Archive for the 'Exhibitions' Category

A Passion for Museums

It has been my pleasure for the past month to intern with the Gibbes’ Programs, Events, and Marketing department. I assisted in writing social media posts, responding to donation requests, documenting press and brainstorming ways to publicize the upcoming exhibit, Photography and the American Civil War, (which of course I will plug here) opening September 27th.

I was thrilled to have been offered the position. It has always been a favorite pastime of mine to spend hours wandering through galleries, sometimes in search of a particular work but often aimlessly, soaking in the history. I have traveled to cities for the sole purpose of catching an alluring exhibition, and have a bucket list of museums that I would like to see. I hold on to my ticket stubs and write any significant works on the back, so that I can recall the experience in the future. To me, a visit to a museum is a cathartic experience that we can collectively enjoy. Much of the modern world has access to museums, and the privilege of plumbing our history in the comfort of a quiet, air-conditioned building.

Each museum has a different flow and architectural structure; the organic spiral of the Guggenheim Museum in NYC creates a totally different atmosphere from the soon-to-be-renovated Beaux-Arts style of the Gibbes. Each museum has a unique collection; I was amazed to find out that the Gibbes over 10,000 objects, including paintings, sculpture, photographs, and archival materials. Every museum boasts an individual mission statement—their purpose for keeping the lights on. However while the intent of the Smithsonian may not be identical to that of the Gibbes, all museums serve the same general purpose: to preserve the vestiges of human existence.

But what distinguishes an art museum from a museum of history? While history museums hold primary documents, ephemera, tangible facts if you will, art museums tell a different story. The Gibbes and institutions like it hold items that speak of our interpretation of a time in history, and how we use art as a tool to remember. As I have been learning more about the Civil War and exploring the collection catalogue, I have been thinking about how we have use photography for the sake of documentation. Dorothea Lange said it best, “Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still.” As time continues to pass since “our nations bloodiest war,” the war between the states, our memory of it will continue to be informed by what was left behind.

[President Abraham Lincoln, Major General John A. McClernand and E. J. Allen (Allan Pinkerton)], 1862, by Alexander Gardner (American, Glasgow, Scotland 1821–1882 Washington, D.C.)

Alexander Gardner (American, Glasgow, Scotland 1821–1882 Washington, D.C.), [President Abraham Lincoln, Major General John A. McClernand (right), and E. J. Allen (Allan Pinkerton, left), Chief of the Secret Service of the United States, at Secret Service Department, Headquarters Army of the Potomac, near Antietam, Maryland], October 4, 1862; albumen silver print from glass negative; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gilman Collection, Gift of The Howard Gilman Foundation, 2005 (2005.100.1221), image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

The Photography and the American Civil War exhibition consists of more than two hundred photographs that document many different facets of wartime. Some are very gruesome (I had to quickly flip through the disturbing catalog pages with images of severed limbs and sick soldiers). Other documents are quite endearing and representative of Americans patriotism from the very beginning, even when the conflict was internal. I had to chuckle reading a little girl’s letter to President Lincoln instructing him to grow his beard so that he may have a better chance of winning the 1860 election. While the collection appears at first to reveal much of what happened during those years, there also seem to be holes in the story. The gruesomeness of some photographs leaves me wondering what they decided to censor from public view. Ultimately there is something for everyone, and I predict that the exhibit will draw in history buffs, art and photography lovers of all ages.

Bombardment of Fort Sumter, Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, 1863, by William Aiken Walker

Bombardment of Fort Sumter, Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, 1863, 1886, by William Aiken Walker (American, 1838 – 1921)

The exhibit is traveling all the way from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and I could not think of a more suitable place for it to be held than Charleston, home to several important sites of action in the Civil War. In fact, we recently passed the 150th anniversary of the Union’s attempt to storm Fort Sumter. I am a proud Charlestonian, and I am proud to have played a small part in the promotion of this highly anticipated exhibition.

