Telfair Museums announced today it has received a grant of $250,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities to continue its ongoing preservation and new reinterpretation of the Owens-Thomas House, one of three Telfair Museum sites.
"Telfair is one of only twelve museums nationwide to receive NEH funding this year," a museum spokesperson says.
A National Historic Landmark, the Owens-Thomas House also has one of the oldest intact urban slave quarters in the South. Designed by British architect William Jay and completed in 1819, the museum highlights one of the finest examples of English Regency architecture in the country.
“This significant grant award from the NEH will help ensure that Owens-Thomas House will be appropriately preserved and enjoyed by residents and visitors to Savannah for decades to come,” said Lisa Grove, Telfair Museums Director/CEO.
“Most importantly, we want to ensure that we accurately tell the stories of all people who lived there. The museum’s dedicated staff has spent years researching the lives of the enslaved men, women, and children who lived and worked in these spaces to tell a more complete history of the antebellum South and the early African American experience.”
For the past decade, restoration work has focused on conserving the interior of the Owens-Thomas House original slave quarters building. The strategic focus now, the museum says, is reinterpreting the main house basement and slave quarters spaces.
The planned implementation work will include capital and historic preservation activities necessary to steward the buildings into their third century, as well as the creation of new educational exhibits designed to provide an expanded visit experience.
Key components of the upcoming implementation phase of the project include:
Reinterpreted Slave Quarters
The museum’s plan to reinterpret this space—recognized as one of the best preserved urban slave quarters in the South—will bring new awareness to this important piece of history. Visitor experience in the space will be enhanced through installations that draw upon the award-winning scholarship from the Slavery and Freedom in Savannah project and feature recorded excerpts of slave narratives that will give a representative voice to the people who inhabited the Owens-Thomas House Slave Quarters.
New Education Gallery (Main House Basement)
This new education gallery will feature digital projections of enslaved workers, replica artifacts that can be touched and used, a discovery cabinet, a new exhibit devoted to “Slavery in Context,” a preservation/restoration exhibition, a General Lafayette documentary, and a voice panel with recorded readings of documents written by people associated with the Owens-Thomas House, among many other exhibits. This innovative gallery will give all visitors a richer, more tangible experience of the home and its history.
Orientation Gallery (Carriage House)
Telfair plans to convert the conserved Carriage House into a state-of-the-art Visitor Orientation Gallery where visitors will begin their tours. This Orientation Gallery will introduce visitors to relevant themes and ideas that they will experience on their tour and will feature unique installations such as an interactive touchscreen map of historic Savannah, a series of family trees of the home’s former residents, and an immersive spiral column of the names of the 340-enslaved people owned by the Owens family.
Shannon Browning-Mullis, Telfair’s Curator of History and Decorative Arts concludes, “We will never move beyond the problems facing our community and nation, like economic inequality, mass incarceration, and police brutality, until we understand the roots of inequality in America. At the Owens-Thomas House, we hope an honest and specific investigation of the institution of slavery and the people who lived within it, both free and enslaved, will help us toward that understanding.”