I’ll eat just about anything you can put on a plate, but I won’t admire just any plate you can put on a wall.
Those plates must be historic. And Southern. And tell a story.
When my wife of 15 years and I were concocting our wedding registry, (OK, let me restate that more accurately: when my wife of 15 years was concocting her wedding registry) there was one item that popped up on the “must have” list I had never heard of.
“Honey, what’s a Georgia plate?”
That’s when I got that look. You married guys know the one. The look that says “Are you really so unrefined as to not know about Georgia plates?”
It’s the same look, incidentally, that I received when I asked such questions as “Aren’t window treatments really just curtains?” and “What’s a toile?” and “Why do there need to be so many pillows?”
As it turns out these Georgia plates are so famous that practically everyone who ever attended a Transylvania Club of Sandersville meeting knows all about them.
What? You say you don’t know the story of Louise Irwin and the Transylvania Club of Sandersville? OK, well, maybe I don’t feel so bad.
You see, back in 1932, Mrs. Irwin latched onto the idea of creating a series of Wedgwood plates depicting scenes from Georgia’s history to sell as a fundraiser for the club. Clearly Mrs. Irwin envisioned that 80 years later suburban housewives would be assembling and reassembling them into artistic formations on their living room walls.
These plates are actually pretty cool. My favorite is the one depicting Nancy Hart holding a bunch of Tories, whoever they are, at gunpoint. Nothing says “Georgia pride” like gun violence against men in wigs in pink Wedgwood.
I think we’ve eaten on these plates exactly one time. It was a special occasion, like Christmas or Easter, when it seemed appropriate to stare at James Edward Oglethorpe under a pile of mashed red potatoes infused with gorgonzola.
There is so much I don’t understand about home decorating, and I’m sure this essay only confirms my lack of sophistication and taste. I don’t know when it became a “thing” to put plates on walls, but ever since our wedding guests happily complied with my wife’s dreams of owning the entire collection, we’ve had Georgia plates on our walls.
I do think they add something to our home, though, in a weird museum kind of way. In good light and at the right distance, I can actually read them. And if I take one down, I can flip it over on the back and have marvelous dinner party conversation starters: “Did you know that in 1734 Oglethorpe traveled to London to present the Creek Indian chief Tomochichi to the Colony’s Trustees? Yes, well, they were accompanied by John Musgrove and his wife, Mary, who had served as the interpreter for Tomochichi and Oglethorpe. Can you pass the asparagus?”
Hmmm … maybe I’m beginning to understand why we don’t have many dinner party guests.
What I do think these plates say about the New South is that there is still an appreciation of history. In the Old South, there was a devotion to tradition. In the New South, we like old stuff to remind us we have roots, a foundation upon which we can innovate, but we aren’t held captive to it. Touches of the old accentuate the new in our lives reminding us that as much as society changes, we still have a narrative that unites us as Georgians and Southerners.
So, go ahead and put those Georgia plates on the walls. The Sandersville public library will benefit from the proceeds, and before you know it, there will be another day on the calendar appropriate for using them to eat, like Leap Day or Guy Fawkes Day.
What place do plates have in your decorating? Do you use dinnerware in your décor? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below, and happy eating/decorating!