Columbia City of Women Honoree
Anna Heyward Taylor
On November 6, 1917, as the S.S. Rhochambeau, with Red Cross nurse Anna Heyward Taylor aboard, approached the French coastline, a U-boat began to pursue. What followed were the most harrowing hours of Taylor’s life, as the steamer made for the river system leading to Bordeaux. In letters to friends and family back home, Taylor wrote that six spies were found aboard the ship, including one woman who was stripped and poured over with acid in case secret messages were written on her skin. The eventful crossing marked the beginning of an 18-month stint on the front lines of the Great War, and for Taylor, it was just one of many adventures that took her far away from the upper-class society she inhabited in Columbia and helped shape her into one of South Carolina’s leading artists of the twentieth century.
"I expect some day I will see you mentioned in the paper as a celebrated artist."
— Eliza Rhett, June 7, 1894
Anna Heyward Taylor was born on November 13, 1879 to Marianna Heyward and Dr. Benjamin Walter Taylor. As the great-granddaughter of Thomas Taylor, who once owned the land upon which Columbia is built, she was a direct descendent a South Carolina’s ruling planter class. Yet despite her deep ties to the state’s ruling elite, Taylor proved herself more flexible, in both temperament and views, than others of her generation. Her love of travel, supported by a $20,000 trust and income from her teaching and exhibition work, spanned five decades and just as many continents. Her work, too, was multifaceted and reflective of her artistic journey as she crossed the globe.
Taylor was raised at 1409 Plain (Hampton) Street and attended the Presbyterian College for Women, located just a few blocks to the northeast at the Hampton-Preston Mansion. She then studied at the New York School of Art under painter William Merritt Chase from 1900 until 1901, a mentorship that lasted many years and connected her with a wide variety of artists (the Chase School later became Parsons School of Design). On June 16, 1903, she set sail for Chase’s summer program in the Netherlands, and the following summer joined him in London to study Japonism, or the influence of Japanese art on European art (especially impressionism). She returned to study in New York once more in 1906, a few months after the death of her father. After her mother died in 1907, Taylor accepted a teaching position at her alma mater in Columbia. Although she remained on staff through 1913, she took at least one extended vacation, spanning part of 1908 and 1909, in which she and her sister, Nell Taylor, traveled across Europe. Between 1911 and 1913, she rented her own home at 1620 College Street and established an art gallery with her cousin, Katherine Heyward.
She embarked on two more major international trips before World War I. Still fascinated by Asian culture and art, Heyward toured China, Japan, and Korea in 1914. She was particularly enamored with Asian printmaking and textile art and upon her return organized a show for Helen Hyde, who had mastered Japanese-style printmaking, in Columbia at the Arcade Mall. At the beginning of 1916, she joined explorer William Beebe in British Guiana (present-day Guyana) as a scientific illustrator of flora and fauna. She later exhibited these new works at the Arcade Mall. In June 1916, she studied woodblock printing in Provincetown, Massachusetts, under Bror Julius Olsson Nordfeldt, Charles W. Hawthorne, and others. This group pioneered the “white-line printing” technique, which used one block with colors separated by thick carved lines rather than multiple blocks for one print. This streamlined the process and to many made it more beautiful.
Although Taylor planned to return to Guiana the following year, the Great War interfered. She instead began training as a Red Cross nurse in Columbia and was announced as the president of her class on April 30, 1917. Once in France, she and others were tasked with making “Front Packages” filled with wound care supplies for ten hours a day, six days a week. She didn’t mind the work or long days but was delighted to be reassigned to “canteen duty,” which allowed for greater interaction with soldiers and volunteers. She told her sister, Nell, that the “canteen is really to help the fellows get hold of themselves & [become] adjusted” after returning from the trenches. Life in France was filled air raids and fears of disease, especially the flu pandemic and pneumonia, and occasionally punctuated by parties and visits from old friends, including William Beebe.
"I wrote you that I really couldn’t understand myself, that either I had no imagination or was wonderfully brave. I have come to the conclusion that it’s lack of imagination because I never pictured the pandemonium which would reign on a boat which had been torpedoed."
— Anna Heyward Taylor, November 10, 1917
Taylor returned to the United States in the summer of 1919 and began experimenting with batik patterns based on her drawings from the Beebe expedition. She was able to expand her portfolio in 1920 when she rejoined him for a longer expedition—returning home that fall with “a glorious collection of brilliant colored suggestions for textile designs and woodblock prints.” Based primarily out of Columbia for the next nine years, she created watercolors, batiks, and colored woodblock prints that exhibited across the country. Henry Bellamann, writing on Taylor’s influence and role in the emerging Charleston Renaissance in 1930, noted that her “South American flowers” were among her “best-known” and “most widely sold” and owned by “museums and galleries and discriminating private collectors such as Mrs. Vincent Astor,” among others.
After relocating permanently to Charleston in 1929, Taylor immersed herself in the local art and social scenes. She found new inspirations in the coastal plains and swamps and in observing the African American tenant farmers who inhabited them. Although she made one more major trip to Mexico between 1935 and 1936, her later work is dominated by the figures, flora, and fauna of coastal South Carolina. Among her most recognized works, then and today, are her paintings of the extinct Carolina Parakeet, her woodblock prints of African American cabins, and the series of linoleum blocks prints created for This Our Land: The Story of the Agricultural Society of South Carolina, published by the Carolina Art Association in 1949.
On November 28, 1950, the newly opened Columbia Museum of Art, located in the former home of her brother, Thomas Taylor, exhibited its first “one-man show”—more than 40 works by Anna Heyward Taylor. The exhibition moved to the Gibbes Art Gallery on December 19, the last retrospective of Taylor’s work in her lifetime. She began to donate works to both the Columbia Museum of Art and the Gibbes Art Gallery before her death on March 4, 1956. In her will she bequeathed money for an endowment, the Anna Heyward Taylor fund, at both institutions, which has allowed them to purchase graphic arts.
Her nephew and lowcountry expedition partner, Edmund Rhett Taylor, remembers her best: