Thursday, September 17

Davidson Fine Arts School... beautiful crumbling pile of bricks and dust

This started out as a post about how much I love city life and urban decay. To start off, I was going to show you some photos of where I went to middle and high school. The school was very urban, very decaying. (It has since been condemed... asbestos and the like.) As I searched the net for photos to share, I came across some by JM House. The one at the top of the post is his. Please go look at them. When I saw these photos, I knew that I had to write about my alma mater: Davidson Fine Arts School.

The building in these photographs was built in the 1930s, I think. 1933 stands out in my head, but I could be wrong. Anyway, it served an elementary-aged student body until the 1970s when it was closed. I think it was 1981, when the school was re-opened as a "magnet" school, drawing artistically talented students from all over the school district. When the magnet school concept began there, the school educated 5th-8th graders, and each year grades were added until the school served 5th-12th grades. The first senior class graduated in 1986. This was around the time of the original movie Fame, and the school was a very cool concept.

Anyway, many instructors fostered an environment in which normal wasn't normal at all. The way to fit in was not to fit in... boys had earrings when people still wanted to "check which ear the earring was in, just to be safe," not that it mattered at Davidson. Students pushed the envelope in many ways, but were also expected to perform, not just in their chosen artistic endeavors but also academically. Davidson has been ranked the top public high school in the state of Georgia many times over. There were no sports - okay, there WAS Cross Country - but we did have a stellar One Act Play team and a highly competitive choral trio. Freeks and geeks were us... and we loved it.

Back to the photos... I don't know who the photographer is, but for me personally, it is uncanny how he (not a student of the school, as far as I know) captured images of so many of the things that defined the school for me:
  • the beautiful art deco facade... one fall in the eighth grade, I sat and rendered every inch of that chalky, white-washed and red-bricked face for an entire six-week period... I still have that drawing.
  • the crazy bathrooms... the toilet seats were raised up two-three inches higher than usual and there were no handles for flushing, so that when you stood up, the toilet flushed automatically... it nearly scared the living daylights out of me, a fresh-faced, 10-year-old fifth grader in the fall of 1983... I remember what I wore to school that day... painfully dark blue jeans and a purple polo shirt... not a real Polo shirt... I've still never had one of those to this day...
  • Mrs. Walpert's class card posted in the window... I really can't believe those are still there! These were on the door of EVERY classroom, signed by our Principal, Beverly J. Barnhart... they looked JUST like that when I started in 1983, and to think, they still exist in the world... crazy. I wonder if they use these in the new building that students use now?
  • The art... I remember watching the student who painted that serene landscape, afternoon after quiet afternoon... thank you Class of 1995 for rescuing it! I even painted on one, but I didn't like my painting and let someone else paint over it... those boxes covered the places where the gigantor, silver, old-school fire extinguishers once hung.
  • The beautiful yet ever cold fireplace in the lunchroom... so evocative of a day when people NEED wood-burning fireplaces for warmth and not just ambience. The dance teachers kept thier splintery wooden desk in the nook of the fireplace, along with a squeaky old office chair that leaned w-a-a-a-y back.
  • The auditorium/stage... how many hours did my girlfriends and I spend giggling in those chairs? If you were wearing a white shirt and were also sweaty (there was a good chance of this because there was no A/C in this part of the building), the brown varnish would come off on your clothes... how many hours spent rehearsing and performing on that stage, and, over the course of eight years, in how many capacities too? chorus... band... orchestra... drama... dance... spelling bees... Something about the light and the emptiness of the photograph reminds me again of that highly-impressionable first day: uncertainty, light, fear, hope.

If you didn't go to this school, these photos probably look like some pretty generic, peely, moldy old rooms. For me however, a proud graduate of Davidson Fine Arts , seeing these photos causes real tension right in the center of my heart that just balances on the borders of sweetness and melancholy.Perhaps this tension stems from dreams lost yet other dreams discovered. Perhaps it stems from nostalgia for old, familiar places and the carefree days of sunny, blurry teenage years. Perhaps it is just sadness that such a behemoth dowager must die so slowly... so solitary... as if all of the years of schooling Augusta's youth since 1933 never even happened... as if the rowdy spirit of all those kids, now grown, never touched the walls.

Was it even real? Did it all happen? Some say so... But what do you see? Is there evidence of the our laughter? our pain? our learning? our friendships? Does the sound of our music echo in the halls for old ghosts to hear? I say so.


Peters said...

This arts school looks like classic, should be the landmark of the local building.

Anonymous said...

i go to DFA now and yes, that old building is broken down, peeling, and has asbestos inside, but it is just a "monument" you could say to the first years of John S. Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School of Excellence. This school is truly something to be proud of. And i dont really know about the cards Ms. Walpert had. I will ask her what those were when i see her in acting class.

Swestie said...

@ Peters: this is one of many beautiful old school in Augusta. You should visit there sometime.

@ my Anonymous friend: glad to know a legacy was left that is still worth maintaining. I am old friends with Aletha and intend to take a tour next time I'm around Augusta.

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