Painting of historic home makes its way to D.C. and back again
It stands in its location on South Main Street a glorious architectural tribute to the historic South, a perfect example of Queen Anne Style.
The home of resident centenarian Evelyn Hunter, who has “lovingly protected and preserved” the more than 100-year-old structure, according to the City of Madison Web site, is considered to be the “most photographed” historic house in Madison.
It was for this reason that the structure was chosen to represent Georgia’s 10th Congressional District in the Washington D.C. office of the late Representative Charlie Norwood.
“In 2005, the late Representative Charlie Norwood of Georgia’s 10th Congressional District expressed a desire for a painting to adorn his Washington D.C. office, specifically one that would reflect his love and devotion for the people of his district,” according to information provided by Heritage Hall. “It was decided that the artist and the subject should be local, thereby providing Congressman Norwood the opportunity to showcase artwork unique to his region of service.”
Through contact with the Morgan County Republican Party, the subject matter was decided upon, as was the artist, Morgan County native Joanie Bruce.
Bruce was asked by local Republican Party member Brenda Rice if she would be interested in such a commission. Having approximately two years of experience with painting at that point in time, as she was busy with her family’s dairy farm and home schooling her children, Bruce was quick to agree to the task.
“It was just thrilling to me to be asked to do it,” Bruce said.
After getting permission from Hunter, Bruce began the process of gathering the necessary information to paint the portrait. Each day for one week, she visited the South Main Street house, taking pictures at different times of the day from a variety of locations.
“I took about four rolls of film,” Bruce said. “I had to find the right angle.”
Bruce, who typically works in pastel, pencil, graphite and oils, on occasion, chose to use oils for the portrait. It was completed in March 2005, after roughly a month of work.
Bruce presented the work to Norwood at a Republican Party breakfast in Athens honoring Norwood and then Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert.
From Athens, the painting was taken by Norwood back to Washington, where it was mounted on the wall of the Georgia Room in Norwood’s Rabun House Office Building office on Independence Avenue in Washington.
And it was on that wall where Madison resident Jim Jones first noticed it.
The vice president of Dixie Industrial Finishing, Jones frequented the late congressman’s office when he was in Washington, often talking to Norwood’s staff members regarding issues pertaining to manufacturing – trade, energy, OSHA, for example. As it works in many Congressional offices, the staff members would meet with Jones, and then go back and brief Norwood on their discussions.
On one occasion, however, Jones met with Norwood himself.
“One visit, I went to visit Charlie Norwood,” Jones said. “I was sitting in his office when I saw the painting. I said, ‘That’s a very nice painting of Evelyn Hunter’s house in Madison.’ He knew what it was.”
At that point in time, Jones wasn’t sure of the origin of the painting – the artist, its history or how it arrived in Washington. It wouldn’t be until after the Congressman’s death that that information would make its way to Jones.
After Norwood’s death, and before the election of current Representative Paul Broun, Jones was again in Norwood’s office, this time in an effort to keep up communication with staff members he’d worked with during previous visits. There were only two people staffing the office at that point, as, when a member of Congress passes away, their office comes under the control of the Speaker of the House.
“I asked, ‘What will happen with the painting?’” Jones said. “They said, ‘It will probably stored somewhere.’”
Considering the significance of the painting, Jones asked whether it could be donated to the Morgan County Historical Society. The staffers promised to check and, weeks later, the answer came back, in the form of an e-mail – “Yes, it could, and yes, it would be,” Jones said, in remembering the response he received.
The portrait was then packed up and shipped to Jones.
In the meantime, Jones contacted the Morgan County Historical Society to see if the organization, housed at Heritage Hall in Madison, a walking distance from Hunter’s residence, would be interested in the portrait.
Jones also elected to contact Bruce to ask her for her opinion on the proposed future home of the painting.
“I shared with her what I was trying to do with it and asked whether she would have any objections,” Jones said.
Bruce agreed, as did the Morgan County Historical Society, and, in September 2007, the portrait was delivered to Heritage Hall, where it currently hangs on the wall in a room behind the structure’s staircase.
“It could’ve been lost in the stuff in Washington,” Jones said. “Now, the painting has prominence, significance…It’s certainly a testimony to the City of Madison and Morgan County, the historic homes in the community.”
Betty Maxey, docent at Heritage Hall, said that the portrait is the recipient of many compliments, and is the basis for many questions.
“I’ve had a lot of people comment on how pretty it is, and ask where the house is,” Maxey said.
Bruce is simply thankful that the art work isn’t lost in Washington, and is glad to see it make the round trip back to Madison.
“I’m so glad it didn’t get thrown away or lost somewhere,” Bruce said. “I was thrilled it could come back to Madison…I’m glad Madison can enjoy it.”