Elizabeth Quale O'Neill Verner
A leader in establishing Charleston, South Carolina as a dynamic cultural center, Elizabeth Verner depicted the historic city's seemingly endless supply of subject matter including lush landscape, architectural landmarks, and local people. Many of her paintings were pastel on silk.
She was also proficient as an etcher and a part of the Charleston Etcher's Club whose members did etchings of Charleston's historic architecture. Their work, published in national media, brought widespread attention to the charms of the area.
She worked especially hard, printing her own plates and selling prints, and during the spring seasons opened her studio to tourists and housed visitors in her home. She also served as a guide to Charleston and wrote and illustrated several books that furthered her own career as well as promoted Charleston as a visitor destination.
When the mayor tried to outlaw flower vendors, she fought to retain these black women who came from outlying areas to sell their flowers and hand made baskets. She wrote: "I wanted the flower women because I painted them and I need them as models" (Magazine Antiques 11/98). These subjects appear regularly in her etchings.
She was also one of the few artists of the Charleston Renaissance to work in pastel, which she pursued after being inspired by an exhibition of floral pastels by Laura Coombs Hills in Boston. From that time, Verner was persuaded that pastels were a more effective medium for conveying her flower vendors.
Her former home and studio from 1938 is now The Elizabeth O'Neill Verner Museum at 79 Church Street in Charleston.
Martha Severens, "American Art Review"
South Carolina artist, Elizabeth Quale O'Neill was born December 21, 1883, at 38 Chalmers Street in Charleston, South Carolina. She was one of 11 sisters and 2 brothers. She showed an early interest in art. Starting in her teen years, she began painting cityscapes of Charleston and set up her first studio in the rear of her parents' house at 43 Legare Street.
O'Neill-Verner studied at the Pennsylvania Academy (1901 to 1903) with Thomas Anchutz as a teenager. She remained in the realist school of painting as exemplified by Thomas Eakins when the art world was swept away by the international modernist movement. Her sex was no hindrance to success and she was showered with acclaim and honors.
In 1907, she married E. Pettigrew Verner, together they had two children, Elizabeth Pettigrew (born 1908) and David Battle (born 1911). From 1910 to 1936, she had her second studio in the garden at 3 Atlantic Street and also shared other studio space with Alice Huger Ravenel Smith. In the early 1920's she began etching and widely exhibiting. Her husband, E. Pettigrew Verner died in 1925.
She attended the London Central Arts School as an honored artist in 1930 and traveled Europe, while abroad. She married Thomas E. Myers in 1932, ceased etching in 1933 and in 1935 T.E. Myers died. Her third studio (1936) was at 85 Church Street in Charleston, South Carolina. In 1937 she traveled to Japan and produced drypoints of Japan, but by 1937 she began work as a pastelist.
In 1938, she established her fourth and last studio at 38 Tradd Street, Charleston, South Carolina. During this time she traveled to the Caribbean, Mexico, Europe, the Orient and produced pastels and watercolors from her trips. In 1968 she suffered a broken back and in 1979 she died in Charleston.
Her long career, which stretched from the turn of the Twentieth Century until her last large work in 1967, include all the etchings that were made between 1925 and 1932 and all the drypoints that were produced between 1932 and 1937.
Elizabeth O'Neill Verner was born in Charleston, South Carolina on December 21, 1883. Her artistic gifts were encouraged and developed by her maternal grandfather, Henry Franklin Baker, who had been a student at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and by Alice Ravenel Huger Smith, a Charleston artist. After graduating in 1900 from Ursuline College in Columbia, South Carolina, Miss O'Neill enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. She fell under the influence of Thomas Anshutz, and his encouragement caused her to work hard at her technique. After two years she left, and taught for a year in Aiken, South Carolina, before returning to Charleston, where she lived out her life.
In 1907, O'Neill married E. Pettigrew Verner and had two children by him. Art was her avocation. In 1908 she and Leila Waring shared a studio. Verner was a founder of the Charleston Sketch Club. Etching was then popular among amateur art associations, and she learned the techniques of printmaking with Alice Smith.
Verner was among the founders of the Charleston Etching Club in 1921. That year the Southern States Art League held its first exhibition, in Charleston, and she served on its board from 1922 to 1933 and exhibited with it until its demise in 1950.
