Dobbs Center exhibition features historic Summerhill

Long before the Centennial Olympic Stadium and the Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium were built, the Summerhill neighborhood near downtown Atlanta was rich with history and a mix of cultures.

One of Atlanta's oldest neighborhoods, Summerhill was home to African Americans who had escaped from slavery or bought their freedom prior to the Civil War. Atlanta's first Jewish community, the Greek community and other ethnic groups were all nourished in an environment of locally owned small businesses, a network of schools and stately Victorian mansions.

With the advent of urban renewal and construction of the Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium in the 1960s, what was once Summerhill has largely vanished. "Memories of Summerhill" are being rekindled, however, through the work of folk artist Tim Arkansaw and photographer and journalist Boyd Lewis, who have combined their talents in an exhibition featuring clay figurines and photographs. "Memories of Summerhill" is on display in the Dobbs Center Art Gallery Aug. 24-Sept. 29 from noon to midnight daily. Admission is free.

Both Arkansaw and Lewis have had decades-long experience in Summerhill, which Lewis said has given rise to an entire generation of Atlanta leaders, artists and business people. Lewis worked in Summerhill as a reporter/photographer for The Atlanta Voice from 1969-72 and covered the neighborhood for National Public Radio affiliate WABE and the alternative press.

The photographs of the people and places in Summerhill are from the era shortly after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Lewis' photography has been exhibited by Economic Opportunity Atlanta, the Mechanicsville Freedom Center and Emmaus House, and his photos and articles on Summerhill now reside in the Atlanta History Center.

Arkansaw's figurines of "documental sculptures" in clay depict people he knew there as a child--the washer woman, wood and coal man, urban farmer, vegetable man, nursemaid, cook, shoeshine man and others. Made from red Georgia clay and painted by Arkansaw, "Family Bread Winners," as he calls them, have been exhibited at the Capitol Building in Atlanta and internationally. Also on display at Emory are Arkansaw's items from his career as a folk singer in Atlanta and as an international troubadour for U.S. troops abroad. He was recipient of the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Service Award and the Georgia Citizens for the Arts Award.

An exhibition opening event is scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 28, from 6-8 p.m. in Dobbs Center. Arkansaw will perform original music with Wesley Jackson and Oletta Moore beginning at 6:30 p.m. For information on the exhibition, call 727-0282.

--Joyce Bell and Dan Treadaway

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