Archive for the 'Behind the scenes' Category

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.

Make way for Minis: My Summer with the Miniature Portrait Collection

James Butler Campbell, Jr., 1845, by Charles Fraser    Eliza Huger Dunkin (Mrs. Percy Gamble Kammerer), 1923, by Leila Waring    Nathaniel Russel, 1818, by Charles Fraser
As this summer’s curatorial and collections intern I could not believe my luck when I found out I would be spending part of the summer getting acquainted with the Gibbes’ miniature portrait collection—the highly esteemed collection is the third largest in the country and I was getting the opportunity to see every single piece. I knew that part of my summer internship would be focused on collections inventory and, for some, the prospect of inventory may seem dull, but I found myself excited by the prospect of spending time in painting storage, surrounded by so much art, methodically inspecting miniature after miniature. I loved looking at the individual details of each portrait, getting to study the different historical outfits and hairstyles while imagining the personality of the subjects. Like looking through an album of old photographs, these small faces gave me a glimpse into another time, a time before digital cameras or Facebook albums—if someone wanted a portable image of their mother, father, spouse, child, or even themselves, these portraits were it!

Intern Allison Murphy examines miniatures from the Gibbes collection.

Intern Allison Murphy examines miniatures from the Gibbes collection.

The sizes of the works were captivating. Some of the portraits are small enough to have been worn as jewelry, a fact that gives the works an additional layer of allure: I couldn’t help but think “who wore these” and “for what occasion?” Handling the portraits also gave me an opportunity to see the backs of each one where intricately braided locks of hair are sometimes framed.

With the upcoming renovations and expansions to the Gibbes Museum, a large portion of the miniature portrait collection is going to be moving out of storage and into the public eye, so viewers will be able to experience, in greater volume, the charm of these small works. Especially built open storage cases are going to be designed for each work in the collection—a fact that has given me even more face time with these little guys. It has been part of my job this summer to re-measure certain portraits in the collection—ones with larger frames or cases so those measurements can be updated in our records. I have been entrusted with the handling of these works—taking them out of storage and to our prep area where I re-measure and photograph each one.

Once the Museum renovations are complete, visitors will be able to spend more time getting to know the miniatures, so they, too, can discover what I have this summer—that the Gibbes’ smallest works have some of the biggest personalities!

Allison Murphy, curatorial intern and guest blogger

What’s that you say? Acoustic Design at the Gibbes

The Gibbes Memorial Art Gallery, 1906.

The Gibbes Memorial Art Gallery, 1906.

The Gibbes Museum was built in the grand style of the Gilded Age in America when architects were designing buildings that heralded America’s status onto the world stage. As we see today with many museums designed by famous architects, the buildings are intended to be as much a work of art as the collections contained within. My June visit was full of exciting progress on the renovation plans, but I was particularly intrigued by the discussions surrounding the acoustics of the building. We are faced with a noise-reduction challenge that grand galleries in most museum spaces have to adjust to in modern times. The Gibbes Museum is no exception these days.

The stained-glass dome above the Rotunda gallery.

The stained-glass dome above the Rotunda gallery, ca. 2009. Photo by Julia Lynn.

The Gibbes Rotunda was designed as a focal point of the Beaux Arts building—a spectacular space with tessera tile floors in a pattern that echoes the ceiling design with its stained-glass dome. The current Rotunda space and side galleries have carpet covering the tile and parquet floors, and shades in the windows, which help absorb some sound. Once the carpet is gone and the shades get taken away, we will have to deal with noises bouncing off of the hard surfaces—so we consulted with acoustics design companies about the potential sound conditions of the future gallery spaces. Our consultants spent a great deal of time with us talking and walking through the galleries. We wanted to find acoustic baffles that would not take away from the beautiful architectural detail of the Rotunda. One proposal was to fit stretched fabric into the curved recesses of the ceiling. Another option was to add sound-reducing panels to the four corners of the room to reduce the echo problems even more. We realized that we would also have to add some acoustic dampeners to the Rotunda side galleries in order to create calm spaces for viewing smaller works of art.

A view of the Rotunda gallery ca. 1976.

A view of the Rotunda gallery, ca. 1976. A carpet with a roundel pattern covered the tessera tile floor.

Whereas the Rotunda acoustic scenarios must be speculated, the big-box shaped Main Gallery is currently an echo chamber. When we snapped our fingers, the sound crackled throughout the room. Fortunately, this space will be transformed into a series of vignettes displaying the collections of early paintings. We are hoping that with the addition of many walls and platforms, the smaller chambers will deflect the echo and reduce the reverberations. It was concluded that the planned modifications to this space would probably be an improvement to the present layout.

The roundel pattern in the tessera tile floor of the Rotunda gallery.

A view of the original roundel pattern in the tessera tile floor of the Rotunda gallery, ca 1974.

