Telfair Museums acquires rare collection of drawings by Savannah artist

Local News

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — Telfair Museums is getting a historic addition to its galleries.

They have received 17 rare drawings from the 1930s by a famous Savannah artist, William O. Golding, giving the museum one of the two largest collections of his work in the world.

“It makes us uniquely able to tell this compelling story of this African American sailor who saw all of these incredible things and told the story here in Savannah,” Telfair’s Senior Curator of Education Harry DeLorme said. “He did all of his drawings from a hospital bed right here in Savannah, Georgia.”

“This collection will be an invaluable resource as we research his work and bring his amazing art and story to a wider audience,” he added.

The son of an African American lawmaker from Liberty County, Golding was kidnapped on River Street at 8 years old in 1882 and spent the majority of his life at sea.

He served as a cabin boy on a Canadian vessel and spent decades circling the globe.

The newly acquired drawings show Golding’s travels and experiences, depicting a Chinese port, the Rock of Gibraltar, Cape Horn, France, and Tahiti — and possibly the artist’s only known self-portrait.

“His drawings tell a story of maritime history as seen by a black seaman who left Georgia not long after Reconstruction, spent decades laboring at sea, and made his art at a time when self-taught art was emerging in American culture,” DeLorme said.

In the 1930s, after almost 50 years of seagoing, Golding was a patient at the U.S. Marine Hospital in Savannah receiving treatment for chronic bronchitis.

There, he created the 17 maritime drawings in his signature pencil-and-crayon style from 1932 through 1939.

Telfair’s permanent collection already included four of Golding’s works, bringing the museum to 21 of 100 drawings he produced. Others are in the collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the American Folk Art Museum in New York and the Morris Museum of Art in Augusta.

Museum curators are in the process of organizing an exhibition of Golding’s work that will debut in 2022, which will be the largest collection of his work in the world.

“Like our Kahlil Gibran and Kirk Varnedoe collections, this acquisition of Golding’s works represents a true legacy at Telfair,” said Courtney McNeil, chief curator and deputy director for curatorial affairs.

“That it’s devoted to an African American artist who developed his style here and called Savannah home makes it that much more special,” she said.

Visit the Telfair Museums website to learn more about the new collection.

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