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, 2000, by West Fraser (American, b. 1955).
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 (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
In a city as vibrant and storied as Charleston, where history is said to live and artistic influence to breathe, it seems that we locals would be remiss to miss out on the enlightenment readily available in our own backyards. Lately, Charleston has proudly embraced a love of all things local, from local business to local produce. To me, it seems only logical that we equal-opportunity “locavores” should also indulge in the local cultural fare of our fair city. It was in this spirit that the History and English instructors of Ashley Hall’s 7th grade decided to orchestrate a local lowcountry exploration—leading our class on an adventure as “tourists” in their own town.
The Ashley Hall 7th-grade girls pose in front of the Gibbes.
After studying the fundamental elements of art and architecture, the girls departed on a walking tour of the peninsula to put their new knowledge to the test. Equipped with widened eyes for art and armed with iPads poised for documentation, the class set out on foot, bundled up and bound for the Gibbes Museum of Art.
Once dubbed an “ornament to Charleston,” the Gibbes Museum has long served as a bastion of fine arts in this picturesque city. Today, the museum houses over 10,000 objects. The majority of these are tied in some way to the culture and history of South Carolina’s Lowcountry, hence the permanent exhibit’s title, The Charleston Story.
On this first trip, the girls were taken under the wings of seasoned museum docents Pat Burgess and Elise Detterbeck, who regaled them with tales of art and adventure, style and scandal, trends and broken traditions in the world of art. They led the group from gallery to gallery, bringing to life a story of Charleston than spanned centuries. The collective past they described was a vast one, told from many different perspectives and set against multiple backdrops, from the Plantation to the Sea Islands. The Charleston they described was multifaceted and marked by both astounding privilege and staggering oppression. The shared message of the exhibit resounded: the authentic “Charleston Story” can hardly be reduced to a single tale.
At the end of the training, it was apparent that what goes into adorning the walls of the Gibbes is far more complex than just picking out the prettiest pictures. In a matter of hours, the students began to appreciate the full force within the frames, and several voiced curatorial aspirations.
A 7th-grader presents Mary Edna Fraser’s batik entitled “Charleston Runner.”
After the tour, students were given time to interact with the paintings individually. Stationed before a work of their choosing, each student mused about possibilities inspired by her favorite image and penned (or, rather, pecked out) a creative reflection to post and share on the class website. Soon enough, it was time to pack up and bid farewell to Charleston’s “ornament” of a museum and its spectacular contents.
The girls departed the Gibbes and set out on the second leg of their touristy romp: an architectural tour of the city led by Ashley Hall 7th grade history teacher Mary Webb that featured visits to the Edmundston-Alston House and the Charleston Library Society. With several miles—not to mention several centuries and countless facts—under our belts, we finally returned to Ashley Hall and the familiar territory of campus.
“Mrs. Johnson (Estelle),” by Barkley Hendricks, is the featured artwork in this presentation.
In the three short weeks that followed this inaugural visit, a transformation occurred: the once-tourists became the tour guides! After selecting a specific work from the Gibbes’s collection, the girls dove into a full-fledged research project, digging for information, evaluating sources, and piecing together their findings. Through resourceful research, several students were able to contact their more contemporary artists firsthand, and 7th grader Hannah was able to strike up a conversation with renowned photographer and environmentalist speaker J. Henry Fair that ultimately resulted in a visiting lecture for the entire Upper School. Finally, students were ready to present their research for their peers in preparation for the big show: a docent tour for a live audience.
On the presentation day, the students were joined by an enthusiastic audience that included family, friends, and an entire class of first grade buddies or “little sisters” from Ashley Hall. With this group, the junior docents shared both a wealth of knowledge and a fun-filled afternoon.
Grace presents “Highway Series, #9992″ to classmates and artist Eva Carter!
