Archive for the 'Permanent Collection' Category

Curatorial Perspective: Celebrating Contemporary Art

Since the Gibbes Museum of Art first opened its doors in 1905, contemporary art has been a core component of the museum’s mission. Much of the institution’s beloved historical art collection was, in fact, contemporary when it joined the museum collection. This spring, the Gibbes celebrates our continued commitment to the art of our time with two special exhibitions, John Westmark: Narratives and Beyond the Darkroom: Photography in the 21st Century. Both exhibitions will be on view April 4 through July 13, 2014.

The Narratives exhibition showcases new work by John Westmark, a contemporary artist who weaves imaginative story lines into his large-scale paintings. Westmark explores the human figure in dynamic ways through his innovative use of text and paper sewing patterns collaged on canvas. His paintings depict strong courageous women, some portrayed as stoic martyrs and others as warriors engaged in conflicts of rebellion.

Trained as a painter, Westmark created Abstract Expressionist work in graduate school but was searching for a new direction. One day, he noticed a pattern his wife was using for a sewing project. Westmark was intrigued with the pattern design and the cultural meaning of the pattern itself. He began reading feminist theory and also creating collage studies with the sewing patterns. Over time, Westmark found his artistic direction, combining painting and collage to explore the traditional roles of women, and how those roles have shifted over time. It is no coincidence that his change in approach occurred shortly after the birth of his second daughter. Westmark wanted to create art that had meaning for those around him, particularly his wife and two daughters.

In Westmark’s current body of work, many of the paintings depict women preparing for an impending crisis or conflict. Some women are stoic, some are playful, and others steel themselves for battle. Paintings such as Wave upon Wave and The Tinderbox portray women actively engaged in conflict, fighting to enact social change. Other works, such as Exaltation, show moments of transcendence after the conflict has ended.

Exaltation by John Westmark

“Exaltation,” by John Westmark (American, b. 1963)

Of this work he writes,

“My intention with “Exaltation’” is to present a scene suggesting a violent event, in this case an explosion. This event functions as the first layer to be peeled away to expose a deeper meaning of transcendence. The figures are not so much victims of a destructive event as they are propelled by the intense energy of white light. They are the beneficiaries of something powerful and unexplained. The sewing patterns are released from the role of containing flesh to fly away,” says Westmark.

With each painting, the narrative is open to interpretation; however, the embedded text offers clues to the implied storyline.

A resident of Gainesville, Florida, Westmark holds a BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute and an MFA from the University of Florida. In 2012, he received the Factor Prize for Southern Art, (renamed the 1858 Prize for Contemporary Southern Art) awarded by the Gibbes to an artist whose work contributes to a new understanding of art in the south.

The Gibbes explores another aspect of contemporary art through the exhibition Beyond the Darkroom: Photography in the 21st Century. Since the invention of photography in 1839, the medium has constantly evolved with the development of new technologies. In the twenty-first century, photographic processes have shifted from the darkroom to the digital world, bringing new possibilities to the medium. Beyond the Darkroom examines a variety of photography-based works acquired over the past ten years for the Gibbes Museum’s collection. Ranging from the text and photo-based works of Carrie Mae Weems to the digital montages of Stephen Marc, this exhibition showcases the great innovation in photography today.

A great example is Botany Bay Plantation Boardwalk by Atlanta-based artist John Folsom. Trained as a photographer, Folsom begins his mixed-media landscapes with a photographic image. Using digital software, the image is then divided into a grid and printed on separate panels. The panels are then attached to a large wooden panel to create a unified image. However, the grid remains visible as a reminder that the image is a construction of the artist’s making, not an objective representation of nature. Folsom pushes this idea further by working the surface of the image with oil paint and sealing it with a wax medium. The technique gives the surface of Folsom’s work a rich patina that suggests the layers of history accumulated in the Lowcountry landscape.

