Archive for the 'Behind the scenes' 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

In Union there is Strength: Events at the Gibbes

Gibbes Museum Garden Gallery

Society 1858’s Habanero Rhythm event packed the house.

When I began working at the Gibbes Museum of Art in October 2012, I quickly realized that as an employee, a lot of different hats are to be worn. We are a non-profit after all! Currently, I am the events and rental coordinator for the museum, and I assist in coordinating in-house events and all outside rentals. The Gibbes is such a popular venue with requests ranging from small, intimate gatherings such as cocktail parties, dinners, and business meetings to large wedding receptions, ceremonies, and corporate events. For more than a century, the Gibbes Museum of Art has been a beacon for the visual arts in the Lowcountry region of South Carolina.

The Gibbes consists of a small staff of approximately 20 full- and part-time employees, and at one point or another, they have all assisted in planning a rental. Between our curatorial staff, development team, marketing group, facility manager, and security staff, rentals planned at the Gibbes would not be perfectly executed without the help of my colleagues. We rely on each other to make sure each client is pleased with their Gibbes experience, not only as a museum, but also as a venue.

‘Tis the Season to get Married
Working at the Gibbes has given me an abundant amount of first-hand experiences when planning the bride’s big day. One of my favorite rentals that took place at the Gibbes was Catlin and Chris Whiteside’s wedding reception. Caitlin, an event planner at Calder Clark, was, as you can imagine, highly organized and knew exactly what she wanted. Her husband Chris, aka Whitey, was a joy to be around and brought laughter to every conversation.

Wedding Ceremony in Gibbes Rotunda

A gorgeous wedding ceremony in the Gibbes Museum Rotunda gallery.

Caitlin and Chris hold special memories of the Gibbes as their first date took place in the Gibbes Courtyard, so where better a place to have their reception. The months of planning for their special day came together on Saturday, February 23. Every detail was just as Caitlin had planned, including the miniature putting green built under a side tent as a surprise for Chris. The bride and groom were happy to be married and celebrating with their closest friends and family, even with the torrential downpours that happened that evening.

As Caitlin and Chris were getting ready for their send off, soaking wet shoes and all, they kindly requested a pizza be ordered and sent to their room at Charleston Place Hotel. I got an obvious laugh out of this request, but I was more than happy to make the call to Domino’s. I mean who wouldn’t want to end their wedding night with a hot pizza delivery to your suite?

A Hard Days Night
Being able to connect with different businesses through various Gibbes’ rentals has provided me a large professional and social network. Different companies throughout the nation utilize the Gibbes as a venue for dinners, holiday parties, receptions, etc. Some of these corporate rentals have brought the Gibbes new members. Recently, we were fortunate to host Carriage Properties, a longtime supporter of the Gibbes. They held a large party attended by more than 300 people that included clients and friends.

Gibbes Courtyard Family Circle Cup event

A sponsor event during the Family Circle Cup, featuring the Lee Brothers, in the Gibbes Courtyard.

The doors could not have opened any sooner as guests waited patiently to enter the Gibbes. Carriage Properties and Gibbes’ guests filed in for the mix and mingle. New homeowners to Charleston were pleased to have an opportunity to visit the museum and learn about its many programs and events. And, many people, longtime Charlestonians had not visited the museum in a while and enjoyed their return.

A Historic Venue
The Gibbes Museum of Art is the Lowcountry’s leading cultural institution, the premier collection of art focusing on the American South, a dynamic resource for visual learning, and one of Charleston’s most beloved and distinguished landmarks. The exceptional education programs at the Gibbes preserves and promotes the art of Charleston and the American South. Between art lectures, performances, and fundraisers, the Gibbes calendar has a busy event schedule. Along with the Gibbes events are the booming rentals which bring in an additional 700 guests per month and serve as an additional revenue source.

Gibbes Museum Courtyard, Art of Design event

The Art of Design luncheon and lecture in the Gibbes Courtyard.

I hope you will consider the Gibbes Museum as a rental for your next event. I am always available to assist in your planning needs. Please feel free to contact me at jclem@gibbesmuseum.org.

