Athos Menaboni Collection of Cason Callaway/Callaway Gardens
SOURCE: Estate of Sara Arnold Menaboni and the Ida Cason Callaway Foundation
SIZE: 15 lf
SHELVING UNITS: 10 oversized boxes and 5 manuscript boxes
PROCESSING: RAA, 1996 and Russell Clayton, 2014
Athos Rodolfo Giorgio Alessandro Menaboni was born on October 20, 1895, to Averardo and Jenny Neri Menaboni in the Italian port city of Livorno. Menaboni’s father was a successful ship supplier, and his maternal grandfather, Alessandro Neri, was a military leader, with Garibaldi, during Italy’s unification movement. Because his father brought home exotic animals given him by clients, young Athos developed the lifelong fascination with birds and other animals which later became the subjects of his paintings. He also often rode his bicycle to nearby Pisa where he admired the city’s art and architecture. At the age of nine, he began a formal study of art with private teachers, including marine painter Ugo Manaresi, muralist Charles Doudelet, and sculptor Pietro Gori. He later attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence.
In 1920, after World War I and his service as a sharpshooter and a pilot in Italy’s armed forces, Menaboni left Italy with a job on a freighter, spent some time in North Africa, and then immigrated to the United States in 1921, becoming a citizen in 1936. After arriving in Norfolk, Virginia, he settled first in New York City, taking a job decorating candles sold to churches. Four years later, he went to Davis Island, near Tampa, Florida, to become art director for a real estate development. In 1927, when the land boom ended, he moved to Atlanta, Georgia, to work on projects with Philip Shutze, one of the city’s leading architects. During the next decade, Shutze hired him to do decorative painting at the Swan House (the home of Edward Inman) and in several other residences (Spotswood Hall, the Goodrum House, and the Patterson/Carr House) as well as public buildings (The Temple and the Capital City Club). Menaboni also worked with another architect, Samuel Inman Cooper, and painted the breakfast room in Glenridge Hall. Other important early commissions included restoration work on Atlanta’s Cyclorama, decorative painting of the lobby ceiling in the Rhodes-Haverty Building, and murals in the home of R. J. Reynolds on Sapelo Island. During this period, he also earned money painting landscapes and seascapes.
For the first year in Atlanta, Menaboni lived in a downtown boarding house owned by an uncle of his future wife. It was here that he met Sara Regina Arnold, of Rome, Georgia, whom he married on August 14, 1928. After honeymooning in Italy, they found a small apartment on Eleventh Street. In 1939 they bought six acres in an Atlanta suburb, where in 1942 they built a house. This was at 1111 Cook Road, later renamed Crest Valley Drive. They named their home Valle Ombrosa (“Shady Valley”) after a town southeast of Florence, Menaboni’s favorite holiday destination during his boyhood summers. Their little estate became a bird sanctuary, complete with its own aviary, and it also included a greenhouse for the cultivation of Menaboni’s bonsai. Husband and wife lived and worked there for the rest of their lives.
In 1937, between jobs, Menaboni began experimenting with paint pigments and returned to his early childhood interest in birds. When he painted a pair of cardinals for a wall in his own living room, an interior designer and dear friend, Molly Whitehead Aeck, noticed the painting and insisted that she be allowed to purchase it for a client. The resulting sale marked the beginning of a shift in Athos Menaboni’s career, and from then on, he steadily refined aspects of the art for which he is now famous – naturalistic oil paintings of birds. He developed a technique he referred to as his “undercoat method,” which used turpentine to thin the oil in order to paint in layers on paper and give the feathers translucency, detail, and depth. Admirers continue to mistake these paintings for watercolors.
Sara Menaboni’s sending – in 1938 – a portfolio of his bird paintings to New York City led almost immediately to major exhibitions at the American Museum of Natural History, the Kennedy Galleries, and the National Audubon Society. The show at the Kennedy Galleries led in turn to Menaboni’s long association with Robert W. Woodruff of The Coca-Cola Company, for it was there in New York that some of Woodruff’s close associates noticed and purchased the painting Doves in Longleaf Pine for the Woodruffs. It reminded them of a scene at Ichauway Plantation (the Woodruffs’ Newton, Georgia, estate). After Mrs. Woodruff discovered that the artist lived in Atlanta, she decided she would like to use the work on their 1941 Christmas card. It became a tradition, with a different Menaboni bird illustration each year until 1984 (Woodruff died in 1985). Emory University and the Troup County Archives both have a complete set of the forty-four cards, and many consider this series among the finest ever produced.
