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John Henry Dick collection

Identifier: Mss 0065

Collection Overview

Contents: Dick's papers consist primarily of (I) paintings and drawings, (II) manuscripts of his writings, (III) photographs, (IV) correspondence, (V) topical files, and (VI) artifacts: I. Paintings and Drawings Dick's artwork includes 35 framed paintings, approx. 200 mounted paintings, and approx. 500 pen-and-ink drawings. Most of the paintings and drawings were prepared for publication on the basis of field observations, color photographs taken with telephoto lenses, and bird skins which Dick collected and stored at Dixie Plantation, borrowed from the American Museum of Natural History, or studied in other museums such as museum of the Bombay Natural History Society (which received his paintings of Indian birds). The drawings include the original illustrations for A Gathering of Shore Birds by Henry Marion Hall (1960), Carolina Low Country Impressions with the text by Alexander Sprunt, Jr. (1964), The Bird Watcher's America ed. by Olin Sewall Pettingill, Jr. (1965), The Birds of Nova Scotia by Robie W. Tufts (1961), World of the Great White Heron: a Saga of the Florida Keys by Marjory Bartlett Sanger (1967), Dick's Other Edens, and other publications. In addition, the collection contains 16 framed works by other artists. II. Manuscripts and Miscellaneous Publications The manuscript writings are primarily texts which Dick wrote or which were written by others for books he illustrated. While traveling, he made minimal notes daily, and following most of his major trips, he prepared newspaper articles for the News & Courier or Charleston Evening Post. The bulk of his drafts were made for these articles published prior to 1979. The principal texts by other writers are a comprehensive draft for a book on the birds of India by Ben F. King, who initiated the project, and the text of Carolina Low Country Impressions by Sprunt. III.Photographs The photographs consist of four separate groups: color slides (approx. 8,000), separate prints made largely from slides (approx. 1,000), scrapbooks with mainly color prints (18 vols.), and misc. photographs of family and friends (approx. 500). The slides are a comprehensive record of the wildlife he saw primarily during extended trips to Africa (10 trips from 1956-1985, particularly to Kenya) and India (6 trips from 1962-1984). He also made extended trips to Antarctica (2 trips in 1967 and 1975), Brazil (1980), China (1983), Costa Rica (2 trips in 1960 and 1981), the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador (2 trips in 1962 and 1973), Greenland (1974), Guatemala (1976), Mexico (1977), Nepal (1984), Canada (1975 and 1981), New Guinea (1972), Panama (1971), and Trinidad (1976). In addition, he took hundreds of photographs on trips throughout the United States, including numerous trips to Florida, lengthy visits to the Southwest, annual bird counts on Bull's Island, and annual fishing trips to Maine and adjacent areas. Eighteen volumes of scrapbooks consist primarily of color photographs taken on trips from 1953-1970: Two volumes document his travels to Europe and elsewhere from 1953-1961 and include photographs of water birds seen at the Severn Wildlife Trust in England. Two volumes are devoted to his first trip to the Galapagos (1962). One volume is on Alaska (1963), four volumes on East Africa (1964-1967), one on Tierra del Fuego ( Argentina and Chile) and Antarctica (1967), and one on islands in the Indian Ocean (1970). Seven scrapbooks are devoted exclusively to birds, and birds often occur in the other scrapbooks along with mammals, scenery, architecture, traveling companions, etc. Photographs taken after 1970 are in ten loose-leaf binders. In 1983 Dick planned to prepare a book of photographs, and he had several hundred cibachrome enlargements made from his best slides, but increasing blindness prevented the completion of this project. Although many of his photographs have been exhibited, almost none have been published. The personal photographs include pictures of Dick as a child, two photo albums of a family trip to France and Italy in c. 1927; the Dick family estate at Islip, Long Island; portrait photographs of Dick in a complete set of passports from 1937-1986; photos of his parents and siblings (William K. Dick, an industrialist and banker, and Madeline T. Force Dick, widow of John Jacob Astor and Dick's wife from 1916-1933; his brother William Force Dick; his stepmother Virginia C. Dick and her and his father's children, Direxa V. Dick and Will K. Dick); classmates at Yale Art School, which he attended in 1939 and 1940; early photos of Dixie Plantation (Meggett, SC), which his mother acquired as a winter home in 1935 and which he inherited and made his residence from 1947-1995; photos of friends and guests at Dixie; of rare birds raised at Dixie; of traveling companions including David A. Garrity, William C. Coleman, Elliott Hudson, Robert Verity Clem, and Gertrude Legendre. IV. Correspondence The largest group of correspondence relates to the preparation of a book on the birds of India and includes numerous letters form King, Ali, Ripley, and David A. Ferguson. The other principal correspondents are Coleman (with typescripts of Coleman's articles on the pivotal 1956 safari that he and Dick went together on to East Africa); De Schauensee; Garrity, friend and President of Devin-Adair Co., Publishers, which published five books with illustrations by Dick including Other Edens; the International Crane Foundation (of which Dick was a board member); Sydney P. Downey, friend and partner in Ker & Downey Safaris, Ltd.; Roger Tory Peterson, friend and author of field guides; Keith Shackleton, artist; and Alexander Sprunt, Jr., friend, ornithologist, and author of several books which Dick illustrated. Dick rarely kept copies of the letters he wrote. V.Topical Files Topical files include five separate types of information: (1) biographical notes and articles on Dick, Dick's will, inventories of his estate, etc.; (2) files re Dixie Plantation including the acquisition of additional property, the creation of ponds for waterfowl, the acquisition of rare birds for breeding, his parents’ guest book for 1941-1945 (largely signatures and comments, but with some sketches by Dick and others), invoices, etc.; (3) files of misc. manuscripts, printed ephemera, etc. including notes on bird sited, catalogs of exhibitions of Dick's work, and an extra illustrated copy of Isak Dinesen's Out of Africa (with two photos of Dinesen and two of Kamande Gatora and his family). (4) Financial papers relating to Dick's trust fund, the settlement of his uncle's estate (Adolph M. Dick), etc. (5) Ephemeral publications and clipping files with information on various countries visited, land birds, water birds, mammals, etc. VI.Artifacts A small collection of artifacts includes the Sarah Chapman Francis Medal awarded to Dick in 1984 for literary achievement by the Garden Club of America, the award Dick received for winning the first Duck Stamp competition in 1952-1953, and a paint box and paint pallets from Dixie Plantation. Another small group consists of miscellaneous oversized items such as family photographs and calendars used as date books.


