Bill and Florence Griffin Collection, Provenance – Brunk 5-30-09

Collection of Florence P. and William W. Griffin

Bill and Florence Griffin met at an Atlanta Bird Club meeting in 1945. Bill was a published amateur ornithologist; Florence was interested in all of nature – she knew the names of all the plants as well as the birds.

Both were from Georgia, and soon began to see their state changing before their eyes as the New South swept away the Old. They quickly became active in incipient Georgia movements advocating nature conservancy as well as historic preservation. They were instrumental in preserving one of Atlanta’s first structures, the 1840′s Tullie Smith house. The relocated house was surrounded with the gardens and furnished with the daily artifacts of its era. In the process, that era was brought to life as the everyday history of those who settled the state. The artifacts brought back the artistry and ingenuity and resourcefulness of a Georgia largely disappeared.

With a scientific discipline like that of ornithology, Bill and Florence sought out and collected the furniture, silver, tools, pottery, prints, and papers of this vanished Georgia. They traveled the state tirelessly, and enjoyed becoming friends with farmers, potters, dealers, and pickers, looking for the often-neglected artifacts of early Georgia and the South. Of special interest to them both was the work of the early naturalists, such as John Abbott and Mark Catesby. Everything was carefully cataloged; the effort was to understand and preserve. They shared their finds with wonderful friends in a growing community of enthusiasts. In 1984, an exhibition was mounted at the Atlanta Historical Society called Neat Pieces: the Plain-Style Furniture of Nineteenth Century Georgia, celebrating the material culture and social history of the period. The title of the exhibit came from a phrase in an 1838-9 Georgia journal owned by Fannie Kimball, “these are very neat pieces of workmanship,” neat defined by a period dictionary as “trim, tidy, free from tawdry appendages.”

Their scholarship led to articles for The Magazine Antiques and election to Friends of Winterthur, but for Bill and Florence the reward for their work was to live with the objects and know the stories they held. There is often in these objects a sense of integrity, economy, and proportion that carries across time from those that made and used them. Bill and Florence have helped us preserve their era and their values.

As Bill wrote, “These pieces are documents. They can convey to us non-verbal impressions of the past, which we can utilize now, or in the future.”

-William Griffin, Jr., April 2009

(Son of Bill and Florence Griffin)

courtesy of Brunk Auctions, May 2009

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