As you exit the airport and begin your journey in the historic city of Charleston don’t forget to look up so we can share a little of our history with you.
On property now occupied by Charleston International Airport there once stood a botanical garden created in 1786 by legendary French Royal Botanist Andre Michaux. From this garden and nursery Michaux exported plants, trees and shrubs to France and imported old world species that have become synonymous with the South – crepe myrtle and camellias among them. The garden no longer exists but is remembered with a historical marker at 2390 West Aviation Avenue in North Charleston. It is also memorialized in a 6’ by x 34’ outdoor mural that hangs above the entrance to the airport parking deck.
Created by local artist Karl Beckwith Smith, the acrylic on canvas mural memorializes the life and work of Michaux, from the rice fields along the Ashley River’s plantations to the Charleston Harbor where at a busy port he introduced one of the first Camellia plants to the area. Also depicted is a rendering of what the French Botanical Garden might have looked like. It’s based on descriptions found in historic documents. In the image Michaux and his son Francois are surrounded by “potager,” or a kitchen garden.
Michaux is credited with exporting more than 60,000 trees to Versailles to replenish forests destroyed for the shipbuilding business. Born and raised in Versailles, many of the boxed and potted exotic plants Michaux collected from around the world ended up in one garden, The Palace of Versailles.
The Friends of Andre Michaux commissioned Smith to create the mural using private donations to pay for the work. The project was eight years in the making. The mural, which took three months to paint, was a gift presented to the Aviation Authority, owner and operator of Charleston International Airport, in October.
“The mission of the mural is to awaken awareness of the extensive horticultural contributions of Andre Michaux to the Lowcountry of South Carolina in particular and the Southeastern U.S. in general,” Smith said. Smith is a mural artist and decorative painter. He became a Charleston resident in 1992 where he opened Halcyon Place Gallery on Wentworth Street and a design studio on Folly Beach. Since then, he has worked extensively in the historic district of Charleston and the surrounding areas, creating custom artwork for architects, interior designers, builders, homeowners, restaurants and commercial businesses.