Archive for the 'Behind the scenes' Category

Building the Gibbes Gator

Gibbes Gator Mascot

Gibbes Gator Mascot, designed by Erin Banks

Art education for children is a fundamental component of the Gibbes Museum of Art. Throughout the year we offer a variety of programs to students of all ages in school and at locations throughout the tri county area. When we reopen in the spring of 2016, the first floor of the museum will be dedicated to classroom space for children and adults. A year ago, Rebecca Sailor, curator of education, introduced the idea of creating a museum mascot. Rebecca felt it was important to have a visual symbol of the museum that could engage and interact with children and families inside and outside of the museum. We began brainstorming with Erin Banks, our graphic designer, and came up with the concept for the Gibbes Gator. We launched the Gator in our summer camp brochure and have been using him on all marketing materials related to children’s programming. Our next step was to reach out to Charleston County School of the Arts visual arts teacher Marie Nichols to ask if her students would be interested in bringing our Gator to life. We wanted a life sized gator who could interact with children at events and eventually, in the museum during school tours, classes, and camp sessions. Marie immediately said yes, and recommended sophomore costume design student Julia Dotson. We met with Julia in September and she agreed to take on the project of building our mascot. We spoke to Julia recently and asked her to give us a glimpse into this exciting project.

When did you become interested in creating art? Or, when did you realize you had a talent for art?

Well, I have been creating ever since I could remember. One of the first toys that my mom ever gave me was a plain black marker and one of those ginormous packs of computer paper. And even when I was small, I remember accumulating inspiration from PBS shows that had something to do with creating, even if it was something like Bob the Builder or a tutorial on how to make Aladdin’s magic carpet out of strips of paper. And I guess I realized I was entirely infatuated with creation was when I decided to try out for the School of the Arts and finally took art lessons— besides the ones offered by the South Carolina public school system. But I never realized that I had a talent until someone like the Gibbes Museum came to ask for a commission!

How long have you been a student at SOA?

I have now attended School of the Arts since the sixth grade, which would be over four years.

Costume design is a new major at SOA, can you tell me more about this major and what it entails? Do you see this as something you will continue to pursue at the college level?

Currently, each costume design student is learning the foundations of sewing and garment making, such as learning to sew a zipper or the daunting, yet exhilarating task of pattern making. And as the year goes by, I believe that we will learn more comprehensive things, for instance, making an entire garment from pattern to embellishments (which sounds easy, but is actually a very difficult task).

The field of costume design currently is one the interests that I have in mind for a college major, my choice, however, still weighs between this, fashion design, and the fine arts.

Gibbes Gator

Gibbes Gator designed by Julia

What was your reaction when we presented the Gibbes Gator project to you? Did this project seem overwhelming?

I was initially honored and trilled to make something for the only art museum in all of Charleston. This is a place I went when I was just six years old and gazed at monumental paintings. And at the time I was offered the commission, it did not appear to be overwhelming, but when I actually started to work on the project I realized that I’d underestimated the amount of attention one costume needs. The actual carving of the foam for each body part proved not as the most troublesome, but actually finding the materials turned out to be the most difficult part. I wanted to capture the ‘chummy’ quality of the drawing that I was presented with (designed by Erin Banks, Gibbes graphic designer), and found that faux lime green upholstery alligator leather would not do the job. After about a month of searching for the perfect, child-friendly material, I finally found the perfect pea green corduroy.

This is something that you are working on outside of school, how are you finding the time?

I genuinely enjoy sitting at home with Edith Piaf music or the television show Twin Peaks in the background while I attempt to create an alligator out of foam and green corduroy pants!

Julia at work on the Gibbes Gator

Julia at work on the Gibbes Gator

Tell me about the process of designing the Gibbes Gator.

Like most of my sculptures ‘Gibbes the Gator’ consists of paper mache and malleable fabric, but this is my first experience carving foam, which I found not as pleasurable as sculpting strips of paper together. But as a mentioned before, trying to find green corduroy in Charleston was a very difficult thing!

The smock that makes up approximately half of the note garment is just a thin canvas material that is standard for most artist smocks. That’s why I wanted to keep the entire garment to a certain style, which was The Wind in the Willows. I first saw this production in California, and was inspired by Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox (hence the abundant use of corduroy). This led to the look I wanted for the Gator, which is almost like a man magically made into an alligator that can sing and dance. It’s as if the whole world is a musical!