Jena Clem, Events & Rental Coordinator, Gibbes Museum of Art

Download a PDF of our Rentals brochure for more information about making the Gibbes Museum of Art the location of your next great event!

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.

Uncovering the History of the Gibbes Rotunda Dome

In late August, I met with Gibbes staff members Zinnia Willits and Greg Jenkins, and Chris Botti from Botti Studio of Architectural Arts, Inc. to discuss the dome in the Rotunda Gallery on the second floor. Botti has worked on many ornate Beaux Art ceilings including the Tiffany Domes at the Chicago Cultural Center and at the Driehaus Museum in Chicago. First, we sat in the conference room to just talk about the 107-year history of the dome and the issues that we thought needed to be addressed. Then we walked out to the gallery and studied the ceiling, noting the various repairs that have occurred over the years. We discussed the very elaborate ceiling decorations, and imagined their earlier grandeur and ornate finishes, long since painted white.

Chris Botti on the scissor lift

Then it was time to climb the ladder from the second floor up to the old attic space. Getting into the area around the dome is like navigating a labyrinth in the stifling Charleston heat. We crawled through the very small hatch into the attic area above the second floor Main gallery. We walked across the ceiling, holding on to the steel pipes and cabling while we navigated from one steel support beam to the next to protect the very delicate and fragile plaster below. Finally, we squeezed through the last doorway into the Rotunda light attic. The light attic is a large space that is engineered to catch as much light as possible and focus it onto the surface of the dome—almost like a giant tanning parlor.

The glare-guard above the dome.

When we got up to the dome we walked around it balancing on the large steel beams that the dome rests upon. As we skirted the perimeter, Chris began to talk about how the dome was made and installed, and pointed out some of the areas in need of conservation. The arched steel “T” shaped beams that formed the bones of the dome were all stamped “Carnegie” which identified them as being made by the famous company in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania that supplied most of America’s steel at the beginning of the twentieth century. We have not found markings on the dome as of yet that identify it as being designed and manufactured by the studio of Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848 – 1933), but the Carnegie Foundation has kept very good records so we anticipate that we might be able to find out if the steel was ordered by Tiffany’s company. Chris said that we may find one of Tiffany’s famous lead tags stamped “Tiffany,” or the Tiffany name etched somewhere in the bottom right corner of one of the large triangular leaded glass panels.

Carnegie stamped the steel ribs used to support the stained-glass panels of the dome.

To create the dome, each piece of stained glass was hand cut in the studio. Then, they were assembled into leaded glass panels resting on a large table and soldered into place. At that point, the panels were shipped to the museum. Upon arrival, the panels were laid into triangular spaces between the steel beam supports and secured with solder or wooden shims. Lead cross bars were wired onto the back of each of the panels to prevent the heavy pieces from collapsing due to gravity. Installers carefully aligned the bars, so that the bracings would then line up when viewed from the floor level below.

A view above the dome shows the ribs and cross bars that support the glass panels.

As we reviewed each of the panels we identified cracks and points of minor damage that had occurred during installation and over the years. Overall, Chris was not worried about the security of the dome, and suggested that it should stay in place rather than being taken down for repairs. We concluded that one of the most important safety repairs we could make would be to install safety railings and walkways around the entire dome area.

A detail of the intricate patern of cut stained glass.

The final prognosis for the entire dome was that it simply needed a complete cleaning and certification that the leading and bracings were all secure. The glass is covered with a thick layer of dust, but one section which we wiped clean with damp cloths showed just how much crisper and brighter the stained glass will be once it has been professionally cleaned. Special solutions will be used that are specifically made for cleaning stained glass without harming the glass or leaving any film residue. As a funny aside, Chris said that some people actually clean the stained glass with horse shampoo because it has the right consistency and delicacy for gently getting the grime off the stained glass windows!

A section of the glass dome that has been cleaned.

Once the entire dome has been cleaned we will all look very carefully for any signature or a lead stamp to certify that the dome was made by the Tiffany studios. We will continue to do further research with the Carnegie archives and consult with Tiffany scholars for additional clues. Our hope is that before we re-open the renovated museum to the public, our investigation will reveal the undeniable proof of Tiffany’s craftsmanship. But regardless of its provenance, the Rotunda Dome will remain a major showpiece for the museum that will sparkle much brighter with a little TLC.