From the late 1930s on, Menaboni’s range of media broadened. During this time, he rendered his countless landscapes, seascapes, botanicals, nature studies, and surreal fantasies on a variety of materials, including silk, wood, Masonite, cork, and paper. In 1939, he created fifteen mirrors, done in reverse painting on glass (before it was silvered), for a windowless dining room at Atlanta’s Capital City Club. Then between 1951 and 1969, he was able to return to the first calling of his career when Mills B. Lane, Jr., president of The Citizens and Southern National Bank, commissioned him to paint murals in bank buildings in Atlanta and Albany, Georgia, and to create an eggshell mosaic for the branch in Decatur, Georgia. He did magazine work as well. For example, he painted fourteen covers for The Progressive Farmer and two for Sports Illustrated. His work appeared in still other publications, including The World Book Encyclopedia.
Since 1942, Menaboni’s work has been made even more widely available through prints and lithographs produced by, among other institutions and companies, the National Audubon Society. In 1953 and 1959 respectively, his birds appeared in an ad for the Prudential Insurance Company and on a calendar produced by The Coca-Cola Company.
In 1950, Sara and Athos Menaboni published Menaboni's Birds. His paintings illustrated the text written by his wife, and the volume was voted one of the "Fifty Best Books of the Year” by the American Institute of Graphic Arts. It was reissued in 1984 using the original text with thirty-one new full-color reproductions. Menaboni was also asked to illustrate several other authors’ books, including Never the Nightingale by Daniel Whitehead Hicky (a Georgia poet laureate).
The magazine Time declared Menaboni the heir of James Audubon, an apt designation, given the fact he eventually painted over one hundred and fifty different species of birds. It was just one of many recognitions. During his career in Atlanta, which spanned sixty-three years, he received awards from the American Graphic Society, the Georgia Writers Association, the New York Art Directors Club, the American Institute of Graphic Arts, the Atlanta Beautiful Commission, the Capital City Club, the American Institute of Architects, the Italian Cultural Society, the Garden Club of Georgia, and the Office of the Governor of Georgia (the Governor’s Award in Visual Arts).
Menaboni’s works have been exhibited in many galleries and in art and natural history museums across the United States. They include the Columbia Museum of Art, the Pensacola Arts Center, Callaway Gardens, the Marietta/Cobb Museum of Art, the Albany Museum of Art, Emory University, Kennesaw State University, the Vose Gallery, the St. Louis Museum of Art, the High Museum of Art, the Atlanta History Center, the Seattle Art Museum, the Santa Barbara Museum, the Detroit Art Museum, the Stark Museum of Art, the Cincinnati Art Museum, the Booth Western Art Museum, and The Bascom: A Center for the Visual Arts.
In 1990, Athos Menaboni suffered a stroke and died two months later on July 18, at age ninety-four. His body was donated to the Emory University School of Medicine. A memorial service was held at the Ida Cason Callaway Memorial Chapel at Callaway Gardens on July 22, and the eulogy was delivered by Elizabeth C. Harris, Georgia’s first lady. Sara died three years later on August 10, 1993.
Cason and Virginia Hand Callaway were special friends and great patrons of Sara and Athos Menaboni. They commissioned Menaboni for works for their personal collection as well as works for Callaway Gardens located in Pine Mountain where several Menaboni exhibitions were held. The Menabonis shared a love for nature with the Callaways, and treasured their visits to the Gardens.