Annie Stoppelbein, Public Programs & Marketing Intern and guest blogger

A Summer Behind-the-Scenes at the Gibbes Museum

Interning at the Gibbes Museum of Art for the majority of this summer has been an absolute privilege and certainly an eye-opener towards discovering the elements that allow a museum to function successfully. Here, I have been exposed to almost every different department, a few being Development, Curatorial and Collections Management, and Education Programs. Given the opportunity to assist various staff-members in these departments, I have entered an incredibly determined, passionate, and efficient network of people. The museum staff have devoted an immeasurable amount of effort and enthusiasm towards interpreting and preserving the meanings of various art collections that derive from Charleston and the South. Throughout my time here, I have noticed that the Gibbes’s mission—to preserve and promote the art of Charleston and the American South—rings true within the museum as well as with local communities and visitors to the Lowcountry.

Gibbes Renovation Rendering

A cross-section of the building reveals plans for a renovation to the Gibbes Museum of Art.

In my first week, I was introduced to the more “executive” facet of the Gibbes, working with the Development team. I learned that the museum is not-for-profit and depends on funding from various sources including private trusts and foundation grants, as well as individual and corporate gifts, for its daily operations and to maintain its collection. Each fiscal year the Development team starts all over to identify funding sources that will help with the operations of the museum. I realized how much more work and fortitude is essential in order for a non-profit organization to function. During my time in the Development office, I also learned about plans for an extremely substantial and thoughtfully planned renovation that will commence in the summer of 2014. Throughout each meeting that I was attended, staff-members delivered innovative and fascinating ideas contributing to the plans of the redesign, and further emphasizing the importance of preserving the Gibbes’ mission statement. I am ecstatic to see the end result and to be able to watch everyone’s ideas blossom as they come to life in 2016!

After working with the Development group, my directors provided me with a complete change of scene. For the next week, I assisted with the summer art camp and my coworkers consisted of creative mini-Picassos. It was remarkable to see how eager and focused the children were when it came to organizing their ideas and then tactfully putting them onto paper. The end result was fantastic, expressive, and always original! As they discovered their artistic abilities, the enthusiastic teacher Kristen Solecki also enlightened the children about contemporary artists such as Jasper Johns and Mary Whyte. The children were interested to use the work of the artists that they learned about as models for their own pieces of art, incorporating characteristics of abstract and modern artwork into their own masterpieces.

Instructor Kristen Solecki with campers.

Camp Instructor, Kristen Solecki, teaches campers about color palettes.

For the next two weeks, I worked with the Collections Management and Curatorial departments. With Collections Management, I was always on my feet and was able to see each different part of the museum, and even took a thrilling adventure into “deep, dark storage” where sizeable amounts of artwork were carefully kept. I was so lucky to be able to see and even handle some of the artwork, including marvelous paintings, many delicate miniatures, and valuable sketches done by Alice Ravenel Huger Smith. As I worked in these departments, I learned about numerous past exhibitions, even those that took place during the early 1900s. These departments provided me with an amazing view into the museum’s past and historical culture, as well as a wonderfully close look at the collection.

Receiving an inside look at the careful consideration of curating exhibitions, establishing connections to the community, promoting educational programs, and further projects that define the creative purpose of the Gibbes, I have seen the museum’s mission statement continue to speak louder and grow more meaningful each day. The Gibbes Museum of Art is built upon and held together by a thoughtful, strong, well connected, and ambitious group of people with whom I have had the absolute pleasure of being able to work.

Elizabeth McGehee, Porter-Gaud High School Intern and guest blogger

2013 is the second year of a partnership between Porter-Gaud School and the Gibbes Museum of Art. Made possible by the generous support of past Porter-Gaud parents Mr. and Mrs. Charlie Wendell, this internship is designed to enrich a student’s knowledge of art history and the museum profession.

The Art of Being a Curator: Details Matter!