I guess the main point to be made here is that in the beginning of the twentieth century, when the Gibbes Museum of Art was being built, hard-surfaced materials such as marble, plaster, and mahogany were en vogue. Today, with the benefit of sound technology, we know more about how to incorporate sound-absorbing materials that we hope will improve our visitors’ experiences, without sacrificing aesthetics. When we reopen, we hope the galleries will be full of visitors exploring the works on view and conversing with friends about what they see. We anticipate more school groups and guided tours in the galleries, and more collaborations with performance-art groups. All of these increased activities will only amplify the noise, so we had better consider a solution now before the renewed galleries reopen. With our great team in place, we definitely feel up to the challenge!!

Jeff Daly, museum designer and guest blogger

Career Day

I recently had the pleasure of speaking to my son’s second grade class at Blessed Sacrament School as part of their 2012 Career Day. I love talking about what I do and enjoy watching people of all ages consider (often for the first time) what goes on behind the scenes in a museum. As Director of Collections Administration, one of my primary responsibilities is care of the art collection. Whether art objects are on the walls, in storage, moving throughout the museum or traveling nationally or internationally, it is my job to make sure they are safe and cared for properly. It is a great job and I was excited to share my experiences with a lively group of 7 and 8 year olds. I decided to present a modified version of the Behind-the-Scenes Program that Greg Jenkins, Operations Director and Preparator, and I have been offering at the museum for several years. My collections road show included several examples of archival storage containers which prompted discussion on how we preserve (a new word for second graders) art work in a museum. I also brought several small, easily transportable works from the collection to review the proper way to handle art. Miniature portraits were a big hit with this group; the children were amazed by the extraordinary details miniature portraitists produced using water color paint (a medium familiar to second graders).

Showing the class a 19th century miniature portrait painted with water color on ivory

Showing the class a 19th-century miniature portrait painted with water color on ivory.

As part of the program, I also had a selection of reproduction miniature portraits. Each child chose one of these pieces to examine more closely. I explained that all works in the collection have a computer record. These records contain information about the object including its identification number, title, the name of the artist who created it, the object’s location in the museum, a thorough description of the object and notes on its physical condition. The process of recording and describing an object is referred to as cataloging; references to its condition are the condition report. I asked each child to describe their miniature portrait (what the sitter was wearing, hair color, background) and also look for any condition problems (scratches to the frame, loose glass, etc.) Cataloging and creating condition reports are a daily part of my job; this exercise gave the class a basic idea of the process. With their observant eyes, the children provided detailed descriptions of their miniatures and alerted me to many flaws on the frames of our reproduction collection.

BSS second graders Leo Sparacino, Lauren Nadeau and Maria Alexander consider their miniature portraits.

BSS second graders Leo Sparacino, Lauren Nadeau, and Maria Alexander consider their miniature portraits.

Throughout the program I encouraged questions and was both amused and amazed by the variety of queries. Below are a few of my favorites from the Blessed Sacrament second grade.

Q: What would happen if you went to get a painting [from a borrowing institution] and took the wrong one home? (This question was in response to my description of outgoing loans and the fact that I occasionally travel with works from our collection when they are borrowed by other museums.)

A: Great question! If I took home the wrong painting I would probably be in big trouble because it would mean I was not paying attention. Every painting in the Gibbes collection has its own individual identification number called an accession number. The accession number can be found directly on each painting or work on paper. When retrieving a painting from a borrowing institution I have images of the painting as well as the accession number to make certain I take the correct work of art!

Q: Do you run the whole museum? Do you have any help or do you take care of all 10,000 works by yourself?

A: More good questions! I most certainly do not run the entire museum. We have thirteen full-time staff members at the Gibbes, several part-time employees and multitudes of dedicated volunteers and auxiliary groups. All of these individuals form “the Gibbes” and do everything from manage the staff to raise funds for museum operations, create exhibitions and educational programs, organize and manage museum events, keep the building and artwork secure, process museum memberships, oversee finances, lead group tours and much, much more! The Gibbes Museum is fortunate to have such a great team.

The short answer to the second question is yes, I do have help taking care of the art collection! While I oversee the details surrounding care and movement of the objects, there are other members of the curatorial, collections and security staff that help out. For example, Greg Jenkins, our long time museum preparator, hangs all the works in the galleries and makes sure that they are secure on the walls. Our curators contribute to the care of artwork by thoroughly researching the provenance of each piece and sharing that information with the public. They also choose what works will be hung in the exhibitions and decide how they will be arranged, keeping in mind the different sizes and types of objects and how they fit together. And of course our security team plays a huge role in helping me care for our collection. You can find the security crew in the galleries and behind-the-scenes keeping a watchful eye on the artwork.

Q: Do you take care of artwork like you take care of your children?