At their deaths, the Menabonis left their estates to the Ida Cason Callaway Foundation, Callaway Gardens. At Callaway Gardens, the Athos Menaboni Nature Wing can be found in the Virginia Hand Callaway Discovery Center. The Athos Menaboni Bird Study Area is nearby at Mountain Creek Inn. The Gardens owns many works by Menaboni, and some are displayed in the restaurant, conference center, and lodge. When Sara died, photographs, scrapbooks, sketches and drawings, paintings, a large correspondence file, and other items were given to the Ida Cason Callaway Foundation. The Troup County Archives maintains the archival records of the Ida Cason Callaway Foundation and Callaway Gardens.
A related collection at the Troup County Archives is the Athos Menaboni Collection of D. Russell Clayton. With these two collections, the archives house the most comprehensive collection of books, correspondence, photographs, and other ephemera and reference material related to Menaboni. Note that an additional collection of MS-80 also contains correspondence between the Menabonis and the Callaways (correspondence files of Cason and Virginia). The archives also contains the Robert W. Woodruff Collection of D. Russell Clayton. Athos Menaboni archival collections can also be found at the University of Georgia and at Emory University.
SCOPE AND CONTENT:
The Athos Menaboni Collection of Cason Callaway/Callaway Gardens is organized into three series: Paintings, drawings and sketches (1901-1990); Subject files (c. 1911-1993); and Photographs and visual works (c. 1910-1990).
PAINTINGS, DRAWINGS AND SKETCHES (1901-1990) contain original works including portraits, studies of birds and other animals, illustrations for books, and mural proposals. SUBJECT FILES (c. 1911-1993) contain materials and items found in the Menaboni home after Sara Menaboni’s death. There are correspondence files and files on various subjects including articles, the Atlanta History Center, the Callaway family and Callaway Gardens, the Capital City Club, The Coca-Cola Company, Davis Island, Menaboni’s Birds, The Progressive Farmer, and Syracuse China, among others. PHOTOGRAPHS AND VISUAL WORKS (c. 1910-1990) is a collection of original photographs of the Menabonis at home, with family and friends, and a variety of works created by Menaboni. Also included is information about Menaboni prints and lithographs that were available, and how they could be acquired.
SERIES I: PAINTING, DRAWINGS AND SKETCHES (1901-1990)
“Three Flamingos,” 14 x 10,” pencil on paper, c. 1970
“Purple Martins over Snow-Capped Mountains,” 19 x 14,” oil on board, c. 1975
“Seagulls over a Seashore,” 24 x 16,” oil on board, 1990 - unfinished
“Sparrow and Seedpods,” 20 x 14,” oil on paper, c. 1955
“Scarlett Tanager,” 20 x 14,” oil on paper, c. 1980
“Sand Terns in Flight,” 13 x 27,” oil on wood, c. 1975
“Birthplace of Alexander Stevens,” 16 x 20,” mixed media on board, c. 1930
“Exhibition Hall - Georgia” and “Cotton Field,” 30 x 20,” mixed media on board, c. 1930
“Liberty Hall,” 19 x 25,” mixed media on board, c. 1930
“Little Room for the Dempsey Hotel,” 20 x 30,” mixed media on board, c. 1930
“Monkey and Frog,” 16 x 30,” mixed media on board, c. 1930
“Monkey and Toucan,” 16 x 30,” mixed media on board, c. 1930
“Zodiac,” 20 x 30,” mixed media on board, c. 1930
Oriental scene for Chop Shop Restaurant, 20 x 30,” mixed media on board, c. 1930
Three with cranes (one has deer and bamboo), 16 x 30,” mixed media on board, c. 1930
Graphite study with a European theme - "Tyrolean,” c. 1926
Graphite study with a European theme - a scene of people in the woods, c. 1926
Small graphite study for works in the aircraft of The Coca-Cola Company, c. 1982
MURAL STUDIES [possibly created for the Works Progress Administration (WPA)]
“Central Olive Branch Wraps a Scroll,” 12 x 37,” mixed media on board, c. 1935
“Eagle - JUSTITA,” 17 x 40,” mixed media on board, c. 1935
“Mother Earth Bestowing Gifts to Chattanooga,” 18 x 40,” mixed media on board, c. 1935
“Of, By and For the People,” 44 x 18,” oil on canvas attached to wood, c. 1935
“St. Francis,” 20 x 30,” mixed media on board, c. 1935
“That Shall He Also Reap,” 16 x 28,” graphite on board, c. 1935
“Whatsoever a Man Soweth,” 15 x 28,” mixed media on board, c. 1935
“Whatsoever a Man Soweth,” 20 x 30,” mixed media on board, c. 1935
A series of thirty-eight illustrations of birds, animals, trees, cities, and maps done in oil and graphite on paper and illustration board. The average size is 20 x 14,” and were created c.1940s-c. 1972.
