“You Gotta Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive”

“Mercer-Williams House, Savannah”, by Robert Leedy, 2008, watercolor on Arches Cold Press paper, 12.75 x 18.75 inches, Collection of the Artist
“Mercer-Williams House, Savannah”,
by Robert Leedy, 2008,
watercolor on Arches Cold Press paper,
12.75 x 18.75 inches,
Collection of Mr. & Mrs. Robert Penland, Tampa, Florida



No. Johnny Mercer never lived there. But he was related to the guy who built it – his great-grandfather who, by the way, never lived in the house either.

I spent last weekend with family visiting historic Savannah, Georgia. We caught an excellent concert – Ricky Skaggs and Bruce Hornsby (playing together!) which was part of The Savannah Music Festival.  We also had a delicious dinner Saturday night at The Pink House which was only a short walk from our hotel.

I reserved Sunday for painting.  My family wanted to see the house made famous by John Berendt’s book, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” and the subsequent film by Clint Eastwood based on the murder trial of Savannah art and antiques dealer, Jim Williams.  

I decided to paint in the adjacent Monterey Square which is full of great subject matter for painting. I ended up painting the Mercer-Williams house. Built in 1860 for General Hugh Weedon Mercer,  construction of the home was halted by the looming Civil War. Mercer commanded a brigade of Confederates (The Army of Tennessee) and fought in various battles including Marietta and Kennesaw Mountain (both not far from my home.) Mercer survived the war and returned to Savannah but moved to Baltimore shortly thereafter. The Savannah home was completed in 1868 by its new owner, John Wilder.  Just over 100 years later, in 1969, Jim Williams, an antiques dealer and  key figure in the preservation of Savannah’s historic homes, purchased and restored the home after 10 years of laying abandoned; It previously served as a home to a Shriners’ Temple.

Jim Williams was quite the socialite and the Mercer House was host to many parties in Savannah. In 1981, Williams was arrested and tried for the alleged murder of his assistant, Danny Lewis Hansford – in the Mercer House. Williams was tried four times for the same crime (a State of Georgia first) and finally acquitted in 1989.  Unfortunately, he died only six months later of pneumonia and heart failure.

As I sketched in the park, I had a constant, usual flow of visitors. I met some very interesting people, namely a carpenter from New York City; and later a fellow artist who is a retired firefighter from Buffalo; He works in pastels and had an impressive accumulation of works over the three-month period he has been in Savannah.

As I began to paint, it became very apparent that the painting would be a composition of Green vs. Red. And I actually let Red speak louder than reality. As I later told my wife, all of Savannah seems to be layered in washes of dark green moss. I could actually take Hooker’s Green, muddy it up a bit and apply a wash to the entire painting above and it might actually appear as it really is… My God, even the shadows in Savannah are green…

I got a good start to the painting and then it was time to pack up and head back to Atlanta.  I finished the painting in my studio.

The book and movie are not without controversy but both are worthy of seeking out if you have not experienced them.  The soundtrack to the movie is excellent with a tribute to Johnny Mercer through his wonderful songs sung by prominent musicians and members of the film’s cast, including a performance of “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive”, by Director Clint Eastwood. Sorry, Clint, your track wasn’t exactly my favorite but it is a true novelty coming from a great actor, director and huge jazz aficionado! Artists on the soundtrack include K.D. Lang, Joe Williams, John Cusak, Rosemary Clooney, Tony Bennett, Paula Cole, Brad Mehldau, Alison Eastwood (Clint’s daughter), Alison Krauss, Kevin Mahogany, Diana Krall, Kevin Spacey, Cassandra Wilson and Joshua Redman.

If you take the home tour, don’t expect to hear any juicy, gossip stories about the murder trial as Jim Williams’ sister is the current owner and resident. That’s also why the tour remains only on the ground floor…   

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