I feel so lucky to be a collections and curatorial summer intern at the Gibbes Museum of Art! I have learned a lot about both curatorial and collections management work every day. I even got a chance to organize the Artist Spotlight exhibitions in Gallery H, which is located on the first floor next to the stairwell. I used to be a curatorial assistant in my undergraduate university’s museum, but this was my first time to actually curate an exhibition all by myself!

Molly hanging object labels.

Molly installs object labels in the gallery, making sure they are hung at the correct height and spacing.

I started my work by researching the themes of the exhibition. Later on, I used PastPerfect, which is a powerful collections management software, to help me manage the exhibition details. I needed to consider a series of questions for preparation, such as the size of the art works, their condition, whether the works were framed, and if I would need exhibition furniture for display. I also needed to prepare all of the text materials for the exhibition. The logic and order of artworks are also of great importance. In other words, this time I was no longer an assistant, but a real “curator!” It was so exciting to have this chance!!

Measuring a display case.

Measuring a display case.

As a student from architecture school, I also practiced what I had learned in my studio class when designing the exhibition. Google SketchUp is a very basic and easy-to-use software for architectural design. Architects never use it for professional drawings, but I found it perfect for curatorial work! It helped me measure and organize the works in the space quickly, and also provided me with a multi-perspective preview of the exhibition. I felt excited to put my school knowledge to good use!

Google Sketch-Up drawing.

A Google SketchUp drawing for the Art of the Print exhibition.

Google Sketch-Up Image

A schematic drawing of an exhibition of works by Edward Middleton Manigault.

By working on the two exhibitions in Gallery H for the coming fall, I realized the importance of details in curatorial work. For example, one thing to remember when writing for a museum text panel is many of my readers will be first-time visitors. Therefore, text materials should be clear, readable, and interesting. Another important method I learned was how to arrange multiple profile portraits. Visitors feel more comfortable when seeing two portraits facing one another rather than hanging back to back. In addition, it’s better to have a figure in a portrait staring at another image rather than staring at a corner or a wall. These types of details are carefully considered by a curator—hopefully the visitor won’t even think about it—and the impact on a whole exhibition can be huge. That is why sometimes we feel comfortable when visiting an exhibition, while other times we feel weird or unsettled. Art is to a gallery like notes are to a symphony—they are following harmony rhythms and melodies, and the “symphony” of a museum is carefully composed by its curators.

A current installation of works by George Biddle in the H-Gallery.

A current installation of works by George Biddle (1885–1973) in the H-Gallery.

I hope you will enjoy the upcoming Spotlight exhibitions about Edward Middleton Manigault and Gibbes’ outstanding collection of prints! Come and visit Gibbes Museum this fall!

Molly Huang, collections and curatorial summer intern and guest blogger

Artist Spotlight: George Biddle (1885–1973)

This summer the spotlight is on Philadelphia native, George Biddle (1885–1973). Biddle spent most of his childhood in New England. He went to the Groton School, where President Franklin Roosevelt was a classmate, and received both his undergraduate and law degree from Harvard. In 1911, upon graduating law school and passing the Pennsylvania Bar exam, Biddle left a career in law behind setting off for Paris, France, to study art at the Académie Julian. Over the next five years, Biddle also studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, learned printmaking in Madrid, Spain, and spent summers in Giverny, France, to study Impressionism. After serving in World War I, he traveled extensively, going to Tahiti, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Cuba, the West Indies, and France.

The Battery, Evening, 1931, by George Biddle

The Battery, Evening, 1931, by George Biddle

In 1928, Biddle traveled to Mexico with muralist Diego Rivera. He spent six months with Rivera, learning the techniques of mural painting and soaking up the social and political ideas embodied within the art of the state supported Mexican School. In 1933, Biddle wrote a letter to President Roosevelt, his boyhood friend, campaigning for a government funded arts program to use as a platform for “expressing in living monuments the social ideals [President Roosevelt] was struggling to express.” The letter was acted on almost immediately and by year’s end the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) was established—the predecessor of the Federal Arts Project (FAP).