Botany Bay Plantation Boardwalk by John Folsom

“Botany Bay Plantation Boardwalk,” by John Folsom (American, b. 1967)

The connection between past and present is an underlying theme of Beyond the Darkroom. The introduction of the exhibition offers a history of photographic processes, including early works from the Gibbes collection. An antebellum daguerreotype, late nineteenth-century albumen prints, and early twentieth-century stereographs give context to the remarkable contemporary works on view. By combining the old and new, Beyond the Darkroom highlights a great strength of the museum’s collection—to engage people with the past while building an appreciation for the present.

Pam Wall, Curator of Exhibitions, Gibbes Museum of Art

John Westmark: Narratives and Beyond the Darkroom: Photography in the 21st Century, are on view at the Gibbes Museum of Art from April 4–July 13, 2014. Visit our online calendar to find programs and events related to these exhibitions.

Curatorial Perspective: Japonisme in Charleston

Rough Sea at the Naruto in Awa Province, No. 55 from the series Pictures of Famous Places in the Sixty Odd Provinces, 1855, by Ichiryusai Hiroshige

Rough Sea at the Naruto in Awa Province, No. 55 from the series Pictures of Famous Places in the Sixty Odd Provinces, 1855, by Ichiryusai Hiroshige

This winter the walls of the Rotunda Galleries will be decked with a vibrant array of Japanese woodblock prints from the Gibbes permanent collection. These examples of eastern art from Japan’s ukiyo-e school will be accompanied by works produced by Charleston artists who were profoundly influenced by the influx of Japanese art during the early 1900s. Ukiyo-e, or “pictures of the floating world,” is a term reflecting the long-held Buddhist belief in the ephemeral nature of the world of pleasure. Images by ukiyo-e artists were intended to appeal to broad audiences. Popular subjects were those of Kabuki theater actors, courtesans in the entertainment quarters, famous scenic spots, and views of the natural world.

“Japonisme” or, a taste for things Japanese, peaked in our port city during the first few decades of the twentieth century. Early introductions to Japanese art and culture in Charleston can be traced to the South Carolina Inter-State and West Indian Exposition of 1901-02, and to the 1905 inaugural exhibition at the Gibbes which included a room dedicated to the display of Japanese prints. Additional exhibitions of Japanese art took place at the College of Charleston and the Charleston Museum between 1905 and 1907.

Moonlight on the Cooper River, ca. 1919, by Alice Ravenel Huger Smith (American, 1876–1958).

Moonlight on the Cooper River, ca. 1919, by Alice Ravenel Huger Smith (American, 1876–1958)

The Japanese print collection at the Gibbes is comprised of over seven hundred prints, dating from early works of the mid-seventeenth century to the decadent styles of the mid-nineteenth century. The core of the collection was assembled in Charleston by Motte Alston Read between 1909 and 1920. Read began collecting Japanese prints after his retirement from Harvard University, where he was a professor of Physiography.  He acquired a cross section of types, styles, and methods from a wide range of artists, including works by ukiyo-e masters such as Utamaro, Sharaku, and many by Hokusai, and Hiroshige.

Read encouraged local artists to use his collection for study and many artists of the Charleston Renaissance period (1915 to 1945) found inspiration in the clean designs and vertical compositions characteristic of Japanese prints. Alice Ravenel Huger Smith, Anna Heyward Taylor, Elizabeth O’Neill Verner, and Antoinette Guerard Rhett all studied traditional Japanese printmaking processes and learned to assimilate elements of the Japanese aesthetic in their own work.
Sara Arnold, curator of collections, Gibbes Museum of Art

The Great Wave: Japonisme in Charleston is on view January 17–March 23, 2014.
See our calendar for programs and events related to this exhibition.

New Experiences

My internship at Gibbes Museum of Art, located in the heart of Charleston, was both fascinating and rewarding. Under the watchful eye of Rebecca Sailor, curator of education, I learned first hand what it takes to keep a world-class museum up and running. I gained a better understanding of the roles and responsibilities of my colleagues, who work tirelessly to see that all aspects of the museum are “picture perfect” each and every day.

While my two previous internships directly influenced my decision to major in Communications, coming into this internship I had no previous knowledge of art history or arts management. Through the various events I participated in over the semester, I increased my skills in communication and in art. My experience at the Gibbes Museum has inspired me to learn more about art history through some of the wonderful classes offered at the College of Charleston. I was happy to find out that many of the professors work directly with the Gibbes.

