BAIA BITS: Origins of Hammonds House Museum
Little Moments Where Knowledge Meets Art
By 1985, the demanding medical administrator and Korean War vet commonly referred to as “O.T.” had been a force in the Atlanta medical scene for the better part of two decades. A graduate of Lincoln University and Meharry Medical College, O.T.’s string of appointments and accomplishments was an impressive list for any doctor, no less an African American in the post-civil rights era South. They included his founding of the Westside Anesthesia Association; his roles as Chief of Staff and of Anesthesiology at Southwest Community Hospital; as board member of the Metropolitan Atlanta Health Plan; as Chairman of the Board of the West End Medical Association; and as the Atlanta Medical Association’s 1985 “Man of the Year.”
Given his accomplishments and legendary status in the Atlanta area, O.T. should have been on top the world. After all, he lived in a striking Victorian Eastlake-style home in the West End, possessed a collection of 250 works of art, and was as popular and active in the arts community as he was in the medical field. A major supporter of Black artists, O.T. served as Chairman of the Board of the Neighborhood Arts Center and as board member for a host of organizations including the Board of Trustees of the High Museum of Art, the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library Art Committee, the Atlanta Preservation Society, the Sculptural Arts Museum, and the Atlanta Public Art Committee. He even donated a major work by Romare Bearden to the High Museum.
However, all was far from well as O.T. suffered from a mysterious illness, at the time reported to be leukemia, forcing him to retire from the medical profession in early 1985. Months later, on June 14th, Dr. Otis Thrash Hammonds died at the age of 55.
Literally, his name would live on. Upon his death, his historic Peeples Street home and art collection was purchased by Fulton County, converted into a museum, and named in his honor. Officially founded in 1988, Hammonds House has since become a cultural and artistic landmark for the Atlanta area and beyond. The museum currently offers a permanent collection of over 450 works dating from the mid-19th century by artists throughout the African Diaspora. Along with ongoing exhibitions and programming, the collection includes artistic contributions by Bearden, Benny Andrews, Elizabeth Catlett, Sam Gilliam, Richard Hunt, Jacob Lawrence, Radcliffe Bailey, Kevin Cole, P.H. Polk, Amalia Amaki, Hale Woodruff, and James Van Der Zee. Hammonds House also possesses the oldest known painting by 19th century African American landscape artist, Robert S. Duncanson.
The doctor is still in as O.T.’s inspiring legacy lives on through Hammonds House Museum and its continuing celebration of the arts of the African Diaspora.
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