The Crowd, Folly Beach, 1930 By George Biddle

The Crowd, Folly Beach, 1930 By George Biddle

Biddle spent May and June of 1930 in Charleston, South Carolina, sketching a series of illustrations for George and Ira Gershwin, who were then developing the opera Porgy and Bess based on the 1925 novel Porgy, written by Charleston native Dubose Heyward. While Biddle was in town, Heyward encouraged him to explore downtown Charleston and the piers of Folly Beach. During those two months, Biddle created works reflecting the spirit and customs of everyday life and developed a large folio of drawings and watercolors recording the social and cultural landscapes of Charleston.

Sara Arnold, Curator of Collections, Gibbes Museum of Art

Works by George Biddle are on view at the Gibbes Museum through September 29, 2013, in the H Gallery.

Last Chance to Vote for People’s Choice: A Community-Curated Exhibition!

When we decided to invite the public to vote on their favorite works of art from our permanent collection, we weren’t sure what to expect. We wondered if an unexpected painting, a piece of sculpture, or a print would rise to the top of the Leader Board. We wondered what we would learn about the community through the voting process. And while the voting isn’t over, there are clear favorites. With two days left to vote, four of the top five picks are by local artists. Linda Fantuzzo’s Still Life with Open Book has garnered over 200 votes, while West Fraser’s 126 Oak Street, McClellanville, South Carolina is right behind. Corene by Jonathan Green is in 3rd place, followed closely by Mary Whyte’s Iron Man.

Still Life with Open Book, 1991, by Linda Fantuzzo

Still Life with Open Book, 1991, by Linda Fantuzzo (American, b. 1950).

So what do these numbers tell us? What can we learn about our collection through this experiment? It’s too soon to tell just yet, and it may be that voting is an ineffective way to poll the community’s taste in art. The pieces of art at the top of the leader board are favorites for many reasons, including the technical skill of the well respected artists, the attention to light and shadow, and the vivid and descriptive use of color. But as the marketing and communications manager at the museum, I also wonder if the leader board is influenced by familiarity? Many of the works on the leader board are works that are currently hanging on the museum walls. Are we more apt to “like” a work of art we’ve seen before?

126 Oak Street, McClellanville, South Carolina, by West Fraser

126 Oak Street, McClellanville, South Carolina, 2000, by West Fraser (American, b. 1955).

Corene, 1995, by Jonathan Green

Corene, 1995, by Jonathan Green (American, b. 1955).

A comment about Still Life with Open Book disputes the notion of familiarity: “I’ve only recently been introduced to Ms. Fantuzzo’s works. She has achieved a style of her own and her passion for her works is obvious!” While this comment on The Veiled Lady, who is #6 on the Leader Board, comes from someone who is familiar with the sculpture: “I have stood mesmerized by this piece many times. It is just exquisite, and enchanting. It has such an ethereal beauty, and the artistic execution seems astonishingly flawless.” Some of our Featured Voters lamented the challenge of choosing favorite artists. Darcy Shankland of Charleston magazine said it was “not a fair question! How to possibly choose?!?” That’s why we wanted to give the public the freedom to vote on as many favorites as they desired, because we know how difficult it is to choose one work of art over another. That is one of the challenges curators face when designing an exhibition.

Iron Man, 2000, by Mary Whyte

Iron Man, 2000, by Mary Whyte (American, b. 1953)

So in these next few weeks we will tally the votes, and Sara Arnold, our curator of collections, will curate your top 40 “favorite” artworks into the upcoming People’s Choice exhibition. For the next 48+ hours, take advantage of the chance to vote until our polls close on Sunday, March 31 at midnight. We can’t wait to see what you’ve selected.

Amy Mercer, Marketing and Communications Manager, Gibbes Museum of Art

A Commitment to Conservation: Alice Smith’s Rice Plantation Series

When you walk into the galleries of the Gibbes, you expect exquisite works of art beautifully framed, lit, installed, and interpreted for your visual and intellectual pleasure. And while this experience is what draws most people to the museum, sometimes the story of how these works arrived to the gallery walls is equally compelling. Such is the case with Alice Ravenel Huger Smith’s series of thirty watercolor paintings known as the Rice Plantation Series, currently on view at the museum.