Museum educator, Pat Burgess with a group of elementary school students

Pat Burgess, museum educator, explores the Gibbes collection with a group of elementary school students.

The Gibbes Museum certainly delivers on its mission statement to “preserve and promote the art of Charleston and American South.” From the loan exhibitions, such as Photography & the American Civil War, to the important works of art illustrating Charleston’s history from the permanent collection, the Gibbes Museum contributes to Charleston’s reputation as one of the most historically rich cities in the United States. Working at the Gibbes has been a wonderful opportunity for me to learn more about my college town and to explore a subject I had not known much about before.

As a sophomore from Connecticut, I have sadly never endeavored to throw myself into Charleston’s history. Simply shadowing one of the Gibbes’ wonderful docents, I can now state random facts from Charleston’s history. Just as one individual, I can successfully say that the Gibbes Museum has made me more aware of my surroundings through their collection and their educational offerings.

MMA curator of photography, Jeff Rosenheim, and the Photography & the American Civil War exhibition.

MMA curator of photography, Jeff Rosenheim, led a group through the Photography & the American Civil War exhibition.

During my internship, the Gibbes Museum hosted one of the most enthralling and historically riveting exhibitions, Photography & the American Civil War, on loan all the way from The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Jeff Rosenheim, the Met’s chief curator in the Department of Photography, provided a detailed tour and lecture about all the different photographs presented in the exhibit. Having some photography background myself, I took particular interest in this exhibit and learned a lot more about the history of the art form. One of the most interesting facts that I had not previously known was that the Civil War was the first war to be captured by the camera, and this exhibition includes many of the first photographs from that time period.

Interns Amelia Roland, Chase Hughes, and Hannah Shepard

Interns Amelia Roland, Chase Hughes, and Hannah Shepard volunteered for the Gibbes Art on Paper Fair.

Working at the Gibbes Museum has opened my eyes to not only what it takes to operate a museum, but also to the rich history of Charleston. This internship has been one of the most inspiring experiences I have ever had, and has encouraged me to pursue the history of art through many different means, including courses here at the College. Having been an insider at this great institution, I can heartily recommend that both locals and visitors pay a visit the Gibbes Museum of Art. You will not be disappointed!

Chase Hughes, Education Intern and guest blogger

Curating Conversations

As a Programming & Events intern this semester, I’ve had the great opportunity to share the room with some pretty remarkable people. This list includes guests of the Gibbes such as Jeff Rosenheim of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Charleston’s own Jonathan Green, artist Louise Halsey (daughter of Corrie McCallum and William Halsey), Lieutenant Governor Glenn McConnell, and Estée Lauder chairman emeritus Leonard Lauder. But the Gibbes has some remarkable people of its own. Its entire staff—from Executive Director Angela Mack to the custodian Russell Morrison—realizes the importance of museums as places to bring art and people together. The Gibbes staff is composed of hard workers who are dedicated to the success of the museum’s mission, to preserve and promote the art of this unique city.

Lieutenant Governor Glenn McConnell at the Gibbes Museum.

Lieutenant Governor Glenn McConnell speaks to a group of visitors in the Photography and the Civil War exhibition.

To some, museums appear to be passive temples of art where visitors must be silent and detached. But the Gibbes is so invested in this community; they seek to promote an active conversation between their collection, their programs, and the public. And to initiate such great conversations, the Gibbes is bringing some really good stuff to our city.

Traveling from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the exhibition Photography & the American Civil War presents intimate snapshots of life during the war—battlefields, street scenes, political propaganda, portraits of the young and the old. The exhibition also shows how photography influenced how we perceive the Civil War today. I was fortunate enough to talk with the Met’s curator in charge of the Department of Photography, Jeff Rosenheim, when he visited for the exhibit’s opening. He was incredibly knowledgeable about photography and its history and uses. But what impressed me most was his deep passion for the impact of photography. Jeff explained to me how photography is accessible, perhaps more so than any other medium, and how this justifies its instant popularity. He explained how photography is a democratic medium, an art form for everyone.

