Five buses loaded with art fans motored from Columbia to Yemasee last Sunday to visit one of South Carolina’s historic treasures – the Auldbrass Plantation designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Linda and I were among the 300 who paid $100 each to join the tour. On the way down, we were given champagne momosas and muffins by the museum staff serving as flight attendants.
Temple Ligon conducted his Sunday Temple Times radio program (WISW, 1320 AM) from one of the buses. In his inimitable manner, art expert Ligon gave a history of the eccentric life of Frank Lloyd Wright, who according to Wright himself was “America’s greatest architect.”
The tour was a fundraiser for the Columbia Museum of Art’s Wright Exhibition which opens this week. The museum obtained special permission to visit the plantation from its owner, movie producer Joel Silver of Matrix and Lethal Weapon fame. (At Silver’s request we will not publish photos of Auldbrass, his home for part of the year.)
Auldbrass is located on 4,000 acres on the Combahee River in Beaufort County. The original name, Old Brass, dates back to the antebellum period when it was a river landing for a rice plantation. After the Civil War, it fell into disuse and eventually came under control of the Savannah River Lumber Company.
In 1938, Leigh Stevens, an industrial engineer from Massachusetts, bought the property and two years later commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to design a house and outbuildings. Over a 15-year period the main house, guest cabins, caretaker’s house, staff cabins, barn, stables, kennel, and aviary were begun. However, due to a fire and the death of Stevens and Wright, the buildings were not completed.
Stevens’ daughter sold the property in 1979, and it became a hunting lodge. Silver bought it in 1986 from the Beaufort County Open Land Trust Foundation and began to restore it according to Wright’s original plan. Most of it has been completed but renovation is still going on.
Wright conceived of buildings built of native materials that matched and melted into the natural environment. All buildings have one floor with each room self-contained and connected with the next by a corridor. All walls were canted at an nine-degree angle to mirror the angle of the live oak trees surrounding it. Native cypress was used for all walls and floors. The roofs were copper with Spanish moss-like ornaments hanging from each corner.
After a guided tour of the main house and a casual walk through the grounds, we moved to Harold’s Gas Station and Grill in Yemasee for a barbeque lunch provided by the local BBQ guru Jimmy Fitts. It was delicious, especially the finely ground pork and seasoned green beans.
On the way back to Columbia, we watched the PBS/Ken Burns video on Frank Lloyd Wright. We arrived at the Museum of Art at 5 pm full of anticipation for the upcoming Frank Lloyd Wright and the House Beautiful Exhibit which includes over 100 original objects designed by Wright including furniture, metal work, textiles, drawings, and accessories.
A black-tie gala was held Thursday, November 9, following the opening of the exhibition which featured lavish hors d’oeuvres, cocktails, dancing, and chances at Wright-inspired getaways. A discussion of Wright’s design philosophies and popularity will be held Saturday, November 11, at 2 pm at the museum.
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