Ever since Smith donated the Rice Plantation Series to the Gibbes in 1937, the watercolors have been among the most popular works owned by the museum. Unfortunately, the delicate works on paper were slowly deteriorating. The culprit: acidic boards mounted to the back of each painting. The acid was capable of discoloring the works and depositing brown spots known as foxing; and with many of the watercolors, the damage was well under way. Fortunately for the Gibbes, donors Ralph Blakely and the late Wilmer Welsh recognized the need to intervene, reverse the damage, and prevent future damage through professional conservation of Smith’s entire series of watercolors. To accomplish this, they established the Welsh-Blakely Fund, a substantial financial commitment that funded the five-year conservation project.

To complete the project, the Gibbes turned to the Straus Center for Conservation at the Harvard University Art Museums. The paintings were shipped to Boston in groups of five, with each painting requiring several weeks for treatment. Led by the late Craigen Bowen, the Straus Center’s talented team of conservators developed a treatment plan specifically for this group of paintings and undertook the highly technical task of removing the acidic mounting boards. Once the majority of the board was removed, conservators used an ethanol solution and various tools, including spatulas, bookbinders’ knives, scalpels, and tweezers, to remove extraneous paper backing and adhesive materials. Once all traces of the backing were removed, the reverse of each painting was cleaned with warm water. Following cleaning, each painting was housed in a humidity chamber to relax the paper fibers, and then sandwiched between blotters and secured with weights for one to three weeks to eliminate any buckling of the paper. The results are truly remarkable. Each painting returned to the Gibbes in pristine condition with more vibrant colors—Alice Smith herself surely would be thrilled with the results.

Completing the conservation of all thirty paintings was a monumental task of which the museum is very proud. Not only was damage reversed, the paintings were stabilized to prevent future deterioration. Such preventative conservation measures are key in the museum’s commitment to preserving the artistic heritage of the South. The current installation on the first floor of the museum is a rare opportunity to view the series as a whole and a great tribute to the many individuals who made this project happen.

Pam Wall, Curator of Exhibitions, Gibbes Museum of Art

The Rice Plantation Series will be on view at the Gibbes Museum through July 2013.

Andreas Karales’ Memories of his Father, James

How does a photograph stand the test of time? What makes it different than one taken at the same moment and place?

Selma to Montgomery March for Voting Rights in 1965

Flag-Bearing Marchers, Selma to Montgomery March, 1965, by James Karales

“Get Right with God” Sign on Highway 80, Selma to Montgomery March, 1965, by James Karales

“Get Right with God” Sign on Highway 80, Selma to Montgomery March, 1965, by James Karales

Many people have told me that the photographs by my father, James Karales, are iconic, beautifully printed, great works of art and I agree with them. What makes them what they are is still a bit of a mystery to me. I was too young to be around my father when he took his most important photographs and I never asked him much about his work or talents before he passed away when I was 21 years old. Before I came down to Charleston to attend the opening night of the exhibition of his work my mom asked me to say a few words to the audience. I thought of what it means to be a photographer and what it takes to make a great photograph. The analogy I came up with was that a photographer is like a fisherman. He must have patience, talent with the tools he uses, and must be in the right place at the right time to make that great catch. That is how I view my father, a man of great talent with the camera and print making equipment, who had this calm demeanor and patience, and who worked in a period of time in our nation which was full of meaningful, interesting, and historical moments.

