ELIZABETH O’NEILL VERNER
Etcher and Pastelist
A native of Charleston, Elizabeth O’Neill Verner was an artist and preservationist. She may be the most known South Carolina female artist of the twentieth century. Pastels and printmaking were her main mediums. Her images of Charleston architecture and portraiture are widely recognized for their skill and authenticity, and for capturing the spirit of Charleston. She began her studies 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. She then taught art in Aiken, South Carolina, before returning to Charleston. In 1907, she married and raised two children. She pursued art in her spare time. In 1923, she began etching and soon opened a studio where she produced fine art prints. She became best known for her drawings and etchings of the city of Charleston. She became an able portraitist and figurative painter, recognized for representing African American subjects in ennobled likenesses. The death of her husband in 1925 meant finding a method of support, which she did by seeking out commissions for her work. A commission focused on the historic preservation of Savannah which inspired her fervor for such throughout the region. 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.
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). In 1934, she began working in pastel after seeing an exhibition in Boston of the floral pastels of Laura Coombs Hills. She developed a method of working in pastel on raw silk glued to a wooden support. Verner continued to travel visiting the Caribbean and Mexico often painting from those experiences. She was a book illustrator for Dubose Heyward’s Porgy and part of founding the Charleston Society of Etchers and the Southern States Art League. There are several books of her own including Mellowed by Time, The Stonewall Ladies and Other Places. Considered the matriarch of the Charleston Renaissance, which flourished during from the 1900s to 1950s, Verner, with Alice Smith, Anna Heyward Taylor and Alfred Hutty, was the center of an art colony in Charleston. In recognition of her contribution to the arts, the state of South Carolina named a prestigious annual art award after her. There is a visiting artist’s studio at the Gibbes Museum of Art named for her. Her works are represented in the collections of national institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Smithsonian American Art Museum, as well as leading museums across the Southeast.×