” A quiet joining of hands between science and art”.
This is how Archer Huntington, the millionaire philanthropist and poet who founded Brookgreen Gardens described his vision for this peaceful oasis on the South Carolina coast near Myrtle Beach. Initially Archer established this garden in 1931 as a venue in which to showcase his wife Anna’s sculptures, but since then it has become home to the creations of more than 2000 works by over 400 artists who work in everything from bronze to stone – and most recently, sticks! thanks to a newly completed installation. Here’s what to see at Brookgreen Gardens.
New “Stickwork” Art by Patrick Dougherty at Brookgreen Gardens
Meet Patrick Dougherty, the renowned North Carolina ‘land artist’ who creates giant sculptural installations using native tree saplings that he shapes into monumental works of art. A perfect example of the joining of science and art that Huntington envisioned, Dougherty’s stickwork creations blend his structural carpentry skills with his artistic vision. His works have been seen around the globe, with his most recent installation, “In the Mix” having just been completed at Brookgreen Gardens.
As luck would have it, the day that I happened to be visiting Brookgreen Gardens, Dougherty was on site, putting the final touches on his work with clippers in hand, so I took the opportunity to ask him about his inspiration and why he creates with sticks.
“A good sculpture starts with personal associations”, Dougherty explained, “like the first fort that you built as a child, or a first kiss that happened in the woods”, so his choice of natural materials reflects this connection to nature. His structures are complex, imaginative and organic, and he thinks of them as a 3D version of a line drawing that compels people to enter. He believes his structures are universally appealing because they harken back to the idea of a “simple bivouac that allows you to feel dispossessed of the world but more connected to nature.”
It’s fitting, then, that In the Mix is located next to the Welcome Centre to Brookgreen Gardens, and is the first thing that people visiting the gardens will experience. Acting as a transition between the distractions of the outside world and the tranquility of the garden beyond, it’s the perfect way to begin a visit to Brookgreen.
Inspired Works in Stone and Bronze
While Dougherty’s stickwork creations are ephemeral, lasting only about 2 years on average, Brookgreen Gardens has plenty of other permanent sculptures that ground the visitor in different ways. Take Laura Gardin Fraser’s enormous carved granite sculpture, Pegasus, the largest sculpture in the Gardens, that towers above the viewers who remain tethered to the earth while the winged horse and rider appear ready to leap off the pedestal and into the sky.
Opposite Pegasus at the other end of this section of the garden is The Aganippe Fountain, or Fountain of the Muses by Carle Milles which was originally installed at the restaurant in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, but now calls Brookgreen home.
Four bronze artists dance across the water, filled with inspiration after drinking from the goddess Aganippe’s well; one is a Poet, another an architect, a third a Musician and a fourth a Painter, all rushing home to create while Aganippe waves them on.
Gods and goddesses are a common theme at Brookgreen, with many representations of Diana, goddess of the hunt, as well as classical-styled sculptures that represent mythological figures or allegories.
But there are also charming sculptures that represent simpler themes, like the moments between mother and child.
Not Just Sculpture
Brookgreen Gardens isn’t just a home for figurative sculpture; there is a permanent gallery onsite (The Rainey Sculpture Pavilion) that also hosts exhibitions by artists who work in other media. Art and the Animal was on exhibit when I visited, including naturalistic works from across the States and Canada.
And the Learning Lab was showcasing the exhibition “Come Ya, Bin Ya” (in the “Gullah” language spoken by descendants of African slaves, this means “Come from away, or been here”). The exhibition included works of Gullah artists who work in multi-media including painting, basketry and textiles.
A Breath of Fresh Air
Everywhere you walk in Brookgreen Gardens you’ll encounter art, but the gardens themselves are a constantly evolving work of art. The spring brings daffodils and magnolia blossoms that add bright spots of yellow and pink to the greens, and even in the winter, the live oaks never lose their leaves, providing a canopied walkway dripping with Spanish Moss. And when it comes to wildlife, the wetlands and ponds are home to wild alligators, snakes and turtles, and keen birders may spot eagles and hawks soaring overhead.
Night of a Thousand Candles
But perhaps the most beautiful time to visit Brookgreen is actually when most of the plants are in dormant winter mode and the Gardens come alive in a different way during the Night of a Thousand Candles.
Every year in December, volunteers install thousands and thousands of candles and lights throughout the park, illuminating pathways, trees, fountains and sculptures with lighting installations that transform the gardens into something as otherworldly as the gods and goddesses who reside here. If you find yourself anywhere near Myrtle Beach at the end of the year, this is an event not to be missed.
Eighty-seven years ago, Archer and Anna Huntington had a vision to establish Brookgreen Gardens as a place where American figurative sculpture could be exhibited in a beautiful natural setting, and where the native plants and animals of the Southeast would be preserved and allowed to thrive alongside them. I have no doubt even the Huntingtons would be impressed with how their garden has evolved and expanded to become the largest and most comprehensive outdoor sculpture museum in the United States. I know I certainly was.
TIP: Entrance to Brookgreen Gardens costs $18 for adults, and is good for 7 days from purchase, which means you can come back as many times as you’d like in order to explore different areas of this huge property.