“American Masters” Goes on Tour from
Brookgreen Gardens Sculpture Museum
by Robin P. Salmon


 

  “American Masters: Sculpture from Brookgreen Gardens” encompasses forty-two works of art from the earliest in the collection to those by important contemporary sculptors. Beginning in the spring of 1998 and through 1999, the exhibition travels to Austin, Chicago, New York City, and Tampa. As the first travelling exhibition ever mounted by Brookgreen Gardens, “American Masters” is a unique opportunity for people in other areas of the country to sample the museum’s thoroughly American sculpture collection.

The title captures very well the exhibition’s theme and purpose: to show as many as possible of America’s most prominent sculptors, those who brought a distinctive American quality to art—and to do so using small pieces, compact masterworks that sum up the artists’ unique contributions to the American scene. Each sculpture presents elements of the individuality of its creator: artistic concerns, inspiration, or the ways in which cultural, social and political influences of the time were depicted.

The original, permanent setting is highly appropriate to the show. It opened in the spring of 1996, the first temporary indoor sculpture exhibition in the history of the Gardens, located in newly renovated gallery space in the Visitors Pavilion, a configuration of two independent rooms or buildings, connected by a common roof and covered walkways. The rooms span nearly two thousand square feet each, with floor-to-ceiling walls of glass on the eastern and western exposures, and are designed specifically to exhibit sculpture. The pavilion was renamed the “Rainey Sculpture Pavilion” for the late Callie and John Rainey, prominent longtime supporters of cultural endeavors in South Carolina. One of the two exhibition spaces was christened the “Noble Gallery,” in honor of Joseph Veach Noble, Chairman Emeritus of the Brookgreen Board of Trustees (and Honorary Board member of ART). The “Jennewein Gallery,” located opposite the Noble Gallery, had been named several years ago in honor of Carl Paul Jennewein, an eminent sculptor and past chairman of the Board of Trustees. It is the inaugural exhibition from the Noble and Jennewein Galleries that will be on tour around America.

Historic works by Horatio Greenough, Thomas Ball, James Fraser, John Quincy Adams Ward and Lorado Taft are included, as well as sculpture created in the last few years by Marshall Fredericks, Richard McDermott Miller, Charles Parks, Glenna Goodacre and Isidore Margulies. Others, such as The Windy Doorstep by Abastenia Eberle, The Sun Vow by Hermon Atkins MacNeil, and The Bronco Buster by Frederic Remington were deemed important contributions within the oeuvre of these individual sculptors. All of these works were praised for their innovative subject matter, interpretation and realism. Anna Hyatt Huntington’s Joan of Arc not only ensured her reputation as an important sculptor but also made its historic mark as the first equestrian monument of a woman by a woman, and is the first monument to Saint Joan which depicted her with authentic arms and armor. It is a landmark masterwork in terms of the use of historic accuracy. These four sculptures, created between 1895 and 1910, occurred during the “American Renaissance,” a period from 1876 to 1915. The sculptures were celebrated for entirely different reasons, exhibited distinctly different styles and comprised diverse subject matter; yet, all four works are linked by the distinctly American ideals that inspired their creators. The American Renaissance saw the rise of giants such as Daniel Chester French and Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the latter of whom became an arbiter of national style and a mentor to the next generation of sculptors. The Puritan by Saint-Gaudens broke with the neoclassical tradition in statuary and presented a monument of personality and vigor. Some of his innovations included asymmetrical composition to create interest, the use of multi-folded drapery to enhance the depiction of movement, and accuracy in depicting individual features to capture physical and character traits.

The field of fountain sculpture is represented by Janet Scudder’s delightful Frog Baby and Carl Mille’s Fountain of the Muses. Scudder was known for her exuberantly designed children’s figures inspired by the sculpture of the Italian Renaissance. In a real sense, she was the first sculptor to embrace the new field of garden sculpture and make it an American phenomenon. Milles made a name for himself with his fountain groups, often presented with tongue firmly tucked into cheek and always featuring the lavish use of water.

The beautiful sinuous lines of Evening by Paul Manship and Resting Stag by Elie Nadelman reflected similar artistic influences on these two very different sculptors. Manship took his influence from ancient civilizations while Nadelman drew upon the classical lines of Greece in interpreting his simple presentations of form. Malvina Hoffman’s squatting Andaman Islander, bow drawn with poison-tipped arrow, was one of a series of figures she created for the landmark exhibition “The Races of Man,” commissioned in the 1930s by The Field Museum of Natural History at Chicago. The commission required her to travel the world for several years, modeling in clay the distinct racial types she encountered.