A: My answer to this is “not exactly.” However, there are similarities in caring for artwork and caring for children. As a parent, it is my responsibility to know where my children are and who is caring for them. Similarly, as Director of Collections Administration, I need to know where the artwork is (what gallery, what storage location, what other venue) and keep track of any location changes. As a parent I make sure that my children are always in a safe environment (at home, at school, with friends). Likewise, at work I constantly monitor the environment in which we exhibit and store the art collection. Museums maintain specific temperature, humidity and light levels to prolong the life of an object. Finally, when my children take a trip, I make sure they are prepared to travel, pack their suitcases and arrange details of how our family will get to our destination. Similarly, when artwork leaves the museum, I oversee all the details regarding packing and transportation to its destination. While I do not pack a suitcase for a painting going out on loan, I do make certain that it is clean, fit for travel, has an appropriate shipping container and is looking its best!

An example of a miniature portrait case which contains a lock of the sitter’s hair.

An example of a miniature portrait case, which contains a lock of the sitter’s hair.

Q: Have you ever seen a miniature portrait with pet hair in the back of the case?

A: This question arose after an extensive discussion of miniature portraits and the surprises that are often found on the backs of miniature cases. I brought a miniature from the museum’s collection that had a lock of the sitter’s hair in a special compartment on the back of the case. This sentimental nineteenth century tradition fascinated the children and generated much speculation as to why people did this. Regarding the question about pet hair, I have seen miniature portraits of animals (we have a lovely miniature by Leila Waring of her cat Dick) but have not come across one that contained a lock of the pet’s hair. I will keep an eye out!

Dick, 1910, by Leila Waring (American 1876–1964). 2008.005.0001

Dick, 1910, by Leila Waring (American 1876–1964). 2008.005.0001

Q: Why don’t you have enough space to show all the paintings in the collection?

A: I informed the second graders that at present, the Gibbes is only able to display about 2-4% of the permanent collection. The reason we cannot exhibit more works is that we are simply out of space. The existing museum building was constructed in 1905 when the art collection contained significantly fewer works. While more gallery space was added over the years the current layout can only accommodate a certain number of works. We rotate objects every six months to give the public a wider view of the depth and breadth of the permanent collection but long for more exhibition space. Thankfully, the Gibbes is headed for a major building renovation and expansion that will finally provide more room to exhibit and store the collection! We are excited to share a larger number of objects from the Gibbes collection once the renovation is complete. Stay tuned for future posts on this exciting project!

Q: Do you work on the weekends?

A: This question made me laugh but the class felt it was extremely important. No, I do not generally work on the weekends. However, there are occasions when a large exhibition installation with a tight schedule necessitates weekend hours to finish on time. There are also occasions where incoming art shipments must occur on a weekend due to the lenders schedule, the shipping route or the numbers and size of crated works. I am always front and center (along with Greg Jenkins) for those weekend deliveries.

Speaking at the Blessed Sacrament Career Day was a great experience. The children were genuinely interested in my job at the Gibbes and their enthusiasm was infectious. Describing your daily work to children and fielding their many questions is a great way to gain perspective on the importance of what we as museum professionals accomplish each day and why we do it. Many of the children told me I had the coolest job in the world. Without hesitation, I have to agree.

Zinnia Willits, Director of Collections Administration

It’s All in the Details

Second Floor Main Entrance Wall

The building design process for the Gibbes’ renovation is getting much busier these days. We are all juggling many aspects of the project at the same time but everyone is very excited about our results. Design ideas for both the Museum Store and new Café are moving into more finalized proposals. The Store will have illuminated displays in each of the Meeting Street windows and the new cabinetry and lighting will really highlight the beautiful merchandise. I have been reviewing current trends in museum gift shops all over the east coast, and I feel that we will have something very special in Charleston. The Café plan is becoming more defined—with input on the prep and service areas being provided by one of the major restaurant equipment companies in the area. The look of the Café is also changing. I want to stay true to impressive Beaux-Arts architecture of the original building but create a space that will encourage visitors to relax and enjoy the community environment of the café. I have been inspired by the numerous cafés in many of the Washington, DC museums. Our plans include a large community table at the center of the Café surrounded by a series of three or four banquettes nestled into the reopened Meeting Street windows. The Café and Museum Store will be open to visitors without paying admission, which is a key aspect of the newly renovated first floor open corridor spaces.

The first floor art classrooms are well into the planning stages—ready for the architects to insert into the final design document. We’ve invited a few artist friends of the museum to help conceptualize the professional artist studios in an attempt to guarantee that we get it right the first time. The curators and I are refining the plans for the second floor galleries to tell a visual narrative from the early history of southern art through to current developments and trends in contemporary art. And we are finally developing elevation drawings that will be used to create a 3-D model of the second floor galleries with all of the artworks in place. This next step will bring the future galleries to life so that we can share more concretely how the museum displays will be completely transformed.

