Friday, April 1, 2011

Brookgreen Gardens, Murrells Inlet, SC

by Donna L. Watkins

Getting to visit this place was a dream come true. My friend, Louise, who has since died, used to dream with me about getting to visit these gardens, so I felt her presence and joy with me as I strolled around and around these 300+ acres of a much larger preservation area. I love sculpture, and especially metal sculptures. This place is filled with more than 1400 of them from over 350 sculptures. This month a new Butterfly House opens.

© 2011 Randal J. Watkins - Donna by Peace Fountain
Brookgreen Gardens, Murrells Inlet, SC
There was an emphasis on native habitats for the wildlife and an area they called a "zoo", a word I don't like, that had birds and animals that could not be released due to various reasons. The habitats provided were so natural and were fenced large enough that there was no stress on the inhabitants. You didn't know you were in the aviary which was a swamp surrounded by fencing and netting. They also had breeds of farm animals that were typical of the times.

Historical information on signs was abundant so you could relive the scene of the times when the rice plantations were filled with slaves and the wealth that they provided for the landowners. The Oaks Plantation History and Nature Trail brought things to life about the Lowcountry.

There are archeological sites of the former plantation house and the foundation of the spring house. The Alston family cemetery and slave village provide history also. The Garden provides tours to remote locations on ATV's, and creek cruises of the Waccamaw River can be taken on a pontoon boat past abandoned rice fields now home to alligators and waterfowl.

Although we walked around for six hours never repeating an area already seen, we didn't do justice to all there was to see. Since we chose to go on a Friday before the day of a big garden festival, we felt as though we had the place to ourselves, even though we did run into people here or there. It amazed me that one couple designed and created all of the magnificence.

Brookgreen Gardens' visionary founders, Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington, first visited the property in 1929 and were captivated by the Carolina Lowcountry with its undulating rivers and shadowy swamplands, sandy pine forests, sweeping marsh vistas and stately moss-draped oaks. So, the philanthropist and his beloved sculptor wife bought Brookgreen Plantation and the three adjoining properties, amassing 9,127 acres of forest, swamp, rice fields and beachfront.

Being from New York, their original plan was to establish a winter home overlooking the wide, blue Atlantic, but the beauty and history of the land quickly transformed their modest intention into something more grand. In 1931, they organized a non-profit institution with a lofty mission: providing a showcase for American figurative sculpture within a refuge for native plants and animals. A year later, they opened Brookgreen to the public. It is the first sculpture garden in the United States and designated as a National Historic Landmark.

Isn't it interesting how you set your direction to attain a dream and it becomes more than you even thought it would be. God will fill in over and above what we think we can accomplish if we will take the initial steps. It gives one pause to think about what one can do ... of course there is the part that money plays also, but God is bigger than that if we allow Him to be. How big can we dream? Or how much faith do we have that God is a God of Love and Hope.

Anna's background gave her many advantages, as did Archer's, but I've read similar stories of people who forged ahead with a hideous background, so don't let a victim mentality or self-pity destroy your entire life. Leave the past as the past and make the future what you want it to be.

Anna Vaughn Hyatt (1876-1973), a daughter of Alpheus Hyatt, Jr., 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. Anna married Archer Huntington on March 10, 1923, a date which was also their shared birthday and was known afterward as their “three-in-one-day.”

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’ 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. This is what led to the architectural design of their winter home, Atalaya, built on the property. 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.

Archer was married previously, but divorced after 23 years without any children. Five years later, at age 53, he married Anna, who was 42 and had been never married. They had no children either. So for those girls out there that think all hope is lost at age 30 without a marriage partner ... seek your dreams and pursue your passions and it will come when you least expect it.

My photo titles are titled with detailed information on the sculptures and garden features, along with information on the historical plantation life of the land.

View photo album of Brookgreen Gardens.
View photo album of Atalaya, winter home of the Huntington's who created the gardens.

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