A Different Museum of Sculpture
by Joseph Veach Noble

 

 

The description “a museum of sculpture” undoubtedly brings to mind a mental picture of a large classical building with gallery after gallery packed with statues. Nothing could be farther from that static image than the unique museum known as Brookgreen Gardens of American Sculpture. Rather, picture in your mind’s eye hundreds of statues each in their own beautiful, outdoor setting surrounded by dogwoods and magnolias or set in the center of pools with splashing fountains.

Brookgreen combines the beauty of nature with the beauty of creative works by outstanding American sculptors. As visitors wander along the winding paths that lead to one magnificent work of sculpture after another, they experience the joy of seeing great works of art in garden settings. There is something for everyone—art lovers and nature lovers.

The location of this beautiful museum is in South Carolina, where the temperate climate makes it possible to enjoy a visit during all seasons of the year. It is situated on the coastal highway twenty miles south of Myrtle Beach and ninety miles North of Charleston. The property extends from the Atlantic Ocean to the Inland Waterway and encompasses 9,000 acres of which 400 acres are highly landscaped for the sculpture gardens. It was created in 1931 by the benefaction of the philanthropist, Archer Milton Huntington and his wife, the famous sculptor Anna Hyatt, as a not-for-profit cultural institution open to the public. The original property comprised four large plantations: Brookgreen, Springfield, Laurel Hill and The Oaks, all created by land grants from King George II.

The sculpture collection, which was started by the Huntingtons, continues to grow year by year. Important works are purchased, others are commissioned to be created by sculptors for the gardens, and still others are gifts to Brookgreen. The works—all of realistic sculpture—encompass a time frame of over 150 years, from the early nineteenth century until today. The collection consists of more than 540 pieces of sculpture by over 240 American sculptors. It is by far the largest and most important collection of American sculpture in the world.

Among the hundreds of sculptors represented at Brookgreen are Hiram Powers, John Quincy Adams Ward, Daniel Chester French, Frederic Remington, Donald DeLue, Beatrice Fenton, Gaston Lachaise, Edward McCartan, Elie Nadelman, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, R. Hinton Perry, and Lorado Taft. Following is a very small sampling of the collection which demonstrates its great quality and diversity:

One of the most famous pieces of American sculpture is the Diana by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the artist’s only nude female figure. It was commissioned as an ideal figure to top the tower of the original Madison Square Garden in New York City. The slightly over life-size model of 1894 from which the original statue was enlarged is the basis for the bronze casting in Brookgreen Gardens.

The End of the Trail, created by James Earle Fraser in 1915, has become an emotional symbol of the change in lifestyle of the Native American Indian brought about by the Western migration of the European immigrants. This bronze equestrian statuette successfully captures the pathos of the dejected, windblown rider and his horse. Fraser was a student of Agustus Saint-Gaudens in Paris and returned with him as his studio assistant in New York City.

The sculptor who most successfully combined the simplification of form and at the same time utilized the mass of his figures was Paul Manship. Years ago when asked what single event influenced his art the most, he readily answered that it was a trip to Olympia in Greece, while he was a student at the American Academy in Rome before World War I. There he saw statues by the ancient Greek sculptor Phidias for the pediment of the Temple of Zeus. It certainly is true; we can see the influence of Phidias in all of Manship’s work. Brookgreen Gardens has many pieces of his sculpture, but the largest is the huge bronze sundial with the gnomon 40 feet in length, Time and the Fates of Man, created in 1939. In it the three female figures spin the thread of life, measure it and cut it. The passage of time symbolizes a person’s life cycle.

Anna Hyatt was an outstanding sculptor by the time she married Archer Huntington in 1923. Naturally, a good number of her sculptures are in Brookgreen Gardens. Undoubtedly the most striking piece is the Fighting Stallions, a huge over-life-size aluminum group created in 1950. She was fascinated by horses, studied them very well, and preferred equestrian monuments such as her Joan of arc of 1915 which stands on Riverside Drive in New York. The French government made her a chevalier of the Legion of Honor in 1922.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York commissioned Carl Milles in 1949 to created The Fountain of the Muses; it was installed in the museum in 1955, just six months before the sculptor’s death. It was very popular with the Metropolitan’s visitors, but, unfortunately, structural problems developed due to the great weight of the water in the pool, and the bronze sculptures had to be placed in storage. Brookgreen Gardens was chosen as the most appropriate site for its relocation, so it was purchased in 1982 and opened to visitors in 1984. Carl Milles wrote: “Of the eight fountain figures round and in the pool—five of these represent the arts—men who have been drinking the holy water from the Goddess Aganippe’s well. Famous water helping the musical artists as well as all artists to get the right spirit to work and create. Here we are seeing them rushing home, filled with enthusiasm—each one with his new ideas forcing them to hurry.” The five sculptures of the artists are the poet, the architect, the musician, the painter and the sculptor. A most appropriate fountain for Brookgreen Gardens.

Contemporary realism in sculpture is well represented, too, as in the work of the sculptor, Charles Parks, and his bronze High Tide created in 1985. Stylization and idealism are not present; rather the emphasis is on a realistic treatment of the over life-size boy, his clothes and the three sea gulls flying around him as he sits on a piling in a pond.

Brookgreen Gardens is immense and full of treasures, but, hopefully this introductory overview has aroused your interest. The sculpture and the gardens are there to be experienced directly and enjoyed. So, go see for yourself that Brookgreen Gardens is, indeed, a different kind of museum of sculpture.

Joseph Veach Noble is Chairman Emeritus of the Board of Trustees of Brookgreen Gardens, Director Emeritus of the Museum of the City of New York and formerly Vice-Director for Administration of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The address of Brookgreen Gardens: US Highway 17 South Murrells Inlet, South Carolina 29576-5101 Phone: 1-800-849-1931

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