A particularly special moment occurred when featured artist Eva Carter showed up to watch 7th grade student Grace as she presented Carter’s exhibited painting “Highway Blues.” When Carter initiated a round of applause in approval of Grace’s presentation, it seemed to echo my own euphoric sentiments: They nailed it! The performances not only dazzled me, but also impressed museum educators: Pat and Elise called Ashley Hall’s docent work “eye-opening” and “confident,” and Gibbes Head Educator Rebecca Sailor reported being “blown away” by the tours.
The girls were also proud of themselves. Here’s what they had to say about the project:
“I was amazed by how confident everyone was while presenting. We really knew the information and it was fun seeing our little sisters’ reactions to the art.”—Ella, 7th grade
“Our presentations were to the point, informative, and interactive. Our little sisters seemed excited to learn more!”—Olivia, 7th grade
“The best part of my project was when I got to email my artist, Jonathan Green, and find out why he painted the way he did.”—Chasity, 7th grade
“The best part of the project was when I got to meet my artist, Eva Carter!”—Grace, 7th grade
“The best part of this project was going to the museum the first day because I love the pieces of artwork at the Gibbes and loved getting to go there.”—Brooke, 7th grade
“The best part of the project was getting to walk around Charleston because it is a beautiful city that we often take for granted.”—Lou Lou, 7th grade
In the wake of our Gibbes Junior Docent project experience, I hope these students continue to nourish the instinct they cultivated in the museum to always look again—to give a second glance to the things before them-whether this be a work of art, an idea, a person, a story, or even a hometown—and to greet the world around them with ever-widening eyes.
—Anne Rhett, Ashley Hall Upper School Faculty Member, English Department, and guest blogger
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
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).
Shorter days, warmer coats, and fewer leaves on the trees; these all come to mind when we think about fall and Thanksgiving. It’s a great time of year for traditions and for appreciating the things that are really important in our lives. The true meaning of the holiday can become lost sometimes in the busyness of the preparations though, which is why it is so important to slow down and give thanks for both the big and little things in our lives.
One thing I give thanks for everyday is the beautiful city of Charleston that I proudly call my new home. Not only can I walk out the front door of the Gibbes Museum and witness firsthand this vibrant city, but the works depicting Charleston within the walls of the museum are also cause for thanks. I feel blessed to work at the Gibbes each day where the city’s beauty and history have been captured by such talented artists. I’m reminded of all those who have come before us and called Charleston home when I look at John William Hill’s Panorama of Charleston and wonder how Charlestonians in years past marked the Thanksgiving holiday.
I’ve called many places home over the years, and the distance has kept me from being near family and friends on several occasions. I feel instantly closer to my family in New Hampshire though when I see the Gibbes Museum’s painting Autumn Foliage by William Aiken Walker . I can see them fighting over the last apple cider donut a few days from now as the remainder of the leaves fall from the trees. Emma Gilchrist’s painting On the Arno, Florence reminds me of the Thanksgiving I spent in Italy, where the occasion was marked with $10 cans of cranberry sauce and an unsuccessful search for a turkey. Art has the power make our memories more vivid when we see them come to life on the canvas. We each have our own traditions and versions of home that will always be uniquely special to us. This Thanksgiving, no matter where or how you celebrate, remember to slow down and appreciate those details you might otherwise miss.
—Amanda Breen, Membership Coordinator, Gibbes Museum of Art
“Mariner’s Poem on Hurricanes” June too soon.
July stand by.
August look out you must.
October all over.
-Published in Weather Lore by R. Inwards in 1898
Although not completely accurate (hurricanes can and do occur in June, July, and November) this mariner’s poem reminds us that August and September are the prime months for tropical storms and hurricanes. How do you prepare for hurricane season? Hopefully you have given some thought to this question since the North Atlantic Hurricane Season kicked off June 1, 2012. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has predicted the formation of 9 to 15 named storms, 4 to 8 hurricanes, and between 1 and 3 major hurricanes this year. Though the forecast number of storms is less than in previous years, even relatively slow hurricane years can leave a lasting impact. Thus far none of the tropical activity has pointed itself at Charleston (I am looking for wood to knock on) but we still have a few nervous months to go as the hurricane season does not end until November 30, 2012. For those of us whose job it is to oversee the care of museum art collections, that date seems a very long time away!
