Archive for the 'Behind the scenes' Category

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

An Eventful Summer

Curator Sara Arnold and intern Amanda Breen, in front of Gibbes Street Party festivities.

When I arrived in Charleston in May after two days and just over a thousand miles in the car, I wasn’t completely sure of what I was getting myself into. A new city, a new work experience, and new people to meet was exciting, but also a little terrifying. Looking back over the three months I spent as the Media Relations/Communications intern at the Gibbes Museum, I’m happy to report that Charleston, the Gibbes, and all the people I have worked with and met have truly made this an unforgettable experience!

When I decided to go back to school for a certificate in museum studies, almost two years after completing my undergraduate degree, I never would have imagined I would end up in Charleston, SC. I had always heard wonderful things about the city, so as my final semester approached I began doing a little research on the museums in the area where I might be able to apply for an internship. The Gibbes Museum caught my attention right away, not only for its collection and exhibitions, but for its unique history and true commitment to South Carolina’s artistic heritage. Since I wasn’t able to visit and interview with the museum in person, I spoke on the phone with Marla Loftus, the Director of Museum Relations, who offered me the position of Media Relations/Communications Intern for the summer. I knew this would be a great opportunity to learn about and participate in the marketing and events departments of a museum. My second day at the Gibbes, the museum hosted its annual Street Party, a fabulous and exciting way to kick off my internship and the summer. Shutting down one of the busiest streets in Charleston, amazing food, and great entertainment is probably not the norm after less that 48 hours at a new position, but I wasn’t going to complain!

Over the past three months, I’ve had a chance to work with a variety of people within the museum, but have primarily assisted the Director of Museum Relations. From posting press releases online, to fulfilling donation requests and organizing media coverage of the museum and its programs, I’ve enjoyed getting to know the museum and Charleston from an insider’s perspective. One of my favorite parts of this internship was being included in almost every meeting that the Director of Museum Relations attended, which gave me a better understanding and appreciation for how much planning goes into promoting the museum and the importance of community relationships and allowed me to meet some wonderful people in Charleston’s cultural community. If I’ve learned anything from this internship, it’s that the time spent cultivating partnerships with media outlets and sponsors is essential to the success of a museum.

I’ve also spent a lot of time working with the Program and Events Manager. Almost immediately after the sidewalks were swept following the Street Party, planning began on the next fundraising event, Bitters and Twisted in the Salon d’Orleans. Timed to coincide with the opening of one of the new exhibitions In Search of Julien Hudson: Free Artist of Color in Pre-Civil War New Orleans, this event was organized by the Gibbes’ young professionals auxiliary group, Society 1858. I assisted with everything from researching options for hand-held fans to helping with set up on the day of the event. It’s impossible to understand the amount of time and dedication that goes into planning an event such as this unless you are involved with the preparations. Performers and caterers don’t magically appear the night of the event, poised and ready for a couple hundred guests. Months of research and decisions go into making the night so memorable and successful. I have a deeper appreciation for anyone that plans programs and events and I know I will be able to apply the experiences I’ve had this summer at the Gibbes in my professional career.

This internship at the Gibbes Museum has given me the confidence to begin a career in the museum and art world. I’ve learned and participated in more than I ever imagined I would and have enjoyed being a part of this amazing team!

Amanda Breen, Media Relations/Communications Summer Intern, Gibbes Museum of Art

Intern Perspective: Planning and Promoting Happenings at the Gibbes

Since January, I have been gifted with the opportunity to intern behind the scenes at the Gibbes. Before my internship began, I was not sure of what I was getting myself into. Of course my mind went to the two extremes: I would either be licking envelopes and getting coffee or I would be overwhelmed with tough work and little explanation. Instead, I have had an entirely different experience working as the Museum Relations intern for the past four months. I felt welcomed from day one and have truly enjoyed working with the small staff who are able to keep the successful museum flourishing.

Although I am from Rye, New York, I have grown up spending tons of my time in Charleston with both my immediate and my extended family and have always considered this amazing city my second home. I am a junior at the College of Charleston double majoring in Art History and Communication. Two summers ago I had the opportunity to work with Rebecca Sailor, the Associate Curator of Education, helping her with the Gibbes Summer Art Camp. That experience showed me what a great connection the museum truly had with its surrounding community. Last Fall, when I was considering taking on an internship during the school year my uncle and local artist, John Dunnan, suggested I apply to the Gibbes. Right away, I knew this was a brilliant idea and after meeting with Marla Loftus and Lasley Steever, I was thrilled to accept the position. Although I have interned at the museum before, the experience offered with the Public Relations and Event Planning departments seemed like an opportunity I should not refuse. I was told I would have a very hands-on position and learn both simple and complex tasks that would be beneficial in the long run.

