Designing a Course About a Point on the Map: Thinking Locally as a Way to Think Globally

Nancy Creek

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about buying a five gallon Kline and Brown Churn at an auction in North Georgia. Upon doing some research I found that the churn, made in the mid-1880s, was turned at a shop very close where we live and that the clay was very likely dug out of Nancy Creek even closer to our home. To understand the milieu in which this churn was made, one must subtract I-75, which dissects the space between where the churn was made and where the clay was dug (and where we live), and one must imagine away acres and acres of parking lots, buildings, and restaurants. This is a difficult task—in order to discover the truth of the past we have to see through the layers of change that separate us from it.

We can glimpse the difficulty of our task in perceiving the more distant past when we think about the places we call “landmarks”…the OK Café, Goldberg’s Deli, Tommy’s Barber Shop, and even the Chik-fil-a (apparently the busiest one in the state). To be clear, I am a fan—a big one—of each of these places (I get a great no. 1 haircut at Tommy’s and perhaps the best grits in town at OK), but to call them landmarks is intriguing language, as it points to our relatively short cultural and historical memory.

Our students need a longer view, a more nuanced and a more detailed one. How do we give it to them?

I would love to take or to teach a course that uses this exact area as its subject. By looking at a very small area, the relatively small area around this intersection and the nearby stretches of Nancy Creek, we would develop a perspective that undoubtedly would inform our way of seeing the larger world around us.

Some topics for the course:

  • The geology of the area and the development of Nancy Creek.
  • Native American presence.
  • Pre-Civil War history.
  • Reconstruction to World War I.
  • The Period between the World Wars, including the years of World War II.
  • Post World War II.
  • Current History, which would for example include a study of the pollution and sustainability issues related to the Nancy Creek water shed.

To do this well, the course would require:

  • Working outside the confines of any single academic department.
  • Seeking the expertise of people outside our school community.
  • Careful research in libraries and archives, as well as the collection of oral histories.
  • Extended time. It would be challenging and likely impossible to do this well in the confines of traditional fifty minute a day classes.

As our school embraces “Learning For Life: A Vision for Westminster” and looks toward an ambitious strategic plan, we open the door to conversations about how we might design and support such courses.

[I have not yet read The History of the World Through 100 Objects, but it is at the top of my list. Another way to build a course that would challenge students to see the world through a different lens would be to teach a full history of the Kline and Brown churn itself. In my next post I will describe what that course might look like.]

A Surprise Purchase and An Unexpected Buckhead Connection: Five Gallon Kline & Brown Churn

Golden Memories Auction Co.

At one point just before the crowd started to thin out toward mid-afternoon, the auctioneer, Greg Peters (no relation), had one of his assistants turn on the air-conditioning in the big room that had become stuffy enough for people to start using their xeroxed auction catalogues as fans. Having recently moved to Atlanta from Cleveland, Ohio, this struck me as a bit funny for December 31st.

This auction was at the Golden Memories Auction Company in Mountain City, Georgia where Peters is not simply the auctioneer but the owner as well. (I wrote in an earlier post about the Slotin Folk Art Auction in Buford, GA.)  Arriving about a half hour before the gavel at 10:00 a.m., Jim, a school colleague and friend, and I had time to look over the nearly five hundred lots of furniture, clocks, porcelain, and pottery. We spent the most time looking at the pottery, and there was much to be interested in. The long and the short of the auction is, however, that I was runner-up on the pieces I wanted most.

Despite the slight disappointment of missing out on the pots I liked best, Peters was entertaining and moved things along at a good clip. When a bidder on a piece was hesitant he would say, “I think I would,” and inevitably it seems he or she would bid it up a bit higher. When a piece was arriving to bid that he knew should draw attention, he would say, “Raise your sights!”—those pieces tended to go at least a $1000 dollars or higher. To emphasize the flawlessness of an item, he would say, “doesn’t get better than this.” And if bidding closed at a price far lower than he expected, he would lament, “mark that a bargain” as the jug, or highboy, or clock was removed to the back room to await payment and pick-up.

After missing out on the pieces I had shot for, there was some more pottery that was intriguing enough to delay our trip home another hour or so. And here is where I made a classic mistake. When something comes up to be auctioned, oftentimes the auctioneer will start high and quickly drop the price low enough to simply get the bidding started. All of the pottery left was old and in good shape, so I assumed none would go less than a couple of hundred dollars. So…when “#307 Rare Kline & Brown Atlanta, GA 5 Gal.; Kline and Brown potted together for only one year 17 1/2” tall” came up I was happy to open the bidding when he dropped it to the very low opening price of $100. You can guess the punchline—

Kline and Brown Five Gallon Churn

After bidding I actually stopped paying attention for a second or two, only to be brought back to reality when Peters asked for my bidder number. The look on my face must have betrayed my surprise because he said, “I know–I can’t believe it either.”

After getting home yesterday I quickly tried to find out more about my new purchase, and I almost immediately became more comfortable with having bought it. A quick search revealed that the two were partners sometime soon after 1883 when Charles Kline married Emma Brown. His partner was likely his new father in law, William Brown. The most interesting detail, however, is that the two worked together next to Howell’s Mill, which is very near where we live, and the clay was almost certainly dug from Nancy Creek–the same Nancy Creek runs through Westminster’s campus, and that I have written about before[My source for all this is Brothers in Clay: The Story of Georgia Folk Pottery by John A. Burrison, University of Georgia Press, 2008].

So I am learning a lesson the easy way–I don’t plan on being the first bidder again anytime soon; however, I am certainly glad I made the mistake this time.

Our dog, Mic, inspects the churn