“Bedouin Woman,” 24 x 18,” oil on board, c. 1938
“Dante and Beatrice,” 35 x 21,” oil on board, c. 1945
“European Woman,” 21 x 17,” oil on board, c. 1938
“Mexican Woman,” 24 x 18,” oil on board, c. 1938
“Woman,” 20 x 14,” graphite on paper, c. 1965
“Trees and Fireflies,” 38 x 16,” oil on board, c. 1940
“Anguish,” 29 x 23,” graphite on paper, c. 1965
"Origin, History, Botany," 18 x14," graphite on paper, c. 1948
"Classification, Culture, Pests," 18 x 14," graphite on paper, c. 1948
There are many small drawings of birds, seashells, frogs, butterflies, figures, and nature studies, done in graphite and crayon. Of particular interest are drawings that were published in the 1950 and 1984 editions of Menaboni’s Birds. There is a sailboat, in watercolor, Menaboni painted in 1901 at age six.
There are over two hundred sketches done in graphite and crayon on tracing paper. Menaboni used these to scale his paintings.
LITHOGRAPHS (some lithographs were signed and numbered)
“Chinese Hibiscus,” 25 x 19,” 1945
“American Bald Eagle,” 30 x 22,” 1975
“Enterprise,” 26 x 20,” 1984
“Mourning Dove,” 26 x 20,” 1962
“Brown Thrasher and Cherokee Rose” (produced for Georgia classrooms), 23 x 19,” 1950
“Bobwhite,” 26 x 20,” 1962
“Eastern Cardinal,” 26 x 20,” 1948
“Red-winged Blackbird,” 26 x 20,” 1948
“Brown Leghorn,” 12 x 10,” 1956
“Black Minorca,” 22 x 17,” 1956
"Red Maple," 20 x 16," 1969
"Tulip Tree," 20 x 16," 1969
WORKS BY OTHERS (art owned by Sara and Athos Menaboni)
Red-winged Blackbird by Roger Tory Peterson, 28 x 21”
Eastern Cardinal by Roger Tory Peterson, 28 x 21”
Blue Jay by Roger Tory Peterson, 28 x 21”
Cedar Waxwing by Roger Tory Peterson, 28 x 21”
Rose-breasted Grosbeak by Roger Tory Peterson, 28 x 21”
Baltimore Oriole by Roger Tory Peterson, 28 x 21”
Portrait of Athos Menaboni by Ben Orr
Siamese temple rubbing of a dancing Siva
Still life with bottles and garlic
Connecticut brook by Leonard L. Schule
Landscape by G.H.C.
