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Brookgreen Gardens: New CEO starts work with hands-on approach

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Brookgreen Gardens CEO Page Hayhurst Kiniry stops and picks up a napkin littering a walking path just off the iconic Oak Allée.

That’s the kind of hands-on executive outgoing CEO Bob Jewell was seeking as his replacement when he announced his retirement last year after a decade at the helm of America’s largest outdoor sculpture garden.

Kiniry says she is still finding her way around. “It’s an amazing place,” she said Tuesday, her second day in charge. “The staff is incredible. Everyone has been very welcoming and very supportive.”

Kiniry comes to Brookgreen after 11 years as executive director of the Virginia Living Museum in Newport News, Va. She sees many links to the operations as well as founders Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington. The two institutions are among just 14 in the country accredited by both the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the American Alliance of Museums.

“This is similar to what I was doing in Virginia,” she said, “just bigger and a little more complex. There is some comfort in doing what you expect, but it’s still been exciting.”

The Huntingtons founded a mariners museum on 900 acres in Newport News, Va., the same year they bought four rice plantations in South Carolina that became Brookgreen Gardens. Huntington owned the shipyard in Newport News and agreed to buy the land for a museum and park to benefit the town. Fifty years ago a portion of the park was donated for the Virginia Living Museum.

Newport News is home to a number of Anna Hyatt Huntington’s sculptures. “Conquering the Wild,” a sculpture of a man holding a rearing horse, is also at Brookgreen, as are two lions standing near Diana’s Pool and an alligator in a garden dedicated to Jewel and his wife, Toni.

Both institutions rely heavily on volunteers. They take the place of 19 full-time positions at the Virginia Living Museum. Kiniry said she was impressed with a group at Brookgreen planting 10,000 bulbs in the rain. “We had a lot of things in common in the way we operated,” she said. Brookgreen had a native animal Legos exhibit, and the Virginia Living Museum is getting it in May.

She was impressed with Nights of A Thousand Candles, the annual Christmas light show. She said she felt a little like a participant in the TV show “Undercover Boss” when she attended a show in December walking around in the dark incognito. “It was a beautiful night,” she said. The last of the lights were coming off the big tree Tuesday, and the first planning meeting for this year’s light show is scheduled soon.

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