SUBROSA
Number 47   March - April 2006
                 

BROOKGREEN GARDENS
Anna Hyatt and Archer Milton Huntington

By Dorothy Fansler

The Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington Sculpture Garden was founded on the grounds of the Brookgreen Plantation in 1931.  With the purchase of four adjacent rice plantations in October 1930, stretching from the Waccamaw River to the Atlantic Ocean, the dream of these two philanthropists began to form into Brookgreen Gardens; a society for southeastern flora and fauna as well as a home for representational American Sculpture.  These gardens, famous for their delightful presentation of sculpture in a garden setting, are equally well known for the quality of this sculpture.  The choices made of American representational sculpture are unrivaled by any other holdings, private or public.  The works in the garden number more than 725 with nearly 300 artists represented.

The sculpture collection was begun while the construction on the public display garden was in progress. It includes more works executed during the 1930's than any other period.  Anna and Archer were responsible for the early selection of pieces.  In 1934 Anna placed her Diana in a round pool just outside the walled garden that contained the Live Oak Allee.  Her two bronze lions originally created for the Hispanic Society of America were then stationed at the entrance to the Diana Pool.  Also in this area was Edward McCartans's Gilded bronze Dionysus along with Nathaniel Choate's Alligator Bender.

The garden design takes advantage of a spectacular double file of live oaks that once led to the plantation's main house.  Live Oak Allee is made up of two  rows of 270 year old live oaks strewn with Spanish moss.  Today the nights of December 2-3, 9-10, 16-17 are called the Nights of a Thousand Candles  when the gardens and oaks are lighted by over 1000 luminaries and twinkling lights as musicians play and carolers sing celebrating the beauty of the place as well as the Christmas season. 

Originally Anna designed the sculpture garden and pools as a naturalistic upper garden where light gray  walkways trace  the outline of a butterfly with outstretched wings.   She used the remnants of boxwood hedges from the original plantation landscape to this end, and now people and animals rendered in bronze and stone peek from behind them in every  area.  Sculpted  animals fill the gardens. 

 
Nathaniel Choate's Alligator Bender
 
Live Oak Allée

Anna Hyatt's father was an academician whose life work was in the fields of zoology and paleontology.  It was in this environment of learning that Anna's interest in wildlife and sculpture was nurtured.  Around the turn of the century Anna was primarily self-taught and liked best to observe and study live animals.  By 1901 she was known as an animalier as well as for her heroic pieces.  Brookgreen Gardens is the beneficiary of Anna's Animal life studies.  In one place you'll find Wild Boars, in another an elegant Jaguar scales a wall into a bed of asters. However, it is at the entrance gates where her  mastery over stone/bronze  and animal energy are best displayed in the sculpture, Fighting Stallions.  Behind the horses, atop the fence perch two huge and powerful eagles again interpreted by Anna Hyatt.  

 
Jaguar
 
Fighting Stallions

The garden's plants present different visual backdrops throughout the year.  Spring is a time of flaunting the glories of azaleas and dogwood, while winter?s light and bare branches complement the sculpture in another way.  There is variety in pallettes of blazing reds, oranges, and yellows. Yet the charming Pledge of Allegiance by Glenna Goodacre is surrounded by purples.  

Pledge of Allegiance

To many the sculpture garden is the heart of Brookgreen but it is only part of the story.  The Lowcountry History and Wildlife Preserve chronicles the lowcountry history from early Native American days to present.  The thousands of acres in Brookgreen's Lowcountry History Wildlife Preserve are rich with evidence of the great plantations of the 1800's.  Visitors may learn about the complex story of the rice plantations and the men and women who lived, worked, and died on them, during excursions in the Lowcountry in Brookgreen's pontoon boat, The Springfield.  They watch for the current residents including waterfowl, alligators, and other reptiles as they cruise through creeks along abandoned rice fields while  an interpreter explains the history and cultivations of the rice crop that dominated the local economy more than 200 years ago.  Since slave labor was necessary to cultivate the rice crops, this culture ended with the advent of the Civil War.  Before that war, Georgetown County was one of the richest counties in America because of the rice plantations and their slave laborers.     

The Diana Pool

Other interesting Excursions in Brookgreen Gardens include walking the Lowcountry  Trail or by going deep into the preserve on overland vehicles.  By these means the native animal habitats containing non-releaseable animals such as waterfowl, river otters, alligators, foxes, birds of prey, turkeys and deer may be observed.  There is also an exhibit of the domestic animals of the plantations.  A rice plantation contained many domestic animals that provided food, clothing, transportation and power.  The animals in this exhibit are now considered "rare breeds" and are much more like the animals of the 1800s than the specialized animals of today.   

Thus, one of Brookgreen's major strengths-- its complex combination of plants, sculpture, and the history in the Lowlands and the animal preserves and exhibits--is also it?s biggest challenges.  The sheer number of things to see and experience can lead to sensory overload as well as great distances to walk causing exhaustion.  The Curators recommend coming back at different times of the day and during different seasons to fully appreciate the Gardens.   

The Gardens contain three eating environments on the grounds: The Pavilion Restaurant, The Courtyard Cafe, and Old Kitchen. Keepsakes, The Brookgreen Shop is the perfect place to find and buy remembrances of the special days spent on the grounds of this unique and enchanting educational institution.   

Through the special energy and philanthropy of Anna Hyatt and Archer Huntington this place, The Brookgreen Gardens, spans the ages.  A place begun in the suffering and inequality of slavery is preserved. Today it offers beauty, tranquility, and education to the visitors.

Dorothy Fansler, Subrosa Greensboro Reporter
Jim Fansler, Photographer

Jim, husband of Dorothy and photographer for her articles passed away on April 15, 2006. We all will miss you, Jim, and your fine photographic work.

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