Walk toward the second-floor ballroom in the St. Regis Hotel, and some familiar images will catch your eye.
There’s Hank Aaron, bat on his shoulder. Author Joel Chandler Harris sits on the porch, legendary editor Ralph McGill at a desk. A glamorous young Coretta Scott King poses for the camera. “Gone With the Wind” novelist Margaret Mitchell poses with her famous book.
The black and white pictures, obtained from the digital archives of the prints and photographs collection of the Library of Congress, are arranged in silver frames of varying sizes. The clever Atlanta-centric design element was conceived by consultant Matthew L. Whitaker of International Art Collaborative.
The new Buckhead hotel brims with other pieces with strong Atlanta connections, although not as readily apparent. A quartet of still-life photos by Atlanta artist Nancy Franke, for example, depict vintage silver pieces borrowed from Beverly Bremer Silver Shop on Peachtree Road.
“It’s not just a pretty picture on a wall,” said Whitaker. “We’re creating a sense of place.”
It’s a trend guests will see at several upscale Atlanta hotels, where the walls of lobbies, hallways and even guest rooms are carefully curated. At a time when properties in the high-end market compete ever more assiduously for every booking, an impressive art collection has joined the list of luxe amenities guests have come to expect.
“I have always been in awe of the person who selects the art at the Ritz-Carlton,” said Leslie McLeod, who attends and has chaired numerous events at the hotel. “If I wouldn’t be caught and put in jail, I would love to have some of it. They’d probably frisk me though, and I don’t look good in stripes.”
The Buckhead Ritz-Carlton installed more than 3,300 new works during its renovation last year, including locally-themed pieces such as prints of the Swan House.
“We wanted to capture an essence of the South,” said general manager Jon McGavin.
The Ritz-Carlton’s downtown property features a number of works by Atlanta artists. R. John Ichter, for example, created “Seas of Europa,” a mixed media piece on canvas displayed near the entrance.
Similarly, the newly renovated Georgian Terrace, which plans a grand reopening on May 21, boasts a number of pieces with a vintage Atlanta feel. A painting of a moss-draped tree by Atlanta artist Jonathan Bouknight greets guests near the main desk in the lobby. Livingston, the hotel’s restaurant, is decorated with paintings depicting the 1939 premiere-night party for “Gone With The Wind.”
“The Georgian Terrace is an Atlanta icon, and we selected art that would maintain the integrity of the design while modernizing the hotel for the discerning 21st century guest,” said developer Matt Reidy. “The art also pays homage to the location as the heart of the Midtown’s arts and culture district.”
Close attention to art isn’t limited to large luxury hotels. Alexis Edwards Amaden, whose family owns the Whitlock Inn in Marietta, recently purchased some vintage engravings to adorn the historic property’s walls. The mural on a back stairwell has an especially close connection, Amaden said. It was painted by her mother, local artist Nancy Edwards.
Back in town, the guests at the InterContinental Hotel might admire Atlanta artist Radcliff Bailey’s vibrant “Monoprint” by the elevator. “Nightlilies,” a the huge floral piece rendered in charcoal-colored oil, greets patrons headed to the ballroom. And bronze, wood and granite sculptures created by Donald Locke, a native South American now living here, are positioned near large windows looking out onto a verdant courtyard.
Less than a quarter-mile away is the new Buckhead W, famously dressed in country-club chic by designer Thom Filicia. Guest rooms are meant to feel like a local manse’s spare quarters, outfitted comfortably yet elegantly, with a local connection.
“We get so many comments on these,” general manager Marylouise Fitzgibbon said of the Atlanta-centric pieces. A visit to a randomly chosen guest room revealed framed photographs showing a close-up of the carving on the side of Stone Mountain, and a stylized view of the encased moving sidewalk visitors stand on while viewing sharks and stingrays at the Georgia Aquarium .
“We wanted a hotel that said, ‘This is our place,’ ” Fitzgibbon said. “Who wants to look at bland pieces bought in lots of 52 out of a catalog?”