There’s a story behind every bird,” Anne Maree Lawrence assures me as she takes me on a tour of the art and passionate life of her beloved aunt, Anne Worsham Richardson. Richardson, the official painter of South Carolina’s state bird, flower and butterfly, passed away last fall. Nevertheless, inside her Birds I View Gallery on Church Street, one can still become acquainted with the artist and her far-from ordinary life.
Lawrence points to a wall carefully adorned with intricate paintings of birds created by someone who knew the soul of her every subject. Richardson was a natural naturalist. “She did all of these paintings from live birds. She had a sanctuary where she took in injured birds and baby birds and nursed them back to health. She just did it. It was innate.”
From the time that she realized her talent, Richardson painted every day of her life— and it all began with watercolors while in her highchair. “She recalled painting something for her father,” Lawrence explains, “and he didn’t believe she did it, so she had to redo it.”
Her remarkable career began at Kress Department Store on King Street as the designer of its window displays and backdrops. But it was while she studied animal skeletons at the Charleston Museum that her lifelong devotion to birds would begin after the curator of the Natural History Society invited her to “study the animals with some clothes on.” So she put on her boots and joined the Society on birdwatching trips. It was then that her birdpainting days began. Little did she know that this would be her lifelong pursuit!
Among the animals she befriended and painted was a baby barn owl she found injured on Radcliffe Street as well as a pelican she rescued from wandering around the Charleston Battery. She nursed a fawn whose mother was run over by car near the naval base. She also cared for many egrets, including one who lost a foot in a drainage ditch yet was eventually strong enough to fly away. A cardinal who lived with her for 18 years was delivered by a local lady who discovered the baby bird after its mother was eaten by a cat. Richardson placed the cardinal in a homemade incubator and nursed it back to health.
But what came first…the art or the animals? “She loved them equally,” Lawrence says. “She loved to be able to paint so people could appreciate nature. She always said if her art could show people, in just a little way, to respect nature and to have respect for all wild things, that she’d done her job.”
Lawrence, who says Richardson’s love for nature runs in the family, has plenty of plans to continue her aunt’s legacy. For starters, she will invite Richardson’s art-world friends to show their own work at Birds I View. The gallery will also continue to offer a framing service, as it has done for many years. She also wants to publish a book of illustrations Richardson created of birds in various stages of life. Additionally, there are original works that, over time, she may be able to let go of, as well as many other pieces that are signed.
“I always felt like her work would be on display publicly,” Lawrence says, “so we’re going to try to keep that going for as long as we can.”
Published in Charleston Style and Design