Archive for the 'Permanent Collection' Category

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.

Days (Not So) Beyond Recall: An Intern’s Reflection on Art and Change

At the start of each day of my summer internship at Gibbes Museum of Art, I walk past Michael Tyzack’s Days Beyond Recall on my way into the office. It is great way for any person enthusiastic about visual arts to start their day, but lately, this part of my routine has taken on more meaning.

Since the start of my Master of Library and Information Science program, change has been a reoccurring motif, and one that I cannot help but contemplate frequently, especially now that I myself am in the midst of a lot of changes taking place in my own life… Today is my 26th birthday. I am now a Reference Librarian at my alma mater, College of Charleston, working at Addlestone Library. Tomorrow marks two and a half years of being married to my husband, an art educator in Colleton County School District. The last day of my internship at Gibbes is only 15 days away. In just 20 days, I will turn in my final project for Humanities and Art Information Services—my last course in the MLIS program. And in 24 days I will graduate from The University of South Carolina.

Days Beyond Recall, 1982, by Michael Tyzack

Days Beyond Recall, 1982, by Michael Tyzack (British, 1933–2007)

So, I am in a transitional stage of sorts, and I suppose this has led to a significant amount of reflection. My thoughts about the future are much like Tyzack’s painting—bright and alluring, though nonetheless abstract.

The title of the piece, Days Beyond Recall, denotes a time that has long since passed. I see now that my days as a student are coming to a close. And slightly to my chagrin, I admit that I am growing up and will probably continue to do so. I see that this time in my life will soon be a part of my past. However, I can’t see how these days could ever be beyond my recollection of them. They are far too memorable. And after all, everything I have worked at thus far will contribute to my future, whatever it may hold. Still, the unknown that comes with change can be daunting at times. I have found that focusing on what I know about change can help me cope.

Much of my graduate curricula and the LIS profession have revolved around a notion of embracing change. Technology and the overall realm of information are now tremendously different, among other things. In any case, if libraries are to continue to meet the needs of the communities they serve, they must adapt and develop new services accordingly. Succeeding at this can mean improvement. Information settings can then encourage intellectual and personal growth more effectively.

Art museums are no exclusion. As an emerging information professional, I have enjoyed being at the Gibbes this summer, and seeing an undertaking of such a valuable transformation in real life. The museum, as you may know, is preparing not only for being physically under construction, but there are also plans for re-branding. The goal is to make the Museum more relevant to its community, and to enhance the experience of visitors through reform of educational services and visual art information services.

Intern Alison Paul

Intern Alison Paul worked on Social Media and marketing campaigns for the museum this summer.

Perhaps you are wondering how a Public Programs & Marketing internship pertains to a LIS student. Although I may not be specifically handling books, I am most certainly working with information. Careers in Library and Information Science are evolving beyond their traditional forms. To remain valuable, it will be important to think of our work and skills more broadly. My summer reading—Rethinking Information Work: A Career Guide for Librarians and Other Information Professionals by G. Kim Dority—has been teaching me this. So, the value of a non-traditional LIS internship experience in a world immersed in change is an important one that has helped me to diversify my skill set.

Over the summer, there have also been changes in my understanding: I have learned how my research skills can support the development of the Gibbes’ brand, exhibitions, and programs. I have seen firsthand how information can be used and made available in ways that engage the Museum’s visitors and enhance its web presence and overall visibility in the eye of the public. Most importantly, I now realize how my specialization can help to advocate for the Gibbes, and foster its community’s love of art and culture.

Despite all of these changes, I feel that some things will remain as they are. The core values will persist—those of both the LIS profession and Gibbes Museum of Art. Also, my own values—my love for art and lifelong learning are still intact, perhaps even more so than ever before—I am just learning how to apply them in new and meaningful ways.

Just as we change, so can the way we see and respond to art. This is similar to rereading a book. We often will gain something different from the experience because we are at a different stage in our lives. I look forward to discovering new meaning upon viewing Days Beyond Recall in the years to come!

