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and other cool art festivals or small art towns

by Anne Jenkins

Local art in the public areas of James Madison Inn.JPG (127853 bytes)

Local art desplayed in the James Madison Inn public areas.


The town folk of Madison, Ga., like to say their town was too beautiful to burn. This may well be true, perhaps Sherman really did admire beauty, but the modern town is burning bright with local art during the Georgia in Bloom (GIB) art fest. The local Madison Artists Guild put together their second annual ‘tour of art’ -  the art of  54 regional artists scattered in 14 locations throughout the towns of Rutledge and Madison. The festival runs from March 20 through May 9 and fits neatly with the May 1-2  Spring Tour of Homes - homes that can comfortably be called works of art themselves!

The energetic guild has put out a comprehensive brochure with the list of businesses, a map and a list of the artists (check their website). The brochures are all over town but probably it’s easiest to collect one at the Visitor Center on the main square in Madison.

A resident Rutledge cat.JPG (144316 bytes)

A resident Rutledge cat

Lee and I started our tour of GIB in the small village of Rutledge just a few miles out of Madison on Hwy 278. Molly Lesnikowski, works out of the Red Door Studio, and she was busy preparing to paint colorful floor mats when we arrived. She also shows the work of local artists such as Sam Traina and “Blue” Chilton. The quaint town boasts an antique store, a caboose deli and the workmen busy on another building told us it was going to be a bar/restaurant.

The very lovely town of Madison has one of Middle Georgia’s premier cultural institutions, the Madison-Morgan Cultural Center, which is housed in a magnificent old school building. The center is a non-profit multi-disciplinary performing and visual arts facility that also houses several permanent collections. The original school auditorium is magical and a step back in time. They do sterling work and it’s easy to linger for a while.

O'Hara's brick walls make a good rustic backdrop for the art.JPG (129368 bytes)

O'Hara's brick wall's make a good rustic backdrop for the art

One of the best stops to see the local art display is O’Hara’s Restaurant right on the Square. The owners, Steve Hesson and Chef Robert Richardson, took over the place a year ago and are big supporters of the arts. The walls are covered with the art and, although the lighting doesn’t do the paintings enough justice, it’s an all-encompassing display. It doesn’t hurt that their food is good and we enjoyed our lunch. We split two of the choices - the Fried Green Tomato BLT on lightly toasted ciabatta bread and the Cuban. Both were good, and having had a look at their dinner menu, we decided we need to go back to sample their Bouillabaisse.

Eve the bookstore cat lounges in luxury.JPG (123695 bytes)

Eve, the bookstore cat, lounges in luxury.

More art is displayed at the Madison Markets - a warehouse of small antique booths and Dog Ear Books. Be sure to give Eve, the cat at the bookstore, a scratch behind the ears. Right across the street is the James Madison Inn, a lovely boutique hotel which also supports the arts. When they opened they commissioned local artists to paint a portrait of local houses for each bedroom and local landmarks for the public rooms. The GIB art is all downstairs in the breakfast room. If you should decide to spend the night - and it‘s a delightful place to linger - you would also have the additional choice of two restaurants right next door. On the left is Town 220 and on the right, The Ice House Restaurant. More GIB art is on display in the Town 220 private dining room and the Shops at the Ice House Underground. The Ice House is an interesting complex - a restored former ice house, now lofts and restaurants and shops.

Patrick Halligood hands out a sample of chocolate at Antique Sweets.JPG (135345 bytes)

One stop you definitely shouldn’t miss is Antique Sweets, also on the square. Oh My! It’s a trip down memory lane and no one, but  no one, can get out of that shop without buying some delectable temptation. As you step in you are faced with rows of baskets of candy of all sorts and a full counter of chocolate happiness. Owner Patrick Halligood offers a little sample taste of heaven. I was so entranced with the goodies on offer I nearly forgot about the art.

The display of art continues at Whidby Jewelers, North Main Village which was formerly a Piggly Wiggly grocery store, United Bank and the Madison Visitor Center.


