Historic Oakland Foundation has partnered with Atlanta HIstory Center’s Cherokee Garden Library for Illumine. In this interview, Cherokee Garden Library Director Staci L. Catron talks about her work at Atlanta History Center, the Library, and its partnership with Historic Oakland Foundation (HOF).
Please tell us a little bit about the Cherokee Garden Library and your role there.
Founded by Cherokee Garden Club of Atlanta in 1975, Cherokee Garden Library is named for the state floral emblem of Georgia, the Cherokee rose (Rosa laevigata), and is one of the special collections libraries of the Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center.
Cherokee Garden Library collects and preserves works in gardening, landscape design, garden history, horticulture, floral design, botanical art, plant ecology, natural landscapes, and cultural landscapes, including historic sites, designed landscapes, vernacular landscapes, and ethnographic landscapes. From 1586 to the present, Cherokee Garden Library contains over 33,000 items, including books, periodicals, manuscript collections, and visual arts collections that tell the diverse and fascinating stories of horticulture and botanical history in the Southeastern United States and areas of influence throughout the world.
Last year, we served over 20,000 researchers – in person and via calls, emails, text, and social media posts/messages. Kenan Research Center, including Cherokee Garden Library, is open to the public, free of charge, by appointment, Tuesday through Saturday, 10 am to 5 pm. You can make an appointment by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 404-814-4040. In addition, you can check out our catalogs online at atlantahistorycenter.com; and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
I am a library director, archivist, historic preservationist, and author. As Cherokee Garden Library director of Atlanta History Center, I manage the collection’s development, care, and interpretation. I perform professional library and archival work, plan and implement programs and exhibitions, supervise conservation work, direct all fundraising, promote the collection through curatorial tours and public speaking, and work with community partners to document and preserve historic landscapes throughout the region. My most recent award-winning book is Seeking Eden: A Collection of Georgia’s Historic Gardens, with co-author Mary Ann Eaddy and photographs by James R. Lockhart, published by University of Georgia Press (2018). I am also an avid gardener who loves her border collie named Clio. I had my first volunteer job with HOF in 1989.
How are you partnering with HOF for Illumine 2022, and how does the partnership align with the goals of the CGL?
For Illumine 2022, Atlanta History Center has provided digital content from the Cherokee Garden Library collection for HOF staff to incorporate into the event. Working together, CGL and HOF staff specifically selected images from the African American Gardens and Cultural Landscapes Initiative. The collection is an effort to document underrepresented communities through images of residential gardens, landscapes, farms, historically Black colleges and universities, cemeteries, parks, and greenspaces, both urban and rural, created for and used by African Americans. These images provide details such as garden and campus design, plant choices, farming methods, and land use as well as social and economic conditions in African American communities.
As part of its mission, Atlanta History Center strives, through its collections, facilities, programs, exhibitions, and publications, to preserve and interpret historical subjects about Atlanta and its environs and present subjects of interest to Atlanta’s diverse audiences. A vital part of this work is partnering with other non-profits in Atlanta, including HOF.
We seek to build a collection that examines land use and gardening traditions of Native American, African American, and Latinx communities in the Southeastern United States.
How would you like to see the collection grow, and what is something in your collection that you’d like to bring greater attention to?
Cherokee Garden Library continues to add books, periodicals, manuscript collections, and visual arts collections as part of Atlanta History Center’s collecting plan and mission to connect people, culture, and history, as well as to cultivate understanding of our shared history, and serve, collect, preserve, and engage for inclusive, diverse, and historically underrepresented communities. We seek to build a collection that examines land use and gardening traditions of Native American, African American, and Latinx communities in the Southeastern United States.
I am always interested in bringing greater attention to the African American Gardens and Cultural Landscapes Initiative. All the digital content from the first phase of this effort will launch to the public online in late May of this year. In addition to significant rare books and botanical prints, we are also always collecting new, relevant books about gardening, garden design, horticultural, and cultural landscapes.
Is there anything in the CGL collection that would surprise people?
People might be surprised by the extensive seed and nursery catalog collection at Cherokee Garden Library. These catalogs are windows into our horticultural past for those interested in heirloom vegetables and flowers. They tell us which plants and seeds were available in different periods. The catalogs include valuable information on plant varieties, requirements for growing, planting schedules, and trends in Southern farming, gardening, and landscape design over time.
It’s also fascinating that historic items often hold new relevance as we move forward in the 21st century.
For example, Cherokee Garden Library is home to many exquisite botanical prints. A favorite is a hand-colored copperplate engraving of a sunflower by Basilius Besler, published in his significant work, Hortus Eystettensis, in 1613. One of the free crops species that originated in North America, the name sunflower (Helianthus annus L.) comes from the Greek “helios” (sun) and “Anthos” (flower). Historically and today, sunflowers were grown for food, seeds, and oil. I have always loved this particular botanical print as it reminds me of the rows of sunflowers I have seen growing along fence lines all over the South since I was a young child. Today, it also moves me as I think of the sunflower as Ukraine’s national flower and a symbol of resistance against the country’s invasion by Russian forces.