Daily Inspiration from the 2020 Christopher H. Browne Charleston Drawing Tour
Follow the ICAA's program in Charleston from March 12 - 15, which studied the architecture, interiors, landscapes, and urbanism of this important city through a variety of measured and analytical drawing techniques. Blog posts on each day of the program are provided courtesy of Tour participants.
Thursday, March 12, by Patrick Suarez
We all arrived in informal ceremony on the beautiful, walkable campus grounds of the College of Charleston. Meeting in the auditorium at the Albert Simons Center for the Arts, named after the great Charleston preservationist, the evening began over wine and a charcuterie. This is the first ICAA drawing program I have attended, and it was a bold new opportunity. For many others, this was not the first nor even the second time. Regardless, excitement and enthusiasm were evident on all faces, as old acquaintances were reconnected and new ones were made.
The liturgy for the event was a word of welcome by Stephen Chrisman, with a round of introductions by both the instructors and the students in attendance, followed by lectures on the history of Charleston and the artistic science of drawing. The company of thirteen participants ranged from current undergraduate and graduate students, from the College of Charleston and the Catholic University of America in DC, to young and seasoned professionals in architecture, the allied arts, history, and theory. Everyone brought a particular interest for studying the architecture of Charleston, and several present were able to contribute based on years of accumulated knowledge in their field.
The first lecture was given by Dr. Nathaniel Walker, a current professor at the college, and covered the architectural and culturally interwoven history of Charleston as a colonial port city.
Dr. Walker presented in terrific rhetorical fashion, delivering a narrative of a city formed by the land and climate, its formation as an English planned city, and its cultural richness owing to its relationship with the greater African continent and Asia. Next, Stephen Chrisman, a New York architect and educator, presented a broad sweeping history of architectural study through measured drawing. Mr. Chrisman's presentation introduced the methodologies to be employed over the rest of the course, and demonstrated their significance for anyone interested in the study of architecture. Clay Rokicki, an architect at Historical Concepts and the final lecturer of the evening, presented on drawing as well. Instead of measured drawing, Mr. Rokicki outlined the drawing's use as an artistic pursuit aimed at the capturing of memory. Both Mr. Chrisman and Mr. Rokicki's presentations set the framework for the coursework to be done over the next few days.
Friday, March 13, by Hanna Propst
On Friday, we met at our first drawing site, the Charleston Market’s head building. Market Hall was built in 1841 and is an excellent example of the Greek Doric order, as it was built as a copy of the Temple of Wingless Victory in Athens. This was a lovely little warmup exercise for everyone, as Market Hall is straightforward with basic detailing.
We started with a perspective sketch and later moved on to measured drawings around the entrance. At first, I felt quite stiff as it had been a few weeks since I’d picked up a pencil to draw, but with guidance from Michael Mesko, it started to feel more natural again as I worked through the perspective. I decided to analyze the ironwork on the stair, which I found to be a challenging but fulfilling task.
While the measured drawing is unfinished (which became a theme during the drawing tour for me) I was able to get the overall layout along with photos, so that I can go back to this drawing at home and understand the proportions and measurements all the same.
The following drawing site was the Miles Brewton House, a private residence built between 1765 and 1769 which remains as one of the best examples of double house (four rooms on the first floor divided by a central stair hall) American Georgian architecture. We were fortunate enough to gain access to the interiors by the current owner, which was an absolute treat. The interiors - millwork and finishes - have been painstakingly preserved, but the current family lives in the home comfortably with antique furnishings. I am incredibly grateful for the rare opportunity to explore the interiors and to see the backyard and façade. We were allowed to sketch the exterior, and I was quite taken by the chippendale gate that led under the entry stair into the lower house, so I studied it via a measured drawing. The gate had interesting proportions and was a good bit more squat than we would expect it to be today. That said, it was worked out beautifully with really lovely attention to detail.
The next stop was at St. Philip's Episcopal Church, and I decided to give myself a break from measured drawing and take on a perspective. I found a secluded but sunny spot in the cemetery and settled in to produce the drawing below. I was able to employ a few tricks that Stephen, Michael, and Clay showed us to get this one up and running and it is one of my favorite drawings from the trip. The current rendition of St. Philip's was erected between 1835 and 1836, with the Wren-Gibbs spire added in 1850. The church has three pediments in the Tuscan Order, the north facing of which I’ve drawn below.
The final stop of the day was the Aiken Rhett House. The house was originally built in 1820, but was renovated in the 1830’s and again in the 1850’s. When the Historic Charleston Foundation acquired the house in 1975, it had not been altered since the mid-19th century, and the foundation adopted a “preserve-as-found” approach to the preservation so the house can be experienced in an unaltered state. I find this to be a fascinating approach given the various preservation/restoration arguments, and one with which I whole-heartedly agree. The interiors have a hauntingly beautiful patina that makes me wonder more about the home’s prior inhabitants more than any polished restoration has done. I spent so much time taking in the interiors that ended up with little left to draw, so I tackled a quick drawing of the architrave around the window of one of the upstairs bedrooms that is very straightforwardly Georgian.
Saturday, March 14, by Parker Hansen
The next day was split between Drayton Hall and Middleton Place. Drayton is a remarkably preserved house from 1750. Aside from early repairs or alterations, the building has been left largely untouched. We were given a tour of the inside and sent off to draw the exterior.
I drew two perspectives and made a measured drawing of the rusticated entry below the rear stair, largely to compare to the similar condition I’d drawn earlier at the Miles Brewton house.
This was followed by a visit to Middleton Place. The house which stood there no longer exists, but surrounding the ruins, well-preserved English gardens are laid out to mediate between the natural landscape and the imposed order of the former house.
I was able to pace out the gardens and created a rough plan of the landscape.
At the close of the day, the group visited Catfiddle Street, an exciting new development that uses long-lasting natural material to add to Charleston’s architectural history. It’s gratifying to see such a thoughtful series of buildings being constructed with beauty, longevity, and sustainability as guiding principles to the urban and architectural design.
Friday, March 15, by Alexander Sanderson
Significantly, Porter's Lodge was the last building that I drew during the tour. Modeled after the Roman Triumphal Arch type, students of the College of Charleston honor the tradition of passing through this building during graduation ceremonies, and I felt like I participated in a similar tradition as the drawing tour came to an end here.
For this building, I chose to do a hybrid of measured drawing and analytical elevation, since it seemed to have an interesting mix of proportions. With columns and pilasters squeezed together and arched openings punching through the opposite façade, this small but dense-looking building seemed like it could have been sculpted out of a single block of stone.
Following the final drawing exercises on the College of Charleston campus, participants gathered together with their instructors for a final review of all of their work during the program.
Everyone had the opportunity to see how their drawings progressed over the course of the weekend, as well as to see what details other participants had chosen to focus on. The group departed back home following a final lunch.