Selma to Montgomery March, 1965, by James Karales

Selma to Montgomery March, 1965, by James Karales

I am assured of my idea with a story that he told many times of his iconic picture of the Selma March, in which he described trying to find an image that would symbolize the meaning and feeling of the march. He struggled over the course of the five-day march, making countless attempts to produce something that he felt worthy of his goal. On the last day a storm swept in and he knew that this was his moment. He rushed to get to the right spot to frame both events as they happened. He was fortunate to get the shot as the storm moved on quickly. It so happens, another photographer was trailing him and attempted the same shot, but did not get the same effect. The menacing clouds and synchronized stride of the marchers happened in one short moment and is what makes this photograph so special. It was one of my father’s greatest catches and was the result of his great patience.

Andreas Karales and his father, James

Andreas Karales and his father, James, in Nantucket, MA, 1988.

My father would be honored that the Selma March photograph and his other works are on display in Witness to History: Civil Rights Era Photographs at the Gibbes Museum.

Andreas Karales, Architectural Designer, NYC, and guest blogger

Monica and Andreas Karales celebrate the opening of Witness to History at the Gibbes Museum.

Monica and Andreas Karales celebrate the opening of Witness to History at the Gibbes Museum.

People’s Choice: A Community-Curated Exhibition

PeoplesChoice_600x300_webheader

This week, we launched our People’s Choice website: www.gibbespeopleschoice.org. This website was created to allow the community to vote on their favorite artworks from a selection of 140 objects in the Gibbes Museum’s permanent collection. The top 40 choices will be included in People’s Choice: A Community-Curated Exhibition, opening at the museum on May 3.

The idea for People’s Choice began when we were discussing plans for the upcoming building renovations. This is the last exhibition of our permanent collection in the Main Gallery before construction begins, and we wanted to engage the public and give the community the chance to select, comment on, and share their favorite works of art. We thought the best way to achieve that goal would be through a community-curated exhibition. As the idea grew, we decided to reach out to a group of noted figures from diverse backgrounds in the Charleston community including Chef Mike Lata, news anchor Carolyn Murray, artist Brian Rutenberg and event planner Tara Guérard. We wanted to spark conversations about the impact of art in the lives of people in the community. Everyone responded with enthusiasm and agreed to answer five questions about art including:

1. Why is art important in your life?
2. What is your first memory of art?
3. What is your most memorable art experience?
4. Who is your favorite artist?
5. Why are museums important to you?

The responses have been overwhelming and inspiring! Carolyn Murray wrote, “Museums are libraries for the senses. I never leave a new city or town without stopping in a museum. It is inside local museums and galleries that you can allow images to tell the story of the community.” And Brian Rutenberg said, “A museum is a love letter to ourselves.” The messages are as diverse and thought-provoking as the art work.

All Featured Voter responses and favorite art works will be presented on the People’s Choice website leading up to the opening of the exhibition on May 3. We hope you will check back regularly to see their comments and news updates on the site. You can also register to receive weekly emails with updates about People’s Choice. The full list of works will be available on March 1, when public voting begins. For any question about this project, see our FAQ page.

Amy Mercer, Marketing and Communications Manager, Gibbes Museum of Art

Image: Aesthetic Pleasure (detail), 1932, by Peggy Bacon. Lithograph on paper. Gibbes Museum of Art, Museum Purchase with funds provided by the National Endowment for the Arts Living Artist Fund (1977.010.0021).

Society 1858′s Winter Party: Habanero Rhythm!

Habanero Rhythm

How do you capture the essence of something like artist Jonathan Green’s personal art collection and translate it into a party? A collection which Green and partner Richard Weedman have spent the past thirty years curating? A collection that includes works from around the world by artists from Cuba, Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America, and North America? Well, you put together an experience that incorporates the cultural milieux of all the native lands from which the works come. Imagine drummers drumming on the front steps of the museum; vintage autos lining the street; a well-heeled champagne-mojito drinking crowd filtering in to find a Garage Cuban band playing funky beats; a Latin Jazz trio in the groove; and an explosive performance by a West African drum and dance ensemble. You serve traditional cocktails, and hors d’oeuvres inspired from those regions, and create a décor element to complement it all. What am I talking about? Habanero Rhythm, of course.

