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Pictures from book adorn Quinlan Visual Arts Center's walls in Gainesville
"Historic Rural Churches of Georgia" featured in "Saving Grace" exhibit
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George Hart and Sonny Seal penned the book “Historic Rural Church of Georgia.” They found photographers to volunteer their time and ultimately their photos for the book.

Quinlan Winter Exhibitions

When: Through Feb. 20

Where: Quinlan Visual Arts Center, 514 Green St. NE, Gainesville

Cost: Free

More info: www.quinlanartscenter.org/winter-exhibitions-2016-2017.html

George Hart and Sonny Seal described themselves as two guys who just got caught up in a hobby.

A University of Georgia Press book reflects that hobby, which showcases the history of rural churches throughout Georgia. In fact, that’s the name of their book “Historic Rural Churches of Georgia.”

But neither man is a trained author. Hart is a graduate of Emory University and the Harvard Graduate Business School and spent his career in senior positions in the technology and real estate industries. Seal graduated from Georgia Tech and is the founder and managing director of Eton Partners LLC, an executive search firm.

“Neither one of us has any experience or any reason to think that we should be writing a book and starting a movement to document historic rural churches,” Hart said.

But the lifelong friends who love history have done just that.

“We became back road addicts,” Seal said. “And on one of these back road trips, we inadvertently discovered my great-grandfather’s grave in a little town that’s almost disappeared.”

Next to the grave was a church, which became the cover of the book.

“The image of the church just stayed with me, and I really couldn’t shake it,” Seal said.

So, he started digging into the church’s history. He tried to discover its owner, the day it was built and when the last service was. But he couldn’t find out any information, Seal said. It led to his next mission.

“George and I started wondering how many are these are across the state that are in peril but truly historical,” Seal said. “So that’s what started it.”

Now with a book, a website (hrcga.org) and a three-minute weekly short on Georgia Public Broadcasting, their idea is reaching the masses. And most recently it is being shown to visitors of the Quinlan Visual Arts Center in Gainesville.

Titled “Saving Grace,” their book and several photographs of historic rural churches in Georgia is part of the center’s Winter Exhibitions. It will be on display until Feb. 20 at 514 Green St. NE, Gainesville.

“We used the title of ‘Saving Grace’ there simply because we thought it was catchier than ‘Historic Rural Churches of Georgia,’” Hart said with a chuckle.

To capture the images for the book which now adorn the walls of the Quinlan, Hart and Seal had to find photographers.

“What we have is a total volunteer organization,” Hart said.

The first photographer they found was through his picture on Flickr, an image and video hosting website and web services suite.

“He is still with us and we now have 12 other volunteer photographers, some of whom are professional photographers,” Hart said.

And both men offer high praise to their volunteer crew for their technique of high-definition photography.

“It takes a special type of person, and camera really, to manipulate properly,” Hart said. “And we call it ‘reverential photography.’”

And thanks to one of those volunteers, Hart and Seal became involved with the Quinlan.

“Our video partner lives in Gainesville and he knows Amanda McClure (Quinlan’s executive director),” Seal said. “Working with an online provider who prints on canvas, Amanda helped figure out how many pictures we needed and we got all these high-resolution photos submitted and had them printed and framed.”

With almost 30 photos on display, the show is capturing the mission of the book, which is research, documentation, education and preservation of historic rural churches in Georgia.

“What you’re seeing is something that three or four people just went and did with no experience and we helped Amanda place them. It’s not an elaborate thing but we are extremely proud of it,” Hart said.

For more information, visit www.quinlanartscenter.org/winter-exhibitions-2016-2017.html.

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