Jeff Daly, museum designer and guest blogger

Hurricane Who? The Gibbes is ready!

“Mariner’s Poem on Hurricanes”
June too soon.
July stand by.
August look out you must.
September remember.
October all over.

-Published in Weather Lore by R. Inwards in 1898

Although not completely accurate (hurricanes can and do occur in June, July, and November) this mariner’s poem reminds us that August and September are the prime months for tropical storms and hurricanes. How do you prepare for hurricane season? Hopefully you have given some thought to this question since the North Atlantic Hurricane Season kicked off June 1, 2012. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has predicted the formation of 9 to 15 named storms, 4 to 8 hurricanes, and between 1 and 3 major hurricanes this year. Though the forecast number of storms is less than in previous years, even relatively slow hurricane years can leave a lasting impact. Thus far none of the tropical activity has pointed itself at Charleston (I am looking for wood to knock on) but we still have a few nervous months to go as the hurricane season does not end until November 30, 2012. For those of us whose job it is to oversee the care of museum art collections, that date seems a very long time away!

A satellite image of Hurricane Hugo, September 21, 1989.

Hurricane Hugo approaches the South Carolina coast in this satellite photo taken on September 21, 1989. (Photo credit: NOAA)

Thankfully, the Gibbes staff has hurricane preparation down to a science. The building was put to the test in 1989 when the powerful Category 4 Hurricane Hugo barreled into Charleston. While the Museum suffered power loss and minor flooding, the artwork was unaffected due in part to a fledgling disaster plan and the efforts of a dedicated staff. Over the past twenty-three years, the Gibbes Museum of Art Disaster Plan for Collections has been revised, added to, tested, revised again, tweaked, practiced, tightened, and updated with such regularity that all those involved are confident the Museum could once again weather a strong hurricane. Major hurricanes such as Andrew (1992) and Katrina (2005) have strengthened the national museum community’s commitment to disaster planning and placed great importance on preparedness, communication, and salvage techniques. Museums are now required to have a comprehensive disaster plan to achieve accreditation by the American Alliance of Museums.

So how do we prepare for a hurricane at the Gibbes? The Museum has a hurricane plan that goes into effect the moment a storm is predicted to hit the Charleston area. This plan exists in written form, and the details are reviewed with the entire staff at the beginning of each hurricane season. The plan contains general information about different types of disasters and how to respond as well as information specific to the collection including object inventories, emergency contacts (conservators, art shippers, storage facilities, archival suppliers), insurance policies, and art salvage techniques. The plan also details pre-storm activity which involves securing artwork on exhibit, moving objects away from all windows (we still have a few!) and covering storage racks and archival containers with plastic sheeting; much of the plastic is in place year round and simply needs to be pulled down and secured. One of the greatest hurricane threats besides wind is potential flooding and loss from a storm surge. To prepare for this possibility, we make certain all artwork is stored at least 6 feet off the floor, the recommended industry standard. Advance planning will always be a necessary component of protecting the museum; staff will work to secure the museum until it’s time to evacuate.

A major concern museums face after a hurricane is loss of power which affects climate control elements and can cause rapid fluctuation in temperature and humidity. Abrupt changes in relative humidity (RH) can result in dimensional alteration to hygroscopic materials (wood, ivory, etc.) resulting in warping and splitting of many sensitive materials that comprise the art collection. High RH (above 65%) can also cause mold growth and metal corrosion in as little as 48 hours! In order to mitigate the risk involved with loss of climate control and rising humidity, the Gibbes maintains powerful fans that can circulate air (and run via a generator if necessary) in the event of HVAC loss. Museum staff stock other necessary supplies including flashlights, batteries, blotting paper for drying wet art, cameras, pencils and inventory sheets for recording damage, brooms, mops, shovels, a weather radio, paper towels, boxes and cartons, first aid kits and more. These supplies are stored on a special disaster cart; a complete inventory of the disaster cart is conducted at the start of each season to make certain all supplies are present and accounted for!

The disaster supply cart is on wheels for easy movement.

The disaster supply cart is on wheels for easy movement.

