laura pope forester
Outsider artist. civil activist.
2021 Inductee, Georgia Women of Achievement
January 31, 1873
February 3, 1953
City, Town, Region
Born in a rural area of South Georgia, Laura Pope Forester combined her gifts and her convictions to create an environment that demonstrated both superior artistic genius, and a message that was rarely heard in the early 20th century-that women provided a varied and vital role in Georgian and American society. While she lived her entire life in Georgia, the outsider artist environment that she singlehandedly created boasted of having visitors from all of 48 states and every continent except Antarctica. Pope’s Museum, also known as Popes Store Museum, was toured by citizens throughout the nation and continues to be nearly so, seventy years after her death.
Today her artwork continues to inspire with both its beauty and its message. Laura Pope Forester was not trained formally in her craft. Officially she was a landowner, store owner/operator, postmistress and wife and mother. Yet these titles linked her to the land, while her vision continued to soar. Using common concrete and sand from the local creek, she created over 200 sculptures and dozens of murals to build an emporium highlighting the achievements of notables such as the first women U.S. Senator (from GA incidentally), the first female ambassador to Denmark (Laura’s mother-in-law) and the literary heroine Scarlet O’Hara, who valued and fought for her beloved Georgian home Tara. There were hundreds of others. It is important to note that these female statues are standing beside males such as General Eisenhower and Pilot Colin Kelly. The message being one of equality and unity, not superiority.
Consider the following extant examples of her craft:
• An entire balcony room created from early 20th century sewing machines. These machines symbolized the career limits for cotton laddened south Georgian women. Mrs. Pope Forester used these machines to prove that just asthey were strong, beautiful, and versatile, so were women.
• A century old life-sized replica of a World War I Red Cross nurse. This memorial is dedicated to the women in the Red Cross who served beside our soldiers. It also honors the local men who did not make it home from the “War to end all Wars”.
• A 100-foot World War II memorial war that highlights the achievements of women and men in the military, the workforce, and notables such as Great Britain’s Queen Mother and
Mrs. Pope Forester honored people for their contributions, turning the viewer toward a point of view of equality. She was a woman of the 20th century who paved the way for our generation to embrace this ideal. Thousands of people have toured Pope’s Museum prior to 1973 when it initially was sold by her family. These visitors heard and saw her message that America is strengthened by the family, the military, and the contributions of women. This was true before 1973, and it is true now. After nearly fifty years of it being closed, it reopened in 2018, hosting over 2,000 visitors in 24 months, despite the disasters of Hurricane Michael in 2018, and the 2020 Covid 19 pandemic. Her art’s message still resonates.
The public support of both her artwork and her message during her lifetime was notable including such publications as Atlanta Journal Constitution, Macon Telegraph and the Albany Herald, but it was after her death that her work was given more prestige. In 1977, photographer Carl Fleischhauer worked with United States Library of Congress to create an exhibit that includes over one hundred photographs of both Pope’s Museum and the artwork within and without her home/museum. In 1983 Smithsonian Magazine published an article on outsider artists, including Laura Pope Forester among those artists whose work was both innovative and impactful. New Georgia Encyclopedia also honors her accomplishment, as one of Georgia's earliest
outdoor self-taught art environments. Most recently, in 2020 Laura Pope Forester’s museum, which is also her home, was recognized as qualifying* for the United States National Register of Historic Places in the categories of Art, Recreation and Leisure and Women’s History.
In summary, Laura Pope Forester was a woman that personified what a Georgia woman of achievement represents. She lived her entire life in Georgia, yet her influence extended beyond it. Her artwork is both masterful and thoughtful.
It still represents enduring and foundational truths that we are all endowed by our Creator with skills and gifts that are enduring and immutable. Laura Pope Forester’s Pope’s Museum has achieved that since 1942, creating a clarion call that continues to sound.