The College of Arts and Sciences moved into our new offices and classrooms in the restored Petigru College building at the beginning of the fall semester. We were faced with all new blank walls and a limited decorating budget. Then Graham Arader arrived with some exciting plans and a vision.
Graham and I wanted to fill the public spaces of Petigru with original art that would ignite the interest of students and represent some larger connection to the history of the college and the state.
The University of South Carolina, founded in 1801, offered only the academic disciplines represented in the College of Arts and Sciences today. The first students matriculated in 1805. At the same time in London, Robert John Thornton was finishing the third part of his magnum opus, The Temple of Flora. Graham realized that both arts and sciences are clearly represented in these illustrations (i.e., botanists need artists to capture nature in all its complexity). He arranged a gift of 21 Temple of Flora engravings to be displayed throughout our new building. These beautiful works of art along with descriptions of their origins are displayed in the reception spaces, classrooms and hallways of the College and have elevated the building to a new aesthetic level.
A Group of Carnations,Dianthus caryophyllus Painted by Peter Henderson (active c. 1791-1829) Engraved by Caldwell Dr. Robert John Thornton (1768-1837), The Temple of Flora, or Garden of Nature, vol. III, A New Illustration of the Sexual System of Linnaeus (London: 1799-1812) Aquatint engraving printed in color and finished by hand The Carnation, so deservedly esteemed both for its superior beauty, and rich spicy ordour, must certainly have been unknown to the ancients, or it would have been described by naturalists as the rival of the Rose, and as such sung by poets.
These engravings were an elegant start but there was a need for more.
South Carolinians have always had a strong connection to the major cities of Europe. In the South, homes were filled with imported furniture, paintings, and decorative arts. Cosmopolitan Charleston, one of the most affluent cities at that time, was the leading trading center for the southern colonies. Charlestonians constituted the single most numerous group of colonists to embark on the “ European Grand Tour”, essentially a year-long sightseeing and shopping trip through Italy and France.
In Petigru College, you can now see over 20 etchings of Giovanni Piranesi, one of the greatest printmakers of the 18thcentury. Surely some early South Carolina “grand tourists” found the etchings of Piranesi when they went to Rome. Today, our students as they wait in the halls for class to begin or stay after class to meet friends, have the chance to examine impressive Piranesi etchings. The gift of these etchings, facilitated by Graham, graces the hallways and staircases of the building and is a constant reminder about excellence, mastery and attention to detail.
The display in our public spaces of such high caliber work is a priceless gift to our students and faculty. This art will be treasured for years to come by the students, faculty and the current and future deans of the college.
We share Graham’s vision that art needs to be taken out of museums, libraries and archives and shared broadly with the public. This gift represents who we are as artists and scientists as well as aspects of the history of our state. This is a perfect gift at a perfect time.
Best wishes to students, faculty, staff and friends for a joyous holiday season. The College has much to be thankful for as we close this year and look forward to the next.