Brookgreen Gardens, Sculpture in Myrtle Beach, SC

USA South Carolina Myrtle Beach Brookgreen sculpture garden Diana
The goddess Diana is represented more than once at Brookgreen Garden Sculpture Garden.

When it comes to the attractions of the Myrtle Beach, South Carolina area, I'd have to list my favorite as Brookgreen Gardens Sculpture Garden, a National Historic Landmark in nearby Murrells Inlet, SC, situated between the Waccamaw River and the Atlantic Ocean.

Now I like pancake houses and miniature golf as much as the next guy–and Myrtle Beach and the South Carolina Grand Strand area seems to have more than its share of those sorts of amusements–but you all know that Kris and I are real suckers for art. Especially when the display of that art is so unexpected, refreshing, and new to us. Because, honestly, we'd never heard of all the American sculptors whose work is displayed at Brookgreen Gardens, and we were so glad to make the introductions.

Brookgreen Gardens was founded by railroad heir Archer Milton Huntington and his wife Anna Hyatt Huntington to feature sculptures by Anna and her sister, Harriet Randolph Hyatt Mayor. The sisters made sure the works of other significant American sculptors were also included in the collection. (You can see photos of many of the works, and learn at least the names of some of the sculptors from the photos below.)

Brookgreen Gardens was opened in 1932, and is built on four former rice plantations. It takes its name from one of the original four, the Brookgreen Plantation. It is the first public sculpture garden in the United States and has the largest collection of figurative sculpture by American artists in an outdoor setting in the world. It is also a nature and historical preserve with a small zoo and a nature exhibition center.

The sculpture collection section covers 551 acres (223 hectares) and shows over 2,000 works by 425 artists. The art is almost exclusively figurative art–that is, human and animal figures from nature, history, and mythology. Garden paths link the sculptures in their distinctive garden, fountain, and landscape settings.

(I'm especially fond of figures from the classical mythology field, being the classics geek that I am.)

There are also indoor galleries, such as those in the Rainey Sculpture Pavilion, that present exhibits of smaller sculptures, as well as paintings, etchings, and other artworks.

The cultivated gardens cover about 1600 acres (650 hectares.) The gardens were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.

Among the features of the gardens are the Live Oak Allée, which is comprised of 250 year-old Live Oak trees that were planted in the early 1700s back when the grounds were still rice plantations.

The so-called Butterfly Garden includes the Dorothy P. Peace Garden Room for Children and the Kitchen Garden. The Carolina Terrace Garden has an array of perennials, roses, shrubs and mature trees.

The Palmetto Garden, named for the use of Sabal palmetto, South Carolina's state tree, was completed in 1950. The Fountain of the Muses Garden, one of my favorites pictured below, displays the sculpture of the same name and enhances the sculptures wonderful whimsy.

There's also a section of the property called the Lowcountry Trail that traverses through several ecosystems in nature reserves on the property.

The Lowcountry Trail crosses the hillside overlooking Mainfield, a restored rice field of the former Brookgreen Plantation. The trail leads to the site of the Plantation's old slave village. Archaeological digs have revealed the remains of four structures on the hillside: the site of the overseer's residence, and its kitchen, smokehouse and another building closer to the edge of the rice field. Along the trail there are didactic panels that describe life on a rice plantation. Four stainless steel sculptures representing the plantation owner, the overseer, and and male and female slaves are placed along the trail. These figures, created in stainless steel by Babette Bloch, draw visitors along the trail and help reveal the story about each one's role in the system of a Lowcountry plantation.

Also on site is the Lowcountry Zoo, which has the mission of preserving the native wildlife of the South Carolina lowcountry that is being threatened by encroaching development. All of the native animals in the Lowcountry Zoo were either bred and raised in captivity, or have sustained a major disability due to injury and could not survive in the wild.

All in all, the Brookgreen Gardens Sculpture Gardens are a real American gem, and worth making a special trip to this part of South Carolina to spend a delightful morning wandering in them.

If you do, consider two suggestions: 1) Visit during the April-October period when the Butterfly House is open. Hundreds of butterflies of dozens of varieties flitter through the space, and will land on you to say hello. It seems an especially wonderful experience for children; and 2) Leave an entire day to slowly walk through the extensive site. There's so much to see you don't want to rush. You also might want to leave time for a leisurely boat tour along the coastal islands leaving from adjacent Huntington Beach State Park.