What has been the most rewarding and the most frustrating aspects of this project?

To be honest, the most exasperating part of this project was finding the materials, and then having to redesign over and over again to accommodate for abilities and resources that were available. Yet, the idea that I am making an entire costume that other people will enjoy is a catalyst to keep working to finish this protracted task!

We are so grateful to the School of the Arts and to Julia for agreeing to take on this challenge! If you are interested in donating to this project, please contact Rebecca Sailor at 722.2706 x41 or rsailor@gibbesmuseum.org.

Amy Mercer, Marketing and Communications Manager

A Romance with Cuba, by Dr. Jeb Hallett

 

I have had a romance with Cuba all my life.

Havana Cathedral

Havana Cathedral

At the age of ten, I listened to the Revolution on Radio Havana via my small short-wave radio in my bedroom in West Virginia. I dreamed of visiting Havana. Riding in cool old Chevy convertibles. Maybe seeing Hemingway around town. But, the Revolution ended that dream.

Then came the Gibbes “artistic” trip in February. (Twenty-three Gibbes Fellows traveled to Cuba with Executive Director Angela Mack, Curator of Collections Pam Wall, and Membership Coordinator Amanda Breen to learn about Cuba and its art.) So well organized! So well executed! Angela, Amanda, and Pam hit this one out of the ballpark!

Classic Cars in Cuba

Dr. Hallett enjoying the ride!

Who can forget twenty five Charlestonians riding around Havana like a gang of teenagers  in ‘55 Chevy convertibles? Or, dancing to the music of the Buena Vista Social Club? Or, peering into the windows of Ernest Hemingway’s home at Vinca Figia?

Oh, wait! Angela reminds me that the trip was really about art. The amazing creativity of The Merger, Kadir Lopez, Roberto Fabelo, and Yoan Capote was inspirational for starters. And, the worn patina of the architecture that enigmatically felt both sad and beautiful in the moment. All of this culture in the context a truly resilient people who take pride in their independence and joy of life.

Roberto Fabelo's studio

Roberto Fabelo’s studio

None of this magic would have been possible without the company of so many old and new friends. My wife, Linda Austin, and I will always treasure this trip because of these friends.

So, my next dream: get back to see more of Cuba. When the Gibbes is ready for another Cuban “invasion,” count me in. Maybe on a Harley Davidson motorcycle riding toward Santiago with a Cohiba cigar in mouth and Linda in the sidecar!!

Dr. Jeb Hallett, Gibbes Museum Board Member and Guest Blogger

 

My Charleston Story, as told by the In-House Graphic Designer

Few designers have the privilege of working alongside masterpieces of art, and I count myself among those lucky few!

Six months ago, I joined the Gibbes Museum of Art as the new in-house graphic designer, and I’ve been pinching myself ever since. I recall the rainy summer Charleston day when I interviewed for this position. During the interview, Executive Director Angela Mack made the poignant observation that people in the arts often follow a path that is more meandering than straight-lined. Such has been the case for me. Although I came armed with a BA in graphic design and MFA in illustration, my path has indeed been a meandering one.

Erin Bennett Banks

Erin Bennett Banks

It began over a decade ago, when I left my hometown in upstate New York to venture down south for graduate school. With formal training in graphic design, illustration and studio art, I sought out to build a creative, integrated, meaningful life.

The next ten years were spent building my freelance illustration portfolio, while cultivating a professional career at the Savannah College of Art and Design. My role as director of scholarships, admission, and regional recruitment took me all over the globe, participating in numerous gallery and museum based events around the United States, China and Korea. In fact, during my last years at SCAD, as part of an effort to align with premier galleries and art museums, we began hosting annual information sessions at the Gibbes Museum of Art. I remember thinking this would be an incredible place to work. Kismet in motion!

Fast-forward to today. Not only am I working for a premier art museum, but one that is dedicated to preserving and promoting the art of Charleston and the American South. Surrounded by history, art and story. This resonates. I thrive on storytelling, whether it be using graphic design to tell the story of the Gibbes, or using my oil paints to create an illustration. My dual-career in illustration has often focused on traditional narratives and historic themes, ideas that continue to gain inspiration from my role at the Gibbes.

On my “commute” to the museum, I walk through the canopy of trees (the hidden Gateway Walk) and approach the iconic century-old building, and I am cognizant of my unique role. I get to design all of the print materials for this amazing art museum!