Alison Paul, public programs and marketing intern and guest blogger
[Written July 17, 2013]

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

Stroll down King Street on Second Sunday

Second Sunday on King Street is the brainchild of Susan Lucas of the King Street Marketing Group. If you haven’t come downtown for one of these events, you are missing out! With the streets closed off to traffic, King Street is transformed into a European city where strolling is a time honored tradition. Second Sunday draws tourists, locals, children, and even dogs who stroll in and out of delightful boutiques, stop for lunch at some of Charleston’s favorite restaurants, and of course, visit the Gibbes Museum.

King Street Second Sunday

The Gibbes offers three Free-Admission Sundays throughout the year. We have waived admission on select days for many years because it’s a way for us to open our doors and give back to the community. This is the first year that we have partnered with Second Sunday, and we want to encouraging strollers to continue down King Street, through the Gateway Walk next to the Charleston Library Society, and come into the museum.

Mending a Break in a Rice-Field Bank, from the series A Carolina Rice Plantation of the Fifties

Post-Conservation

This Sunday, July 14, visitors will have the rare opportunity to experience the stunning watercolor series, A Carolina Rice Plantation of the Fifties, by Alice Ravenel Huger Smith. This collection is not often on display because of the fragile nature of the watercolors. Curator of Exhibitions Pam Wall wrote an earlier post “A Commitment to Conservation” about the museum’s efforts to restore and preserve the vibrant colors of the watercolor series. In the recent article, “The Quandry of Alice Ravenel Huger Smith” Post and Courier Arts Editor Adam Parker writes, “Smith was a master manipulator of watercolor, creating images, landscapes mostly, influenced by Japanese printmaking and woodblocks and romantic English art that transformed the objects of nature into symbol, myth and memory.” This exhibition will close on Sunday so the free admission day gives visitors a final chance to see the works as a whole.

The Spoleto Watercolors of Stephen Mueller and Carl Palazzolo From the Collection of David and Carol Rawle is on display in the Rotunda galleries, and People’s Choice: A Community – Curated Exhibition is on view in the Main Gallery.

This Sunday we are also excited to offer visitors the chance to meet Monica Karales, widow of award winning photographer James Karales. Come to the Museum Store from 1 – 4pm for a special book signing as Ms. Karales celebrates the release of the book documenting the life of her late husband, Controversy and Hope: The Civil Rights Photographs of James Karales, by Julian Cox with Rebekah Jacob and Monica Karales. Stunning photographs chronicling the Civil Rights Movement were on view at the Gibbes in the recent exhibition Witness to History: Civil Rights Era Photographs by James Karales.

Ms. Johnson (Estelle), 1972, By Barkley Hendricks (American, b. 1945) 

So this Sunday, take advantage of our free admission and stroll through the museum. One of the best parts about my job is that I get to do that on a daily basis. On my way into the office I am greeted by the Veiled Lady. On my way to lunch I walk past Ms. Johnson (Estelle) and on my way home at the end of the day, I pass Persephone bathing in the courtyard garden. I am so grateful to have this opportunity to surround myself with art, and am excited that our free admission days will give visitors that same opportunity. Stroll down King Street this weekend, and come say hello to Ms. Johnson.

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

Upcoming Free Admission Days:
Saturday, September 28, 10am – 5pm: Smithsonian Museum Day Live! Must present pass, available on smithsonianmag.com, to be eligible for free admission.
Sunday, October 13, 1 – 5pm: Second Sunday Free Admission Day
February 9, 2014, 1 – 5pm: Second Sunday Free Admission Day

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

Ashley Hall’s Junior Docent Journey

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 7th-grade girls pose in front of the Gibbes before their special tours.

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, <em>Charleston Runner</em>.

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.

“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!

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

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.

People’s Choice: A Community-Curated Exhibition

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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).

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