Recently I was trying to remember when I first saw the work of pop artist Joni Mabe. It must have been in the Columbia Museum of Art some time before the turn of this century. The artist herself, who sometimes goes by the nickname “Joni Mabe, the Elvis Babe”, was giving a talk at the opening of one of her extraordinary installations, an entire gallery space decorated from floor to ceiling with objects inspired by Elvis, commercial objects and some were born from the inventive spirit of Mabe herself.
One of these last works, a limited edition print entitled “The Official Elvis Prayer Rug”, entered the permanent collection of the Morris Museum of Art in Augusta, where the artist also spoke in 2003 and signed for me a copy of it. quirky coffee table book “Everything Elvis”. Also prominent at this time were what Mabe calls glitter-encrusted “Elvis mosaics”, multimedia pieces incorporating photographic images of the “king”, sometimes covered in paint and always sparkling, sparkling, sparkling aluminum and polyethylene. terephthalate.
This summer I finally made a belated pilgrimage to the small Georgian town of Cornelia about an hour north of Athens to visit the Loudermilk Guesthouse, a historic property that opened in 1908 and which Mabe later inherited from his family. The two-story building surrounded by trees now houses more than 30,000 Elvis artifacts, a collection large enough to feature in the Guinness Book of World Records.
What a feast for the eyes! And a challenge too. Visitors can’t help but be dazzled by the dizzying array of objects from the moment they ascend the central staircase and arrive in the second-floor hallway from which branch off adjoining rooms that were once rented to boarders but who are now visitable kaleidoscopes of all things Elvis. Commercial Elvis-related items are amazing in their variety – from table lamps to teddy bears – but nothing beats what Mabe fashioned herself.
There are portable Elvis shrines and reliquaries containing pieces of the superstar, such as a “possibly Elvis” fingernail recovered from the shag carpet in the Jungle Room at Graceland in 1983 and a wart “as big as a black-eyed pea”. purchased from a Memphis doctor who stored it in a test tube in 1953.
The entire zany collection walks a fine line between hero worship and affectionate irreverence. In its components and taken as a whole, the “Everything Elvis Museum” offers a snarky commentary on how fan worship can sometimes become excessive.
Joni Mabe, who earned an MFA from the University of Georgia, has traveled the world with parts of her incredible collection; but a trip to Cornelia provides the opportunity to experience the entire astonishing assortment in one dazzling visit.
Cornelia, a town of around 4,000, has other attractions that are also worth checking out. There is, for example, the Big Red Apple. Made of steel and concrete, the 7-foot-tall replica of a Gala Red Delicious apple, North Georgia’s most typical variety, was donated to the city by the Southern Railway in 1925.
During our visit, we also took the opportunity to have lunch at another Cornelia landmark, Fenders Diner. Inside a century-old brick building that once served as a market shop is a reimagining of a classic restaurant, serving local comfort food since 1996. The retro vibe of the place is enhanced by portraits of pop musicians in tune with the “Fender,” a tribute to the American guitar and amplifier maker. A pink and blue rendition of David Bowie, for example, stared at our booth as we enjoyed fried chicken and a wedge salad.
Cornelia is a great weekend destination, especially when combined with a stay in Athens and a sample of its legendary nightlife.