Brown, the new executive director of the site, spoke to members of the Rome Kiwanis Club Monday.
Brown said the primary entrance to the Berry home and museum grounds is “horrible and it’s dangerous.” The entrance sits in an acceleration lane for traffic that makes a right turn onto the bypass off the Martha Berry Highway northbound. “The Redmond Road light comes right in perfectly behind where the museum would be. We’re talking about soliciting to see if we could possibly hook up that red light there,” Brown said.
Brown also explained that the museum and Martha Berry home property occupies about 30 acres of a 170 acre tract that stretches all the way back to the Oostanaula River, including the site of the Major Ridge Ferry. The college is looking at ways of more fully-utilizing the rest of that acreage.
Brown, who came to Rome from the Georgia Museum of Art in Athens, said that very few people realize the significance of the art collection at Berry. The art collection came from a variety of sources but much of it came from Martha Berry’s sister, Eugenia Ruspoli. She was an Italian princess who donated priceless works of art to the college in 1940 when she had to leave Italy because of the Nazis.
“Berry’s had all of this art that really hasn’t been catalogued and hasn’t really been appreciated,” Brown said. “We had an appraiser come and things that were being passed off as 19th century things actually turned out to be from the 16th century. One painting in particular was being painted the same time that DeSoto was coming here. It blows my mind to think about things in that context. That’s one thing that we’re trying to let people know.”
The endowment left by Martha Berry has provide the foundation for preserving her home and operating the museum through the years. Brown, however, is preparing to create a Friends of the Museum organization. “We haven’t had to fund raise to pay the light bill,” Brown said.
Berry recently received a major grant from the Garden Club of Georgia, a historical landscape restoration grant, to clean up a hillside vertical slope that is currently choked off by a number of invasive species.
“We’re going to have a garden party in February and it’s going to be our first foray into fundraising, Brown said. “We’re going to try to raise money for a revolving fund to take care of that hillside.”
Brown said Berry College is in a very good place right now under the leadership of President Stephen Briggs.
“It’s nice to know that there is a pocket of goodness still exists on the planet,” Brown said. “We’re not just Martha Berry’s house, which is extraordinary in itself, we’re not just a lot of different things. We’re an active educational entity and we’re really communicating with the rest of the community.”