In 1923 one of her etchings won third prize at the Charleston County Fair, a humble beginning for one who was to achieve a national reputation. In 1924 she was represented at the International Exhibition of the Chicago Society of Etchers. Then her husband died unexpectedly, followed shortly by her mother, leaving her without means of support. Alice Smith then persuaded her to become a professional artist. She opened a workshop and showroom on Atlantic Street, where Leila Waring, Alice Smith, and Anna Heyward also worked.
In Mrs. Verner's words, "Until 1925 I had two hobbies, art and love of Charleston. I combined them into one profession." From the outset, her favorite subject was the Lowcountry of South Carolina -- its marshes, flowers, trees and birds, but above all, Charleston itself -- its quaint and charming streets, alleys and church spires, its gardens, lamp posts, gateways and people. Her interest in the architectural environment of Charleston was not limited to art. She was a charter member of the Society for the Preservation of Old Buildings. Her art, more than mere words, conveyed what it was about Charleston that merited preservation.
In 1926 Verner received her first commercial commission - for twelve drawings to illustrate a promotional brochure on Hollywood-by-the-Sea in Florida. That year she bought her own press for printing etchings. Most of her works were sold to tourists as souvenirs of the city. In 1928 she did etchings of Savannah, the preservation of which also interested her. In 1929 Verner was asked by the Mount Vernon Ladies Association to execute drawings of that house for use in fundraising, which was a labor of love for the artist.
A trip to Europe included study at the Central School of Fine Arts in London in 1930. A trip to New York City in 1932 resulted in the sale of drawings to Rockefeller Center, and of twelve others for reproduction as postcards. At Doll and Richards Gallery in Boston she exhibited etchings in 1934, including one called "Kitchen Courtyard", and in 1935 she showed not only prints, but pastels, which she had just begun doing. After a trip to Japan in 1937, she perfected a technique for applying layers of pastel to silk mounted on wood, which she called vernercolor. Although increasingly interested in pastels, she did not abandon drawing and etching. In 1939 she exhibited twelve etchings of Japan at Boston. Her views of Williamsburg and West Point were reprinted, and in 1950 she was commissioned to depict Princeton University.
Verner's first book, "Prints and Impressions of Charleston" appeared in 1939, and in a larger format in 1945. It was called "the best book of Charleston pictures that has been published" by the "Christian Science Monitor", the "New York Herald Tribune", and the "Boston Post". A second book, "Mellowed by Time", appeared in 1941, and her drawings were accompanied by her romantic reminiscences of Charleston in bygone days. Forty-three of her non-Charleston etchings appeared in "Other Places", her term for the world apart at the area at the confluence of the Ashley and Cooper rivers. In the late 1920s she had illustrated the title page of the Charleston edition of DuBose Heyward's "Porgy and Bess", and she also illustrated Peter Mitchell Wilson's "Southern Exposure", Howard Mumford Jones' "French and American Culture" and his "The Carolina Low Country", a compendium of spirituals.
In 1947 Verner was awarded honorary degrees by the University of North Carolina and the University of South Carolina. Others honors followed. She had one-man shows in Charleston in 1963, at Manila in the Philippines in 1964, in Spartanburg in 1970, Columbia and Sumter in 1971, and Beaufort in 1972.
She died in 1979 at age 95.
A body of her work was bequeathed by George Graves to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1933. Her work is also represented in Boston at the Museum of Fine Arts, the High Museum in Atlanta, the Library of Congress and the Chicago Society of Etchers. Besides the already-mentioned Charleston Sketch Club, Charleston Etching Club and Southern States Art League, she was also a member of the Carolina Art Association, the Art Association of New Orleans, the Chicago Society of Etchers and the Washington Watercolor Club.
Verner considered her contribution to historic preservation to be her greatest achievement. Her efforts resulted in the preservation of many buildings, but the character of the city changed nonetheless. Her artworks capture something of what DuBose Heyward called the "faded aroma" of the past. Artists have played an important role in the life of Charleston since the 1700s, but none managed to become so closely identified with that unique city as Elizabeth O'Neill Verner.
"The South on Paper: Line, Color and Light", Robert M. Hicklin Jr., Inc., Spartanburg, South Carolina, 1985, pp. 64, 65.
Copyright 1985 Robert M. Hicklin Jr., Inc.
