Mary Telfair broke stereotypes in early 19th-century Savannah. The never-married native Georgian, who was born to wealthy parents, was known for her keen intellect, love of travel and independent spirit. A patron of the arts, Telfair bequeathed her family’s neoclassical Regency-style home and its furnishings to the Georgia Historical Society. Today, that mansion–known as the Telfair Academy–along with the Jepson Center for the Arts and the Owens-Thomas House, comprise the City's Telfair Museums.
The Telfair Academy, located on Telfair Square, features two 19th-century period rooms decorated with the Telfair family’s original furnishings and a permanent collection of 19th- and 20th-century American and European art. Among the works in the collection are sculptures, works on paper, decorative arts and paintings by influential artists, including George Bellows, Frederick Frieseke, Gari Melchers, Robert Henri, George Luks and Childe Hassam. The Telfair Academy features an impressive collection of 19th- and 20th-century American and European Art — Photo courtesy of Telfair Museums
Many visitors flock to the Telfair Academy to view the Bird Girl statue, a sculpture by Sylvia Shaw Judson that’s currently on long-term loan. The famous statue, which was once located at Bonaventure Cemetery, was immortalized on the cover of John Berendt’s book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
The Telfair Academy is just steps away from the museum system’s newest gem: the Jepson Center for the Arts. Designed by Israeli architect Moshe Safdie and constructed in 2006, the spectacular three-story modern art museum features major traveling contemporary art exhibitions, along with an impressive permanent collection with works by Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Chuck Close, Roy Lichtenstein, Jeff Koons and Richard Avedon, among others.
The Jepson Center’s ArtZeum - a 3,500-square-foot, two-story interactive play space - is a great way for children to learn about art while burning off steam. The ArtZeum boasts 24 hands-on activities, including a magnet wall, tables with architectural building blocks, a gigantic dry erase board and a glass house.
The Jepson Center also features a café that serves small plates, salads, sandwiches, sides and desserts and a fabulous gift shop with great finds for art lovers of all ages.
The Telfair Museums’ third space is located several blocks east of Telfair Square, but it is well worth the walk. The Owens-Thomas House, which many consider one of the finest examples of English Regency architecture in America, was designed by English architect William Jay. Built in the early nineteenth century, the house served as a private residence for George Owens, a planter, congressman, lawyer and former mayor of Savannah. The house remained in the Owens family until 1951, when Owens’ granddaughter bequeathed it to the Telfair.
Today, the Owens-Thomas House is a historic house museum with an extensive decorative arts collection, featuring furnishings and objects from the Owens family. The house, which is a National Historic Landmark, also boasts a lovely parterre garden and a carriage house that contains one of the earliest intact urban slave quarters in the South.
Tickets to the three Telfair sites can be purchased individually, but for a few dollars more, guests can buy a ticket that includes a one-time visit to each of the museums. Annual membership to the Telfair Museums is just $75 a year for families and $45 a year for individuals and includes unlimited visits to all three museums.