Photography and the American Civil War

Visitors explore the Photography and the American Civil War exhibition at the Gibbes.

I believe this idea of democracy and art for all can also be found in the Gibbes’s mission. They strive to present art and programming that is relatable to everyone. Their art speaks, and is, Charleston’s history—our history. If you love our city, then there is absolutely no way that you could not love what the Gibbes has to offer. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity I’ve had this semester to work with such a dedicated team of art managers who care so greatly about art and its influence in Charleston. Like I mentioned above, the Gibbes team is truly committed to their work in this community and this is what will always stick with me long after my internship is over. I know what I’ve learned here will benefit me wherever I end up in the art world, and I’m proud to call Charleston, the Gibbes, and its great art my starting point.

Intern Amelia Roland

Intern Amelia Roland stands next to a painting by Robert Gordy at the Gibbes.

Amelia Roland, Public Programs & Marketing Intern and guest blogger

Curatorial Perspective: Charles Burchfield and Edward Hopper

Friends and colleagues, Charles Burchfield and Edward Hopper are considered two of the most significant American watercolor painters of the twentieth century. They were also among the many American painters and printmakers who visited South Carolina in the early decades of the century. During the months of October, November, and December we are pleased to display paintings by these two American masters side-by-side.

Gateway to Mule Stables [Camp Jackson, South Carolina], by Charles Burchfield (American, 1893–1967)

Gateway to Mule Stables [Camp Jackson, South Carolina], 1918, by Charles Burchfield (American, 1893–1967)

During World War I, Burchfield was stationed at Camp Jackson, South Carolina, from July 1918 until January 1919. It is estimated that he created as many as sixty watercolors while in residence at the camp. Most of these pictures were created in the form of sketches, done rapidly on weekend excursions, in the evenings, and even during lunch breaks. This past June, the Gibbes acquired one of Burchfield’s South Carolina watercolors for its permanent collection, Gateway to Mule Stables [Camp Jackson, South Carolina]. This purchase was made possible with funds provided by Mr. and Mrs. Van and Susan Campbell, Mr. and Mrs. Robert and Jeannie Dolson, Mrs. Katy Huger, Dr. and Mrs. Anton and Caroline Vreede, Mrs. Prudence Yost.

Charleston Slum, 1929 Edward Hopper (American, 1882–1967)

Charleston Slum, 1929, Edward Hopper (American, 1882–1967)

Edward Hopper (1882–1967) and his wife, Josephine “Jo” Nivison Hopper (1883–1968), came to Charleston for a brief visit in April 1929. During their three-week stay, Hopper produced at least twelve watercolors of Charleston, including Charleston Slum, which is on temporary loan to the Gibbes from a private collection.

Both Hopper and Burchfield chose watercolor as their primary medium, and both thrived on picturing everyday subjects. In an age of growing nationalism, American art and American subject matter was gaining recognition. In 1928 Hopper wrote an essay on Burchfield that was published in the July issue of Arts magazine. He declared, “The work of Charles Burchfield is most decidedly founded, not on art, but on life, and the life that he knows and loves best.” In turn Burchfield wrote of Hopper, “Edward Hopper is an American… It is my conviction that the bridge to international appreciation is the national bias, providing of course, it is subconscious. [For] An artist to gain a world audience must he belong to his own peculiar time and place.”

Sara Arnold, curator of collections, Gibbes Museum of Art

Curatorial Perspective: The Fine Art of Printmaking

The Gibbes’s permanent collection is rich with examples of fine art prints made by artists ranging from James McNeill Whistler to Jasper Johns. While printmaking techniques have been around for thousands of years, American artists’ interest in printmaking as a fine art form did not develop until the mid 19th-century. Since then, printmaking has played an important role in many artists’ creative repertoire. This fall, the processes behind some of the best-known printmaking techniques are explored in The Fine Art of Printmaking now on view in Gallery H.