Hurricane Hugo approaches the South Carolina coast in this satellite photo taken on September 21, 1989. (Photo credit: NOAA)
Thankfully, the Gibbes staff has hurricane preparation down to a science. The building was put to the test in 1989 when the powerful Category 4 Hurricane Hugo barreled into Charleston. While the Museum suffered power loss and minor flooding, the artwork was unaffected due in part to a fledgling disaster plan and the efforts of a dedicated staff. Over the past twenty-three years, the Gibbes Museum of Art Disaster Plan for Collections has been revised, added to, tested, revised again, tweaked, practiced, tightened, and updated with such regularity that all those involved are confident the Museum could once again weather a strong hurricane. Major hurricanes such as Andrew (1992) and Katrina (2005) have strengthened the national museum community’s commitment to disaster planning and placed great importance on preparedness, communication, and salvage techniques. Museums are now required to have a comprehensive disaster plan to achieve accreditation by the American Alliance of Museums.
So how do we prepare for a hurricane at the Gibbes? The Museum has a hurricane plan that goes into effect the moment a storm is predicted to hit the Charleston area. This plan exists in written form, and the details are reviewed with the entire staff at the beginning of each hurricane season. The plan contains general information about different types of disasters and how to respond as well as information specific to the collection including object inventories, emergency contacts (conservators, art shippers, storage facilities, archival suppliers), insurance policies, and art salvage techniques. The plan also details pre-storm activity which involves securing artwork on exhibit, moving objects away from all windows (we still have a few!) and covering storage racks and archival containers with plastic sheeting; much of the plastic is in place year round and simply needs to be pulled down and secured. One of the greatest hurricane threats besides wind is potential flooding and loss from a storm surge. To prepare for this possibility, we make certain all artwork is stored at least 6 feet off the floor, the recommended industry standard. Advance planning will always be a necessary component of protecting the museum; staff will work to secure the museum until it’s time to evacuate.
A major concern museums face after a hurricane is loss of power which affects climate control elements and can cause rapid fluctuation in temperature and humidity. Abrupt changes in relative humidity (RH) can result in dimensional alteration to hygroscopic materials (wood, ivory, etc.) resulting in warping and splitting of many sensitive materials that comprise the art collection. High RH (above 65%) can also cause mold growth and metal corrosion in as little as 48 hours! In order to mitigate the risk involved with loss of climate control and rising humidity, the Gibbes maintains powerful fans that can circulate air (and run via a generator if necessary) in the event of HVAC loss. Museum staff stock other necessary supplies including flashlights, batteries, blotting paper for drying wet art, cameras, pencils and inventory sheets for recording damage, brooms, mops, shovels, a weather radio, paper towels, boxes and cartons, first aid kits and more. These supplies are stored on a special disaster cart; a complete inventory of the disaster cart is conducted at the start of each season to make certain all supplies are present and accounted for!
The disaster supply cart is on wheels for easy movement.
Fans are available to circulate air if the building loses climate control.
In addition to in-house disaster review, Gibbes staff also attends periodic disaster training workshops run through professional museum organizations. For example, in 2008 the South Carolina Federation of Museums (SCFM) staged a mock water disaster (with mock collection items) at Middleton Place Foundation for the workshop, Disaster Recovery for Museum Collections. Workshop participants spent the day learning how to respond to a water disaster and salvage and recovery techniques for paintings, furniture, textiles and a variety of objects. The workshop was led by Sharon Bennett, a veteran of Hurricane Hugo, who has taught numerous disaster preparedness workshops throughout the Southeast. A past-president of the Southeastern Museums Conference (SEMC), Sharon has served as the chair of the American Institute for Conservation Emergency Planning and Response Committee.