The models' finalé walk on the Flirting with Art runway.

For the past four months I have been able to assist with Public Relations, Event Planning, and Social Media for the Gibbes. I have been fortunate to learn so much about several different things that are involved with all of these jobs. From posting press releases and managing PR mentions to planning parties and posting tweets, there is always something to get done. One of my favorite events that I was lucky enough to be a part of was Flirting with Art in February. I enjoyed helping organize and plan this extravagant and modern runway show and loved being there to experience all of the hard work put into action. It was exhilarating watching the process while local artists interpreted the art of modern painters with a mix of styles using the human body as the canvas.

Recently, I was able to get involved with the opening of open two new exhibitions commemorating the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War: A Soldier’s View of Civil War Charleston and Stephen Marc: Passage on the Underground Railroad. The extraordinary connections I have seen made between the permanent collection and the the temporary exhibitions has been awe-inspiring. I love working with people who share my passion for both art and education and hope that the Gibbes Museum will continue to thrive in this historical and artistic city. I have enjoyed my experience here at the Gibbes that has been filled with both learning and excitement and I hope to keep a close connection with all of the staff and members for a long time to come!

Clay Dunnan, Museum Relations Intern, January through May 2011

Mrs. Gilmor goes to New York

After clearing a conservation assesment, Mrs. Gilmor is ready to be put into her crate.

How do you prepare for upcoming travel? Perhaps you check the weather for your destination and reconfirm transit arrangements. You might make sure luggage is in suitable condition and your accommodations are up to par. Maybe you review your travel wardrobe or purchase new travel clothing. Interestingly, preparing artwork to travel is not all that different. As Director of Collections Administration, I think a lot about how artwork is going to travel out of the museum, out of the state, or even out of the country. One of my responsibilities is to act as travel agent and personal assistant to artwork in the Gibbes collection. I make sure each piece is in good physical condition to travel; clear itineraries with Gibbes curators who may need particular works for upcoming exhibitions; make sure each piece has a travel container; and oversee all transit arrangements.

The outgoing loan of Mrs. Robert Gilmor, Jr. (Sarah Reeve Ladson) by Thomas Sully (American, 1783–1872) is a good example of this process. As you have probably heard (or seen in the January issue of Charleston Magazine), this lovely painting—along with five other pieces from our collection—is preparing for a whirlwind trip to New York City where she will be featured in the loan exhibition at the Winter Antiques Show. The exhibition, Grandeur Preserved: Masterworks Presented by Historic Charleston Foundation, will highlight more than fifty objects selected from Charleston’s leading cultural institutions as well as private collections. Mrs. Gilmor will be a star in this show, and I (the personal assistant and travel agent) have been preparing her trip for many months.

Let me share some details of Mrs. Gilmor’s travel itinerary and preparations. Historic Charleston Foundation invited Mrs. Gilmor to participate in this exhibition over a year ago. Thankfully that was plenty of time to clear her social schedule in terms of upcoming exhibitions at the Gibbes. In addition to the “invitation,” or outgoing loan request, we received a facility report for the exhibition destination which contains important details about the loan venue’s security, lighting, and climate control, as well as information about how our painting would be installed and who would install it. These documents had to be approved by the Collections Committee and Board of Directors of the Gibbes Museum of Art. We also approved the details of her travel arrangements. Thomas Sully painted Mrs. Gilmor in 1823. She is 188 years old and prefers to travel in style. Fortunately, she already owns a custom crate which keeps her safe and comfortable during transit. Mrs. Gilmor traveled to China in this crate several years ago and enjoyed the security it provided.

A view of the interior and exterior crates used to protect Mrs. Gilmor in transit.

Another part of the outgoing loan process is scheduling a thorough conservation assessment. Think of this as the physical check-up sometimes needed prior to strenuous travel. Before Mrs. Gilmor was approved for loan, I reviewed her condition with an art conservator to make sure that the paint surface was stable and her frame was solid with all gilding intact. Any needed repairs must be scheduled well in advance of the actual travel dates—timing is everything when it comes to outgoing loan preparation. Fortunately, Mrs. Gilmor is in wonderful condition. She had some work done (shhhh) before the afore-mentioned trip to China and is in great shape to travel to New York City.