Here are some photos from the Gardens. Sorry I'm not more of an expert on American sculpture but if you'd like to know more, perhaps try one of these books.

USA SC Myrtle Beach Brookgreen sculpture garden archer
Is this a young Diana? Or Cupid? Or just a random “I shot an arrow into the air…” fun seeker? Answer: It is Young Diana, by Anna Hyatt Huntington.
USA SC Myrtle Beach Brookgreen sculpture garden Joy
I do love this one, especially in its setting. It's called “Joy” by Karl Heinrich Gruppe.
USA SC Myrtle Beach Brookgreen sculpture garden nymph fawn
I also loved the stunning display of “Nymph and Fawn” by Karl Paul Jennewein.
USA SC Myrtle Beach Brookgreen sculpture garden muses fountain
The fountain of the garden muses was delightful, but slightly incongruous, because aren't the Muses women? Nevertheless, it's called Fountain of the Muses by Carl Milles.
USA SC Myrtle Beach sculpture garden 3 Phryine before judges
In addition to all the lithe beauty, there's this more constructionist “Phryrne Before the Judges” by Albert Walter Wein.
USA SC Myrtle Beach Brookgreen sculpture garden tortoise train
There's a children's area, too, with lots of whimsical sculptures of cute animals. This is “Tortoise Train” by W. Stanley Proctor.
USA SC Myrtle Beach Brookgreen sculpture garden saint james triad
The “Saint James Triad” by Richard McDermott Miller.
USA SC Myrtle Beach Brookgreen sculpture garden don quixote
One of my all time favorite subjects is Don Quixote, this one is by Anna Hyatt Huntington.
USA SC Myrtle Beach sculpture garden 1
I just love sculpture, don't you?
USA SC Myrtle Beach Brookgreen sculpture garden reflections
Sometimes the garden itself is the sculpture. Especially when there's a symmetrical reflection.
USA SC Myrtle Beach sculpture garden 2 gator
Careful, that's not a sculpture.
USA SC Myrtle Beach sculpture garden gator warning
Really.

If you're interested in some more photos and info on the Brookgreen sculptures, here's a fairly comprehensive list with pictures.

NOTE: Visit Myrtle Beach hosted our visit to South Carolina. You can read more about our visit, and why you should catch a flight to Myrtle Beach here.

And you'll find some other views of Myrtle Beach here.

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Brookgreen Sculpture Garden Myrtle Beach

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15 thoughts on “Brookgreen Gardens, Sculpture in Myrtle Beach, SC”

  1. Brookgreen Gardens is also my favorite place in Myrtle Beach. If you ever get a chance, see it at Christmas time when they present “A Night of Thousand Candles”. If you can get tickets! It’s presented for two weekends and it sells out immediately. I was able to score tickets a few years back and it is, to this day, one of my favorite ever “Christmas Lights” experience – although it is much different than that.

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  2. This is such a beautiful garden! I love the sculpture and the trees dripping with moss. Only visited Brookgreen once, but I would definitely go back – especially during the Holidays when they light it up with a million candles!

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  3. I had never heard of Brookgreen Gardens in Myrtle Beach until reading your article, but they look lovely. Sculpture and plantings are always a winning combination, and your photos captured the beauty. I particularly like the Tortoise Train in the children’s garden.

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  4. This is incredible. It’s like a combination of an Italian or French garden combined with the scenery of a place like Oak Alley Plantation near New Orleans. Absolutely on the list when we make our next road trip north. Thank you.

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    • I was just in a private garden full of sculpture in Florence last year, and honestly, I loved this one even more. It’s so American, and I do love that all this lovely culture is not limited to Europe. It makes me very happy that this place is in the United States.

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  5. I love sculpture gardens – there’s something about the combination of art and nature that I find fascinating. Brookgreen Gardens looks like a particularly good one, with so many sculptures to see.

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  6. Brookgreen Gardens looks like the type of place I like to find in my travels, too. I love art of all kinds, including those that are totally unexpected. You got me with the alligator. Definitely looked like a sculpture to me!

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