Workshop participants encountered this mock water disaster at a disaster-training workshop organized by the South Carolina Federation of Museums.
When participants arrived at the workshop they were greeted by three shelving units filled with wet art (framed prints and paintings), textiles, metal objects, ceramics, books, papers, and glass items. These objects were not just wet; they were thoroughly soaked (thanks to a very effective sprinkler and Mother Nature who added a little rain of her own). The water relocated some objects from their original shelf location to the ground and many were buried under a layer of Charleston’s sandy soil. It was a true disaster designed to mimic what an institution might face after a hurricane, flood, or man-made water catastrophe. After a long, wet, hectic day—sometimes frustrating, often satisfying, and overall informational and beneficial—participants left with a better understanding of how to create or update their own disaster recovery plan. By handling the various types of damaged collection items they gained experience in all aspects of a wet salvage and recovery efforts and left the workshop better prepared to write realistic and comprehensive response sections for their individual disaster plans.
The triage area at the SCFM disaster-training workshop.
Emergencies can come in many forms from treacherous weather to mechanical breakdown not to mention potential hazards such as fire, water, mold, and even insects. Museums need to be prepared before a disaster happens. Disaster planning events such as the SCFM workshop provide the resources and time to take on this important task.
So as you keep a watchful eye on the tropics over the next several months, rest assured that Gibbes staff are doing the same and will continue to do their very best to protect and preserve Charleston’s stellar collection of art of the American South.
—Zinnia Willits, Director of Collections Administration, Gibbes Museum of Art
Museum Educators Elise Detterbeck, Pat Burgess, Martha Criscuolo, Barbie Kratovil, and Mary Droge.
Once the school buses have parked, their exuberant passengers spill out onto Meeting Street and over the steps of the museum. We, their guides, are the first face of the Gibbes, and set the tone for their ensuing adventure. After negotiating 45–50 rambunctious students into 2 or 3 somewhat orderly lines, we’re ready to start the journey through our galleries. For most, it’s the first time they’ve been to the Gibbes, and therein lies the challenge. If this is to be successful—and hopefully spark an interest that may not be kindled were it not for this opportunity—how do you grab their imagination? How do you intertwine South Carolina and Charleston history, with its art and artists, in a memorable way in just 45 minutes?!
The collection is presented in chronological order, so usually we split groups: one starting with the earliest eighteenth century works; one in the nineteenth century; and one in the modern and contemporary galleries. It’s always so interesting to hear the children’s comments as they march along, gazing left and right down the hall of portraits; weaving around that dazzling silver soup tureen; entering the large room with the huge reclining figure of a woman in green; veering left, and finally heading up the stairs. Once settled in front of our first object, the fun begins when I ask the students questions to elicit their ideas about what they’re looking at.
Museum Educator Elise Detterbeck and students in the galleries.
Together we start a dialogue. Why is it important to actually see works of art up close and personal; to look at the brush strokes and notice how the paint or watercolor is applied, lines drawn, and shapes created? I ask the group to notice the subject’s face and hands: are they realistic or abstract? And what about the landscapes: do they appear detailed or impressionistic? We compare and contrast the different techniques. The hope is to instill in these young onlookers an appreciation for the everyday beauty of life. This visit may start the journey for some, who will discover a creative outlet to express themselves. For others, the experience may heighten their awareness of the artistry in one’s surroundings.
