The Ethelind Pope Brown Collection of South Carolina Natural History
The Ethelind Pope Brown Collection of South Carolina Natural History is comprised of 32 opaque watercolors, or gouaches, on paper. Each depicts at least one species of flora and fauna (primarily birds, trees, and flowering plants) found in the American Southeast. The majority of the species are native to South Carolina, with some native to Georgia and Florida. Some fish and insects are also depicted, for a total of 48 species appearing in the collection, including several trees that appear multiple times. The gouaches were created by the same anonymous artist, most likely in the 1760s or 1770s, and were originally painted within the pages of a single bound journal. With the exception of Mark Catesby's early eighteenth century paintings, the images in this collection are the earliest extant depictions of South Carolina flora and fauna.
About the Collection
The collection was given to the University of South Carolina in 1991 by Mrs. Ethelind Pope Brown of Belton, S.C. She and her husband, William Carroll Brown, bought the portfolio from a New York antiques dealer in the early 1950s. At the time, the works were erroneously attributed to the early American naturalist John Abbott, who was known for his depictions of birds. Since their presentation to the university, various other artists have been suggested (most notably Catesby, William Bartram, and John Laurens), but a precise attribution remains conjectural.
Laurens (1754-1782), a native of Charleston, is the most likely candidate. He was the son of the American patriot and diplomat Henry Laurens, an aide de camp to General Washington during the Revolution, and an accomplished artist of natural history from an early age. John Laurens contributed a drawing, at the age of 17, to accompany an article by the Charleston physician Alexander Garden published in the great scientific journal of the day, the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. There is some speculation that this collection may be the work of a young, talented amateur like Laurens because the species' depictions seem to vary - and improve - in quality as one works through the portfolio.
For this digital version, which reproduces the complete collection, the "Original_title" field lists the name appearing in ink as a caption on the eighteenth-century originals. This provides the viewer with a look into pre-Linnean species identification in the New World, many names of which have survived to the present day. We have included the species' present-day common names as the main field for browsing, and have also included scientific names for all species that are clearly identifiable. In some instances, most notably for trees, the lack of detail prevents a precise identification.
Watercolors are extremely sensitive to fading and discoloration from light. This group of artworks was created on the very thin writing paper found in a journal, not heavy watercolor stock, thus making them even more fragile to handle and display. The original portfolio has since been disbound and each image archivally matted and boxed. It is housed in the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections at the Thomas Cooper Library at the University of South Carolina. It is our hope that by digitizing these remarkable early American images we can bring them to the attention of larger audiences while preserving the originals for future generations to enjoy. We welcome additional comments and questions.
Rare Books and Special Collections
Acknowledgements: Lauren Glaettli (MLIS 2005) and Laura Masce (MLIS 2006)