Back in the first floor main corridor, beautiful reproduction pendant light fixtures will be installed down the long hallway. From old photographs in the museum archive, we know these new pendant fixtures are a similar design to the originals that hung in the corridor, and they will relate to the restored originals in the second floor colonnade. Museum visitors will be able to walk from the Museum Store and Café at the front of the building, past the classrooms and studio spaces, and into the newly renovated reception gallery and lecture hall at the garden end of the building. Flexible lighting options in the rooms at the rear of the building will increase their multipurpose functionality and we hope will create an appealing event space leading to the glass-covered back porch and the new sculpture garden.

Second Floor Main Entrance Wall (Front)

A major step in the process is the development of a completely new lighting system for all of the galleries and public spaces, which is being designed by Anita Jorgensen from New York. The LED lighting she has specified for most public areas of the building will enhance the artworks and transform the space—showing the original intent of the artists and architects. The Rotunda gallery and Tiffany Dome will be lit from above and below with LED and fluorescent lighting. I expect the illumination techniques we have planned for the stained-glass dome will result in the most perfect likeness to its original installation in 1905. Imagine the Rotunda’s original tessera tile floor, which relates to the ceiling’s Beaux-Arts architectural details and mimics the design of the dome itself, once it is restored and beautifully lit!

As I have been doing during each visit, Angela and I spoke with museum friends and supporters about the plans for the future for the Gibbes. With each event, we have received great responses and suggestions. I am impressed with our supporters ideas and their passionate concerns about the new Gibbes. As these concepts continue to develop, I look forward to sharing them with you on this blog. I honestly can’t wait until we start the restorations and reconstructions!

Jeff Daly, museum designer and guest blogger

An Open and Inviting First Floor Plan

Eliza Huger Dunkin (Mrs. Percy Gamble Kammerer), 1923, by Leila Waring   Ann Huger Laight, after 1855, attributed to John Carlin   Archibald Scott, after 1769, attributed to James Peale

During my visit this past December, I continued to hammer out the gallery layouts with the curatorial staff. It is amazing how so much art just keeps appearing out of the collection archives. As we always do during these visits, we tweaked the main galleries again to refine the installation and edit out some pieces to allow more room for the stars of the collection. We finalized the initial layouts for the Cabinette Galleries, which will display the museum’s collection of miniature paintings, just off the Main Gallery. I feel very comfortable about the direction we are taking and very impressed with the stamina of the curatorial staff. We have spent days in quarantine, projecting images on the wall of the office conference room and then placing them into the gallery plans. We have not started with a sketch model yet but I am certain that we will begin one during my next visit in January or February.

Guggenheim Exhibition at the Gibbes Museum, 1936

The Guggenheim exhibition, 1936, in the Main Gallery of the Gibbes Museum. The skylights overhead will be reopened after the renovations.

As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, in the new building all gallery spaces will be located on the second and third floors. This arrangement allows the first floor to become a hive of activity for visitors with a variety of interests. At this point, we definitely know that the windows at the front of the building will open into the new Café and the Museum Store. From the front door to the redesigned courtyard garden at the rear, the new designs and lighting systems will give the museum a much more open feeling. Meeting Street strollers will be enticed to stop and walk through the first floor of the building free of charge, and we hope it will become a destination spot. The new inviting displays will encourage visitors to return to shop, dine, and meet up with friends.

Gibbes Museum of Art, 1906

An exterior view of the Gibbes Museum of Art in 1906.

I have been working with Sara Meyer, Museum Store Manager, to design all new cabinetwork and display systems, a new music system, and new lighting in the Store to make it more flexible and easier to adapt according to seasonal needs. The Café will offer a great assortment of foods and beverages as the visitors walk in the door. All of the new furniture will focus on flexible space arrangements to accommodate groups or friends who come to relax or to take their treats out onto the front plaza of the museum. With the Café project I have teamed up with Lasley Steever, Programs & Events Manager, who was a friend of mine from the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

Rebecca Sailor, Associate Curator of Education, and I have been running around the city to tour some of the newest school facilities in Charleston. We are translating what we have seen into designs for the new studio and art classroom spaces on either side of the first floor central hall. This time we spent a lot of time verifying the exact size and spaces that we have for the students, teachers, and artists who will utilize the new facilities. Of course, we dragged Greg Jenkins around with us to confirm our layouts for the new equipment and furnishings since he lives and breathes that building everyday. We finished feeling quite satisfied that we can make it all work and create fun, workable spaces for everyone.

Minnie Mikell at work in the Gibbes Art Studio Gallery, 1925

Minnie Mikell at work in the Gibbes Art Studio Gallery, 1925. New studios on the first floor of the museum will provide spaces for artists to work.