As funding for the arts nationwide has diminished, it is more and more difficult for schools to take field trips like these to museums. So this fall, some of the museum educators at the Gibbes will be heading out into surrounding South Carolina schools to take the museum on the road with the “Eye Spy” program, generously sponsored by the C. Louis Meyer Foundation. Each of us will be assigned to a different elementary school, where we’ll visit the third-grade art class once a month during the school year, ending with a visit to the museum. The concept is to familiarize students with art elements, techniques, and mediums by studying works of art from both the Gibbes collection and those of other museums. The hope is that multiple sessions with the same group of students will re-enforce and encourage an interest in art; and as I alluded to before, engender an appreciation of the artistry in everyday life. Sharing great works of art with young learners is both the joy, and the challenge, that makes what we do at the Gibbes so never-endingly rewarding.
—Barbie Kratovil, Museum Educator, Gibbes Board Member, and guest blogger
Cover of Alice Ravenel Huger Smith's sketchbook, ca. 1920s.
An artist’s sketchbook can offer intimate glimpses into his or her creative process. These graphic experiments and doodles reveal interesting aspects of an artist’s training, travels, and sources of inspiration. Currently three artists’ sketchbooks are on view in the Gibbes galleries alongside their finished works including those of Charles Fraser (1782–1860), Prentiss Taylor (1907–1991), and Mary Whyte (b.1953; sketchbook on loan with the exhibition Mary Whyte: Working South). Sketchbooks are as varied as the artists who create them and the Gibbes Archives is fortunate to have a broad selection representing key artists in the permanent collection.
A View of the Church in Saint Andrew's Parish, from untitled sketchbook, 1796–1805, by Charles Fraser
The Gibbes owns several of Charles Fraser’s sketchbooks. Known primarily for his compelling miniature portraits these sketchbooks—begun when Fraser was just fourteen years old—are mostly comprised of watercolor or pen and ink landscape sketches depicting the plantation homes of friends and family, and rural parish churches.
Sketches of sitters, ca. 1847, by Joseph Jackson (American, 1796–1850)
A bound scrapbook, in which miniature painter Joseph Jackson (1796–1850) collected sketches of his sitters, provides important information about Jackson’s working methods. Some sketches appear as the initial sketch in pencil and concentrate primarily on the facial features. Others, on cards and occasionally on ivory, are more fully worked up. Jackson may have used this latter group to entice prospective clients, as he stated in an announcement in the Courier, “. . . he will be happy to exhibit specimens of his painting, to those Ladies and Gentlemen who may favor him with their calls. Miniature likenesses highly finished on ivory of the smallest sizes, suitable for lockets, breast pins, etc.”
A page from a sketchbook, ca. 1765–1769, by Henry Benbridge (American, 1743–1812)
The drawings found in Henry Benbridge’s (1743–1812) sketchbook were made between 1765 and 1769 while the artist traveled through Italy. They reveal his interest in antiquity and depict images he took from antique cameos, vases, statuary, and architecture. Meanwhile, Prentiss Taylor’s sketchbook contains numerous pencil drawings he made during his first trip to Charleston in 1933. He later claimed in a letter, “I arrived on the Clyde-Mallory Line Steamer about the end of May 1933… I was lent the Pink House on Chalmers Street & I was able to stay until Labor Day. I spent most of my time sketching, up one side of the street & down the other.” Many of the sketches seen in his book are reflected in his final lithographs.
Magnolia Leaves from an Alice Ravenel Huger Smith sketchbook, ca. 1920s
Alice Ravenel Huger Smith (1876–1958) kept numerous sketchbooks that she carried on long walks through the countryside to record different topics and locations. She closely studied all aspects of nature from leaves and grasses to birds in flight, and made drawings of each from various perspectives.
A gallery view of Whyte's tools and sketchbooks on display in Mary Whyte: Working South.
For art historians these sketchbooks are a window to an artist’s inspirations and processes. I am personally fascinated by the artist’s notes to themselves that accompany many of the drawings, as well as their steadfast focus on capturing certain elements of a subject through repeated sketching attempts. Sketching is integral to an artist’s development and I love walking through our galleries seeing young artists with their own sketchbooks finding inspiration in the paintings on view. Do you carry a sketchbook or journal to capture ideas or occurrences in your day-to-day life?
