Purposes & History


Purposes

At its founding, Archer Huntington wrote: “Brookgreen Gardens is a quiet joining of hand between science and art. The original plan involved a tract of land from the Waccamaw River to the sea in Georgetown County, South Carolina, for the preservation of the flora and fauna of the Southeast. At first the garden was intended to contain the sculpture of Anna Hyatt Huntington. This gradually found extension in an outline collection representative of the history of American sculpture, from the nineteenth century, which finds its natural setting out of doors. It is not an experiment station, nor a research plant. Its object is the presentation of the natural life of a given district as a museum, and as it is a garden, and gardens have from early times been rightly embellished by the art of the sculptor,that principle has found expression in American creative art. It is, however, by no means the object of this endeavor to preserve or exhibit objects which have for their only claim to interest their association with names or events or the history of crafts. It is felt that the early culture of the pioneers is most adequately expressed and guarded in old and established museums, leaving to this venture the presenting of the simple forms of nature and of natural beauty together with such artistic works as may express the objects sought. To these have been added, within the bounds stated, the verse of some of those writers who have taken pleasure in the beauty of nature and her living forms, now so rapidly being depleted through ignorance and greed. In all due homage to science it may be well not to forget inspiration, the sister of religion, without whose union this world might yet become a desert.”

And an update from 2003:

The purposes of Brookgreen are: (1) to collect, conserve and exhibit American figurative sculpture; (2) to cultivate a display garden and exhibit sculpture therein; (3) to collect, conserve and exhibit the plants, animals and cultural materials of the South Carolina Lowcountry; (4) to educate a diverse audience about sculpture, horticulture and the ecology and history of the Lowcountry; (5) to provide additional artistic and cultural opportunities for members, guests and the community; (6) to sustain the institution and all of its assets with visionary leadership, sound management, and prudent fiscal policies.

THE HUNTINGTONS

Archer Milton Huntington (1870-1955) was the son of industrial magnate Collis Potter Huntington (1821-1900), who with Mark Hopkins, Leland Stanford and Charles Crocker helped build the first transcontinental railroad. Collis Huntington was also the founder of Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company in Virginia. He was a forceful man, sometimes known as a “Robber Baron,” but exemplifying the nation’s leadership in this period of rapid growth and expansion. Collis Huntington’s second wife, Arabella Duval Yarrington (1847?-1924), Archer’s mother, was an accomplished woman, who was a connoisseur and collector of art. She traveled widely and guided her son’s education, allowing him to be exposed to history, art and other cultures. Archer became an expert in Hispanic culture and study of the people of the Mediterranean region. While involved in his father’s business interests, Archer devoted most of his energies to his special pursuits of history, art and linguistics. His knowledge of museums was extensive because of his travels and personal study in Europe. In 1904, Archer established The Hispanic Society of America at New York City’s Audubon Terrace. Today, this institution is the foremost of its kind and continues to perform the purposes for which it was founded. He also supported a number of cultural organizations internationally.

Archer’s wife was Anna Vaughn Hyatt (1876-1973), a daughter of Alpheus Hyatt, Jr. (1838-1902), a scientist who specialized in paleontology and was a pioneer marine biologist connected with Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Anna grew up in a family devoted to science and cultural pursuits and, as a teenager, became interested in sculpture. Although she studied briefly in Boston and at the Art Students League, Anna really was a self-taught sculptor. Her knowledge of animal anatomy, the basis for her sculpture, was the result of a keen power of observation, developed through childhood field trips with her father and familiarity with domestic animals on the family farm. Early on, the horse emerged as Anna’s favorite subject and she began to incorporate equine subjects into her monumental commissions. By 1910, she had created the initial Joan of Arc on horseback, forerunner of her most famous work for New York City, which won her great critical and popular acclaim. By 1912, she was earning more than $50,000 a year with her sculpture. Known as one of the finest American animal sculptors of the twentieth century, she created work that was placed in public locations throughout the country and around the world, as well as in numerous museum and private collections.

They had known of one another through mutual friends in the New York art world, however, they were not formally introduced until Archer commissioned Anna to design a medal for the Hispanic Society in 1921. In the following year, they served together on a committee to coordinate a landmark sculpture exhibition for the spring of 1923 under the auspices of the National Sculpture Society.Archer Huntington provided the funding for the exhibition that showcased hundreds of sculptures both inside and outside the buildingsof institutions clustered around Audubon Terrace at Broadway and West 155th Street. They were married March 10, 1923, a date which was also their shared birthday, and was known afterward as their “three-in-one-day.”

A few years after their marriage, in 1930, the Huntingtons purchased property in coastal South Carolina, south of Myrtle Beach. Anna had been diagnosed with tuberculosis, and their original idea has been to build a winter home that would serve as a retreat from the world while she recovered her strength. Within a year, in 1931, they had decided to establish a non-profit corporation to protect what eventually became 9,127 acres, and to exhibit outdoor sculpture with native plants and animals. Brookgreen Gardens opened to the public in 1932 and, by 1934, had grown to include several gardens featuring landscaped settings for sculpture interspersed with reminders of the eighteenth century plantation.

HISTORY OF THE PROPERTY BEFORE BROOKGREEN GARDENS

The property has an illustrious history connected with important persons in the Colonial, Antebellum, Reconstruction, Gilded Age and Roaring Twenties time periods. The four plantations – Laurel Hill, Springfield, Brookgreen and The Oaks – were the sites of activities that are landmarks in American history. Scenes of the American Revolution and the War Between the States were played out here. Golden Big Grain Rice, the forerunner of today’s long grain rice, was discovered and first grown here by Joshua John Ward in the 1840s. Washington Allston, the greatest American painter of the Romantic period was born at Brookgreen Plantation in 1779. GeorgeWashington visited here and spent the night in the spring of 1791 while on his southern tour. Joseph Alston, governor of South Carolina during the War of 1812, married Theodosia Burr, daughter of Aaron Burr, and lived at The Oaks. The tragedies of this family are a part of national history. New Yorkers Clemence Willett Hasell and her sister–in–law, Edith Morgan Willett, established and operated a school, church and hospital at Brookgreen Plantation during Reconstruction. Known as the Waccamaw Mission, it eventually was taken over by the Episcopal Church and functioned as Holy Cross Brookgreen until around 1920. Julia Mood Peterkin wrote groundbreaking novels based on the lives of African-Americans in Gullah dialect and set at Brookgreen, Sandy Island and the vicinity in the 1920s and 1930s. Her novel, Scarlet Sister Mary, won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1928.

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