Image of dark blue pond with log bridge
Kanji sign of Menaboni’s name in blue sumi-e
Paper bird sumi-e
Paper frog sumi-e
Menaboni written in Japanese in blue ink
Silk painting of a bird with two kanji blue writings
SERIES II: SUBJECT FILES (c. 1911-1993)
1 Aeck Project - Announcements, Articles, and Correspondence to Aeck and Pretz, 1963
2 Aeck Project - Correspondence to Sara and Athos Menaboni, 1963
3 American Camellia Catalog - Correspondence, 1953-1957
4 Articles by Sara Menaboni, 1940s
5-6 Articles, 1940-1990
7 Articles, no dates (c. 1940s-1980s)
8 Atlanta Historical Society (now the Atlanta History Center), 1975-1979
9 Audubon Society/Atlanta Bird Club (now the Atlanta Audubon Society), 1940-1966
10-12 Biographical Information - Sara and Athos Menaboni (passports, hunting permits, etc.), c. 1911-1983
13 Biographical Information - Family of Sara and Athos Menaboni, 1958-1989
14 Callaway Family and Callaway Gardens, 1945-1989
15 Capital City Club, 1940-1990
16 The Citizens and Southern National Bank, 1933-1985
1 The Coca-Cola Company - Including Robert W. Woodruff, 1946-1985
2 Correspondence - Written by Sara and Athos Menaboni, 1928-c. 1970
3 Correspondence - Written in Italian, 1926-1973
4-12 Correspondence - General, 1939-1990
13 Davis Island, c. 1924-1985
14 Emory University - Including Thomas English, 1945-1979
15-16 Exhibition Records, 1928-1992
1 Georgia Governors, 1963-1990
2 Georgia Governor Joe Frank Harris and Mrs. Elizabeth C. Harris, 1982-1990
3 Jekyll Island Arts Association, 1974
4 Mills B. Lane, Jr. and Mills B. Lane, IV, 1954-1989
5-7 Menaboni’s Birds (1950 edition) - Articles, Correspondence, and Miscellaneous, 1945-1978
8 Menaboni’s Birds (1984 edition) - Articles and Correspondence, 1981-1984
9 Miscellaneous Materials - Christmas Cards, Copyright Information, and Livorno, 1945-1952
10 Montag Brothers Inc. - Correspondence and Lithographs, 1946-c. 1950s
11 Never the Nightingale - Correspondence, 1951-1974
12-13 Pedro - Illustrations and Manuscript (copies), Article and Correspondence, c. 1948-1975
14 The Progressive Farmer - Covers (photos), Correspondence, and List, 1948-1955
15 Rich’s Department Store - Correspondence, Exhibitions, and Menu Covers, 1944-1953
16 John Ridley, 1978-1990
17 Sports Illustrated, 1954-1989
18 Syracuse China, 1954-1975
19 The White House, 1973-1983
20 The World Book Encyclopedia, 1964-c. 1980s
SERIES III – PHOTOGRAPHS AND VISUAL WORKS (c. 1910-1990)
1 Athos Menaboni, c. 1910-c. 1919
2 Menaboni with his Paintings, 1940s-1980s
3 Menabonis, 1928-1980s
4 Menabonis at Callaway Gardens, c. 1980s
5 Menabonis at Valle Ombrosa, c. 1940s-c. 1980s
6 Menabonis with Animals at Valle Ombrosa, c. 1940s-c. 1970s
7 Studio and Structures Built by Menaboni, c. 1940s-1980s
8 Family, c. 1940s-1976
9 Friends and Associates, c. 1914-c. 1970s
10 Miscellaneous, c. 1940s
11 Davis Island, c. 1924-1926
12 Governor’s Mansion with Governor and Mrs. Joe Frank Harris, c. 1982-c. 1989
13-16 Miscellaneous Images Removed from Scrapbooks, c. 1922-1990
1 Transparencies - Birds in Menaboni’s Birds, 1984
2 Transparencies - Birds in a Southern Accents Article, 1987
3 Transparencies - Robert W. Woodruff Christmas Cards used in Menaboni’s Birds, 1984
4 Images - Menaboni Bird Paintings, c. 1938-1990
5-6 Images - The Citizens and Southern National Bank, 1933-1969
7 Images - The Coca-Cola Company Aircraft and Robert W. Woodruff, 1941-1982
8 Images - Menaboni Duck Decoys, c. 1987
9 Images - Menaboni Murals in Homes, 1929-1984
10 Images - Menaboni Illustrations and Other Works, c. 1930s-c. 1980
11-12 Images - Menaboni Works in Public Spaces, c. 1930s-1990
13 Images - Menaboni Works in R. J. Reynolds Mansion, c. 1936-c. 1970s
14 Menaboni Works Used on Programs and Advertisements, c. 1955-1972
15 Order Forms - Menaboni Lithographs and Prints, 1943-1976
VF-C Athos Menaboni Conservation Fund in Memory of Geraldine Barmore Clayton
VF-M Athos Menaboni Exhibits and Newsletters