The human figure, both beautiful and grotesque, is represented by George Grey Bernard’s white marble Maidenhood and Henry Clews’s The Duchess, cast in aluminum. Both artists strived to create works that presented both social and political messages within the context of their times. The difference between the two lies in their subject matter. For Barnard it was the magnificent symbols of noble causes while Clews chose the painful examination of human nature as manifested in the evils of society. His work was not as much a depiction of self-struggle as it was of caricature of character as reflected in a gothic mirror. Donald De Lue is represented with Icarus. A characteristic of De Lue’s work was his ability to convey power in the composition, despite the size of the sculpture.

Walker Hancock presented an idyllic scene in Boy and Squirrel, a work full of charm, yet strong in its simplicity and naturalness. Contrasted with Isidore Margulies’s Debbie II, a superrealistic sculpture, the separation of fifty years’ time between these two works is at the same time obvious and not so obvious. The faithful depiction of the human form did not diminish; it was the same in the 1970s as it was in the 1920s. But the detail found in that depiction changed significantly from the modest innocence of the human body in Boy and Squirrel to the almost startling lifelike nudity of Debbie II. Another female nude in the exhibition, Edward McCartan’s small bronze Diana, dated 1922, was deliciously described as being “quite a dish” by one critic of the time, and as a “spare and refined lovely figure” by another.

Sculpture of animals is expertly shown in four works combining the seemingly disparate elements of the exotic and the familiar in ways that can only be described as splendid. Penguins, a life-size bronze, is a fine example of why Albert Laessle was known as a “humorous naturalist” who observed the tragedies and comedies enacted in his little kingdom. The two amiable creatures nuzzle one another in a display of bonding that projects humanistic qualities. Gertrude Lathrop’s great love and respect for all animals is innately presented in her portrait of the regal Persian gazelle hound, Sag Mal Haroun-al-Raschid of Kayenne, entitled Saluki. In Greyhounds Unleashed, Katharine Lane Weems elegantly captured the nervous energy and forward momentum of a pair of sleek racing dogs, an ability for which she was well known. Equine society was examined by Charlotte Dunwiddie in Tête-á-Tête, two farm horses that appear to be engaged in conversation. An expert horsewoman, Dunwiddie had shown and trained horses since childhood. Her knowledge of the subject enabled her to portray convincingly and sensitively the personality of the animal.

Accompanying the sculpture displays are twenty enlargements of photographs depicting some of the sculptors at work in their studios. The sculptors, particularly those from the nineteenth century, are rendered human and real within the context of their times. Chicago sculptor Lorado Taft is pictured with his small model for the Fountain of Creation, begun in 1910. One figure from this massive work, Daughter of Pyrrha, is in the exhibition. Daniel Chester French is pictured standing on a ladder as he works on the monumental female figure for the Martin Memorial. George Grey Barnard, romantically dressed in a doublet and leggings, sits before one of his large-scale works and stares directly back at the viewer. Taken from a portrait by Anna Bilinska, the image of Barnard is one of confidence and sensitivity. Glenna Goodacre is shown working on a monumental group of Native American women in a Pueblo ritual, The Basket Dance. A study of one of the trio of figures, Basket Dancer, is exhibited adjacent to the photograph. Both intrigued and satisfied, the viewer finds reassurance in studying these photographic displays.

“American Masters: Sculpture from Brookgreen Gardens” upholds the ideals of Archer Milton Huntington and his wife, Anna Hyatt Huntington, founders of Brookgreen Gardens. In 1931, Archer Huntington explained their shared philosophy: “At first the garden was intended to contain the sculpture of Anna Hyatt Huntington. This has 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. 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.”

The “American Masters” exhibition was designed by Staples and Charles, Ltd., an internationally known firm headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia. A handsome illustrated catalogue of sixty pages was published to accompany the exhibition. Containing an introduction, three essays and biographies of each sculptor, the exhibition catalogue interprets the significance of the artists and their works. The essays have subjects that explore three topics relative to figurative art in America: Lauretta Dimmick (Gates Curator of Painting and Sculpture at the Denver Art Museum) examines the rise of garden sculpture in the late nineteenth century in “The Fountainhead: Genesis of American Garden Sculpture.” The influence of Auguste Rodin on the American artistic psyche is presented in “The New Symbolism” by Ilene Susan Fort (Curator of American Art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art). The contributions of women sculptors to the American body of work is outlined in “Suffragettes, Free Spirits and Trendsetters: Women Sculptors in America” by Robin Salmon.

Robin Salmon is Vice President and Curator of Sculpture of Brookgreen Gardens, and curator of the “American Masters” exhibition. “American Masters: Sculpture from Brookgreen Gardens” was made possible by a generous gift from BMW, the renowned German automobile manufacturer.