Columbia County’s oldest landmark will soon be featured in its newest public facility.
County officials approved Tuesday for Stallings Island to be the theme of artwork in the Columbia County Exhibition Center.
“I think it’s a pretty exciting prospect,” Commissioner Ron Thigpen said of the idea proposed by Commissioner Bill Morris at a March 11 Community and Emergency Services Committee Meeting.
Stallings Island, in the Savannah River just north of the Augusta Canal Headgates, flourished about 3,700 years ago. The island’s people produced the oldest documented pottery in North America, the first local shell-fishing and the region’s first settled communities. The site appears to have been the population center of a hunter-gatherer society whose level of culture was more complex than that of all prior societies in the surrounding region.
“This pottery, according to my sources, is probably the oldest human-made thing you’ve ever touched,” Morris said as he handed out his own pieces of decorated pottery and an axe head he found on the island. “Up to 6,000 years ago, people lived there and produced this pottery.
The island has been excavated several times beginning in the 1850s. The island is a National Historic Landmark site.
“There’s a tremendous amount of interest in this island and its history all over the United States and even through the world because ... it is the location of the oldest known human-produced artifacts in North America. I think what you’ll find is that it’s a very significant place in our history.”
County Community and Leisure Services Division Director Barry Smith said he and other staff were considering a theme for the exhibition center artwork to include a mural in the entry hall. They’d thought of using rotating displays by artists similar to the Columbia County Library foyer.
“I think this is a really good idea to utilize the Stallings Island theme throughout the exhibition center and enlisting the local art community to do paintings and renderings in reference to Stallings Island native American settlement,’ Smith said.
Morris suggested reaching out to the artists in the community and possibly the schools to create paintings, sculptures, pottery and other works referencing Stallings Island. He’d possibly like to see a juried art show to determine what works would be displayed.
Morris said he hopes to see some recreations of the settlements trademark decorated pottery.
“These people were artistic to take the time to individualize these pieces of pottery that they cooked in and ate out of,” Morris said. “It is quite fascinating to archeologists and it is to me that they did this 3,000, 5,000, 6,000 years ago.”
Morris said he hopes that the artworks give school art teachers an opportunity to educate students on the significance of the island and its former residents. But also, he said, the display will educate those visiting the county at the conventions and other events held at the exhibition center.
“I just see this is an opportunity to take our exhibition center to another level,” Morris said. “We’re going to have people from all over the United States visiting us. I’d like for them to realize Stallings Island is here, link it back to Savannah Rapids Pavilion.”