“If you go to Atlanta, the first question people ask you is, “What’s your business?” In Macon they ask, “Where do you go to church?” In Augusta they ask your grandmother’s maiden name. But in Savannah the first question people ask you is “What would you like to drink?” —John Berendt
The Williams-Mercer House
It took “The book” to reenergize the city’s allure the neglect of time had impaired. Like the man who lived its story, I fell in love with Savannah the minute I stepped onto Monterey Square.
“I was beguiled by Savannah,” wrote John Berendt in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Indeed, the enchantment of the place did its magic upon me immediately after I showed up to attend the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) in 2007.
I stayed put after graduation and made this gorgeous city my new home; and I have been busy painting Savannah’s people, its unparalleled beauty, and its amazing architecture ever since.
If you’ve read “The Book” or seen Clint Eastwood’s film, you know the ultimate fate of Jim Williams. The man, like all of us, had his flaws; although his flaws were far more alluring than most. Still, the destiny of James Oglethorpe’s plan for Savannah became well entrusted in Jim Williams’ capable hands.
The same year a few farsighted ladies started the Historic Savannah Foundation, Jim Williams began restoring houses. It was 1955 and he was only 24 years old. His vision then remains inspiring today.
About 15-years later, after restoring dozens of homes in Savannah and around the Low Country, Williams finished his restoration of The Mercer House, the place he called home. No—songwriter Johnny Mercer never lived in the house. In fact, no one named Mercer ever did occupy the mansion.
Walking the streets of Savannah will always leave plenty of historic wear and tear on your heels.
Monterey Square itself was christened in 1847 to honor General Zachary Taylor’s capture of Monterey, Mexico during the Mexican-American War, leading to Taylor’s successful Presidential bid in 1848.
Just before the Civil War led him astray, Hugh Mercer commissioned the most sought-after architect of the time, John Norris, to design his home. The outside of the house features Philadelphia Red brick, double front doors, wide bracketed eaves, several arched windows and iron balconies; while the inside includes a stained-glass dome rising 40-feet above the first floor with the original glass panels intact.
Jim Williams is celebrated as a master restorer of so much of Savannah’s treasured architecture.
As the book and film made clear, Williams was also well known for his parties. During his many long stays in Savannah, John Berendt applied what he called Rule #1: “Always stick around for one more drink. That’s when things happen.” Drop by my gallery and I’ll be delighted to pour you a cocktail, too.
I’ve painted The Williams-Mercer House en plein air many times and will do so again. In this small study, while standing on Monterey Square directly in front of the house, I focused on the captivating orange brick illuminated in the warm summer light—and who could ignore the blooming azaleas nearby!