charleston renaissance


This incredible evening coat and bag belonged to artist Elizabeth O’Neill Verner (1883-1979), who played a huge role in the Charleston Renaissance back in the 1920s and 1930s. Not only did she become a nationally-known artist, but her work echoed the charm and beauty of the city and influenced the preservation movement at that time and for many years.

Her coat is stenciled velvet – gold on black -  with a fabulous green silk lining and corded edging. It bears a label from its designer, Mariano Fortuny (1871-1949). Born in Granada, Spain into a family of renowned artists, he moved with his mother to Paris in 1874 and to Venice in 1889, where Fortuny found his true home. He was a painter, etcher, sculptor, photographer, architect and inventor – truly a Renaissance man. After his marriage to Henriette Negrin of Paris, he entered the fashion industry in 1907, producing his own fabrics including stenciled velvet. Simply constructed, his garments focused on the elegance and beauty of the fabric and graceful flow of the garment.

This coat was left to Mrs. Verner in a bequest from her friend, Caroline Mitchell Bacon (Mrs. George Woods Bacon) of New York in 1931. The Bacons had moved to Charleston in the late 1920s, buying a house on Orange Street. Mrs. Verner wore it for over thirty years until she no longer went out in the evenings and the coat was given to the Museum in 1984 by her daughter.

The little tapestry evening bag was brought to Elizabeth O’Neill Verner by her sister, Kathleen, whose husband Lt. Horace Oscar Cushman was stationed in Tientsin, China in the 1920s. Married in 1920, the Cushman’s three children were born in China. The bag has ivory satin lining and a jade clasp on the brass frame.

Elizabeth Quale O’Neill Verner was educated in Charleston, Ursuline College in Columbia, and at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art in Philadelphia under Thomas Anshutz. She also studied with Alice Ravenel Huger Smith, another well-known Charleston artist and in 1937 traveled to Japan, working with pastels on silk. She was a founding member of the Charleston Etchers Club, chairman of the Carolina Art Association and a founder of the Southern States Art League. Her artwork has been exhibited widely, including at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Boston Museum of Fine Art. She illustrated Dubose Heyward’s Porgy and, in 1998, was inducted into the South Carolina Hall of Fame.

Coming Friday: a selection of Verner’s etchings will be featured in our Ephemera Friday posting for 3/15/13

TEXTILE TUESDAYS: Each Tuesday we post a piece from our textile collection.  Some items have been on exhibit, some will eventually be shown in our Historic Textiles Gallery and some may be just too fragile to display. We hope you enjoy our selection each week – do let us know if there’s something in particular you’d like to see on TEXTILE TUESDAY! #TextileTuesday