façade. It houses a permanent contemporary collection as well as visiting collections throughout the year (check their website to see what’s coming up). Its most talked about piece is the Bird Girl statue that graced the cover of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (which I suggest you read before visiting Savannah).
The Owens-Thomas House is definitely the contrast to the contemporary museum as it dates back to the early 1800s. The structure is an example of English Regency architecture that only came to exist in Savannah because a wealthy man’s sister-in-law was married to one of the first professional architects in the United States. The home only stayed in that family for three years, however, because the wealthy man lost his money and had to sell. It then became a lodging house before the Owens family bought it. The home is now furnished with many Owens family heirlooms and art dating back to the mid-18th century. The tour of the home is guided as are the urban slave quarters and gardens, but it moves at a decent speed, the guides are knowledgeable, and there is plenty of time to ask questions. A big deal is made about the fact that Marquis de Lafayette once stayed here when it was a lodging house, but that fact is nowhere near as impressive as the ornate architecture, furnishings, or garden.
Finally, at the end of the day when you’ve had your fill of art but feel like you need to take a piece of it home with you, head on over to shopSCAD. The shop houses only items made by the artists in residence at the Savannah College of Art and Design. You can find everything here from jewelry to paintings to screen printed pillowcases that are one of a kind and the perfect souvenir to remind you of your trip.
– M. Ray Hall