The painting is secured in an interior box before being set into the travel crate.

While Mrs. Gilmor required no grooming for this particular trip, I did prepare a detailed condition report. Condition reports contain images and a complete description of any flaws or vulnerable areas that exist on a work before it is released for travel. Condition reports are very important and must be reviewed when loans reach their destinations. While only the most qualified museum professionals handle and transport loans, it’s always good to have written documentation of a painting’s pre-loan condition… just in case.

Preparator Greg Jenkins inserts foam blocks to secure the interior case containing the painting.

Now here we are, just days away from Mrs. Gilmor’s trip to New York City. I have been in touch with the shippers and confirmed her transit itinerary. Her accommodations at the Park Avenue Armory are ready and I am in possession of the very detailed installation plan. She is secure in her crate and ready to go. I will be in New York to greet her upon arrival and make sure she is comfortable in her temporary surroundings. As a personal assistant to artwork, sometimes when you request an outgoing loan from the Gibbes… you get me too!

See you in New York!

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

Other works of art traveling to New York City from the Gibbes Museum’s collection include:

View of Mulberry, House and Street, ca. 1805, by Thomas Coram (American, 1756 – 1811). Oil on paper; 4 1/16 x 6 11/16 inches. Museum Purchase (1968.018.0001)

Eliza Izard (Mrs. Thomas Pinckney, Jr.), 1801, by Edward Greene Malbone (American, 1777 – 1872). Watercolor on ivory; 2 7/8 x 2 3/8 inches. Museum Purchase (1939.004.0004)

Colonel Thomas Pinckney, Jr., 1801, by Edward Greene Malbone (American, 1777 – 1872). Watercolor on ivory; 3 x 2 3/8 inches. Museum Purchase (1939.004.0003)

Mrs. Arthur Middleton (Alicia Hopton Russell Middleton), 1836, by Andrew Robertson (Scottish, 1777 – 1845). Watercolor on ivory; 3 5/8 x 2 3/4 inches. Gift of Alicia Hopton Middleton (1937.005.0002)

Charlotte Helen Middleton and her enslaved nurse, Lydia, 1852, by George Smith Cook (American, 1819 – 1902). Ambrotype. Gift of Alicia Hopton Middleton (1937.005.0010)

New Exhibitions, New Experiences

Hello everyone! My name is Andrew Ochsner and I’m the fall intern in the Gibbes Collections department. I thought I’d take advantage of the blog to share a little bit about my experiences here at the museum. As a recent Art History graduate from the College of Charleston with a strong interest in the Museum field, I was drawn to the Gibbes as way to gain valuable experience for the future. Working with the Collections department staff I’ve been learning about the fascinating behind-the-scenes efforts required to manage, maintain, and exhibit a fine art collection. Thus far I’ve assisted with everything from cataloguing objects into our Past Perfect virtual database, to meticulously packing up art works for storage and shipment.

One of the initial projects I had the pleasure to work on was the gallery preparation for the two wonderful exhibits that opened on September 3—Face Lift: The Power of Portraits, and Stacy Lynn Waddell: The Evidence of Things Unseen. I must say I was truly amazed by the extent of planning and physical labor that went into readying the museum space for opening night! It took nearly two weeks of transition time in the Main and Rotunda galleries for the previous exhibits, Modern Masters from the Ferguson Collection and JoAnn Verburg: Interruptions to be taken down, and the new exhibits to be installed and ready for show. Not yet a seasoned gallery-prep pro like Director of Collections Administration, Zinnia Willits, and Operations Director and Preparator, Greg Jenkins, I helped out anywhere my common sense could come in handy. This included tasks such as adhering the large vinyl title lettering to the gallery walls, which I quickly learned can be a rather tricky (and at times sticky) affair.

Wall Text
Vinyl lettering, not as easy as it looks…

Other jobs included cutting the individual squares of Velcro that were used to hang all sixty pieces of paper that comprise Stacy Lynn Waddell’s striking large-scale work, Manifest (2010).

Manifest, 2010, by Stacy Lynn Waddell (American, b. 1966) 88 x 166 inches
Look at all that singed paper!

