Statuary in The Gardens

Cast stone Studio, our Gift Shoppe’s exclusive supplier of concrete statuary, once again has gifted The Gardens with their masterful skill and generosity. As you may know the statuary in the Sunken Garden has been deteriorating rapidly in our seaside environment. Experts recommended we move them indoors to prevent furthur erosion and damage. Cast Stone Studio has gifted The Gardens with statues represting the four seasons as replacement. In the coming weeks, the pillars will be prepped and the new statues will take their place of prominence in The Gardens.

You can see how these antique statues (outer images) have not done well in the harsh Outer Banks weather. Two of the new statues are pictured below (center images).


Cast Stone Studios created our miniature Virginia Dare Statues, sold in our Gift Shoppe:


Vasilios “Bill” Kiourtzidis of Cast Stone Studio in Powells Point, NC has recreated the historical Virginia Dare Statue for The Elizabethan Gardens. The original Virginia Dare Statue, depicting the original artist’s vision of the first child of English parentage as an adult, is found in The Gardens. This limited edition cast stone likeness is available at The Gardens gift shop. Call or stop by the Manteo NC attraction to place an order today – 252-473-3234. The Gardens is located on the north end of Roanoke Island at 1411 National Park Drive Manteo, NC 27954.



There are some elusive origins to our Gardens’ Renaissance features… Could our statuary be an undiscovered work by an Italian master?

Italians are proud of their classical art, especially the carved marble statues and ornamentals in their historic areas. Several decades ago, Mrs. Mildred Howard astonished Italians with photos of their beautiful statues tucked within the lush green landscape of a North Carolina sound-side garden. Howard served as board chair of the Manteo, NC attraction in 1957 and 1964 and used a visit abroad to pursue her curiosities. The Italian historians she consulted were unaware these treasures had been relocated to America.


In 1953 The Elizabethan Gardens received several museum-quality Italian statues including a fountain with a pool, wellhead, sundial, birdbaths, stone steps and benches. They were a gift from the Whitney family estate. Gilded-age socialite and famed architectural designer Stanford White imported the items from Pompeii in 1906 for the family as a showcase for their Greenwood Estate in Thomasville Georgia.

The bowl and pedestal Aphrodite Fountain with column balustrade and accompanying statues of Roman gods are now showpieces of the Elizabethan-inspired sunken garden in Manteo where millions have enjoyed them for over 60 years.

“We know how the statues came to be here,” commented Carl Curnutte Executive director of The Elizabethan Gardens, “but exactly where these Italian statues originated is a mystery to us. There is simply no known account of who carved them, where they were found in Italy, and why they would send them abroad.”

While Howard hoped to find our more from her travels, she returned without answers.

Perhaps Howard was on to something.

Sunken-Garden-4-IMG_1023_5434During the time he imported these statues, White was designing and decorating the Whitney’s New York City home, built from 1902 to 1906. A curious statue White placed in this Manhattan residence garnered the attention of art scholars recently. Today they think that statue is a work by Michelangelo.

Could The Gardens statues also be by the same classical master? Markings may hold a clue.

Carved on the balustrade in the Sunken Garden is the 15th century Farnesi family crest. Several important architectural works are associated with the powerful family including the Palazzo Farnese in Rome and the Villa Farnese at Caprarola. Incidentally, this wealthy family was a patron to artist Michaelangelo, who designed the façade of the Palazzo Farnese.

Perhaps Mrs. Howard had good evidence to believe The Gardens statues could also be by Michelangelo, or a contemporary. She claimed to have located museum drawings of a fountain he placed in the Farnese gardens – a fountain and balustrade similar to the one at The Elizabethan Gardens.

“She might be right,” added Curnutte. “An inventory of art undertaken by the Smithsonian Museum claims that The Gardens statues were once at the Farnese Palace. It estimated their dates to be anywhere from 1300 to 1699.”

“The story goes that these sunken garden statues, and others from the estate, were to be sent to the Metropolitan Museum,” said Curnutte. “But someone convinced the Whitneys that an ambitious project started by the North Carolina Garden Club might be a worthy site. We are very grateful they came our way.”

While unique, these statues aren’t the only works of art with elusive origins at The Elizabethan Gardens. In 2012, forensic investigations of a Queen Elizabeth I portrait owned by the gardens determined the work has Elizabethan origins. Investigators were amazed that this particular portrayal of the aged ruler had survived stringent royal censors.

“Ours is truly a garden of incredible gifts,” said Sandra Snapp, Chair of the Board of Governors for The Garden. “We are humbled that supporters donated these statues, the Queen Elizabeth I painting, antique furniture in our collection and even some of our plants. Their generous heart and eye for beauty are to be commended. They are an important part of our heritage.”

While no plans are in the works to investigate the origin of the statues further, The Gardens hopes to take a step toward preserving them.

“The salt air and harsh outdoor environment have dealt a hard blow to the antique works of art,” said Curnutte. “Preservation, while important, is very costly,” he added. “A Save Outdoor Sculpture survey by the Smithsonian in 1994 indicated treatment was needed. Twenty years have passed since then. While these historical works are valuable to us, we can only work within our means to protect them.” He continued, “Supporters who wish to assist The Gardens with efforts to preserve and protect their valuable collection are encouraged to contribute to the Annual Fund.”

Nestled among the typical coastal scenery, The Elizabethan Gardens and its impressive statuary and plants are a unique gem. While visiting there one may even have a sense they are in a European garden, not a sound-side coastal garden.

To see the statues and the tapestry of seasonal plantings that frame them you’ll have to travel to Manteo, North Carolina on Roanoke Island, nestled among the Outer Banks. Visitation is by paid admission. The Gardens are open yearlong, seven days a week. Hours vary seasonally. For more information visit elizabethangardens.org or call 252-473-3234.

About The Elizabethan Gardens

The Garden Club of North Carolina adopted The Elizabethan Gardens as a project in 1951, on August 18, 1960 The Gardens were formally opened. The Gardens is dedicated to sharing its unique history, providing educational opportunities, enhancing the quality of the visitors experience and preserving the beauty and tranquility of The Elizabethan Gardens. The Gardens is located on the north end of Roanoke Island at 1411 National Park Drive Manteo, NC 27954. For more information on happenings at The Elizabethan Gardens call 252.473-3234, visit elizabethangardens.org or find us on facebook.

ABOUT THE PHOTO OF THE APHRODITE FOUNTAIN: Seen here is the full-length figure of Aphrodite as she stands in the center of a round bowl – part of a two-tiered fountain in the sunken garden of The Elizabethan Gardens in Manteo, NC. Other than the fifteenth century Farnese family coat of arms, there are no markings or inscriptions to indicate the origin of these statues.


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The Elizabethan Gardens is located adjacent to The Lost Colony's Waterside Theatre and Fort Raleigh National Historic Park on Roanoke Island nestled near North Carolina's Outer Banks. The gardens are open year-round, seven days a week except certain holidays.

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