Neighborhoods - West End - 2014
A walking tour reveals art and history
Tucked just south of I-20 in the West End, you’ll find a house from a different time. Built in 1872 and immaculately maintained since the late Dr. Otis Thrash Hammonds, a physician and art patron, once resided in this Victorian mansion at 503 Peeples St. It lives on today as the Hammonds House Museum (pictured left), an institution devoted to artists of African descent. Unlike the glossy white-cube museums of Midtown or the esoteric contemporary galleries of the Westside, a tour of the arts in the West End is steeped in neighborhood history. It is fitting, then, that anyone looking for the arts in the West End should begin here, in one of the neighborhood’s oldest buildings.
The centerpiece of the Hammonds House is a permanent collection that contains important works by Romare Bearden, one of the best-known collage artists of the 20th century, as well as works by Hale Woodruff, James Van Der Zee, and others. With art installed throughout the home’s historic rooms and wide staircases, the experience at the Hammonds House is a reminder that many of these artists, among the most prominent in African-American art history, had ties to this neighborhood. It is as if their breath is in the air, unlike the clinical experience of most contemporary museums.
The Hammonds House put me in touch with Robert Thompson, a tour guide who’s lived in the neighborhood off and on for about 20 years. After visiting the Hammonds House, he suggests I walk south along Peeples Street to Howell Park. The brick-lined sidewalks lead past the West End branch library to a massive mosaic mural, the centerpiece of Howell Park. Commissioned by the city in 1997, this mosaic is the work of Chief Jimoh Buraimoh, a Nigerian-born artist of the Oshogbo School.
From Howell Park, Thompson recommends two paths: To the west on Ralph David Abernathy Boulevard is the Wren’s Nest at the estate of Joel Chandler Harris. Built in 1870, this elaborately designed Victorian house was home to Harris, best known as the author of the Uncle Remus Tales, until his death in 1908. Today, the Wren’s Nest continues Harris’ storytelling tradition with writing and publishing programs for middle and high school students, as well as a storytelling event every Saturday at 1 p.m.
To the east from Howell Park you’ll find the West End Performing Arts Center (pictured right) where, among other events, an urban arts boutique showcasing neighborhood artists is held every month. Across the street is the Shrine of the Black Madonna Cultural Center and Bookstore. Founded in 1975 by members of the Pan-African Orthodox Christian Church from Detroit, the shrine’s services combine elements of the Roman Catholic Church with African traditions. Today, the bookstore is the neighborhood’s best bet for finding books devoted to African-American art and culture.
Amid all of this history, Thompson is quick to remind me that the southern border of the West End Historic District is a destination of Atlanta’s future: the southwest portion of the Atlanta Beltline.
“Some of my favorite murals in the neighborhood are along the Beltline,” he says.
From the Shrine of the Black Madonna, head south down Peeples Street again to an unfinished foot trail that leads west to the finished West End Trail. There, under an overpass, is Malaika Favorite’s mural “West End Remembers,” a fitting end point to the tour.
Hammonds House Museum
An institution devoted to artists of African descent in a historic 1872 home once owned by Dr. Otis Thrash Hammonds. Regular exhibitions of contemporary artists complement a permanent collection that includes work by Romare Bearden, Hale Woodruff, James Van Der Zee, and others. 503 Peeples St. 404-612-0500. www.hammondshouse.org.
The Wren’s Nest
Located at the stunning Victorian estate of Uncle Remus author Joel Chandler Harris, the Wren’s Nest is a nonprofit organization supporting storytelling traditions in the South. Classes are available for student-age authors looking to workshop and publish their own work, while adults can drop in every Saturday at 1 p.m. to hear and tell stories. 1050 Ralph David Abernathy Blvd. 404-753-7735. www.wrensnest.org.
West End Performing Arts Center
A community-based facility for all types of artists based in the West End. Check out the Urban Arts Boutique that happens once a month, usually featuring a local artist. 945 Ralph David Abernathy Blvd. 404-613-6465. www.fultonarts.org.
The Shrine of the Black Madonna
Founded in 1975 by members of the Pan-African Orthodox Christian Church from Detroit, the shrine’s services combine elements of the Roman Catholic Church with African traditions. Today, the bookstore is the neighborhood’s best bet for finding books devoted to African-American art and culture. 946 Ralph David Abernathy Blvd. 404-752-6125. www.shrinebookstore.com.