Gwinnett historic home holds rare art

9:41 AM, May 17, 2012   |    comments
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GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. -- Work is underway to move an historic home on Braselton Highway to the Gwinnett Environmental Heritage Center after researchers undercovered a hidden treasure inside it.

The Chesser-Williams home was built in the mid-1800s and has what experts say are some of the last examples of hand painted folk art from that time period.

Jason West, GEHC's Director of Programming and Development, took 11Alive's Duffie Dixon on a tour of the home.

"This is such a find," West said. "Everywhere you look, there are these vivid history lessons of what life was like back then.  The artist used what he saw around him. There are depictions of acorns and apples."

West has consulted a number of experts who can't put a name to the artist but say his work is only left in a handful of buildings across the Southeast.

"We know he was a German itinerant traveling from North Carolina to Texas and as he traveled from house to house, in exchange for room and board, he agreed to paint," West said.

By the amount of artwork, it appears the artist stayed for some time.

The home's owner is Jerald Willams, who at 77 years old, had no idea the art he grew up looking at had such historical interest.

"I just remember hearing forever that it was a German fellow passing through who offered to paint for a place to stay," Williams said. "I had no idea it was considered rare." 

The Williams family offered to donate the home, but it wasn't until the donation of $25,000 that moving it and preserving it became a reality.

The Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center Foundation has provided $76,000 for research, historic documentation and preparations for the move. SPLOST sales tax funds from 2005 will cover the rest of the move.

Peachtree Construction Services, Inc., won the bid for the move and is charging $319,130 for the project. Crews have already dismantled the remaing stone chimney and some of the exterior artwork.  The entire house should be at the Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center by the fall. It is expected to take months to put it all back together.

"We plan to open it up to the public and local schools to show what life was like in the early Gwinnett, before it became the place it is today," West said. "This home was in the center of early Gwinnett County.  It was owned by a farming family who likely lived off the land and saw a number of travelers passing through on their way to bigger cities."

The hope is that as research continues on the Chesser-Williams home, West and his colleagues will someday learn the name of that German artist.

"The fact that his work is so distinctive in its patterns and brushstrokes is stunning," West said. "That same work is found in six other surviving buildings where his paintings are entact.  We'd love to know who he was."

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