This past December’s visit was also a time for getting out on the road to talk to friends of the museum about the collection and the new plans. Executive Director Angela Mack and I attended two auxiliary group events in the evenings. What fun to go for cocktails, show the drawings and plans, and get to visit some incredible places in Charleston. A highlight was our visit to Kiawah Island, which was the first time for me. Thanks Angela! I can’t wait to see where we go to next time. A great perk is that when the weather gets really nasty at my home in upstate New York, I can always look forward to my visits to Charleston to warm my cold winter spirits!

—Jeff Daly, museum designer and guest blogger

Designing the New Galleries

We have made great progress on plans for the Gibbes renovations since my earlier post in October. The first phase of the gallery designs and plans were approved and the drawings completed. This trip, curatorial staff members Angela Mack, Sara Arnold, Pam Wall, and I had a great time creating the look and feel of the newly expanded second floor galleries. As we worked together, I realized that we had captured an additional 10,000 square feet of gallery space as a result of the transformation of the Main Gallery, the extension of the third floor at the back of the building, and the conversion of the current store rooms and office space located in the 1970s addition that surrounds the original Beaux Arts building.

Unidentified sitter, ca. 1755, Mary Roberts

During my November visit, we started to delve into the museum’s incredible collection of miniature paintings in order to tell the story of this medium in the South. I was not really surprised when Angela told me that the collection is the third largest in America—of course that would be the case with all the romance and charm of Charleston! The Miniatures and Cabinettes Gallery will showcase a grand history of Charleston’s residents through the development of American miniature portrait painting. The works on view will highlight the premiere artists of the period and the evolution of the genre. The gallery will include other major prints, drawings, and images created by many of the artists who worked in Charleston and helped it flourish as an American center of portrait miniatures. Visitors will move from the cases displaying hand-painted likenesses into galleries exhibiting the development of the Daguerreotype and early photographs in the museum’s extensive photograph collection. The scale of these tiny works of art will not translate well in an architectural drawing, so I think this space will be the first 3-D model we will build.

At my suggestion, the museum invited lighting designer Anita Jorgensen—who worked with me at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and is now consulting all over the country—to participate in the project. She reviewed the lighting proposals for the galleries, the museum’s exterior, and the entire first floor including the new café, the shop, and the new lecture and events spaces. We plan to install all new track and energy-efficient light fixtures throughout the building and create some very dramatic displays.

Greg Jenkins and Anita Jorgensen examine the dome structure from above the Rotunda Gallery.

Greg Jenkins and Anita Jorgensen examine the dome structure from above the Rotunda Gallery.

On the second floor, we will reopen the original skylights above the Main Gallery with state of the art light-diffusing glass and a new illumination system. The Tiffany-style dome in the Rotunda Gallery is in extremely good condition and it will get a serious cleaning. Anita and I followed operations manager Greg Jenkins up to the skylights and the stained-glass dome “installation room” above the Rotunda. We reviewed the dome’s existing lighting system and concluded that the best treatment will be to simply bounce dimmable fluorescent lighting down toward the dome to provide an even wash of light. We will also work on a new approach to illuminating the oculus, or center, of the dome and its decorative grillwork.

The museum’s dome is the only Beaux Arts example in Charleston, so highlighting the exterior of the building is key as well. Anita and I mustered the courage to go up on the roof again to review the potential exterior lighting options. We have a lot of work to do in order to achieve our plan. This truly makes me appreciate the monumental effort that Greg makes on a daily basis to keep the building in great shape.

Lighting designer Anita Jorgensen on the roof of the Gibbes Museum.

On a beautiful fall day, lighting designer Anita Jorgensen enjoyed the wonderful warm breeze and the view of the Ravenel Bridge over the Cooper River as she examined the roof of the Gibbes Museum.

As I mentioned in my previous post, we are rehabbing the space from top to bottom, so imagine our delight when we saw the amount of original tile flooring that has survived under the 1970s carpeting. It appears that the first floor tiling still remains under the central hallway carpeting so it will be cleaned and restored. But the area that really surprised everyone is the spectacularly patterned tile flooring in the second floor Rotunda Gallery. I snapped several photos to show the floor in it current condition—it looks very tired now but we are hopeful that it can be restored to its original grandeur. It appears that the center area of the floor has a very large pattern that may be a floral design. It is large enough that its diameter will most likely match the Tiffany-style dome above.

A detail of the tile design in the flooring original to the Beaux-Arts building.

A detail of the tile design in the flooring original to the Beaux Arts building.

I am excited for the final results when the Rotunda floor is uncovered, the walnut architectural woodwork is stripped of years of paint and refinished, and the dome is cleaned and glows with new lighting elements. The space will be brought back to life again and it will unquestionably become a Charleston destination place. I cannot wait!

Jeff Daly, museum designer and guest blogger

Women’s Council Auxiliary: Giving Back for Over 60 Years

Past presidents of the Women's Council at the 60th Anniversary celebration.

