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A Legacy of Art and Equality

The Laura Pope Story

The Life of Laura Pope Forrester

Laura Pope Forrester, a self-taught artist, created an impressive museum at her home with over 200 sculptures and mesmerizing murals,  signifying her artistic brilliance and early feminist beliefs. Born in 1873 as Cordelia Atkinson,   Laura initially came from a location close to her museum, where she resided for the majority of her life. Her journey began in 1894 when she married her schoolteacher, Benjamin Hill Pope, and later, Julian Forrester in 1914 after Benjamin’s tragic passing in 1911.

Laura’s house, constructed in 1854, became her canvas as she expanded and transformed it over time, adding stories and sculptures. Her unwavering dedication to her close-knit Grady County community is evident through her artwork. Her story is not only an inspiration but also a testament to her innate artistic talent and her early feminist stance. She is considered one of the oldest self-taught outsider artists, a term that may be unfamiliar to many, referring to artists unrecognized by the mainstream art community during their active period.

Laura’s work comprises over 200 sculptures, including a 15-foot high, hundred-foot-long entry gate serving as a World War II memorial. It’s adorned with cast iron sewing machine legs and large busts, symbolizing unity during the war effort. She also created lifelike busts of notable figures like Martha Berry, founder of Berry College, and honored women in uniform. On the western side of her property, she carved the names of local soldiers who didn’t return from war onto marble slabs, providing a place for local families to pay tribute to their ancestors.

Her artwork not only holds historical significance but also carries a profound artistic message, emphasizing the power of determination to break through societal barriers and norms.  Laura’s art continues to inspire with its beauty and equality-focused message. Her museum, known as Pope’s Museum, welcomed visitors from around the world, showcasing her message that America is strengthened by the family, the military, and the contributions of women.

While not recognized, until after her death, it is today recognized as among the oldest documented self-taught art environments in Georgia and the southeast and is believed to rank among the oldest surviving such environments in the United States.

– Georgia Department of Community Affairs.

Her artwork and message received notable public support during her lifetime, with recognition in publications like the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Macon Telegraph, and the Albany Herald. However, it gained even more prestige after her death. In 1977, an exhibit with over one hundred photographs of Pope’s Museum was created in collaboration with the United States Library of Congress. In 1983, Smithsonian Magazine featured her as an innovative and impactful outsider artist, and the New Georgia Encyclopedia recognized her as one of Georgia’s earliest self-taught outdoor art environments. Most recently, in 2020, Laura Pope Forester’s museum/home qualified for the United States National Register of Historic Places in categories such as Art, Recreation and Leisure, and Women’s History.

In essence, Laura Pope Forrester’s life and art epitomize the enduring and foundational truths of human skills and gifts. Her museum, Pope’s Museum, remains a clarion call, resonating with its message of equality, enduring through time.

Original Art Pieces


Georgia Woman of Achievement

Stay the Night (1)

Laura Pope Forester’s Timeline

  • Pre - 1894

    Early Life and Marriage to Benjamin Hill Pope

    • Laura Pope Forrester was born as Cordelia Atkinson in 1873.
    • She grew up just a few miles away from the future site of Pope’s Museum.
    • In 1894, at the age of 21, she married Benjamin Hill Pope, her schoolteacher.
  • 1911

    Tragedy Strikes

    • Benjamin Hill Pope passed away in 1911, leaving Laura as a widow.
    • She was left to raise her two teenage sons on the Pope family estate, a vast property covering 1600 acres.
  • 1914

    Second Marriage to Julian Forrester

    • Laura remarried in 1914 to Julian Forrester.
  • 1920

    Laura's Recognition of World War I Nurses

    • In 1920, Laura learned about the overlooked World War I nurses, who served as Red Cross nurses but weren’t recognized as part of the military.
    • These nurses endured challenging conditions and received no memorials.
    • Laura felt compelled to honor them and created a lifelike bust of a Red Cross nurse.
  • 1927

    The Balcony

    • In 1927, Laura made a statement about the limited career opportunities for women in rural South Georgia.
    • She crafted the balcony entirely out of sewing machines, symbolizing the strength and versatility of women beyond their traditional roles.
  • 1953

    Laura Pope Forrester's Passing

    • Laura Pope Forrester passed away on February 3, 1953.
    • She was buried beside her first husband and other family members in the cemetery of Pine Forest Baptist Church, located just a mile away from her museum.
  • 2021

    State Recognition

    Inductee into the Georgia Women of Achievement.

  • 2022

    National Recognition

    National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution Inductee as an Artist, Entrepreneur, Visionary, and Patriot.