Waddie Welcome Archive

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The Waddie Welcome Archive is a collection of photographs of hand-painted signs from Savannah, Georgia, largely from African-American neighborhoods. It tries to document the visual language of this art, especially that of artisan practitioners like William Pleasant, Jimmie Williams and Leonard Miller.

The collection is dedicated to the memory of Waddie Welcome. Between 1986 and 1996, a group of people meeting as Chatham Savannah Citizen Advocacy helped bring Waddie Welcome (1914-2001) back to his home in Savannah after he was moved to a care facility three hours away in Abbeyville, Georgia. Welcome’s story inspired both a book by Tom Kohler and Susan Earl, Waddie Welcome and the Beloved Community, (Inclusion Press, 2004) and a documentary film Waddie Welcome: A Man who Cannot be Denied, (dir. Narcel Reedus, 1997). As part of this process, Tom Kohler and Susan Earl with the help of Addie Reeves (1901-2001) and many others put together an archive of photographs of hand-painted African-American public signs that form a record of what the physical environment and public life of Welcome’s Savannah neighborhood was like.

The Waddie Welcome Archive consists of both an on-line and physical archive of 750 photographs of hand-painted African-American small business signs in Savannah, GA. It is housed permanently at the Henderson Library, Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, GA along with actual examples of the hand-painted signs. The on-line database will expand with new photographs and the addition of oral histories and research.

The signs represent a wide variety of small businesses, churches, clubs as well as personal statements and artworks. The collection as a whole is designed to raise questions about urban history and preservation, to open discussions about what constitutes an archive and a document, and to make explicit the social process of archive formation. Comparative archives of signs from other urban settings–such as Mike Bess’s collection of rotulos from the Veracruz area in Mexico–are to be added as the archive develops.

The initial project is funded by the Georgia Humanities Council and Georgia Southern. The idea for the project came out of the organizing meeting of the Southern Coastal Humanities Consortium April 2006 (Coastal Georgia Center, Savannah, GA) and in particular a conversation between Tom Kohler and Cornelia Bailey about how the pasts of both Savannah and the coastal Gullah community are memorialized.