Canyon Wall, ca. 1975, by Boyd Saunders

Canyon Wall, ca. 1975, by Boyd Saunders

Various methods of printmaking have evolved over the long history of the medium. This exhibition features examples of woodcuts, etchings, lithographs, and screenprints by a variety of artists who mastered these techniques including James McNeill Whistler, Alfred Hutty, Prentiss Taylor, and Hale Woodruff. Prints are created through an indirect transfer process in which an image is produced on a surface (known as a matrix) such as a metal plate, wood block, or stone. The surface of the matrix is then inked and the image is transferred to paper by applying pressure. The resulting impression or print is a mirror image of the composition on the matrix. Numerous prints can be made from a matrix, so unlike paintings or drawings, prints usually exist in multiple impressions.

Returning Home, Selections from the Atlanta Period, 1935, reprint 1996, by Hale Woodruff

Returning Home, Selections from the Atlanta Period, 1935, reprint 1996, by Hale Woodruff

To learn more about the art of printmaking, please join us November 1-3 for the second-annual Art on Paper Fair weekend! The Fair celebrates the visual arts of Charleston with lively programs, conversations, and even artist demonstrations. Most importantly the Fair features works on paper for sale from eight premier dealers from across the Southeast.

Sara Arnold, curator of collections, Gibbes Museum of Art

The Gibbes Museum of Art and Redux Studios teamed up with Marcus Amaker to create a video examining the tradition of printmaking in Charleston. Gibbes Executive Director Angela Mack, and Gibbes Curators Sara Arnold and Pam Wall share works from the museum’s collection and discuss the history of printmaking in the Lowcountry. Redux artists Alex Waggoner and Kate MacNeil discuss the current relevance of printmaking in today’s artistic community. Watch the video on YouTube.

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

The Jewish High Holy Days: Impressions of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur

The Jewish High Holy Days are here. Rosh Hashanah, celebrated on September 5 this year, means “Head of the Year.” It commemorates the Jewish New Year, and is the first of the High Holy Days, otherwise known as the “days of Awe.” Rosh Hashanah begins each year on the first day of Tishrei, which is the first month of the Jewish Calendar, and is believed to be the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve. The significance of the day is that it leads to Yom Kippur, which is described as the “Day of Judgment” and the “Day of Remembrance.” Some descriptions depict God as sitting on a throne, while books containing the deeds of all humanity are opened for review. Reflection, Repentance, Reconciliation, and Responsibility are the themes of the “Ten Days of Awe” between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. As a museum docent, I am often struck by how images I encounter in the galleries remind me of the symbols and practices that surround these important Jewish Holidays.

The Sisters, 1921, by Edmund Charles Tarbell (American, 1862 - 1938)

The Sisters, 1921, by Edmund Charles Tarbell (American, 1862 – 1938)

Robert and Elizabeth Gilchrist, 1836, by George Cooke (American, 1793 - 1849)

Robert and Elizabeth Gilchrist, 1836, by George Cooke (American, 1793 – 1849)

During the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, there is the opportunity to repent for any misdeeds committed during the past year, to be charitable, and to offer prayer, in order to be sealed in the “Book of Life” for the following year. Apology between fellow humans can be offered by admitting to hurtful deeds and asking the individual for forgiveness. The painting The Sisters by Edmund Tarbell looks to me like the two women have something difficult to discuss with each other. It reminds me of talking with a family member, friend, or colleague to ask for reconciliation so that each person no longer feels hurt.

I often experience mixed feelings at Rosh Hashanah, just like at the secular New Year, of both festivity and serious reflection about the past year. I recall an amusing painting in the Gibbes of George Cooke’s work, Robert and Elizabeth Gilchrist, shows an important law book being marked in by one of the children. I can almost picture God deciding who will be sealed in his book of life for the following year!

Untitled (Three Toomer Children), 1849, by Lewis Towson Voight

Untitled (Three Toomer Children), 1849, by Lewis Towson Voight

In addition to self-reflection, Rosh Hashanah is also a time for families to get together. Two paintings at the Gibbes come to mind for warm family gatherings: Larry Francis Levy’s Project New Day and Lewis Towson Voight’s work depicting three Toomer children. When families get together there is inevitably a festive meal, and the paintings: Still Life with Watermelon by Thomas Wrightman, and Still Life with Duck and Snipe by Charles Fraser, depict the makings of bountiful feasts.

