Jaw-Dropping Changes

Georgia Southern Museum Reopening after Major Renovation

What began as a simple project to repaint the Georgia Southern Museum turned into a two-year undertaking to renovate the entire building. Built in 1937 as the original library, the building was seriously suffering from old age.

‘The painters told me they thought there was something going on with the ceiling,” said Museum Director Brent Tharp, Ph.D. “Then architects, engineers and everybody else came in and said the ceiling was falling down. They sealed it off and said nobody’s going in.”

This turned out to be an unplanned opportunity to finally fulfill the mission that was established when the Museum was founded in 1982.

“The mission was always to do natural and cultural history of coastal plain Georgia,” said Tharp. “We’d always had the permanent gallery with the mosasaur that looked at the natural history side. We covered the other part of the mission through changing exhibits.”

Now, there are two permanent galleries. One side of the rotunda displays the ever-popular mosasaur skeleton and related natural history. The other side exhibits cultural history of Georgia’s Coastal Plain. Visitors will see a more complete natural and cultural history from 75 million years ago.

A new third gallery displays a changing exhibit. The first is “Saints and Sinners: Salvation and Damnation in Latin American Folk Art.” Curated by history professor Michael Van Wagenen, Ph.D, the presentation examines how Europeans, Americans, Africans and their descendants wrestled with existential questions of life, death and afterlife in a uniquely Latin American way. It is also the first bilingual English/Spanish exhibit.

Tharp easily answered the question everyone asks, “Was the mosasaur damaged during construction?”

“No, he’s such a favorite,” said Tharp. “He had to move and was taken apart into four different sections. But he’s now back and in a completely new setting with a larger viewing tunnel that allows children, and now adults, to go underneath him and pop up into his stomach. Or you can use new technology with cameras that allow close-up views. So if you really want to see the teeth you can get right up on them.”

The Museum appears brand new, which Tharp says is a long time coming. He is thankful for everyone’s patience during construction and the extended closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We appreciate our members, the school groups, teachers and others being patient for this process,” said Tharp. “But I think they’re going to be really thrilled with the results. Especially our own students. We can’t wait to get them back in here to study and see what’s been going on at the Georgia Southern Museum.” — Liz Walker