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House Guests Welcome

Pleissner and Ripley may have been the artists of choice for commissions documenting a day’s hunt, but Northern plantation owners often imported their own art to the Lowcountry. Virginia Christian Beach wrote a wonderful little volume on Gertie Lejendre and her family’s plantation, Medway. Sited on the Back River, a tributary of the Cooper running above Charleston and between Goose Creek and Monck’s Corner, Medway is the balm of the duck hunter’s day. Among the numerous illustrations in the book is a plate that features Playing Hounds, a sculpture by Hunt Diederich, set beautifully before the main residence, the oldest masonry house in South Carolina.

Bob Hortman, his wife Janet, and I were classmates at Presbyterian College. Post-graduation, I went on to deal in American art, while Bob aligned himself with the plantation people and came to direct the affairs at Medway. With more than thirty years under his belt, Bob invited me for lunch—a chance to catch up and to share the beauty that is his charge. Seven thousand acres is a lot of ground to cover, so most of our exploration was done from the comfort and convenience of his truck. On foot, Bob offered me knowledge of long leaf pine, the seasonal art of burning the organic carpet that is the forest floor, the relocation of red-cockaded woodpeckers, and how to deal with absentee owners.

Toward the end of the visit, we toured the house and walked the immediate grounds. His questions about the portrait in the upstairs hall were easy enough. Yes, it was a Jeremiah Theus, but they had the sitter wrong and the dates just didn’t work. The watercolors by Alfred Hutty, though slightly faded, were all of good subjects and no doubt done on the Medway grounds and in the fields. My question was, “Where is the Diederich?”

Mrs. Lejendre had loved this life-sized sculpture, but the place of distinction on the grounds before the house was bare. I had looked closely at Virginia’s book before my visit so that I could speak with authority when we made that approach. Maybe I wanted to make sure I accorded the imposing piece the proper respect when we moved through the allée of oaks that ultimately reveals the frolicking dogs.

Bob allowed that the current owner was not fond of the work, and it had been moved to a rather unceremonial spot behind a hedge of ligustrum near the pool house. How subtle did he have to be? It took several months, but in due time the owner allowed me to remove the statue from its less than illustrious stand and truck it to Steve Tatti in the South Bronx for examination and conservation. Hirschl & Adler and Bernard Goldberg took it from there, so to speak, and today the piece has its home at Crystal Bridges Museum of Art in Bentonville, Arkansas.

There is a passion for place among the generation of owners who made their money and then stretched it to find shelter and recreation on our rivers and in our deep woods, the habitat of other creatures living by their wits—the bobwhite quail, whitetail deer and, of course, the wild turkey. Those to whom the land passes often exhibit less interest, sleeping later on duck hunting days and writing letters to the editor about folks deliberately setting the woods on fire. Those with the love of the land are generous and open, one with the other, and tend to be optimistic sorts. Invitations to oyster roasts often say, “House guests welcome.”

William Hunt Diederich (1884-1953)
Playing Hounds (1913)
41 x 68 x 25 inches
Signature Details: Signed on front of self-base
Owner: Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas
1451 River Road · Yemassee, SC 29945 · 843.412.8738
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