Past presidents of the Women's Council at the 60th Anniversary celebration.

In March of 1950, five women—Mrs. E. E. Wehman, Mrs. Ashby Farrow, Mrs. H. Evans Townsend, Mrs. James Wilson, and Mrs. C. Smith Toms—gathered in the museum to discuss the formation of a new group called the Gibbes Art Gallery Auxiliary. The auxiliary group’s main activities would include running receptions for exhibition openings and supporting children’s art classes operated in the Gallery. This meeting initiated what is now known as the Women’s Council of the Gibbes Museum of Art, and began a long career of giving back to Charleston’s art museum.

Members at the Annual Valentine's Day Card Party, 1961.

Members at the Annual Valentine's Day Card Party, 1961.

For the next three years, the Gibbes Art Gallery Auxiliary raised money for the children’s art program through card parties, silver teas, and raffles. The group defined their purpose “to foster an interest in art in the city, especially among children,” and in 1955, they contributed $300 to the Junior Gallery. They also worked to maintain the grounds of the museum. Joining forces with The Garden Club of Charleston, volunteers improved the museum’s courtyard landscape and the restoration of the historic Charleston Gateway Walk.

Under the guidance of Corrie McCallum, the Gibbes created and conducted the first comprehensive art appreciation program for Charleston County public school students.

Under the guidance of Corrie McCallum, the Gibbes created and conducted the first comprehensive art appreciation program for Charleston County public school students.

By 1960, the auxiliary group had grown to 87 members, and in 1961 the group initiated a docent program at the museum. Twenty-four women were part of the inaugural program that assisted with education in the galleries. During the 1960s, the Council supported the public school art programs in Charleston County. Under the direction of artist Corrie McCallum, the first art appreciation program began in the schools, and reached an estimated 20,000 children a year.

In the late ‘60s the group changed their name to the Women’s Council, and defined their mission as volunteerism. Under the direction of a member named Lenora Kessler, thirty women staffed the reception desks at the Gibbes five days a week. In addition to the visitor services the group provided, they organized garden parties, house tours, and gala fundraising events.

A garden tea hosted by the Women's Council of the GMA.

A garden tea hosted by the Women's Council in 1965.

In 1970, the Women’s Council added a museum shop to their roster of duties, and dubbed it “The Turtle” based on an Anna Heyward Taylor print in the museum’s collection. The women organized a gala event to raise money to purchase the inventory and staff the operation. The Women’s Council had become an integral part of the museum, and their volunteerism and fundraising efforts were an important resource for the day-to-day operations of the institution.

Sea Turtle from the series This Our Land, 1948, by Anna Heyward Taylor (American, 1879–1956). Gibbes Museum of Art (1949.002.0003.002)

Sea Turtle from the series This Our Land, 1948
Anna Heyward Taylor (American, 1879–1956).
Linoleum print on paper
Gibbes Museum of Art, Gift of the Artist (1949.002.0003.002)

In the 1980s, members of the group continued their educational focus by providing curriculum objectives, instructional assistance, and classroom visits to five elementary schools serving the underprivileged community. They continued to host the exhibition opening events, and to produce fundraising events to support the Gibbes. In the late eighties, they gave a gift of $15,000 towards a permanent gallery for the Charleston Renaissance collection, now called the “Alice Smith Gallery” on the first floor.

The Council established an Annual Holiday Tour of Homes in 1990, which continued until 2007. Historic homes were decked in holiday décor and tickets were sold for admission on the tour. During this time, their ranks grew to 248 members and they contributed research to a museum publication titled, Alice Ravenel Huger Smith, An Artist, a Place and a Time; aided the implementation of a collections department and museum archive; and funded, in-part, a new museum store, just to name a few accomplishments. In 1993, the South Carolina Federation of Museums recognized the Women’s Council for “their contributions of services, manpower, money, and ideas to support the goals, ideals, and programs” of the Gibbes.

Janice Waring and Kathy Nistad present a check for $24,000.

Janice Waring and Kathy Nistad present a check to the museum for $24,000.

Rhett Ramsay Outten and Dolly Lipman at the Fine Art and Flowers opening night party, March 2011.

Rhett Ramsay Outten and Dolly Lipman at the Fine Art and Flowers opening night party, March 2011.

The Women’s Council remains an auxiliary eager to support the Gibbes Museum through participation and fundraising. Their fundraising efforts have evolved over time, and now are focused on a spring luncheon and lecture, called the Art of Design. This year, the group is proud to present renowned designer, Carolyne Roehm, as the speaker.

Joanne Harth, Beatty Martin, and Debbie Fisher at Fine Art and Flowers, March 2011.

Joanne Harth, Beatty Martin, and Debbie Fisher at Fine Art and Flowers, March 2011.

