Savannah’s Telfair Museums —Part 1. Jepson Center: An architectural delight
9 min readSep 2, 2022


Telfair Museums, Jepson Center facade, Savannah GA

This was a museum experience that blissed me out, from beginning to end!

I have to admit that I didn’t expect it. Contemporary art isn’t usually my first-choice go-to and, as I approached the gleaming-white, angular, state-of-the-art museum building, my first thought was that it looked out of place, surrounded as it is by classic Savannah architecture.

Then again, how do you design a new museum to fit into a National Historic Landmark District — an area that was planned in 1733 — a neighborhood defined by a grid of streets punctuated by tree-shaded urban squares? The Jepson Center stands in the heart of Savannah’s Historic District, a few steps around Telfair Square from the Telfair Academy, the oldest public art museum in the South, built in 1818–19.

Stunning architecture, I thought, but surely it wants broad lawns, a super-sized Claes Oldenburg sculpture near the entrance, and a parking deck …

Then I stepped inside.

Light-filled in all the right places, a slat-laced ceiling, and large windows. The windows, of course, offer interaction with the surrounding Historic District.

The Jepson Center‘s design reflects architect Moshe Safdie’s avid interest in natural illumination and the ever-shifting patterns created as light interacts with structure. Philosophically, the building’s design reflects the belief that the museum of the 21st century is communal, transparent, inviting — in short, Safdie says, it reflects “a new spirit which speaks of the openness that contemporary society aspires to.”

In designing the Jepson Center, Safdie’s aim was to provide Savannah with a truly iconic building that, in the architect’s words, is “vital, contemporary, appropriate to the expression of art to come … and a building you cannot conceive of anywhere else but Savannah.”

Left: facade / Right: View across atrium. Images courtesy of Safdie Architects, LLC.

Upon closer study, I realized the design actually does harmonize with Savannah’s urban fabric, respecting the established grid of the historic district. The height and mass of the museum relate to the surrounding structures. The glass façade on York Street is framed by two architectural ‘screens’ — a modern take on classical columns, a nod to the neo-classical styling of neighboring structures. The screens break the 120-foot wide frontage into bays of less than 60 feet, to conform with the Historic Savannah guidelines, and the expanse of glass invites engagement with the tree-lined Telfair Square and surrounding buildings.

Modest in scale but grand in feel, the glass-fronted foyer hints at the experience to come: art and architecture reinforcing one another. That interaction is introduced here, in the three-story atrium, with Katniss, a subtly dynamic sculpture by Savannah-based artist Katherine Sandoz. Suspended in layers overhead,108 translucent acrylic elements cast colored patterns on the smooth, creamy Portuguese limestone walls and on the floor, shapes that dance and shift in gentle currents of air and ever-changing natural light.

Left: 2nd floor view across atrium / Right: Katniss, Katherine Sandoz, Jepson Center Atrium

The foyer and central stair are roofed by a trellised glass-and-steel structure, so the pastel-tinted reflections from Katniss play on the curved wall that embraces the lobby, mingling with the wall-washing patterns cast by the ribbed structure of the ceiling.

I suspect there are those who are disoriented by the stripey effect of the trellised ceiling but, for the most part, I found the dynamic impact of light and shadow to be at once dramatic and playful.

Rest assured, the gallery spaces are enclosed, so appreciation of artwork is not challenged by unpredictable lighting — with a few exceptions. In one open hallway, pottery and small sculptures presented in glass display cases are difficult to see and the signage hard to read, as a result of the reflections. For example, shown below, Frederick MacMonnies’ Young Faun with Heron, was behind reflected bars.

And on the 3rd floor, what is called the Artzeum — perhaps the best interactive children’s learning space I’ve ever seen in an art museum — is cheerfully bathed in light, but also in stripes. Fun and stimulating for a child, perhaps, but the bands of light and shadow became a tad tiresome for me!

Overall, the Jepson Center is an architectural delight. It’s a must-see for anyone interested in thoughtful, solution-oriented, state-of-the-art museum design. Of course, there’s also the art …

The awesome architecture of the Jepson Center envelops more than 7,500 sq. ft. of beautifully-designed gallery space to display temporary exhibitions and installations of contemporary art works from the permanent collection.

At the time of our visit, five special exhibitions engaged us at every turn.

Beyond: Chul-Hyun Ahn (on view through August 7, 2022)

WOW! We know we’re not in Kansas anymore as we’re drawn into Chul-Hyun Ahn’s infinite-space light boxes. Created with LED and fluorescent lights, one-way mirrors, and sculptural materials, Ahn’s mesmerizing works pull you in, whether into an immersive illusion of a railroad track curving into the darkness, or geometric abstractions in vibrant color.

These images present as static, but in fact these works are highly kinetic: as the viewer moves, the visual changes. Unnerving, calming, hypnotic — by turns — these compositions generate other-worldly experience that connects to the spiritual, the abstract, the unknown and unknowable.

Beyond: Light, Color and Illusion (through August 7, 2022)

In the history of art, it has always been new technologies that drive broad artistic innovation. Chul-Hyun Ahn‘s work evidences the progressive impetus of today’s technologies. As companion to Ahn’s exhibit, a second gallery presents additional international and regional artists’ explorations of illusory spaces and effects in media art, from motorized light sculpture to video and interactive works.