Still Life with Watermelon, ca. 1840s, by Thomas Wightman (American, 1811 - 1888)

Still Life with Watermelon, ca. 1840s, by Thomas Wightman (American, 1811 – 1888)

Still Life (Ducks and Snipe), ca. 1840 Charles Fraser (American, 1782 - 1860)

Still Life (Ducks and Snipe), ca. 1840, by Charles Fraser (American, 1782 – 1860)

In contrast to the delicious meals consumed during Rosh Hashanah, traditionally followers observe Yom Kippur with an approximately 25 hour fast and intensive prayer, often spending a large part of the day in synagogue services to demonstrate atonement and repentance. Yom Kippur is the final Day of Judgment, when the “Book” is closed for another year. It is also known as the Day of Atonement, and is the holiest day of the year for the Jewish people. The word, “Yom” means “Day” in Hebrew, and “Kippur” comes from a root meaning “to atone.” The goal of Yom Kippur is to have public and private confessions of guilt, and to amend one’s behavior for the following year and seek forgiveness.

One of the main symbols of Yom Kippur is the shofar, a musical instrument made from a ram’s horn. It is blown in long, short, and staccato blasts that follow a set sequence. Traditionally it is blown each morning the entire previous month to awaken the listeners from their “slumbers” and alert them to the coming judgment. Instruments are used in many instances as a call to attention, such as a drum in a parade or a bugle signaling dawn or dusk. Manning Williams’ painting, Sherman Marches South illustrates the use of sound alerting and rallying the troops.

Sherman Marches South, 1990, by Manning Bethea Williams, Jr. (American, 1939-2012)

Sherman Marches South, 1990, by Manning Bethea Williams, Jr. (American, 1939-2012)

Although the works I mention were not created specifically to represent the themes and tenants of the Jewish High Holidays, I can observe my own references in the subjects, moods, and actions that are depicted. The opportunity to incorporate one’s own experiences in the interpretation and appreciation of a work of art is something that I appreciate about my interactions with the public in my role as a docent at the Gibbes. L’Shana Tova!

Mindelle K. Seltzer, Gibbes Museum Docent and guest blogger

Endless Variety and Superabundance of Beauty

If Katy Huger or Harriet Smartt suggests that something might be interesting, fun, and informative—do it! That’s one of the things I’ve learned most recently as a member of the Gibbes Collection Committee, when I volunteered (upon their advice) to spend some time, as they have done much more generously, helping with an inventory project. My experience took me behind the scenes with Zinnia Willits, Director of Collections Administration, to a room with long tables, shelves, crates, and the Solander boxes which held the works on paper we’d be checking against inventory lists. The inventories Zinnia brought out for my session featured primarily Charleston Renaissance artists such as Prentiss Taylor, Charles Henry White, Leila Waring, Emma Gilchrist, Eola Willis, Thomas Addison Richards, and Antoinette Guerard Rhett; others on the list included Harold Tatum and Richard Lofton.

My M.A. is in Literature of the English Renaissance; what I realized I don’t know about Charleston Renaissance art could fill many of those afore-mentioned Solander boxes. Since I’ve confessed to having been an English major, I’ll admit that I was preoccupied for a bit wondering how these boxes were named. It’s fascinating to learn that they are so named in honor of Dr. Daniel Charles Solander, a botanist who traveled to the Pacific with Capt. Cook and later became the British Museum’s Keeper of Printed Books. He invented the boxes to provide safe storage for precious prints and manuscripts. Interesting! I went home and looked him up on a bookbinders’ webpage, finding out even more about him and his passion for archiving and conserving.

