Since its opening in 1999, the Funk Heritage Center on the campus of Reinhardt University in Waleska, Georgia serves to educate and preserve the culture of the Southeastern Native American Indian nations, first known in the region 12,000 years ago. Visitors can learn about the area’s rich history through displays of artefacts, interpretive artworks, dioramas, film, and reading materials on site, as well as chat with resident archeologists.
A longhouse with a longer story
As you enter the Funk Heritage Center, a volunteer greets you with a brief introduction to the Center’s mission, including an overview of the context and contents. The building itself is a replica, designed after a traditional Southeastern tribe’s longhouse, which according to our guide, a structure like this one could have grown with its resident population to reach 100 feet long or more and may have housed half as many people. Each 10-foot section would have been the hearth-place for a family, with “lofts” for sleeping or storage, and the rings running down the centre of the hall mark the place for each fire pit, above which are the holes in the roof for the smoke, curling upward, to escape.
Through a concise but not limited number of objects here at Funk Heritage Center, it is easy to imagine some of the 12,000 year-old history of the region and its peoples. One can examine and read about the artefacts and precise replicas in the vitrines (objects, pottery, tools, clothing) and experience interactive dioramas, too; there are a number life-sized interpretations of what life could have been like, from the Paleo era (with fragments of stone tools), up to the 1500s when European settlers first arrived to the “New World” (introducing iron/bronze, modern costume, and more).
What really helps to enliven the narrative is the 15-minute documentary, “The Southeastern Indians“, filmed locally, with a cast of 13 Native Americans who re-enact traditional activities and scenes in lavish detail.
Another of the striking highlights at Funk Center is in the “Hall of the Ancients“: there you will find the massive “petroglyph” (rock carving), estimated to be at least 1000 years old, recovered from the nearby town of Canton (where now stands a Wal-Mart). The meaning of the lines and circular marks remain a mystery to researchers (and the resident archeologist was not around to offer additional insight the day we visited).
In addition to the artefact display, there are also two galleries at the Funk Center with rotating displays of contemporary art by Native as well as non-native artists. The “Home at Last” exhibition contains a variety of works inspired by First Nations culture, in the highly-romantic treatment that is familiar to those who’ve already been to the Booth Western Art Museum in Cartersville.
In the other art gallery, one finds work by two American men inspired the Native people (Bert Seabourn and Robert Annesley). For me though, the real gem of the contemporary galleries is the showcase of paintings by Native American Women, “With their own eyes”. Here are poignant images of modern women who remain eternally connected to their ancestry, trying to find harmony between today and the world that came before.
In the final room is an intriguing and aesthetic display wholly unrelated to the Southeastern Indians. “Tools of the Trade” is a collection of antique tools gathered by enthusiast Joseph Alan Sellars and artfully arranged onto large panels, each focused on a specific category of device: hammers and saws, ice picks, anvils and drills, and there’s even a whole board dedicated to the artist’s implements.
The Funk Heritage Center was quite the unexpected and delightful find in this one-gas-station little town, and is whole-heartedly recommended, especially for those interested in Native American history of the region. It’s not a big place but all the same, leave yourself at least an hour to watch the film, read all the plaques, and try the interactive exhibits.
(Yes, of course, there’s a gift shop!)
More links and information
- Read more about Funk Heritage Center at Reinhardt University in Waleska, GA – “Georgia’s Official Frontier and Southeastern Indian Interpretive Center”
- Find out about Dr. James Funk (the Center’s Founder) and the history of Funk Heritage Center
- Learn about the documentary film, “The Southeastern Indians” [15 minutes], playing several times daily at the Funk Heritage Center – “The film describes the people living in the region during the Paleo era, the Archaic era, the Woodland era, the Mississippian era, and the more recent era of the “Five Civilized Tribes” (Cherokee, Creek, Seminole, Chickasaw and Choctaw). European settlers arrived a little less than 300 years ago.”
Exhibiition details: The Funk Heritage Center is located at 7300 Reinhardt Circle, Waleska, GA 30183-2981. Paid entrance (concessions); step-free access.