Fans are available to circulate air if the building loses climate control.

Fans are available to circulate air if the building loses climate control.

In addition to in-house disaster review, Gibbes staff also attends periodic disaster training workshops run through professional museum organizations. For example, in 2008 the South Carolina Federation of Museums (SCFM) staged a mock water disaster (with mock collection items) at Middleton Place Foundation for the workshop, Disaster Recovery for Museum Collections. Workshop participants spent the day learning how to respond to a water disaster and salvage and recovery techniques for paintings, furniture, textiles and a variety of objects. The workshop was led by Sharon Bennett, a veteran of Hurricane Hugo, who has taught numerous disaster preparedness workshops throughout the Southeast. A past-president of the Southeastern Museums Conference (SEMC), Sharon has served as the chair of the American Institute for Conservation Emergency Planning and Response Committee.

Workshop participants encountered this mock water disaster at a disaster-training workshop organized by the South Carolina Federation of Museums.

Workshop participants encountered this mock water disaster at a disaster-training workshop organized by the South Carolina Federation of Museums.

When participants arrived at the workshop they were greeted by three shelving units filled with wet art (framed prints and paintings), textiles, metal objects, ceramics, books, papers, and glass items. These objects were not just wet; they were thoroughly soaked (thanks to a very effective sprinkler and Mother Nature who added a little rain of her own). The water relocated some objects from their original shelf location to the ground and many were buried under a layer of Charleston’s sandy soil. It was a true disaster designed to mimic what an institution might face after a hurricane, flood, or man-made water catastrophe. After a long, wet, hectic day—sometimes frustrating, often satisfying, and overall informational and beneficial—participants left with a better understanding of how to create or update their own disaster recovery plan. By handling the various types of damaged collection items they gained experience in all aspects of a wet salvage and recovery efforts and left the workshop better prepared to write realistic and comprehensive response sections for their individual disaster plans.

The triage area at the SCFM disaster-training workshop.

The triage area at the SCFM disaster-training workshop.

Emergencies can come in many forms from treacherous weather to mechanical breakdown not to mention potential hazards such as fire, water, mold, and even insects. Museums need to be prepared before a disaster happens. Disaster planning events such as the SCFM workshop provide the resources and time to take on this important task.

So as you keep a watchful eye on the tropics over the next several months, rest assured that Gibbes staff are doing the same and will continue to do their very best to protect and preserve Charleston’s stellar collection of art of the American South.

Zinnia Willits, Director of Collections Administration, Gibbes Museum of Art

My Social Media Summer @GibbesArt

This summer I had the great opportunity to be involved with PR and marketing at the Gibbes Museum of Art. I’ve known for time that my interest in art would lead me to the art management realm. However, up until I started this internship, this was based more on theory than experience. I had no idea what was involved in the promotion, preservation, and upkeep of an art collection and a museum. As a student of art history with no formal studies in management, it is easy to focus solely on the interpretation and understanding of art and somewhat forget about the homes in which these objects are housed. And that is what the Gibbes feels like for the Charleston and Lowcountry area—a home for art that celebrates, preserves, and cultivates an understanding in the artistic identity of the south. The Gibbes’ Beaux-Arts building is a work of art itself, and it was fascinating to learn about the roles of the people who are responsible for the smooth operation of this museum.

Gibbes Museum of Art Twitter page

Gibbes Museum of Art Twitter feed.

During the summer, one of my main duties included managing and creating some of the social outreach efforts—namely on Facebook and Twitter. These sites are excellent tools to get information out to the public in a quick and provocative way. I researched and developed short posts to connect the art or history of the Gibbes to current events or interests. Through this process I have become very familiar with the museum and its collection in a multidimensional way—not only is a post about highlighting information about a work of art or an event, it is also about creating conversations around Charleston’s cultural community, past and present. It’s always great to see responses to these posts and know that there are others out there who find these connections just as intriguing as I do!

B.B. King, Newport, 1968, by Dick Waterman

B.B. King, Newport, 1968, by Dick Waterman (b. 1935), pigment print on watercolor paper, © Dick Waterman.

