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Column: Preserving Northeast Georgia history is an art form
Johnny_Vardeman
Johnny Vardeman

“If you wake up in the morning and can’t see Yonah Mountain, you need to move.”

That was one of late White County historian Shirley McDonald’s favorite quotations, expressing the love of her home county. Yonah Mountain is that signature “sleeping bear-shaped” landmark overlooking Nacoochee Valley.

Shirley was official historian for the county and wrote a newspaper column about pioneer and modern families, weaving in White County’s history, as well as some from surrounding counties. She was a prime mover in the White County Historical Society, one of the most active such organizations in the state.

Fortunately for those who remember her writings, as well as newcomers to them, they have been preserved. The historical society has been working for two years to put the 900-plus columns together in bound books. They are being sold for $50 each or $150 for all three hardback volumes.

“So many years of writing the ‘Looking Back’ column in the local newspaper reflected her desire to keep the history of our county and its people before the public,” said friend and fellow historian Judy Lovell in her foreword to McDonald’s books.

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Many paintings of the late Northeast Georgia artist John Kollock, who lived in Habersham County, drew on the past of his neighbors across the Chattahoochee River. - photo provided to The Times

Shirley’s columns are a part of the rich history of the county and continue to have an impact.

Another person who had an impact on White County was the late regional artist John Kollock. He lived in Habersham County, but many of his paintings drew on the past of his neighbors across the Chattahoochee River.

More importantly, he was one of the key people behind the transformation of the White County town of Helen from a sawmill wide-place-in-the-road to one of the most popular tourist destinations in the state.

When Dean and Kay Swanson started the Folk Pottery Museum of Northeast Georgia in Nacoochee Valley, they asked Kollock to paint in his signature watercolor style the four stages of pottery-making. He did, and those original paintings have hung in the museum lobby since it opened in 2006.

Now prints of the paintings are being made available to the public. The stages of the pottery process are “The Grinding,” “The Turning,” “The Glazing” and “The Burning.” They are selling for $50 each or $175 for the set, available only at the Folk Pottery Museum of Northeast Georgia.

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A series of watercolor paintings depicting the stages of the pottery process by the late Northeast Georgia artist John Kollock are on display at the Folk Pottery Museum of Northeast Georgia in Nacoochee Valley, with prints available for purchase. Pictured here is “The Glazing.” - photo provided to The Times

Said Emory Jones, a museum trustee, “John Kollock, the man who created the vision for Alpine Helen, was also synonymous with the art and history of Northeast Georgia.”

Kollock was not only an artist and visionary, but a writer. He produced several books with scenes he had painted, many on the backroads of Northeast Georgia.

As for Helen, from his memory of Bavarian villages he toured in the military, he drew sketches of how the aging buildings and storefronts in the town in the late 1960s could look. Working only from Kollock’s drawings, builders applied the Alpine touches to the town. Within a few weeks, the new-look Helen had been renovated, tourists began visiting and new businesses were cropping up all over in the village by the Chattahoochee River. Helen remains one of the busiest places in the North Georgia mountains.


Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pine Tree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501; 770-532-2326; or johnnyvardeman@gmail.com. His column publishes weekly.

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A series of watercolor paintings depicting the stages of the pottery process by the late Northeast Georgia artist John Kollock are on display at the Folk Pottery Museum of Northeast Georgia in Nacoochee Valley, with prints available for purchase. Pictured here is “The Turning.” - photo provided to The Times