Graphic designers are the ultimate visual communicators. My goal is always to organize information in a way that clearly communicates the message in a beautiful way. As a designer, I have the power to pair together fonts and images into materials that connect with viewers and make a lasting impression. If I succeed, then each person that encounters a Gibbes branded piece will catch a glimpse of the Gibbes experience, a teaser that culminates in more foot traffic and deeper devotees.

<em>Photography and the American Civil War</em> banner

Photography and the American Civil War banner.

Upon my inaugural tour of the Gibbes gallery space in late August, I was given my first assignment: to create all of the museum signage for Photography and the American Civil War, the record-breaking fall exhibition organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Posters of gilt-framed Civil War soldiers. My responsibilities included: banners featuring original Matthew Brady photographs, and old-timey typefaces and sepia toned images (a haunting contrast to the current Romantic Spirits exhibition). It was a sweet introduction to the thrill of welcoming a new exhibit every few months.

And that was only the beginning. Next, I was asked to design collateral for the Distinguished Lecture Series, featuring a Picasso (pinch) and Cubist art collector Leonard A. Lauder, Chairman Emeritus of The Estée Lauder Companies Inc. Then we moved onto the Gibbes Women’s Council Art of Design invitation honoring renowned New York interior designer Charlotte Moss. This project was followed closely by a collaboration with auxiliary group Gibbes, etc. to create the Kiawah Art & House Tour materials. Ads, posters, postcards and such, for a myriad of Gibbes events, exhibitions, educational programming, and of course, the epic Annual Report (a member magazine that includes information on exhibitions, programs, events, education, development and the financials for the past fiscal year)!

Gibbes Annual Report

The Gibbes 2013 Annual Report cover.

One of the benefits of working as an in-house designer is the opportunity to build relationships and become truly invested in the mission of the organization. And so, I’ve been warmly welcomed by the immensely talented Gibbes staff and wildly supportive auxiliary groups. This is the life force that is so necessary in the arts community, reminding Charleston about the importance of supporting the city’s only visual arts museum. Now I get to be part of this life force.

I continue to work as an illustrator, which I juggle alongside my dream job at the Gibbes. As an illustrator I’ve created three nationally published children’s books, which have earned recognition in The New York Times’ Best Children’s Books, The Washington Post, and Parents magazine, as well as the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Award and Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights Outstanding Book Award. Other clients have included Highlights for Children Magazine, The Weekly Reader and Harvard Business Review. And I occasionally pause to participate in a gallery show. My work has been featured in collaborative shows with Faith Ringgold, Benny Andrews, and Eric Carle (The Very Hungry Caterpillar illustrator & author) in exhibitions at the Asheville Art Museum and other galleries in the southeast. Locally, my work has been highlighted in Charleston City Paper, The Post and Courier’s Charleston Scene and the cover of Art Mag.

<em>Patchwork Path</em> Cover by Erin Banks

The Patchwork Path, cover by Erin Banks.

I also teach Drawing and Photoshop classes at Trident Technical College and have recently worked as a consultant for the Columbus College of Art and Design in Ohio, endeavors that keep me connected to higher education.

And although I’ll always be hopelessly devoted to my native New York, I consider myself an adopted Southerner. Married to my Southern soul mate (and co-artist Timothy Banks), we live a thoroughly creative, chaotic life together with a toddler, baby, and two Southern pugs.

I couldn’t be happier. And I couldn’t work for a more inspiring, culturally significant landmark in the heart of the most beautiful city in the world. Charleston is lucky to have a gem like the Gibbes Museum of Art. And I am so lucky to add the Gibbes to my story now.

Erin Bennett Banks, Graphic Designer, Gibbes Museum of Art

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

Esther Ferguson: A Woman with a Vision

Esther Ferguson is small in stature, but her dedication to the Gibbes Museum is immense. A long-time supporter of the museum, she joined the Gibbes Board in the spring of 2013. I sat down with her recently to talk about the inspiration behind The Distinguished Lecture Series.

Esther Ferguson at the Gibbes Museum of Art.

Esther Ferguson at the Gibbes Museum of Art.

Fifty years ago Esther Ferguson was a young woman alone in Manhattan. She traded the security of Hartsville, South Carolina, for the great unknown of New York City. “I was scared. Women didn’t do that sort of thing back then. I was very poor and on the weekend, I would go alone to The Metropolitan Museum to listen to the lecture series. I remember walking out of a lecture and sitting down to cry because I’d learned so much about the art world, and because I realized how much more there was to learn!” The experience was nurturing during an unsettling time in her life. “Attending these lectures kept me going throughout the week,” she explained.