Solander Archival Storage Boxes

Solander archival storage boxes

But back to “my” project boxes and their tantalizing contents… Zinnia opened a box, handed me a printed list of images and description of the works we were to verify—about five images per page, each packet consisting of fifteen to thirty pages. The procedure was that she would carefully lift each work, call out its catalogue number, largely in numerical order by year, while I would find the corresponding item on the inventory list and check it off to show that its location had been verified. First, naturally, I was struck speechless (well, maybe not speechless enough; speed and efficiency were also Zinnia’s goals…) by the volume of each box’s contents, realizing that here in my short morning’s work I was seeing only a tiny slice of the Museums’ holdings. Second, I was impressed by the accuracy and thoroughness of the staff’s work, as evidenced by the matching of box contents and image lists. As a member of the Collections Committee, I knew how dedicated and talented the staff is, but here was proof in an area not polished for display.

Crabapple Blossoms, ca. 1920s By Antoinette Guerard Rhett

Crabapple Blossoms, ca. 1920s, by Antoinette Guerard Rhett (American, 1884–1964)

Perhaps most thrilling about my experience with the inventory projects was seeing the variety of subject and technique represented in just these boxes—though I had to remember that I was there to inventory, not examine! Here was Hutty’s student, Antoinette Guerard Rhett (whose husband, I later learned, was of the family for whom our house in Charleston is named!). I could have studied a long time her delicate, small-scale color etchings (Crabapple Blossoms, for example), influenced by Japanese design, I learned, and printed on paper as fragile as their subject. In fact, I could have taken one home to enjoy had Zinnia only stepped out of the room… Alas, she didn’t! Rhett’s titles, too, sometimes delighted; her image of two caterpillars on a leaf is titled The Courtship.

The Courtship, ca. 1920s, By Antoinette Guerard Rhett

The Courtship, ca. 1920s, by Antoinette Guerard Rhett (American, 1884–1964)

Here also were images by Leila Waring, whom I knew to be a leading figure with Alice Smith in reviving interest in miniatures. After having checked off many images of lovely gates, alleyways, buildings and gravestones, how interesting to see her pencil drawing of a young woman sitting on a rug. This resting figure with fluid dress and bobbed hair looked as though she might at any minute get up and resume dancing “The Charleston.”

Untitled (Young Woman Sitting on Rug), n. d., By Leila Waring (American, 1876 – 1964)

Untitled (Young Woman Sitting on Rug), n. d., by Leila Waring (American, 1876–1964)

As I was getting accustomed to the delicate lines and colors and fine detail of characterization of many Etchers’ Club artists, I was surprised and intrigued to see the woodblock by Richard Lofton (1908–1966) called Politicians: The Joke. No Spanish moss or soaring steeples or finely-wrought gates here! The face in profile is brutish—huge, sharp teeth—huge, threatening hands—and one figure has a kind of Death’s Head back view. Are they crowding in on a voter? Offering a flask? I could almost feel the ooze and stink. Was “The Joke” on the voters who elected these politicians?

Politicians, Number 2, The Joke, n. d, by Richard Lofton

Politicians, Number 2, The Joke, n. d., By Richard Lofton (American, 1908–1966)

Sometimes, reminiscent of discussions about acquisitions and de-accessions in the Collections Committee meetings, I was left wondering why some of the works were stored and maintained in several iterations although they didn’t seem to have a great deal of congruence with the collecting mission of The Gibbes. For example, the museum owns seven identical images by Harold Tatum of the often-depicted Construction Worker Resting [on a girder, skyscraper in background]. Those are issues which the staff and Director face daily, and this project has given me even more respect for and understanding of the delicate nature of these decisions.

On page nine of her beautiful book The Charleston Renaissance (1998), Martha Severens shares a quote from Charles Henry White, who said in a 1907 Harper’s article inspiring painters to visit and explore Charleston, “…as you press on, you are thrilled with a sense of the endless variety and superabundance of beauty that lures you… fearful that something might escape you…” That is a fair description of how I felt going through those Solander boxes during my inventory morning. Thank you, Zinnia, Harriet, and Katy, for encouraging me to take this opportunity—I pass on your encouragement to others! As Michaelangelo said in his 80s, “Ancora Imparo—I am always learning.”

Cathy Bennington Jenrette, Collections Committee Member 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.

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