Biography from The Johnson Collection
A native of Charleston, Elizabeth O'Neill Verner was an artist, teacher, and preservationist and probably the best-known woman artist of South Carolina of the twentieth century. Pastels and printmaking were her preferred media and her images of residences, churches, street scenes, and portraiture, were widely recognized for their skill and authenticity, and for capturing the spirit of Charleston. She began her studies in art with Alice Ravenel Huger Smith and continued at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia beginning in 1901 for two years with noted instructor, Thomas Anshutz. Following her time at the academy, she taught art in Aiken, South Carolina, before returning to Charleston. In 1907, she met and married E. Pettigrew Verner and raised their two children. She pursued art, returned to study with Smith, and depicted the local scene, which she recorded and infused with the unique character and local color that distinguishes Charleston.
Verner pursued art in her spare time, but only as an avocation. In 1923, she began etching and soon opened a studio where she produced prints that earned recognition. She became best known for her drawings and etchings of the city of Charleston. In land- and cityscapes, she often focused on the architecture and environment while deemphasizing the figural presence. However, she also expanded her range to become an able portraitist and figurative painter, achieving note for representing African American subjects in ennobled likenesses.
The death of her husband in 1925 necessitated her finding a means of support, which she did by seeking out commissions for her work. One such commission was dedicated to the historic preservation of Savannah, a cause for which she became an ardent advocate throughout the South. Among her other commissions were from the Mount Vernon Ladies Association; Rockefeller Center; Historic Williamsburg; the City of Fayetteville; Harvard Medical School; the United States Military Academy; Princeton University; and the University of South Carolina, to portray their buildings and grounds in drawings and etchings.
She continued to edify herself and in 1930, she studied etching at the Central School of Art in London, and in 1937, visited Japan where she learned sumi painting (brush painting with black ink). And, in 1934, she began working in pastel after seeing an exhibition in Boston of the floral pastels of Laura Coombs Hills. She devised a particular technique of working in pastel on raw silk that is mounted on a wooden support.
Verner continued to travel in the ensuing years, returning to Europe, and visiting the Caribbean and Mexico, executing scenes of her trips. Her other accomplishments include her work as a book illustrator and help in founding the Charleston Society of Etchers and the Southern States Art League.
Considered the matriarch of the Charleston Renaissance, which flourished during the1920s and 1930s, Verner, along with Alice Smith, Anna Heyward Taylor, and Alfred Hutty, were the nucleus of a veritable art colony in Charleston. In recognition of her contribution to the arts, the state of South Carolina named a prestigious annual art award after Verner. Her works are included in the collections of the Telfair Museum of Art, Savannah; the Morris Museum of Art, Augusta; the Columbia Museum of Art, South Carolina; the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, University of New Orleans; and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
The Johnson Collection, Spartanburg, South Carolina
Elizabeth O'Neill Verner
Born in 1883, Elizabeth O'Neill Verner has come to be recognized, through her pastel paintings and etchings, as a symbol of Charleston and the South Carolina Lowcountry. She enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts when she was twenty and studied there for two years before returning to Charleston.
The death of her husband in 1925 forced Verner to depend on her art as a means of support for herself and her family but by that time she was already an accomplished artist. The pastels that Verner painted of the flower vendors in Charleston show, without being condescending or caricatures, the grace and dignity of these women. In fact, she once had to take action to prevent the City of Charleston, which considered them at the time to be a traffic nuisance and most probably an embarrassment to the burgeoning tourist trade, from evicting them from the sidewalks of the old city.
Verner's etchings capture the streets and denizens of Charleston at a time when, in the words of an old Charlestonian, " we were too poor to paint and too proud to whitewash".
Verner was a founding member of the Charleston Etcher's Club. She was also a member of the Southern States Art League, the Carolina Art Association, the New Orleans Art Association, the Washington Watercolor Club, and the Chicago Society of Etchers.
She was a preservationist and also the author of several books including "Other Places and Prints and Impressions of Charleston".
Verner traveled all over the world lecturing on art and architecture, and studied in London and Japan. Her heart was always in Charleston, however. In her book Other Places she states, " ...but for me, my own narrow streets with pointed shadows making patterns on the buildings opposite, are more to my liking. Yes - by far the best thing about traveling is coming home". Elizabeth O'Neill Verner died in 1979.