The significance of the Met lecture series stayed with Mrs. Ferguson throughout the years, and after returning to the south, she began to dream about bringing a lecture series to Charleston. In 2010, the Fergusons loaned works of art from their private collection to the Gibbes Museum to form the exhibition, Modern Masters from the Ferguson Collection. Two mixed-media works by world-renowned installation artists Christo and Jeanne Claude were part of the exhibition, which ran from April 30–August 22, 2010. As part of Modern Masters, Christo was invited to speak about his large-scale temporary works of art including the wrapping of the Reichstag in Berlin and the Pont-Neuf bridge in Paris, the 24 ½-mile-long Running Fence in Sonoma and Marin Counties in California, and The Gates in New York City’s Central Park.

Esther-Ferguson-Christo-JuliaLynnPhoto

Esther Ferguson with artist Christo.

“At the end of his stunning lecture, it was the men who clapped the loudest,” recalls Mrs. Ferguson. “After the lecture these men gathered around Christo and told him they didn’t know if they liked his work, but they understood it. That’s when I knew art could fill stadiums.” She smiled.

The Old Mill, ©Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS) New York; by Pablo Picasso, oil on canvas; 15 x 18 inches, Leonard A. Lauder Cubist Trust.

The Old Mill, ©Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS) New York; by Pablo Picasso, oil on canvas; 15 x 18 inches, Leonard A. Lauder Cubist Trust.

Mrs. Ferguson began to formulate her plan to establish a fund to create the Distinguished Lecture Series at the Gibbes Museum. She had the perfect speaker in mind, her friend of thirty years, Mr. Leonard Lauder. “Every time you see him it’s art, art, art,” she laughed. Mr. Lauder’s attention to art became evident to the world at large last spring when he donated his $1.5 billion collection of Cubist art to the very museum that brought Mrs. Ferguson to tears all those years ago. In a Vanity Fair article, Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Thomas P. Campbell (who visited the Gibbes museum in October) said of the donation, “In one fell swoop this puts the Met at the fore-front of early-20-century art.” Mrs. Ferguson decided she would ask her friend and philanthropist, Leonard Lauder, to be the inaugural Distinguished Lecture speaker. “He is a very private man, but when I asked he said yes. I’ll do this for you Esther.”

Leonard A. Lauder

Leonard A. Lauder, Chairman Emeritus, Whitney Museum of American Art, and Chairman Emeritus, The Estee Lauder Companies Inc.

We are so fortunate to have friends like Mrs. Ferguson who are working to bring outstanding, world-renowned artists, art collectors, museum leaders, philanthropists, and art historians to Charleston to stimulate discussion about the visual arts and creativity. We are already planning for future speakers and are excited about the future of the Distinguished Lecture Series!

Amy Mercer, marketing and communications manager, Gibbes Museum of Art

The inaugural lecture in the Distinguished Lecture Series, featuring Leonard A. Lauder, is Wednesday, November 20. A limited number of tickets are still available for this event at gibbesmuseum.org/events or by calling 843.722.2706 x21.

The Spirit of the Garden

When Gibbes Executive Director Angela Mack first asked me to visit the museum to discuss the renovation project, I immediately began to pay attention to the beauty that is everywhere in Charleston. As plans progressed for the interior of the museum, I began to relax and enjoy evening walks around the city. I was impressed by the many beautiful gardens I encountered. I have always loved gardens and have had the great fortune to see many of the premier gardens of Europe, and all over the world, thanks to my “field trips” for the Metropolitan Museum. However, during the busy days at the Gibbes I rarely seemed to find the time to contemplate the garden at the back of the museum.

A view of the courtyard, ca. 1960s, with the Charleston Library Society in the distance.

A view of the courtyard, ca. 1960s, with the Charleston Library Society in the distance.

Once I began to consider the courtyard space hidden behind the building, I started asking everyone about the history of this grand old garden. Having spent 30 years therapeutically strolling in Central Park outside of The Metropolitan Museum, I knew that great gardens have a spirit of their own. I started to examine the history of the Courtyard through images of the garden taken over the years. Although many good attempts were made to upgrade it, the garden never seemed “just right” to complement the museum’s Beaux-Arts building.