One of the quirker pieces on display!.JPG (137911 bytes)

One of the quirkier pieces on display

The student art section of the exhibit is at the fabulous Steffen Thomas Museum. This wonderful place is out in the rural countryside, in “the real” Buckhead as locals call it (as opposed to the fancy Buckhead near Atlanta.) The museum is dedicated to the life and career of the prolific and talented artist Steffen Thomas. There is a vast collection of his work on display and they do admirable work with children to promote the arts. It is a fascinating and uplifting experience to visit and I suggest you give yourself time to enjoy it.


wpe2517.jpg (30535 bytes)
The art display with an original Piggly Wiggly
sign at  North Main Village

There’s another small festival on April 25, the Madison Fest. This a day of fun day for all the family with food, arts and crafts with an eco-friendly theme.

The hardworking and forward looking artists guild also sponsors a Plein Air Paint Out on May 1 & 2 during the Madison Spring Tour of Homes. It’s a great way to interact with artists as they paint and you wander around incredible homes. Madison positively oozes magnificent homes around every corner and it’s a visual treat.





Molly Lesnikowski in her Red Door Studio.JPG (123642 bytes)

Molly Lesnikowski in her Red Door Studio

Another festival that’s beautiful to behold is the Sunflower Farm Festival held over the weekend of the 4-5 July on a sunflower (surprise!) farm south of Rutledge. On a family farm in the same family for four generations, this little festival started out a sort of small, off the cuff event and has grown in to a much anticipated annual event which has been written up by Southern Living. They hold antique tractor pulls, an artist market, offer local BBQ and cut-your-own-sunflowers galore. If nothing else, the fields of sunflowers are a sight to lift the heart.


Rutledge's Red Door Studio & Caboose.JPG (3262294 bytes)

Just 24 miles east in the lovely town of Greensboro, the annual Southland Jubilee is held every April. This festival has an artists market, an American Idol-type event, a parade and lots of food stalls. This year it will be held on 18 April.

There are grand plans for the Oconee Performing Arts Center which is being built in the town and they are already bringing world class performances to the area. Coupled with the Plaza Arts Center in Eatonton, the two are making an impact of the level of the arts in the region.

Opening reception at The Point of Art for Rite of Passage show.JPG (127061 bytes)

Opening reception at The Point of Art
for Rite of Passage show

Head 7 miles further east to the historic little town of Union Point and the Point of Art Gallery for fine, affordable local art and wonderful folk art. Their current show is “Rite of Passage”, a fabulous display of 8 selected local artists. The show will run through the end of May. Around the corner from the gallery is the town’s old theater which holds a flea market every Friday and Saturday if no other event is planned.



Morgan Madison Cultural Center seen through one of their garden sculptures.JPG (123497 bytes)

Morgan Madison Cultural Center seen
through one of their garden sculptures

From here it’s a short hop to Washington and a step back in time. They have the Art Gallery La Place - their new show is “Fragile Balance,“ a boutique hotel, the Fitzpatrick, and stunning antebellum homes now offering Bed & Breakfast. And a choice of restaurants from sandwiches to fine dining.

You can easily spend a few days exploring this pretty region just a short distance from Atlanta and Augusta. For some years it has been rather quiet and slightly off the beaten track but is now making a comeback and is just blossoming with art.




Business information:


Madison Morgan Visitors Center, 115 E Jefferson St, Madison GA 3.0650 (706) 342-4454

Madison Morgan Cultural Center, 434 S Main St, Madison GA 30650 (706) 342-4743

Madison Arts Guild, President Karen Strelecki (706) 752-0137

Steffen Thomas Museum, 4200 Bethany Rd, Buckhead GA 30625 (706) 342-7557

James Madison Inn, 260 W Washington St, Madison GA 30650 (706) 342-7040

O’Hara’s Restaurant, 133 S Main St, Madison GA 30650 (706) 343-1123

Antique Sweets Inc 132 E Washington St Madison GA 30650 (706) 342-0034

Dog Ear Books, 142 Academy St, Madison GA 30650 (706) 342-3460

Sunflower Farm Festival, 1430 Durden Rd Rutledge, GA (706) 557-2870

Southland Jubilee in Greensboro:

The Point of Art Gallery, (706) 486-6808

Washington Chamber of Commerce

Art Gallery La Place (706) 678-6258 after hours (706) 486-6808

Provided by American Roads Travel Magazine - Visit American Roads Travel Magazine website.

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