Two Americans in Paris. And North Carolina.

"That the General Assembly of North Carolina does solemnly declare that all peoples of the earth should now be united in a commonwealth of nations to be known as The Federation of the World, and to that end it hereby endorses the Declaration of the Federation of the World...

...In the General Assembly read three times and ratified, this 13th day of March, 1941."

In the spring of 1941, as Europe struggled mightily to hold the totalitarian ambitions of Germany at bay, and the United States was unwittingly poised to be plunged into the conflict, one American lawyer convinced his home state to adopt his dream for world peace brought about by international cooperation and governance. At the same time, he commissioned a French-trained, world-renowned American artist to create an extensive catalog of etchings of the local North Carolina architectural treasures and landmark sites that were near and dear to him. For Robert Lee Humber, the local and the global existed on a continuum, the health and beauty of one necessarily feeding the well-being of the other. Which meant that, even though his lifetime's work towards global peace and the founding of the United Nations earned him numerous awards, he left an equally important domestic legacy in the form of the famous series of etchings of North Carolina, by Louis Orr, in our August Gallery Auction.
fullsizeoutput_c5Louis Orr (American, 1879-1961), Two Etchings of Hillsborough and Raleigh, North Carolina
Robert Lee Humber was born in 1898 in Greenville, North Carolina. He was educated at Harvard and Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, and spent ten years living in Paris working for an American oil company. It was there that he met Louis Orr, of Hartford, CT, who had similarly come to Paris to further his art education, fallen in love with France, and stayed. In 1917, Orr enlisted in the French army as a WWI war artist and received permission to go to Rheims, which was nearly impenetrable due to the ongoing German assault. In a gas mask, with his white drawing board attracting shelling from aerial patrols, Orr made sketches for etchings of the Rheims Cathedral under attack. These etchings and others would garner international fame, and become the first original etchings by an American artist to be included in the permanent collection at the Louvre. Orr was awarded a knighthood in the French Legion of Honor.

By the end of the 1930's, both Orr and Humber had married French women and built lives abroad. Humber petitioned Orr for years to come back to the United States and make a series of etchings of North Carolina. Due to the worsening conflict with Germany, by 1940 they had both returned home. Humber invited Orr to North Carolina and together they toured the state, identifying 100 potential sites for Orr's artistic attention. They eventually narrowed the choices to 51. Orr traveled over 6,000 miles around North Carolina making drawings of the chosen sites, which he then took back to his studio in Connecticut to turn into steel plate etchings. He produced the full set over the next 12 years, releasing five plates each year. Humber wanted the etchings to be available widely for public consumption, and so he personally underwrote the cost of their production, making them affordable to public institutions like libraries and universities, where they could be displayed for everyone. To Humber, the goal of the endeavor was to give the world a concrete embodiment of truth and beauty that could be passed down from generation to generation.
fullsizeoutput_c4Louis Orr (American, 1879-1961), Biltmore House, Near Asheville, North Carolina

Robert Lee Humber was a lawyer by trade, but a philosopher at heart. On the day of his death, November 10, 1970, he wrote 'Herein lies our dilemma: The discrepancy between our profession and our practice, the inconsistency between our faith and our works - it is this chasm between human desire and human performance which commands priority in our action. It transcends every other consideration of our time.' In addition to the amazing record of North Carolina history that is Orr's set of etchings, Humber's legacy also includes convincing fifteen other states to adopt his resolution on the Federation of the World, the founding of the North Carolina Museum of Art and the North Carolina Bar Association, the establishment of the North Carolina Community College system, and many, many other lasting contributions. Humber, for one, had clearly bridged the divide between his ideals and his actions.

View all of Louis Orr's etchings in our August Gallery Auction

Created by LLA Content Director Elizabeth Sharp