One of the last duties I helped with is called staging, which involves the organizing and placing of the art and title cards in their designated locations within the galleries. This literal “staging” makes things much easier for Greg when it finally comes time to hang the art on the wall. On opening night it was very gratifying to see all the hard work that the Gibbes staff (including myself) put into beautifying the gallery space for the exhibits! Preparing for new exhibitions is only a small fraction of what being collections intern here at the Gibbes entails. I’ve learned a great deal since beginning my internship here in August, and continue to do so every time I come into the museum. Well, I’m off to photograph some beautiful silver pieces for our digital catalogue!

Andrew Ochsner, fall intern, Collections Department, Gibbes Museum of Art

Revisiting The Charleston Story: New Works on View

<em>Untitled</em>, by Nell Choate Shute
Untitled, ca. 1940s-50s, by Nell Choate Shute (American, 1898–1966), 2010.005.0002B

Have you visited the Gibbes lately? If so, you may notice new faces in the building. Yes, we do have a few new staff members, but I am referring to the new paintings and works on paper on display in The Charleston Story. Ok, they are not really new in the sense that they were just created—although a few of the works are new acquisitions—but many of these pieces have been in storage for a while so they are new to our visitors. Confused yet?

Let’s start over. Each January and July we rotate objects on display in The Charleston Story, a fabulous exhibition that showcases the range and depth of the Gibbes permanent collection. The Charleston Story is installed in nine different galleries throughout the museum and currently includes over 150 works of art. However, this is only a small fraction of the Gibbes permanent collection which contains over 1500 paintings and miniature portraits and 4000 works of art on paper! Objects are rotated in and out of the ongoing exhibition so we can share as many works as possible with our visitors. Object changes also serve a conservation purpose. Over time, all objects can change or deteriorate as a result of environmental conditions. The major environmental factors that affect the long-term preservation of objects are light, relative humidity, and temperature. Works on paper are especially susceptible to light so we store them in cool, dark containers after six months on display. How an object is handled, displayed, and stored can mean the difference between preserving it for many years or for only a short time.

Rotating objects in The Charleston Story is a group effort and requires months of pre-planning. Sara Arnold, our Curator of Collections, chooses the objects for the exhibition. She must consider how a particular piece will fit the theme of each section as well as how it will fit visually with other works in the gallery. Sara also researches each object and writes descriptions about the artist or subject matter—no small task! Once Sara selects the objects for the rotation, I enter the picture. As Director of Collections Administration, one of my responsibilities is to oversee the movement of artwork within the building. I identify an object’s storage location, remove the object from storage, and assess its overall condition. Greg Jenkins, the museum’s preparator, then completes any matting and framing required for exhibition.

Objects Being Prepared for Installation
Objects are pulled from storage and prepared for installation.

After works are chosen, conditioned, and prepared for view, we set an installation schedule. Changing out The Charleston Story can be logistically complicated due to the fact that it spans multiple galleries. For the safety of the objects, we try to complete most art installation on Mondays when the museum is closed to the public. However, try as we might, reinstallation of galleries almost always takes longer than a day, and sometimes a week! The process of hanging art work is interesting (lots of math) but not always pretty (think hammers, drills, tape measures, tool carts, and labels). If you visit the Gibbes in January or July you may see art moving around the building or encounter a roped off gallery where we are working diligently to finish the switch. We love an audience and encourage questions from our visitors.

On installation days, Greg and I first remove works from exhibit and return them safely to storage. Next, the remaining works are taken down in preparation for a new arrangement. When the gallery walls are clear, the new additions are brought into the space. We position them around the room on carpet squares or a set of “bumpers,” which are special carpeted planks that protect ornate frames. At this point, Sara is back on the scene to determine how best to arrange the pieces within the gallery, and Greg begins to install. Once the art is on the wall, he hangs the labels, removes his tools, resets the lights, and… voila, The “new” Charleston Story. The final step includes checking the condition of works removed from exhibition and updating the object locations in our collections database.

Installation in Progress
Preparator Greg Jenkins reinstalling a wall in Gallery G.

So there you have it—another behind-the-scenes look at what your friendly museum staff does with their time. Come see what’s new—I’m off to the next project!

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

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Curatorial Perspective: An Upcoming Exhibition Takes Shape

Manifest, 2010, by Stacy Lynn Waddell

Manifest, 2010, by Stacy Lynn Waddell (American, b. 1966)

Over the next few weeks, the Gibbes collections and curatorial staff will be hard at work in preparation for the opening of Stacy Lynn Waddell: The Evidence of Things Unseen. On view September 3 – December 5, 2010, this exhibition will feature recent work by contemporary artist Stacy Lynn Waddell in her first solo museum exhibition. Waddell’s work is a fascinating blend of painting, drawing, sculpture, collage, and installation created with her innovative technique of burning, singeing, and branding paper and canvas.