—Sara Arnold, curator of collections, Gibbes Museum of Art
As this summer’s curatorial and collections intern I could not believe my luck when I found out I would be spending part of the summer getting acquainted with the Gibbes’ miniature portrait collection—the highly esteemed collection is the third largest in the country and I was getting the opportunity to see every single piece. I knew that part of my summer internship would be focused on collections inventory and, for some, the prospect of inventory may seem dull, but I found myself excited by the prospect of spending time in painting storage, surrounded by so much art, methodically inspecting miniature after miniature. I loved looking at the individual details of each portrait, getting to study the different historical outfits and hairstyles while imagining the personality of the subjects. Like looking through an album of old photographs, these small faces gave me a glimpse into another time, a time before digital cameras or Facebook albums—if someone wanted a portable image of their mother, father, spouse, child, or even themselves, these portraits were it!
Intern Allison Murphy examines miniatures from the Gibbes collection.
The sizes of the works were captivating. Some of the portraits are small enough to have been worn as jewelry, a fact that gives the works an additional layer of allure: I couldn’t help but think “who wore these” and “for what occasion?” Handling the portraits also gave me an opportunity to see the backs of each one where intricately braided locks of hair are sometimes framed.
With the upcoming renovations and expansions to the Gibbes Museum, a large portion of the miniature portrait collection is going to be moving out of storage and into the public eye, so viewers will be able to experience, in greater volume, the charm of these small works. Especially built open storage cases are going to be designed for each work in the collection—a fact that has given me even more face time with these little guys. It has been part of my job this summer to re-measure certain portraits in the collection—ones with larger frames or cases so those measurements can be updated in our records. I have been entrusted with the handling of these works—taking them out of storage and to our prep area where I re-measure and photograph each one.
Once the Museum renovations are complete, visitors will be able to spend more time getting to know the miniatures, so they, too, can discover what I have this summer—that the Gibbes’ smallest works have some of the biggest personalities!
—Allison Murphy, curatorial intern and guest blogger
This summer a small exhibition of works by the fascinating American Scene lithographer, Prentiss Taylor, will be featured in Gallery H at the Gibbes. Born in Washington, D.C., Prentiss Taylor (1907–1991) began his art studies at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, followed by painting classes under Charles Hawthorne in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and training at the Art Students League in New York. In 1931, Taylor joined a lithography class at the League and quickly discovered great satisfaction working in this graphic medium, later recalling, “with the first magic feeling of the crayon on the fine grain of the stone, I knew that I was at home in lithography.”* He produced 142 lithographs over the course of his career.
In addition to his interest in the visual arts, Taylor interacted and collaborated with many writers and musicians. His time in New York during the late 1920s and early 1930s coincided with the emergence of the Harlem Renaissance and Taylor was one of a few white artists active in this literary and artistic movement. Among his close friends and collaborators during this period were photographer and writer Carl Van Vecthen, and poet Langston Hughes.
At age twenty, Taylor met Charleston novelist, Josephine Pinckney, at the MacDowell artists’ colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire. Their ensuing friendship prompted Taylor to visit Charleston in 1933; “I arrived on the Clyde-Mallory Line Steamer about the end of May 1933…I was lent the Pink House on Chalmers Street & I was able to stay until Labor Day. I spent most of my time sketching, up one side of the street & down the other.” Taylor returned to the city in 1934 under the auspices of the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) a predecessor to the Work Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project. He executed numerous prints and several watercolors of Charleston and the surrounding Lowcountry—some for the PWAP and some for himself. He maintained close ties to the city for the remainder of his life.
This exhibition featuring several of Taylors lithographs and watercolors of Charleston will be on view until September 1, 2012.
—Sara Arnold, curator of collections, Gibbes Museum of Art
*Prentiss Taylor to Gwen Davis, June 1, 1981, Artists Files, Prentiss Taylor, Gibbes Museum of Art.