  • Creation: ca. 1912-1995


Access Restrictions

This collection is open for research.

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The materials from our collections are made available for use in research, teaching, and private study, pursuant to U.S. copyright law. The user must assume full responsibility for any use of the materials, including but not limited to, infringement of copyright and publication rights of reproduced materials. Any materials used for academic research or otherwise should be fully credited with the source.

Biographical Note

"Artist Naturalist" is how Dick described himself in his autobiographical book entitled Other Edens (1979). He established a reputation as one of the leading bird painters in the United States when he illustrated the Warblers of America (edited by Ludlow Griscom and Alexander Sprunt, Jr., 1957). He painted approximately 2,500 separate birds for the Pictorial Guide to the Birds of the Indian Subcontinent with a text by Salim Ali and S. Dillon Ripley (1983). He painted about 600 birds for the Birds of China by Rodolphe Meyer de Schauensee (1984). He used a variety of techniques to create ink drawings with striking compositions for numerous books and articles published between 1949 and 1984. He took approximately 8,000 photographs of professional quality while traveling in more than 50 countries to study and photograph birds and other animals in wilderness settings. He assembled one of the finest private collections of rare bird books and contributed them to the College of Charleston together with his papers and his wildlife preserve, Dixie Plantation.


30 linear feet

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Alternate Form of Materials

Digital reproductions available online in the Lowcountry Digital Library.

Inventory of the John Henry Dick Collection, ca. 1912-1995
Processed by: Special Collections staff; finding aid created by: Special Collections staff
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Repository Details

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Special Collections
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Charleston South Carolina 29424
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