A wedding day, then back to helping others

Savannah Morning News

September 10, 2017

 

It’s a rare sight to see Wayne Harden sitting down. The man is a worker. Four mornings a week he shows up early at Emmaus House, a Christ Church Episcopal outreach kitchen on Bryan Street that feeds a hot meal to 200 men, women and children, 50 weeks a year. But this was Wayne’s wedding day and he wasn’t intending to work. His hair was trimmed, he was shaved, he wore a sky blue shirt, pressed khaki pants and dress shoes. He wasn’t helping people sort through clothes or navigate laundry facilities. He wasn’t opening, then collapsing aluminum chairs for the tables in the ground floor Parish House. He wasn’t bagging up recycled paper, flattening boxes, collecting aluminum cans, hauling donated food or supplies to chef Freda Payne in the kitchen or picking up donated food from generous people who would arrive at the door with their offerings. He wasn’t helping volunteers pack lunches for the weekend when there would be no hot meal.

On this day, a sunny Friday morning when the tourists were just starting to wake up and congregate, Wayne, the clinic supervisor for Emmaus House, showed up on time, as usual, at 9 a.m. with his bride-to-be Rhonda for the nuptials. They stood in Reynolds Square with officiant Helen P. Bradley, said a few words, signed the proper papers and tied the knot. Then they walked across the leafy square to the Parish House where chef Freda, who had just passed out bagged lunches and hot biscuits and scrambled eggs, an unexpected gift from the convention center, served the couple alfredo fettuccine, collard greens and red rice followed by a sheet cake offering congratulations. Emmaus House director Ariana Berkheimer sat with the couple and shared the meal.

Earlier, another one of Wayne’s employers showed up in the square to photograph the “I do’s” and to document the proverbial kiss. Alan Barnes, co-owner of the popular and venerable Barnes Restaurant, is no stranger to Emmaus House. Most Mondays this restaurateur drives downtown to deliver four to six gallons of leftover oxtail gravy from the restaurant’s popular Sunday special; he estimates the restaurant sells 500 servings, but there’s always more gravy to share. He, like other restaurants in town, also donates other food when he can – Brunswick stew, barbecue pork and beef brisket.

Wayne is no stranger to Barnes Restaurant. Alan used to see him in the well-known Waters avenue establishment, back when his late father Nesbert, better known as Bo, owned it. That was back when Bo – who worked as a typesetter at the Savannah Morning News – bought the building that used to house Carey Hilliard’s. After seeing Wayne in the restaurant so much Alan had a hunch Wayne might be a good worker. “So I hired him,” he said. “I put him to work.” He washed dishes, cleaned the vans, split the wood and mowed the yard. Years later he still helps Alan with catering jobs and is on call for weekends or nights when employees don’t show up. Alan also hired Rhonda.

Alan can recognize hard workers and hard work. He saw the same traits in his father. Before buying Barnes and turning it into a full-fledged restaurant, Bo owned a popular Dairy Queen on Montgomery street. That’s where Alan would work summers and on the weekends. But Bo was cautious, Alan said. Before buying the old Hilliard’s he and Alan would drive to the Waters avenue establishment, sit in their car and count the number of people who walked in. “Old school marketing,” Alan said.

These days Wayne also remembers to collect uneaten bread from the Emmaus House and from Barnes, which he takes to Lake Mayer to feed the birds.

“My dad used to do that, too,” Alan said. “He’d do it every day, like clockwork. Wayne does too. He told me this is his memorial to my father.”

 

 

 

 

 

Don Koles new Savannah museum of African Artifacts a wow

Savannah Morning News

September 3, 2017

 

In some ways the man behind the new Savannah African Art Museum and the artifacts in the museum share a common trait. Both are modest, unassuming, unpretentious. Both are generous in spirit.

Neither the collection nor the collector are flashy. The hand-carved figures were fashioned for function not decoration. They were created for particular purposes – fertility, good health, ancestor worship, protection of a village or sometimes retribution. In Western and Central Africa there is no such thing as art for art’s sake. The pieces were not made to sit on a mantel, perch on a coffee table or hang on the wall of an art gallery.  They were not made for commerce, despite the attention to detail, the intricate beading and weaving of cowrie shells, the fierce expressions, the grace of a lizard, the heft of a hippo, the temerity of a tusk. The person doing the work did not bill for all the hours he or she put into the work.  After the art served its purpose, the pieces were left to the fate of termites, the vagaries of weather, the damp conditions of the earth. Except for the terracotta pieces, they were not intended to last forever.

Don Kole, the individual behind the museum, is not out for glory. He opened the building last year to little fanfare, little publicity and no admission fee. He believes in the intrinsic value of this art. Still, when he started collecting he had no idea where his appreciation of artifacts from Africa would lead. He just knew he loved the direct quality of the geometric shapes, the vivid colors and the stories behind the masks and the sculptures. He knew he wanted other people to see them, to see something of Africa other than slavery. He wanted people, especially young people, to see what could be done with the simplest of tools, with patience, with heart. “Just imagine someone doing that by the light of a fire,” Kole said.

There was no long-range plan to open a museum. Forty years ago when he and his wife Kaye, a well-known genealogist, found themselves in Guatemala quite by accident they fell in love with primitive wooden masks. That was the start. A little while later when Don was at a meeting in Washington D.C. Kaye bought her husband an African mask.

Behold: a new interest for this generous and curious man who is no stranger to collecting or learning. For years Kole has collected stamps, books and maps.

Kole met his future bride on “Savannah Beach” (Tybee Island), when he was on weekend leave from the Army in Fort Gordon. He was 22, she 17. The couple has been married 62 years.

At first Kole, 86, stored his treasures in his office on Habersham and Liberty streets.

“Those were the days W.W. Law would walk in to see what I had,” he said. “He’d say, ‘Kole, we want that for the Beach Institute.’” Law was a civil rights icon in Savannah. He died in 2002.

When Kole moved his real estate and business operations to East 34th and Abercorn streets the burgeoning art collection went along too. But as before, the office started getting crowded. Kole would store the work between desks, behind doors, in closets, next to file cabinets and finally on the third floor of the building.

That became problematic too. He loved sharing the work. But when he wanted to show the collection to friends or other aficionados he’d have to lead them up the staircase – past people who were trying to work. Since he and his fellow collectors could talk for hours about the pieces the visits became disruptive.

Everything changed when the house across the street went on the market, a house that once housed a Buddhist temple, then a photography studio. The Spanish-style house, built in 1910, is spacious, open, sunny and set back from the sidewalk. It was a perfect fit. Even now only half of Kole’s 1,000-piece collection fits in the museum.

By now he and Billie Stultz, the museum executive director and head curator, have developed relationships with local public schools and universities. Stultz majored at SCAD in art history with a minor in museum studies. She and her staff offer tours through the museum, past vases that once held honey, storage doors decorated with lizards, masks decorated with glass beads, animal fur and raffia, and ornate hunting tunics festooned with mirrors and buttons. There are slit drums, and multiple motifs of buffalo, alligator, rhinos and hornbills.

As Stultz handles the museum, Kole, reserved, behind-the-scenes but ever the collector, keeps his eyes out for pieces of interest. Inevitably people will ask what he’s going to do with the collection down the road.  “I’m not going to worry about it,” he said. “I’m just going to keep reading and learning and enjoying it now.”

And adding to the museum’s collection.

That seems more than enough.