Painted in mystery

  • Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A Kershaw couple recently donated this painting of Thorntree House to the Williamsburgh Historical Society. The couple, Dr. Danny and Betty Jo Blackwell purchased the piece several years ago from an antique shop in their hometown. The historical society, as well as the Blackwells, are in hopes to find out who the artist is. Photo by Michaele Duke

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A few weeks ago a stranger arrived at the Williamsburgh Historical Society with a gift. Kershaw residents Dr. Danny Blackwell and his wife, Betty Lou, made a special trip to deliver a painting they purchased some time ago. The oil painting was a superb rendering of Thorntree House framed with split rail fencing.
Museum Director Joanne Bass Brown was thrilled to receive the artwork. "He (Dr. Blackwell) had called maybe a year ago and told me about the painting, then he and his wife arrived on a very cold, windy day a few weeks ago to donate it," said Brown. "So nice that he researched it and thought it should return to Kingstree."

The Blackwells have been avid collectors of art and antiques for 61 years. So when they came across Thorntree House while visiting one of the many antique shops in their hometown Dr. Blackwell was captivated. "The painting caught my eye," said Blackwell who took up art lessons at the tender age of 75. "I was impressed with the artist's ability. I thought he had done a remarkable job, whether he is an amateur or not."

The painting is identified by a brass plate attached to the frame. The artist's name consists only of three capital letters: either CHH or CHA. The numbers 85 beside the letters most likely are the date the painting was completed. Other than that, there are no other clues to the person who captured the historical plantation house of James Witherspoon. The Witherspoons are among the earliest settlers in Williamsburgh and Thorntree is the oldest known residence in the Pee Dee area. During the Revolution, Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton's British dragoons and many Tories encamped at the plantation.

Not surprisingly, Blackwell said his intent was not to keep the painting: rather he simply wanted to place it in the hands of the historic foundation. The Blackwells are historians and have served on historic foundations. Their 1920 home is a registered historic home.

The couple made the trip to Kingstree on Dr. Blackwell's 82nd birthday. "We met a very gracious lady (Brown) and we were very, very happy that we could donate that to Williamsburg County," said Blackwell. "And I hope you can find the artist because I would love to meet the artist if he is still living." Brown agrees. "It is proudly hanging in the museum and we would love to know who the artist is."

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