From Slavery to Beauty and Art

The coastal area of South Carolina was once covered with plantations. Big Gone with the Wind mansions stood in the midst of thousands of acres of cotton or rice fields. The white folk, the animals, the crops were all tended by slaves imported from Africa.oak-alley-plantation-441828_640 In 1930 Archer Huntington and his wife Anna Hyatt Huntington purchased four of these adjoining plantations in Murrell’s Inlet, South Carolina. The 9,100 acres stretched from the Atlantic Ocean on the east to the Waccamaw River on the west.

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The Planter

Part of the land is now Huntington State Park. But across the road is Brookgreen Gardens, originally Brookgreen Plantation. It was once owned by Joshua John Ward, known as “the king of the rice planters.” With over 1,000 slaves, Ward was the largest slaveholder in America. Planters, as plantation owners were known, were among the wealthiest people in America.

The Huntingtons turned Brookgreen into a wildlife P1130103preserve and garden sculpture park. Originally developed to showcase Mrs. Huntington’s sculptures, it grew to include the works of many American sculptors. Now when you walk through Brookgreen Gardens, you are surrounded by flowers, cypress and live oak trees, ponds, fountains and almost 1,500
pieces of figurative sculpture. It is the worP1130033ld’s largest collection of figurative sculpture by American artists in an outdoor setting. Where once there was hard labor, inhumanity, and heartbreak, now there is beauty and art, peace, serenity.

No one can truly know what it was like to be a plantation slave. So I do not mean to diminish the intensity of the word when I say that we are all, in our own ways, slaves.

WHAT ARE YOU SLAVE TO?

What holds the reins of your freedom in its hands?

Do you own your home, your car, your things or do they own you?

Are you the master of your body or is it your master, controlling what you eat, drink, smoke, how you look and how you feel?

Does money dictate your decisions?

How much does the media influence your thinking, your lifestyle and goals?

Are you slave to your addictions? Your fears? Your family? Your work?

Are you powerless against your reactions? Your childhood programming?

No one is entirely free. To live peacefully in society, there are things we have to do, laws we have to obey, obligations we have to fulfill. The question is how do we do them? Do we feel forced, controlled, angry? Or do we approach life, each day, each person with an open mind? An open heart? Do we do things with resentment, complaining or with a joyful heart? Yes, we have to pay taxes but are we grateful that we make enough money to be in a tax bracket? Yes, we have to make dinner or do the laundry or mow the lawn, but are we thankful that we have food to cook, clothes to clean and a lawn to mow?

Do you hate your job, your car, your house, your body, your family? Everything in the universe is alive, absorbs your energy and reflects it back to you. Find just one thing in your job, your car, your house, your body to love. Dwell on it. Praise it. Flood it with gratitude and your whole world will change magically before your eyes.

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For me, the lesson of Brookgreen Gardens was that things can change dramatically. Places can change. People can change. The mind is like the soil of the earth. In it we can plant a beautiful garden that gives rise daily to beautiful thoughts and feelings. Our lives can be works of art. Or we can build fortresses of anger and hatred and resentment. And then we are trapped within it, owned and controlled by what we made.

In our lives, we are both master and slave.  How does your garden grow?