Today, the membership includes women of all ages from across the Tri-County area, and is actively reaching out to potential new members. Four meetings are scheduled each year, exploring a variety of topics relating to the arts. The Women’s Council continues their legacy of sponsoring exhibition openings, and supporting community outreach efforts at the museum. Its goal is to impact the community in a favorable way by bringing educationally and socially stimulating opportunities through the arts to Charleston’s vibrant constituency.

Contributed by Joanne Harth, Women’s Council President, and Ginny Brush, Women’s Council Past President

Learn more about the Women’s Council and opportunities to participate.

Save the Date: The Women’s Council presents the Art of Design Luncheon and Lecture with Carolyne Roehm, designed by Tara Guérard Soirée, on Friday, March 30, at noon.

Photocredits: All images courtesy of the Gibbes Museum of Art.
Corrie McCallum with works from the Gibbes Picture Lending Gallery, ca. 1965: photo by Gene Evans.
Fine Art & Flowers event images, March 2011: photos by Jason Baxley

Looking to the Past to Plan for the Future

Gibbes Museum of Art, facade

Architectural rendering of James Gibbes Art Gallery, by Frank P. Milburn, ca. 1903

After 28 years as a designer at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, I decided to start my own museum design business. My first client was the Annual Winter Antiques Show in New York. Last year we had the very successful exhibit, Grandeur Preserved, organized by the Historic Charleston Foundation. The exhibit borrowed from most of the major Charleston museums and collections but especially from the Gibbes Museum of Art. Following the success of that event, I was contacted by museum executive director Angela Mack to discuss the renovation of the Gibbes. I was thrilled to be asked and couldn’t wait to find out more.

When I arrived in Charleston in July, Angela said that she wanted me to be the consultant for the entire museum project, not just the gallery installation designs. This was exactly the project I wanted to be involved with after years of helping renovate and re-think the Met. I fly down every month from New York for a week of meetings with the entire museum staff as well the engineers, architects, and project managers for the renovation. I have now fallen in love with the city of Charleston and its art museum.

Gibbes Museum of Art: First Floor

Current first floor layout for the Gibbes Museum.

As many people know, the Gibbes is currently laid out with the earliest works of art from the collection displayed in the low ceilinged, first floor galleries. The Modern and Contemporary art is located at the back (west end) of the museum and continues on the second and third floor back galleries as well. The Main and the Rotunda Galleries on the second floor are both for temporary special exhibitions. All of that is changing now.

Gibbes Museum of Art: Second Floor

Current second floor layout for the Gibbes Museum.

We are taking inspiration from the past to design the new galleries, while looking to the future to redefine the focus for all of the museum spaces. The Museum Store will stay in the front of the building but will move across the hall on the museum’s first floor, and the new Gibbes café will be situated where the shop used to be. All of the first and second floor windows will be reopened connecting the interior spaces of the museum with the energy of Meeting Street. Dedicated classroom spaces, artist studios, and a lecture hall will become a hub of activity for the creative community. The Gibbes is going to be alive, day and night, with views into the building that will make everyone stop to contemplate their next visit. My favorite part of all of this planning is that the entire first floor will be devoted to the public – free of charge. Visitors will be able to walk through the building from the front entrance down the classroom corridor to the atrium rear-entryway and new garden courtyard.

Longitudinal Cross-section of the new Gibbes Museum

Architectural rendering of a longitudinal cross section of the newly designed museum.

This first floor change allows a transformation of the upper floors of the building. All of the artwork is moving upstairs to the second and third floors where approximately 2000 additional square feet of gallery space will permit more of the permanent collection to be shown. I am currently working on the layouts for the entire second floor with curators Sara Arnold and Pam Wall, and with Angela Mack, of course. We have determined that the Main Gallery will house the early works in the Gibbes collection featuring all of the beauties and famous characters that have been the story of Charleston for hundreds of years. The installation will flow into the north group of galleries (currently office space) and around to the back galleries, with a view to the newly designed sculpture garden and courtyard at the west end. The second floor installation will culminate with a new special gallery on the south side to display one of the largest and finest miniature paintings collections in the country. Finally, two new galleries on the third floor will be dedicated to special exhibitions; and a new collection storage room with a viewing area will allow visitors to see the staff at work.

We are still working on my favorite part of museum design as we continue to discuss the art installations. I get to go through the collection storage with Zinnia Willits, director of collections administration, and talk about the art. How can that not be fun?! I love discovering the surprises that have not been on view due to space limitations but can now be incorporated into the new displays. The other great adventure has been working with Greg Jenkins, operations director, on all the other behind-the-scenes spaces of the museum. On my last trip, Greg was brave enough to take me up above the skylights in the attic over the Rotunda and the Main Galleries. All of the original skylights above the second and third floor will be reopened and updated to illuminate the Main and the Rotunda galleries with filtered, safe daylight. No more dark rainy days at the Gibbes! After that, we went up onto the roof so I could see the exterior of the Rotunda dome to consider how to light it. Our goal is for all of Charleston to see the museum’s location and to be able to view the landmark structure at night from the air.

