When a covey of quail is flushed, the birds instinctively take simultaneous flight from cover in an energetic burst, dispersing within seconds. It makes for challenging sport, and from mid-October to mid-March, in what is known as the Southern plantation belt, a tradition plays out, much like it has for over a hundred years. Georgia, South Carolina, and Alabama are known for premiere quail shooting. Many of the properties that are still in operation were acquired after the Civil War by industrialists who cultivated habitats for the game birds and popularized the genteel pursuit.
A recent donation from a private collector to the National Sporting Library & Museum, the watercolor Covey Rise, 1960, by prominent American sporting artist Ogden Minton Pleissner (1905-1983) offers a glimpse into this regional pastime. Two pointers are seen in a classic pose, pointing in the direction of the flushed quail flying toward a pine row, while two guns stand ankle deep in wet grass and take aim in the foreground. To the right, the mule-drawn wagon is equipped with seats for the gentlemen and space for the gun dogs and accouterments; it likely carries an elaborate luncheon to be enjoyed in the field.
Pleissner was an avid sportsman who knew the nuances of upland bird shooting. He took up wingshooting in the 1930s and gained access to sporting camps, preserves, plantations, country estates, and patrons internationally. The artist’s sporting background informed his subject matter, and he became known for his painterly and authentic scenes such as Covey Rise, 1960. A previous owner of the picture, Andre W. Brewster, wrote Pleissner in June 1982:
I have long admired your work and finally purchased this watercolor at the Crossroads in New York a year or two ago. It reminds me much of Oketee [sic]…It would be most appreciated if you would write me of the place, time and circumstances of your painting of this particular watercolor.
The Okeetee Club, a game preserve to which Brewster referred, was started in 1894 by a group of New Yorkers who banded together to purchase 50,000 acres in South Carolina to establish the quail club. It featured a rice field that was reminiscent of the one depicted by Pleissner. The artist responded a few days later:
The watercolor that you have was painted several years ago at Talassee [sic] Plantation in Albany Georgia. I’m sorry it is not on Oketee [sic], but as the quail country all through the south is very similar it could very well have been there. I hope this will not spoil your enjoyment of the painting.
It is exciting when an artwork is accompanied by materials that shed such a personal light on a composition. The recent addition of the watercolor and letters to NSLM’s collections is significant, not only as a representative work by Pleissner, but as a subject that is greatly underrepresented in the art collection. Depicting a classic aspect of sporting life that is still pursued today, Covey Rise, 1960, is now on view in the Museum. Stop by and see it in person! Plan Your Visit
Claudia Pfeiffer has been the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Curator of Art at the National Sporting Library & Museum since the position was underwritten by the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Foundation in 2012. Her primary focus is the research, design, interpretation, writing, and installation of exhibitions. E-mail Claudia at email@example.com