The rear facade of the original museum building.

The rear facade of the original museum building.

The Persephone fountain and rear facade of the Gibbes.

The Persephone fountain, centered in the courtyard, after the 1970s museum addition.

In addition to the history of the Gibbes garden space, I learned more about tradition of Charleston gardens over the centuries and started to see similarities. The Gibbes archives contain numerous images of the transformations behind the museum, and curator Sara Arnold helped me compile examples and track the changes over the years. The museum’s earliest photos of the Courtyard date back to the 1930’s when all of the plant material was smaller and the trees were not so overwhelming. The historic iron gates, which were originally part of the William Aiken House, were completely visible. As you can see in the images included in this post, there were some winners and some losers in the various renovation designs, but each transformation had some good ideas that helped take the garden plan forward. Angela and I began talking about how we could not renovate the building without paying serious attention to the garden and the Gateway Walk, as well as those marvelous gates that mark the boundary between the Gibbes and the Charleston Library Society.

The Gibbes Couryard ca. 1947, looking towards the Charleston Library Society

The Gibbes Couryard ca. 1947, looking towards the Charleston Library Society.

That is when I first began to really understand that there was something missing at the back of the Gibbes. The Gibbes Courtyard Garden now contains too much mature plant material that overwhelms the minimal ground cover. As everyone in Charleston knows, if you leave a garden to its own vices it can soon become a beast and quickly grow out of control. As the months went by and we planned the new spaces for the museum’s interior, I realized that the garden had to be next on our list of improvements. So my evening walks began to shift focus from therapeutic strolls to investigative research. First, I walked the Gateway Garden Walk to see what all the fuss was about. The Charleston Historic Gateway Walk starts at St. John’s Lutheran Church on the eastern side of the peninsula and winds west to Archdale Street, meandering through historic cemeteries and walkways including the Gibbes Courtyard.

The Charleston Gateway walk

The Charleston Gateway Walk from the Gibbes Courtyard towards Meeting Street.

I explored further south towards the Battery, touring the historic areas of Charleston and the centuries old walkways. I strolled through the neighborhoods near the water, and discovered that many gardens took on an entirely new appearance and feeling during the hours between sunset and dusk. I noted that many easily converted into special private event spaces and how the use of lighting could give a garden a spectacular appearance at night. As for the city’s public garden spaces, the thoughtful ambient and directional lighting made those areas very accessible for the public. In the last 6 months I was invited to several private gardens so that I could continue my research. Each time I visited a new space I observed how the gardeners grouped the plants, where they employed water as a relaxation tool, and how they used mature plants as a foundation to ground the newer additions. I saw sculptures, stone walls, and “botanical backdrops” that wrapped the garden spaces with flowers, shrubs, perennials and annuals. These “private garden worlds” provide a haven from the stress of the city. What I love about Charleston (among many things) is the way the landscapers and gardeners create restful environments for beauty, contemplation, and relaxed socializing.

A current view of the rear portion of the courtyard

A current view of the rear portion of the courtyard, facing northwest.

After seeing so many gorgeous gardens in downtown Charleston and in the neighboring communities, I realized that the new Gibbes Garden has to follow the spirit of the city. It needs to become a haven for residents and tourists of the city, and it has to be an urban garden that reflects the artistic mission of the museum. This new garden must be contemplative, restful, artistic, and most important of all—an inspiration for everyone. At my home, I have a large garden with a meadow that looks out onto a regional valley near the foothills of the Berkshires. That is where I go when I need to clear my head. The romance and beauty of a garden can be the key to artistic inspiration.

An architectural rendering of the Gibbes Courtyard as viewed from the first floor interior of the renovated museum.

An example of an architectural rendering of the Gibbes Courtyard as viewed from the first floor interior of the renovated museum.

The next step involves bringing in the pros to help us plan the exterior grounds that surround the museum. After conducting a proposal and interview process, we are pending Board approval on the selection of a landscape architect to create and implement a new courtyard design. Just as planning any great work of art, the composition of elements in a garden must provide cohesion and contrast, inviting the eye to move around the space and find places of rest. The Gibbes Museum strives to preserve and promote the art of Charleston and the American South—soon the garden will do the same thing. I can’t wait to walk into the museum and see a brand new, artful garden through the large windows at the back of the building!

Jeff Daly, museum designer and guest blogger

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

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]

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