Louis Orr was born in Hartford, Connecticut, though he spent much of his professional life living in Paris. Orr's father, uncle, and grandfather were all engravers and printers, and despite their efforts to discourage him from the difficult life of an artist, Orr was inspired to study at the Hartford Art School. Orr built a strong reputation as a print maker specializing in architectural subjects, such as the beautiful bridges and cathedrals of Paris.
While in Paris, Orr met North Carolinian Robert Lee Humber. A native of Greenville, NC, Humber was an international attorney and art connoisseur. Together Humber and Orr envisioned a large series of etchings of North Carolina landmarks. In 1940, because of the outbreak of World War II, Humber returned from Paris and settled in North Carolina. Orr had also returned to the United States and was living in Hartford, Connecticut. The two men met in New York and agreed that Orr would produce a series of 51 etchings of historical sites, landscapes, houses, and plantations around North Carolina, and Humber would underwrite the cost of the project. Orr began the project in 1939 and completed it in 1952. He made numerous trips to North Carolina to make sketches for his etchings, but completed the copper plates for the etchings in his Hartford studio. The etchings were released in portfolios of five each year, and were collected by institutions and private collectors alike. Today, Louis Orr's etchings of North Carolina hang in museums, courthouses, libraries, and private collections, and have a distinguished place in the history of the state.
Orr achieved great success and recognition with his etchings both in Europe and the United States. Much of his work was purchased by museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Boston Museum of Art, and the Smithsonian Institute, and his was the first work by a living American artist purchased by the Louvre.
Robert Lee Humber (1898-1970) earned his undergraduate and law degrees from Wake Forest University. In 1918 he enrolled in a graduate program at Harvard, and shortly after arriving there he volunteered to serve in WWI. After the war he returned to Harvard, and in 1919 he won a Rhodes Scholarship. For three years he travelled extensively in Europe, eventually moving to Paris where he became an attorney and business executive. He returned to Greenville in 1940, and in 1943 he began campaigning for a state art museum, working tirelessly to secure the funding for the Art Museum, which eventually opened in 1956.