Organizing an exhibition such as this is no easy task. It is truly a team effort that requires close to two years of planning. This particular exhibition began with a series of conversations between me and the artist. Together, we hatched a plan for the overall scope of the exhibition and important details such as the dates, gallery location, number of works, etc. As luck would have it, the Weatherspoon Art Museum at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro was also interested in hosting an exhibition of Waddell’s work, and a collaboration was born.

To prepare for the exhibition, I took two trips to Durham, NC to visit Stacy in her studio, along with Xandra Eden, the Curator of Exhibitions at the Weatherspoon. Studio visits are one of the best parts of my job. I get to see artwork first hand while building a relationship with the artist—important things when curating a contemporary exhibition. During our visits with Stacy, our main objective was to select the objects for the exhibition. It was important for Stacy, Xandra, and I to meet as a group and develop an object list that worked for both venues and also matched Stacy’s vision for the show.

But selecting the works in only half the story. Once the object list is finalized we need to figure out how to pack the works, ship them to the museum, and install them in the gallery. This requires hard work and ingenuity on the part of our Director of Collections Administration, Zinnia Willits, and our Director of Operations and Preparator, Greg Jenkins. Greg and Zinnia are our resident experts on all things related to art handling, movement, and installation. In the meantime, I am busy writing an essay for the exhibition brochure, preparing label copy and text panels, planning the exhibition layout, and managing all other details of the project. Did I book Stacy a hotel room for the exhibition opening? Do we have high resolution images for our marketing materials? These are the things that pop into my head at 3 o’clock in the morning…

Many, many emails and phone calls later, we are in the home stretch. I have to say, I am really looking forward to seeing this exhibition on the gallery walls, and I know Stacy is too. Come see the final results—the exhibition opens on Friday, September 3—it should be a good time.

—Pam Wall, Curator of Exhibitions, Gibbes Museum of Art

Sharing a Love of Art History with the Next Generation

Katie Gephart, summer intern, working with camper Parker Weeks.

Katie Gephart, summer intern, with camper Parker Weeks.

My name is Katie Gephart, and this summer I interned in the museum’s Education and Outreach department. In the fall, I’ll start my senior year at Washington and Lee University where I am majoring in art history and museum studies. My university professors continue to encourage my love of art history, and now—through my internship—I’ve had the opportunity to teach other students about art. My primary responsibility was assisting with the Summer Art Camp. Over the summer, I worked with elementary school students to expand the scope of their art awareness by exposing them to new media, techniques, and sources of inspiration within the Gibbes Museum. The summer camp themes included In the Forest, Go Global, and ArtStory, and each week we created special projects that both reflected these themes and introduced the campers to important artists and artistic traditions. Sharing art history with the children and helping them translate the concepts and ideas into their own work was immeasurably rewarding.

<em>April (The Green Gown)</em>, 1920, By Childe Hassam (American, 1859 – 1935). Oil on canvas; 56 x 82 1/4 in. Gibbes Museum of Art, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Archer Huntington (1936.09.01).

April (The Green Gown), 1920, By Childe Hassam (American, 1859 – 1935). Oil on canvas; 56 x 82 1/4 in. Gibbes Museum of Art, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Archer Huntington (1936.09.01).

Once a week, the campers went into the galleries to explore the museum’s collection and incorporated what they saw into their art projects. Last week, ArtStory focused on an artist’s ability to tell stories without words, using only form, line, and color. We looked at the large oil painting, April: (The Green Gown) by Childe Hassam—one of my favorite paintings in the collection—and asked how the woman’s story might be different if she wore a red gown instead. The group really seemed to connect to this idea and shared how different colors make them feel. Watching the kids process this important principle of art theory and apply it to their own art work was so exciting for me to observe. The Gibbes offers its campers such a special opportunity by sharing the collection, and I’ve been so grateful to share my knowledge of art with the kids and see how their techniques improve and enthusiasm for art grows.

Katie Gephardt, summer intern, Education and Outreach Department, Gibbes Museum of Art

Sally Collins, art educator, works with campers to create their own works of art.

Sally Collins, art educator, works with campers to create their own works of art.

Learn more about public programs, classes, and camp at the Gibbes Museum of Art.

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