His new book, “The Art and Life of Atlanta Artist Wilbur G. Kurtz,” was written to inform others about a man who O’Connell said “should be more widely known.”
“Kurtz created the image of Tara Plantation in the film and helped in the design of accurate furniture and clothing from the period,” O’Connell said.
Kurtz, who was a friend of author Margaret Mitchell’s father and brother, was a historian, writer and painter during the 1930s when Mitchell wrote her classic Southern novel.
O’Connell said Mitchell even asked Kurtz to check some of her chapters for historical accuracy because he was one of the founding members of the Atlanta Historical Society.
“She asked Kurtz about Sherman’s march to Atlanta because he knew a lot about the Civil War,” he said.
O’Connell said he became interested in Kurtz’s life after writing a novel about Mitchell’s family and her Irish heritage, which inspired much of the book.
He now owns two of Kurtz’s historic paintings depicting life in Atlanta during the antebellum period.
O’Connell’s fascination and knowledge of Southern history extends far beyond Kurtz’s life, though.
The author, who was born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., and now lives in Decatur, said he first fell in love with the South during his military training in the 1960s.
“I spent one year in Vietnam, but before that in 1966, I spent 10 weeks at Fort Benning and it was my first trip to the South. I just loved it,” O’Connell said. “I thought the outdoor weather was so beautiful here and I wondered ‘why would I want to go back up north and shovel snow and be cold in the winter?’ I always wanted to come back and live here. I got a job offer from Georgia State, so my family relocated here.”
In the future, O’Connell said he plans to update his previous book, “The Irish Roots of Margaret Mitchell’s ‘Gone With the Wind,’ which sold about 7,000 copies at the Margaret Mitchell House and Museum in Atlanta.
O’Connell will host a meet-and-greet at the Margaret Mitchell House with the Atlanta History Center Dec. 7 at 2 p.m.