Jonathan Green and Richard Weedman

Jonathan Green and Richard Weedman at their home. Photo by Julia Lynn.

Okay, I should back up. I am the co-chair for the winter party hosted by the Gibbes Museum’s Society 1858 auxiliary group, and it’s based on the current exhibition VIBRANT VISION: The collection of Jonathan Green and Richard Weedman. We’ve named our event Habanero Rhythm and created an experience that we hope speaks to the cultural heritage of many of the artists included in the collection. But it’s more than that. We’ve actually had a chance to meet and get to know Richard and Jonathan, and to go to their home and see their collection. This party is for them and to honor the generous and giving spirit with which they share their love of art with anyone and everyone—we are trying to do them proud!

Luce e Colore pictures

Last February’s party, Luce e Colore, was a sold-out smash success! Photos by Fia Forever Photography.

I don’t want to give away all our little surprises here… just to say the event is going to be awesome. Buy your ticket. Today. I know many of you have (hopefully) been to a Society 1858 event, so you already know the careful thought and planning that goes into them. Each one uniquely based on a current exhibition and the inspiring personality(ies) behind it. With the artists and collectors themselves at each party, these celebrations are a chance to meet and talk to the people in the art world who make it happen. And on top of all the important art-world relevance, they are FUN. See you Friday, February 8th, for Habanero Rhythm!

Margaret Seeley Furniss, co-chair of Society 1858’s Habanero Rhythm, and guest blogger

To purchase tickets to this event, visit gibbesmuseum.org/events.

Watch videos of past Society 1858 events: Bitters & Twisted in the Salon d’Orleans and Luce e Colore: La Bella Notte Italiana

Celebrating the Life and Work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Addresses Rally, Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, by James Karales

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Addresses Rally, Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, 1963, by James Karales (American, 1930–2002). Image © Courtesy of the Estate of James Karales

Today, as we witness the second inauguration of our first African American president, we will also celebrate the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It has been thirty years since the federal holiday memorializing the great civil rights leader was first signed into law by President Ronald Reagan. For many people, this holiday means a day of service in honor of Dr. King’s legacy. For others, it is simply a time to reflect upon the significant changes his stalwart leadership helped to bring about during the Civil Rights Movement.

In addition to the annual celebration of King’s birth, 2013 also marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, and the 50th anniversary of the desegregation of South Carolina public schools. These landmark anniversaries are cause for both reflection and celebration. This winter at the Gibbes, we are showcasing an important collection of civil rights era photographs by acclaimed photographer James Karales. Engaged as a photo-journalist for Look magazine, Karales witnessed and documented many historic events during the Civil Rights Movement, and, in doing so, generated a remarkable body of work depicting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., with his daughter, Yolanda, by James Karales

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., with his daughter, Yolanda, 1962, by James Karales (American, 1930–2002). Image © Courtesy of the Estate of James Karales

Karales traveled extensively with Dr. King in 1962 and 1963. He captured King alongside other significant civil rights leaders including Rev. Ralph Abernathy, Jackie Robinson, Rosa Parks, and Rev. C.T. Vivian. Many of the inspiring images depict King in familiar public roles—leading rallies at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) conventions in Birmingham, and preaching sermons at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. However, Karales was one of a handful of photographers allowed to document King at home. These rare images of King in private moments with his family at their Atlanta home are equally compelling. Most notable may be the photograph of King sitting with his daughter, Yolanda, at the kitchen table. Published in the February 12, 1963, issue of Look, the caption described that King was trying to explain to his daughter why she could not attend the city’s segregated amusement park. King’s daughter listens quietly, but the inexplicability of racial intolerance is evident in the exchange between the father and his young daughter, and this poignant moment is still palpable in Karales’ photograph today.

As we celebrate these landmark anniversaries we invite you to the Gibbes to reflect upon the people and events that made them possible. Witness to History: Civil Rights Era Photographs by James Karales will be on view at the Gibbes through May 12, 2013.

Sara Arnold, Curator of Collections, Gibbes Museum of Art

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