Archive for the 'Education' Category

Professional Development Opportunities: Southeastern Museums Conference 2015

Rebecca Sailor, Gibbes Curator of Education, and Zinnia Willits, Director of Collections Administration at the Museum, attended the 2015 Annual Meeting of the Southeastern Museums Conference (SEMC) in Jacksonville, Florida from October 12 – 14. SEMC is the major regional networking organization for museums and their staff in the southeastern states. Both Zinnia and Rebecca are active members of SEMC, and Zinnia currently serves as an appointed member of the Executive Council and the Annual Meeting Program Committee.

Rebecca Sailor and Zinnia Willits at SEMC 2015 in Jacksonville, Florida.

Rebecca Sailor and Zinnia Willits at SEMC 2015 in Jacksonville, Florida.

This year, Zinnia presented on four different panels at the Annual Meeting on topics including successful federal grant applications, museum insurance, and mid-career transitions. Her session entitled How We Did It: Tips and Strategies for Successful Federal Grant Applications was particularly well attended and allowed Zinnia an opportunity to share her story about the Gibbes recent grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. As a Council member, Zinnia also participated in a strategic planning workshop related to SEMC’s future growth.

Rebecca was joined by Zinnia, as well as staff from the Columbia Museum of Art and the Booth Western Art Museum for a session entitled Where Did All the Programs Go? The panel focused on the challenges of effective programming when space is limited or restricted, as in the case of a renovation. The Gibbes has made a special effort to keep programming available during our current renovation, while the Columbia Museum of Art is in the preparation stages of its own capital project. The Booth Museum staff shared the experience of providing programming around town in unique venues even before their building opened to the public.

Rebecca also presented with staff from the Cummer Museum of Art and the Reynolda House Museum of American Art on healthcare partnerships with museums. It was a great opportunity to inform participants about the Gibbes Art of Healing program with Roper St. Francis Healthcare, including our hospital lending collection and our public lectures and workshops on the subject. The Reynolda House offers continuing education workshops for healthcare and community service staff. Participants also learned about the partnership between the Cummer and the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, offering programs for dementia patients and physician training; the Art Beyond Sight organization; and other special needs programs.

In addition to their presentations, Rebecca and Zinnia attended many other sessions by their peers to learn what others are doing regarding innovation and engagement. A special highlight was the keynote speech by Nick Gray, founder of Museum Hack, which was a great reminder of why museums are awesome and why what we do matters so much (watch it here).

Unlock the Artist Block

One of the quickest ways to get through life’s challenges is to approach them rather than find detours or shortcuts around them. Eventually, the challenge you’ve avoided will have no other way to go but head on. The way we approach our work is for people to feel comfortable with themselves in mind, body, and emotion to face whatever life has to bring them. And if we have not figured it out yet, eventually we will see life will always have challenges. Life without challenges is not real life. The tools you learn with Charleston Wellness Group (CWG) is to support, simple enough, life.

Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy
Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy is a method based on the individual being influenced by their own inner guidance and wisdom instead of what another “expert” has to say. We have a saying at CWG that “you are your own expert and we get out of your way to trust that expert.” Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy assists individuals in connecting mind and body using embodied movement and mindfulness techniques. The body is a huge part of connecting with the expert in all of us, so we incorporate the body throughout sessions.

Since life is rich with challenges and the goal is not to get rid of them, but to face them, stress is part of the equation. There is such a thing, however, as “good stress.” “Good stress” is the belly motivation that gets you up and out of bed in the morning. “Good stress” can be how you face the challenges rather than avoid. “Good stress” keeps you living life from a more alive and engaged state.

Stress is like a bell curve. You are at risk of either too little or too much. Too little leads to “depressed” state. Too much leads to “burn out” state. What we encourage is for people to become aware of their too little/too much stress-related symptoms and recognize they have a choice with this information. For most who work with us, the first thing that has to happen is they have to realize their relationship to stress. They have to learn what their symptoms are on the bell curve. We are all different. No one person is alike. It is important for individuals to learn about themselves and trust the information their bodies, minds, and feelings are expressing so they can discern and make the right decisions to stay in the optimal state of stress.

Bell curve
Charleston Wellness Group created a program called The Deliberate Method, which combines yoga therapy techniques and self-inquiry with integrative exercises so individuals can actually apply what they learn to their everyday life situations.

The Deliberate Method, is focused on supporting businesses and their employees to mindfully show up to their stress. The material is broken into three methods: Method A- The Skills, Method B- Bridging the Gap Between Body and Mind, and Method C- Living a Deliberate Life. The sections are designed to support thoughtful learning. As we say, “We offer quick information, not a quick fix.” The content, which is audio/video, guided practices, assessments, podcasts, and articles is all less than 10 minutes time commitment. We recognize the power of time and find that unless we can apply what we learn in real time, the value is lost.

Becoming mindful takes patience and continued practice. The practice offered in The Deliberate Method is real-time, life situations rather than pretend. Chances are the skills and lessons, the ah-ha’s and other epiphanies will happen much quicker because they are applied concepts rather than abstract ideas.

Our number one intention is to inspire individuals to want to live a deliberate life, to understand their own true nature, and know they are incredible individuals in a world full of experience. We hope our message and information inspires individuals to want to continue to learn from life and therefore live life fully.

Hallie Buchanan

Hallie Buchanan

Lyn Tally

Lyn Tally

Hallie Buchanan and Lyn Tally, guest bloggers and founders of Charleston Wellness Group and The Deliberate Method

CWG founders, Hallie and Lyn, are offering a workshop, as part of the Gibbes Museum’s Art of Healing series, to help participants “Unlock the Artist Block.” The program will be held on Thursday, November 12, from 5:30 – 7:30pm. Visit our website or contact Amanda Breen at 843-722-2706 x221 to register today.