Another large project that I had this summer was the creation of promotional ideas for social media for the upcoming fall exhibits, Sound and Vision: Monumental Rock and Roll Photography and Willard Hirsch: Charleston’s Sculptor. For Sound and Vision, I researched not only the famous musicians who are featured in the pictures, but also the photographers who captured the unforgettable images of these stars. In many cases, these photographers were partly responsible for the artist’s fame. Dick Waterman (b. 1935)—who photographed Son House, Mississippi John Hurt, and B.B. King—also worked to revitalize the blues movement by seeking these artists out, recording them, and becoming a lifelong friend. Other times, photographers were hired for a shoot or two and ultimately captured the iconic photo that immediately comes to mind when thinking of a musician. Who can think of The Doors and Jim Morrison without picturing the black and white image by Joel Brodsky (1939–2007) of Morrison with arms outstretched, staring out at the viewer? Interestingly, some of the photographers describe these as dumb-luck shots, and were surprised by the monumental responses to them.

Though learning about the musicians featured in the photos was interesting, I was more fascinated with the accounts of the photographers. We usually don’t hear the stories from behind the camera when looking at portraiture. Gered Mankowitz (b. 1946), who photographed Jimi Hendrix in 1967, describes the relationship between photographer and musician as one that relies heavily on trust. These photographers were tasked not only with the capturing the likeness of their subjects, but also with conveying a sense of the musician’s personality and persona. I can’t wait to see the photographs in person and I’m sure it will be an incredibly impressive exhibition! Make sure to keep an eye on Facebook and Twitter for fun facts about the works of art on view this fall, and the related programs and events. Please join in the conversation!

Alice Van Arsdale, museum relations intern and guest blogger

Same Eyes but a Different View

Working as an intern at the Gibbes has been an incredible experience for me. It has given me a whole new appreciation for art and the people who are behind-the-scenes making this museum a success. Although my internship is only six weeks, I have the amazing opportunity to spend each week with a different department head. Being the first high school intern to work at the Gibbes I had no idea what to expect, my only hope was to find the department that interested me the most so that I could further my studies in it when I go off to college next fall.

I spent my first week working with Rebecca Sailor, associate curator of education, helping with the Gibbes Summer Art Camp. I came here as a camper at age four and now I’m back fourteen years later with the same eyes but a different view. I didn’t know the challenge that came with teaching a class of four year olds, but I loved getting to know each of the kids and seeing them improve on their drawings and ideas every day. Helping with this class made me realize that even though I was in the position of a teacher, I would always be a student of art, learning new things about famous paintings I had seen multiple times before.

Mary Whyte Tour at the Gibbes Museum

Artist Mary Whyte leads a tour of her watercolor exhibition, Working South, on view at the Gibbes through September 9, 2012.

I spent my next weeks working with curator, Sara Arnold and the director of collections administration, Zinnia Willits. I had the unique opportunity of working at the Gibbes during the Mary Whyte: Working South exhibition. I loved learning about the process in which the exhibit was shipped and installed in the Main Gallery by only a few members of the small staff here. To me, the most fascinating aspect of this exhibit was that the Gibbes is offering a series of tours to museum visitors led by Mary Whyte herself. Working with the curatorial team, I was also able to assist with the upcoming exhibit Willard Hirsch: Charleston’s Sculptor. I was not only involved with researching and learning about the sculptures, I was able to test out a walking tour of public sculptures by Hirsch, and take photographs of each of his incredible sculptures. I enjoyed seeing the connections between the Gibbes Museum and the locations where these sculptures are installed.

Do-Si-Do, 1981, by Willard Hirsch

Do-Si-Do, 1981, by Willard Hirsch (American, 1905–1982). Bronze. Washington Square Park, Charleston, S.C. Photo by Douglas M. Pinkerton

This has been an unforgettable experience for me and I look forward to the upcoming weeks where I will assist Executive Director Angela Mack and work in the Museum Store. I have learned more about the inner workings of an art museum than I ever imagined I would. The amount of thought and work that the staff puts into each idea is truly admirable and I hope to one day pursue a career in the museum world.

Lexie Meyer, Porter-Gaud High School Intern and guest blogger

2012 is the first 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.

« Prev - Next »