Friday, April 26, 2019

The Louis Orr etchings of North Carolina

Treasures from the Kellenberger Room

Featuring books, pamphlets, photographs, documents, and the occasional object from the collections of the New Bern-Craven County Public Library

by John B. Green III

The Louisiana House (Dawson-Clarke House), New Bern, etching by Louis Orr, ca. 1939-1951

Robert Lee Humber loved his native state of North Carolina.  Humber (1898-1970), scholar, attorney, public servant, promoter of justice and peace here and abroad, was also a tireless advocate for the arts in North Carolina.  He was one of the prime movers in the establishment of the North Carolina Museum of Art in the 1940s.  It is an idea of his from the 1930s, however, which is the subject of this post today.

First Presbyterian Church, New Bern, etching by Louis Orr, ca. 1939-1951

Humber lived and worked in France in the 1930s where he met and became friends with American expatriate Louis Orr.  Orr (1879-1966) was a painter and etcher, considered the foremost 20th century practitioner of the art of etching.  An Officer of the French Legion of Honor, his works were the first etchings of a living artist and the first etchings of an American to be acquired for the permanent collections of the Louvre.  By 1939, both Orr and Humber and their families had relocated to the United States to escape the war in Europe.  It was here that Robert Lee Humber conceived of a plan to give his fellow North Carolinians something which no other state possessed - a set of fine art etchings of North Carolina historic structures and scenes, executed by his friend Louis Orr.

New Bern Academy, New Bern, etching by Louis Orr, ca. 1939-1951

Orr, at first reluctant to devote so much time and effort to views of one state, eventually acceded to his friend's request.  Over a period of twelve years from 1939 to 1951, Orr produced fifty etchings of North Carolina plus an additional larger format view of the state capitol.  Originally sold in portfolios of five etchings for $50, today the individual prints, when they can be found, sell for $500 and more.  The Kellenberger Room is fortunate to have eleven of the Orr etchings including all seven of the New Bern scenes - the Louisiana House, New Bern Academy, First Presbyterian Church, St. John's Masonic Lodge, the John Wright Stanly House, the J.B. Blades House, and Tryon Palace.