All of this description is basically to say that the museum is being reborn. The first floor will become a dynamic part of downtown Charleston and one of the liveliest places in the city. The art classrooms will come back to life again the way they were in the 1920’s and 30’s. The creative spirit of the original 1905 Gibbes Museum and the Carolina Art Association will become the lifeblood of the street level while the upstairs will return to the grand spaces that James Shoolbred Gibbes intended when he funded the construction of the building in 1905. Even the front entrance of the museum will be getting a facelift with a cleaning and new lighting to show off the proud façade. Stay tuned for updates as we continue to define the plans for this exciting museum renovation!


—Jeff Daly, museum designer and guest blogger

Outgoing Loans: Collaboration, Consideration, Negotiation

Charleston Runner, by Mary Edna Fraser

Many museums organize the artwork in their galleries according to “permanent collection” and “special exhibition” themes. The permanent collection galleries display works of art that belong to the museum, while special exhibitions often include art on loan from another institution or private collectors. The Gibbes Museum regularly receives requests from museums across the country to borrow artwork for special exhibitions. Museums constantly lend works back and forth and are involved in an on-going cooperative dialogue about sharing art to enhance an exhibition or highlight a period of regional, national, or global art history. While the outgoing loan process follows a standard protocol, each instance is full of negotiation and nuance.

Most loan requests begin with a conversation between two curators to discuss an exhibition being organized and to inquire about borrowing works. The borrowing curator will provide exhibition details including themes, a check list of confirmed works, exhibition dates, information about scholarly research and publication initiatives, and any possibility of the exhibition traveling to multiple venues. Informal correspondence between curators is followed by a letter from the borrower to the Gibbes Executive Director, formally requesting the loan. In order to process a request, the Gibbes Museum asks that loan requests are submitted no later than three months before the date the artwork is needed—larger museums often require six months to one year lead time! Last minute requests are discouraged due to the amount of preparatory work required of collections and curatorial staff.

Zinnia Willits and Sara Arnold assess the condition of an outgoing loan object.

Zinnia Willits and Sara Arnold assess the condition of an outgoing loan object.

Once the formal application has been received, a series of internal questions must be addressed. Our collections and curatorial staff must determine if the object is needed for upcoming exhibitions at the Gibbes, if its condition is stable enough for travel, and if the borrowing institution’s facility meets standard requirements of security and climate control as defined by the American Association of Museums. These are just a few items on the lengthy checklist we use when considering outgoing loans. If the request passes the staff vetting process, it is brought before the Gibbes Museum Collections Committee for final approval.

The Collections Committee, a sub-Committee of the Carolina Art Association Board of Directors, meets quarterly with the Executive Director, Curator of Collections, and Director of Collections Administration to monitor the direction of the permanent collection and must review all outgoing loan requests. If the loan is approved by the Collections Committee, the borrowing institution is given the good news and work continues with the often complicated details of conservation, packing, and shipping. Each museum has specific requirements that must be accepted by the borrower for the loan to move forward. For example, the Gibbes maintains a document that outlines standard requirements for all outgoing loans. This document is provided to the borrowing museum as soon as a request is received and covers all matters of shipping, couriers, photography, insurance, and installation. The costs to conserve, pack, and ship outgoing loans can be enormous and is outlined in the agreement. Negotiation regarding lender requirements can be challenging for both parties, but in the end, safety and integrity of artwork always prevails.

Mama, You Know I Never Paid Matisse No Never Mind, by Sigmund Abeles

Currently the Gibbes has works on loan to several regional institutions. The work, Mama You Know I Never Paid Matisse No Never Mind, 2000, by Sigmund Abeles (American, b. 1934) can be found at the Columbia Museum of Art in the exhibition It Figures: The Work of Sigmund Abeles, until October 23, 2011.

The Exchange, by Edward Rice

Slightly farther west you will find two works by Edward Rice (American, b. 1953), The Exchange, 2011 and 502 Lucerne, 1983–1986, at the Morris Museum of Art in Augusta, Georgia. These paintings are prominently featured in the exhibition, Preservation of Place: the Art of Edward Rice, on view through November 20, 2011. Travel north a few hours to see the beautiful work titled Charleston Runner, 1996, by local artist Mary Edna Fraser (American, b. 1952). This batik is on view at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences through November 6, 2011, in the compelling exhibition Our Expanding Oceans, a study of the science behind sea level rise.

502 Lucerne Street, 1983–1986, by Edward Rice

The outgoing loan process for these exhibitions began back in 2010! As I write this, there are several new outgoing loan requests under consideration. Stay tuned to find out where works from the Gibbes collection might travel next.

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

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