2014 Charleston Art & Antiques Forum
What: Charleston Art & Antiques Forum, "By George: Celebrating 300 Years of Georgian Art and Design"
When: Wednesday through Saturday
Where: Historic federal courtroom at 23 Chalmers St., downtown Charleston
More info: www.charlestonantiquesforum.org or call 800-926-2520.
This year marks the tri-centennial of the Georgian era, an expansive period that coincided roughly with the era of Charleston's greatest wealth and influence.
But this period may not be well understood, even by those who consider themselves well-versed in local history.
The upcoming Charleston Art & Antiques Forum aims to shine new light on the era during its upcoming forum, and Carter Hudgins, deputy director of preservation at Drayton Hall, will be one of its 11 speakers (and the only one who will focus his talk on the Lowcountry).
With that in mind, here are four questions and answers about what was going on between 1714 and 1837, the dawn and dusk of all things Georgian.
Is Georgian a style?
Not really. By definition, the Georgian era covered 123 years from the coronation of King George I and the death of King George IV.
The early Georgian period corresponded nicely to the lives of Charles Towne colonists John Drayton and his son, Charles, who built Drayton Hall on the banks of the Ashley River, one of this nation's grandest Georgian homes.
"We've traditionally said Drayton Hall's style is Georgian-Palladian, but I prefer to use neo-Palladian." Hudgins says. "Georgian is the period of history, and neo-Palladian is the style representing 18th century interpretations of the 16th century architectural works inspired by classical Rome that were put forth by Andrea Palladio."
What are the era's calling cards?
The period also includes several other architectural and design styles, including Federal, Regency, Greek Revival and others.
And the one thing these styles have in common is how they're derived from classical precedents in ancient Rome and Greece.
Palladio wrote his epic work "The Four Books of Architecture" in 1570 after studying Roman buildings, while those who built during the latter part of the Georgian era borrowed more from ancient Greece.
The Charleston County Courthouse, St. Michael's Church, the Miles Brewton House, the Aiken-Rhett House, Charleston City Hall and many other grand examples survive as some of the most stylish peaks of the Lowcountry's Georgian era, but the far simpler Thomas Elfe House at 54 Queen St. also is Georgian.
One thing they have in common: An interest in symmetry, balance and proportion.
"It's the scale, it's the massing, it's the classical ornamentation," Hudgins says. "It's just not as conspicuous as Drayton Hall."
How important was the era here?
The Georgian era corresponds to the period of Charleston's greatest wealth, when rice, indigo, livestock and cotton brought in large sums and gave colonists, and then citizens, the means to buy the very best.
Also, the study of the Georgian era here must take into account that this was never England, and that the Lowcountry was influenced by other nationalities, the local plantation culture and a different climate.
"In Charleston, rather than studying Georgian architecture in England, which is true to the period and immediate culture at hand, you can study Georgian architecture that was constructed in the Georgian period that was influenced by a variety of environmental and cultural factors," Hudgins says. "The list of influences goes on and on."
Stylistically, did the Revolutionary War matter here?
Even the youngest historians know that halfway through the Georgian era, around 1775, Americans became rather hostile to England's King George.
But the resulting war and the colonies' break from England was far more political than it was architectural or stylistic. In essence, the Georgian era continued here, just with President George (Washington) replacing King George (III).
Hudgins notes Charlestonians continued to buy their silver and ceramics abroad for decades after the Revolutionary War.
"They're still looking to their cultural roots and furnishing their interiors with fashionable British goods," he says.
The Federal Style of architecture, which took root in Charleston after the war until about 1820, differed from earlier high-style Georgian buildings because they often had lower pitched roofs, more narrow window mullions and polygonal or bowed bays.
But even this dramatic new style didn't really mark a break from the Old World: It was borrowed largely from the English architects, the Adam brothers, who also studied in Rome.
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.
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