Artist. Verner was born in Charleston on December 21, 1883, the daughter of Henry John O’Neill and his wife, Mollie. A 1902 graduate of Ursuline Academy in Columbia, she attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts for two years (1903–1904), where she studied with Thomas Anshutz. After teaching for a year in Aiken, she took up residence in Charleston, where she married E. Pettigrew Verner on April 24, 1907. The couple had two children. She was active in numerous art organizations, as a founder of the Charleston Sketch Club, the Charleston Etchers’ Club, and the Southern States Art League, on whose board she served from 1922 to 1933.
Verner emerged as a leading figure of the Charleston Renaissance alongside her mentor, Alice Ravenel Huger Smith. Early in her career, she focused on etchings of Charleston street scenes that depicted the city’s architectural heritage and African American residents. Attached to her birthplace, she felt obligated to portray its picturesque charm: “I owe my native city incalculably much, and so it is in this spirit that this collection of my etchings has been gathered together,” she declared in Prints and Impressions of Charleston. Over a long and productive career she created about 260 etchings in a variety of sizes, including miniatures that measure two by two inches. Edition sizes ranged from fifty to one hundred. In the mid-1930s she began to work in pastel, a medium that allowed her to introduce color. After a 1937 trip to Japan she perfected rendering pastel on silk mounted to board. In her pastels she frequently portrayed flower vendors, a Charleston tradition that she helped to preserve when a new ordinance threatened their activities. She was a charter member of the Society for the Preservation of Old Dwellings and was a strong advocate for preservation in Charleston.
Verner avidly produced books and articles, using her etchings and drawings to disseminate the charms of Charleston. These include Prints and Impressions of Charleston (1939), Mellowed by Time: A Charleston Notebook (1941), and Other Places (1946). She opened her studio to visitors and frequently served as a tour guide for groups such as the Art Institute of Chicago. In return, these tourists bought examples of her work. She traveled to Europe in 1930 and to Japan in 1937. In 1947 both the University of South Carolina and the University of North Carolina awarded her honorary degrees. Her work is represented in the following museums: Gibbes Museum of Art, Columbia Museum of Art, Greenville County Museum of Art, South Carolina State Museum, and Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Verner died on April 27, 1979, in Charleston. See plate 29.
Bussman, Marlo Pease. Born Charlestonian: The Story of Elizabeth O’Neill Verner. Columbia, S.C.: State Printing, 1969.
Myers, Lynn Robertson, ed. Mirror of Time: Elizabeth O’Neill Verner’s Charleston. Columbia: McKissick Museum, University of South Carolina, 1983.
Verner, Elizabeth O’Neill. Prints and Impressions of Charleston. Columbia, S.C.: Bostick & Thornley, 1939.
———. Mellowed by Time: A Charleston Notebook. Columbia, S.C.: Bostick & Thornley, 1941.