BLOW UP / Inflatable Contemporary Art (on view through Sept 18, 2022)

This was a fun interlude, exploring the imaginative ways that artists use air as a tool for creating larger-than-life sculptures. Nine installation pieces challenge our traditional associations of inflatables with balloons, pool toys, and blimps.

These thin-skinned and fragile nylon and vinyl “gentle giants,” created by an international roster of established artists and art collectives, are kept inflated by electric fans. In over-sized scale, they range from playfully familiar subjects to colorful abstractions and thought-provoking conceptual projects, using bold colors, pop culture references and significant contemporary themes.

I especially liked Lizabeth Rossof’s send-up of the terracotta warriors, 5 Xi’An American Warriors. All-American heroes: Mickey Mouse, Shrek, Batman, Bart Simpson and Spiderman!

CONVERGENCE (on view through March 19, 2023)

This is a survey exhibition that brings together more than 40 works highlighting the rich breadth of work produced by 28 artists in Savannah and collected by Telfair in the last decades.

Marcus Kenney (American b.1972); mixed media on panel

Converging in one space for the first time, the selected works include photography, watercolor, mixed media, encaustic, acrylic, charcoal, graphite, ink, oil paint, sculpture, and digital art.

Watson created Convergence using concrete, security envelopes, photocopy, nail polish, adhesive, latex, oil, and acrylic paint on reclaimed wood. How’s that for mixed media!?

DECONSTRUCTED (on view through Nov 27, 2022)

In dialogue with Convergence in the adjoining gallery, Deconstructed features more than a dozen works created in the Southeast in the 20th and 21st centuries. Beyond a regional unifynig thread, these objects from Telfair Museums’ permanent collection speak to the theme of deconstruction, either formally or conceptually.​

Harriet Delong (American, b.1934), ink & watercolor on paper

The Art of William O. Golding: Hard Knocks, Hardships and Lots of Experience (on view through August 28th, 2022)

The Jepson Center is the Telfair Museums’ temporary exhibition venue as well as its contemporary art space, thus the Jepson is host to the William O. Golding (1874–1943) exhibition. This is the first large museum survey of the work of this African American seaman and artist who recorded a half-century of maritime experience in more than one hundred vibrant drawings.

In the 1930s, retired after almost 50 years at sea, Golding was a patient at the United States Marine Hospital in Savannah, where he began rendering his experiences in expressive pencil and crayon drawings. His images combine memory, imagination, and sailors’ lore. 72 works are exhibited in two adjacent galleries, including 23 drawings from Telfair Museums’ permanent collection, and others from the Morris Museum of Art, The Georgia Museum of Art, and private collections.

Golding’s father was a former slave who was elected to the Georgia legislature in 1868. As a boy, in the 1880s, he was coerced onto a ship on the Savannah waterfront and spent the next two decades at sea: “When I wanted to go back ashore I found that I could not for the very reason that I was out at sea… I never saw home again until May 25th, 1904.”

William O. Golding (American 1874–1943); Tug William F. McAuley, Atlantic Towing Co., Sav, GA, 1934

He served in the Navy during the Spanish-American and Philippine Wars, and sailed around the globe, observing and remembering.

William O. Golding (American 1874–1943); Pencil and crayon on paper

Golding drew whaling vessels, steamships, merchant vessels, historic sailing ships such as the U.S.S. Constitution. He was particularly fond of fully-rigged three-masted ships, but he portrayed many other types of vessels, including tugs, schooners and yachts.

William O. Golding (American 1874–1943); Pencil and crayon on paper

Golding’s harbor views, mainly of Chinese, Pacific and East Asian ports, include boarding houses, bars, customs houses, churches and chandleries, as well as distinctive local landmarks. Each drawing contains worlds of fact and fiction, documentation and imagination. Signal flags, waterfronts, miniature figures and intricate ships’ riggings narrate tales of different times and locations, from San Francisco to Saigon, from Georgia to Gibraltar.

William O. Golding (American 1874–1943); Pencil and crayon on paper

The Jepson Center gave us a full and fulfilling morning. But wait … the Telfair Academy is just a few steps through the park and we’re leaving Savannah early tomorrow! After refreshing with a cold drink on a bench in the shade of a spreading oak … Part 2 of this Telfair Museums review will cover our visit in the afternoon to the South’s oldest art museum.

Telfair Academy seen across Telfair Park from our bench.

Hmmm … maybe it’s time to plan a little trip …

Jepson Center, Telfair Museums
207 W. York St., Savannah, GA 31401

Originally published at on July 31, 2022.

Art Things Considered is an art and travel blog for art geeks, brought to you by — the only search engine that makes it easy to discover more than 1600 art museums, historic houses & artist studios, and sculpture & botanical gardens across the US. Simply enter the name of a city or state to see a complete catalog of museums in the area, with descriptions, addresses and links — all in one place.

Use ArtGeek to plan trips, to discover hidden gem museums, and to find temporary art exhibitions that have special appeal to you — wherever you are or wherever you go in the US. It’s easy to use — and it’s free!

© Arts Advantage Publishing, 2022



I am an art geek, writing about art, exhibitions and museums. Discover more than 1600 art museums, artist studios, historic houses and gardens across the US.