The Magazine of South Carolina

Birds of Distinction

Grainger McKoy's Bronze Sculpture Graces Brookgreen Gardens


Statesburg sculptor Grainger McKoy at work

McKoy's "Sparrow Hawk"

McKoy's "Mourning Doves"

A.A. Weinman's "Riders of the Dawn" typifies Brookgreen's outdoor sculpture

"Youth Taming the Wild" by Brookgreen founder Anna Hyatt Huntington

Article by Maria Lindler-Steinke/Art by Hord Stubblefield

Just when you think you’ve seen Brookgreen Gardens, something new surely will lure you back. "The Sculpture of McKoy" is Brookgreen’s first exhibition of work outside its own collection. The public debut of McKoy’s bronze bird sculpture and his first major South Carolina exhibition opens in March and will remain through 1999. Both the bronze and wood avian sculpture of the South Carolinian will be shown.

Brookgreen Gardens is home to the world’s largest outdoor display of American figurative sculpture. It is set amid a vast southern garden of live oak and pine, myrtle and gardenia. Opened to the public more than 65 years ago, Brookgreen introduces visitors from around the world to an enchanting showcase of art and nature.

McKoy, a Stateburg resident, is internationally known for his wood bird sculptures. His work has been sought by important collectors for 25 years. McKoy’s sculptures have been exhibited at the American Museum of Natural History, Coe Kerr Gallery and Manner Galleries, all in New York, as well as the Brandywine River Museum in Pennsylvania, Royal Ontario Museum in Canada and Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston.

For more than 20 years, his bird sculptures were in wood. Since 1995, he has added a new dimension. As he successfully launched groups of carved birds into airy, convincing compositions, he now presents the same feeling of flight in bronze castings. His recent movement to bronze is not an abandonment of wood, but an expansion of his work.

"The challenge of making bronze fly has long been an interest of mine," he explained. "Recently, I added a small foundry beside my studio, and this has allowed me to explore the possibilities of casting from wood sculpture. Molds are being lifted directly from the wood and have set the stage for me to stretch my wings in a new way."

These differ from most other bronze sculptures at Brookgreen, which originated from clay models.

All of McKoy’s subjects represented in the exhibition are—or were at one time—indigenous to Brookgreen Gardens. Important works for the exhibition have been borrowed from the collections of Richard P. Mellon, Doyle Cotton, John M. Rivers, Marshall Field V, William Ireland, John A. Luetkemeyer Jr., Dan W. Lufkin and Earl Slick.

Brookgreen, the first public sculpture garden in the United States, is on the National Register of Historic Places and is a National Historic Landmark because of its important role in American art history. It is one of 11 institutions accredited by both the American Association of Museums and The American Zoological Association.

The gardens are on 300 acres in the heart of a 9,100-acre preserve stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the freshwater swamps along the Waccamaw River. They are home to more than 800 works of American sculpture, 2,000 species and subspecies of native plants and a six-exhibit wildlife park.

Brookgreen was created by sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington and her husband Archer Huntington. It was designed as a quiet retreat to display monumental works of art against the natural tapestry of magnificent moss-draped live oaks and towering pines.

The center of the gardens is the allée of 250-year-old live oaks, around which flows a butterfly-shaped plan of informal, connecting gardens that showcase the sculpture. The gardens are divided into a series of sections emphasizing landscape features and are accented by dogwood, magnolia and palmetto trees. Fountains, pools, ponds and plaques with poetry and prose are sprinkled over the layout.

The largest part of the magnificent sculpture is by Anna Hyatt Huntington, recognized as one of the premier women sculptors in the world. Animals are incorporated into all of her pieces. One of the most recognized works is her "Diana of the Chase."

The art also includes work by prominent American sculptors such as Marshall Fredericks, Daniel Chester French, Gutzon Borglum, Frederic Remington and Carl Milles.

The newly renovated Brown Sculpture Court showcases more than 100 small sculptures by renowned artists including Paul Manship, Abram Belskie, Edith Howland and Anna Hyatt Huntington. This was formerly the Small Sculpture Gallery, the first gallery in the country specifically designed for the exhibition of sculpture.

Every season has its variety of splendor in the year-round gardens, but spring is especially welcoming. Visitors will see nature’s diverse handiwork ushering in the season. Spring shows all its glory in pink azaleas, white dogwoods, yellow marigolds and luscious orchids. For guests who wish to learn about the plants, common and botanical names label the species.

Also exciting for a spring visit is the creek excursion through the ricefields. A 50-minute tour on The Springfield, a pontoon-type craft, is guided by the captain and a Brookgreen naturalist. Each unique tour presents educational experiences exploring flora and fauna of the tidal freshwater creeks, the historical aspects of the abandoned ricefields and the animal environment of the Waccamaw River, home to reptiles, amphibians, birds, mammals and insects.

The wildlife park includes six exhibits and shows off native animals in natural settings. In the cypress aviary, some 80–100 birds can be seen, including black-crowned night herons, white ibis, wood ducks and other native waterfowl. Among the 15 birds in the raptor aviary are a bald eagle, red-tailed hawks, owls and other birds of prey. Some were born here, some brought from other zoos and some housed when recovered from injury and found unreleasable.

The alligator swamp includes an 11-foot male and an impressive 9½-foot female, among dozens of others. Additional exhibits are the red fox glade, the otter pond and the white-tailed deer savannah.

"There has almost always been a zoo here," explained Caryn Amacher, curator of animals. "In the late ’30s, it was located along the corridor entrance and included alligators and sometimes exotic pets, when their owners tired of them. It was redesigned and relocated 22 years ago. Now we concentrate on wildlife native to the Low Country or those which would have been here.

Low Country encounters are educational programs which Amacher has designed for spring. Mother Nature’s Café offers exhibits with ducks, otters and foxes; visitors will have opportunities to observe what the animals have for lunch and how they eat.

A highlight of our recent visit was a bald eagle swooping to pluck a piece of moss right in front of inquisitive guests. Some employees get to appreciate the flight of the bald eagles twice daily.

"They’re on the same schedule I am," said Tony Deese, assistant manager of visitor services, who explained how the eagles’ habits and flight path from the inlet to the gardens along the allée is determined by the season of nesting.

A Garden Room for Children is scheduled to open in April. It will contain pieces from the Brookgreen collection which appeal to young visitors, with special consideration of scale and proportion to suit children. "Freedom of Youth" by Rosie Sandifer is one of the many pieces that will be displayed in the Garden Room for Children.

The new space in a wing within the main garden will be laced with the original paths and walls that were created by Anna Hyatt Huntington. It will include theme gardens such as sunflower, butterfly, tropical, bear’s den and a pool with fountains—all of which will showcase sculpture related to the particular space. A pergola, butterfly house, perches, benches and steps with special plantings will engage and encourage children to play freely within the fully walled area.

To round out your tour, be sure to stop at the welcome center, the Terrace Café, The Old Kitchen and the museum shop.

Brookgreen grows and evolves with new sculpture, plants and trees added periodically, as well as widely varied educational programs. An annual visit isn’t enough to absorb the beauty and inspiration of the gardens. To truly appreciate them, seasonal returns are in order. Spring is an excellent time to begin your exploration!

Brookgreen Gardens on U.S. 17, Pawleys Island, is open daily, 9:30 a.m.–4:45 p.m. Phone (843) 237-4218.

Liz Mitchell is a freelance writer in Myrtle Beach.


* Friends of Brookgreen Gardens

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