By Pamela A. Keene
Photos courtesy Kollock family
So, who actually was behind the concept of Helen, Georgia, as a Bavarian Village? According to the town’s history, a handful of businessmen, including Pete Hodkinson, were looking for ways to spruce up the former logging town’s main street in early 1969 and the name of area artist John Kollock came up. As they say, the rest is history.
John visited Helen, made some sketches of building façades and by the early 1970s, the town was transformed into the Bavarian Village that it is today. “John had been in the Army and said the rolling hills and mountain foothills reminded him of Bavaria. That was his inspiration,” says his wife Nancy, who along with their three daughters, has published a coffee-table book of the artist’s memoirs, “Meandering Paths of an Artist.”
John’s ideas were accepted by the community and that’s how Helen became a Bavarian Village. John also painted many murals there that can still be seen by people from around the world who visit Helen.
John, who died in 2014 at the age of 85, was much more than the man behind Helen’s Bavarian Village. He was an accomplished actor, illustrator, story teller, set designer, artist, father, husband, and treasured resident of Northeast Georgia.
Written in the first person, the book takes readers on an engaging journey back to the 20th century, through the arrival of electricity in Northeast Georgia, service in the Army, his time at the University of Georgia and its Red and Black newspaper, work for the Atlanta Constitution and as a set designer and commercial artist, and then to his settling in Clarkesville with wife Nancy and his family to do what he loved best — as a fine artist painting scenes of his beloved Northeast Georgia.
“John’s greatest accomplishments were painting Northeast Georgia, writing about its history and honoring the people here,” says Nancy. “But we are so pleased that we were able to persuade John to write his memoirs after years of encouragement. The book is truly a glimpse into his life, but even beyond that, it captures that sense of time and place during this time in American history.”
John lived his life fully, Nancy says. “He looked at his talents as gifts from God. And he always encouraged others to look inside themselves and find their own gifts. He’d say, ‘Everyone’s gifted in some way, not just artists. Find that gift and work toward it.”
Getting the book into print was a labor of love and the work of a village — carefully compiling John’s notes and hundreds of family and historic photos, graphic design by Reesa Berkstresser, Kay S. Stanton and Dan Roth, with assistance from Bilbo Books Publishing in Athens. Hours of editing by Priscilla Wilson, who with Janice Lymburner founded The Gourd Place in Sautee, led to the printing of the book by Wendy Colson at Colson Printing in Valdosta.
“None of us wanted John to lose his voice,” Nancy says. “The way the book is written, it’s like he’s talking directly to you. It just means so much to us.”
In addition to John’s words, numerous sketches from his early life to a few of his watercolor paintings are included. Reproduced newspaper clippings also tell portions of his life’s story. Family photos and significant moments in his life are spread throughout the book. The back section includes dozens of photos designed in the format of a photo album.
“We are truly grateful to everyone who contributed to John’s memoirs, but also we sincerely appreciate all the friends we’ve had throughout our lives,” Nancy says. “John would be so pleased.”
The Helen Arts and Cultural Center has a room dedicated to John Kollock and his work. “Meandering Paths of an Artist” is also available at The Gourd Place, the Sautee Nacoochee Center, Soque Arts in Clarkesville, the White County Courthouse, Books with Appeal in Cornelia, and by emailing Nancy at firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 706-754-9200.