Summer Art Camp from our Intern’s Point of View

Naomi Edmondson-Summer Intern, Senior at College of Charleston

Naomi Edmondson-Summer Intern, Senior at College of Charleston

As a college student majoring in Studio Art and Art History, interning at the Gibbes Museum’s Summer Art Camp seemed like the perfect opportunity to excite young minds with art. Growing up, my favorite teachers were my art teachers, and getting the chance to influence a young child was very appealing to me. The camp instructor for this summer, Leonora Dechtiar, provided campers with stimulating and fun projects to explore their creativity.

welcome to our Art Show!

The first of three camp themes was “Oh The Places You’ll Go!” During these weeks, the campers learned about art from different countries such as Egypt, Brazil, China, Morocco, Australia, and India. We started our day by fastening the seatbelts to our pretend airplane on the classroom carpet and landing in a foreign country. Campers were excited to learn about the different art and cultures of all the places we “visited” before stamping their passports after each journey. Campers’ projects included Brazilian Carnival masks, drums, and maracas, African plaster masks, Egyptian Canopic Jars, Indian Mandalas, Japanese Kites, Chinese Dragons, and Australian Dot Paintings.

summer art camp 2015

Campers working with Acrylic to make their own Chinese Dragons

The second theme of camp was “Stories and Puppets.” During these weeks, campers would listen to stories and create artworks inspired by themes and characters in the story. At the end of the week, campers performed a play of The Rainbow Fish, which featured each camper’s uniquely designed fish. I couldn’t help but be impressed as the kids so excitedly delivered their lines perfectly for the room full of parents.

summer art camp 2015

Rainbow fish puppets

Our last theme of camp, “Art and Movement,” was probably most enjoyable for me personally. Leonora instructed the kids in yoga before each project (which proved to be very beneficial and effective in calming the campers down) to focus them on their artwork. Projects created included foam puppets, needle felting, body tracing, and Jackson Pollock inspired splatter painting (which, I must say…the kids thoroughly enjoyed). Throughout the week, campers practiced their yoga moves set to fun children’s songs, and on Friday they performed these impressive, entertaining yoga dances for their parents.

Summer art camp 2015

Leonora instructing campers in their morning yoga

Throughout each week, the children were thrilled to go on field trips to surrounding areas, such as the multiple art galleries on Queen Street and the Pineapple Fountain. After viewing the artwork on display at galleries such as Robert Lange Studios, Horton Hayes Fine Art, Anglin Smith Fine Art, Valentino’s Pottery, and The Atrium, the kids were noticeably more inspired to spend time creating artwork.

summer art camp 2015

Field Trip to local galleries

Working so closely with children eager to fill their hands with paint or clay or anything else has heightened my interest in the art making process and has reminded me of the childlike enthusiasm that every artist should employ when creating art!

summer camp 2015

Naomi Edmondson-Summer Intern, Senior at the College of Charleston

Art Educator of the Week, Barbie Kratovil

Barbie Kratovil, Eye Spy Art

Barbie Kratovil with Eye Spy Students at the City Gallery

Why is art an important part of learning?

Art is an essential component of the Humanities, and visually integrates the historical, political, religious and commercial morals and values of a culture. It is one of the highest forms of expression in any given period of civilization.

While art can be whimsical, its highest forms are the result of an intellectual process. It’s multi-faceted and an artist, in creating a work of art; employs through his/her technique: logic, spatial relationships, math, science-all of which are building blocks in one’s education.

How long have you been teaching, and why did you get involved in teaching?

I was an Art History major in college and art has always been my great interest. I was a docent at the Metropolitan Museum of Art for 18 years, before moving to Charleston; and have been a docent at the Gibbes for 5 years. The combination of being educated by the curators about their fabulous collections, and in turn, imparting this knowledge to school groups, is rewarding on so many levels.

What is a favorite memory of introducing a student to the arts?

The wonderful moments, which as a museum educator that one cherishes, are when a student looks at a work of art and becomes empowered to explain what they see, why they like or dislike it, and what it means to them.


Eye Spy students enjoy a tour of the Gibbes led by a museum docent

Museums are educational powerhouses. Did you know:

  • Museums spend more than $2 billion a year on education. The typical museum devotes three quarters of its education budget specifically to K–12 students.
  • Museums receive more than 55 million visits every year from students in school groups.
  • Museums create educational programs in math, science, art, literacy, language arts, history, civics and government, economics and financial literacy, geography and social studies, often tailored to the needs of state and local curriculum standards.
  • Each year, museums provide more than 18 million instructional hours for educational programs such as guided tours for students, staff visits to schools, school outreach through science vans and other traveling exhibits, and professional development for teachers.

Read the full report about museums and the future of education from the American Alliance for Museums.

To learn more about Gibbes Museum education programs, visit our Gibbes Educators Facebook page.

Early Education and Eye Spy Art

When you observe curious, giggling, fidgeting four year-olds, it’s hard to imagine them as future businessmen and women. But these young minds are absorbing everything around them at a rapid rate and statistics show early education is the key to future academic success. (The young brain forms more than 700 neural connections every second!). However, only 54% of Hispanic and African American students in South Carolina graduate from high school, and more rural “dropout factories” exist here than in any other state in the country. Research shows that the opportunity gap between low and high income students begins before kindergarten and widens over time. This makes early educators a critical first line of defense against educational inequity.

First Steps_Dec_2

Eye Spy students at the First African Child Development Center

The Gibbes Museum of Art has partnered with Charleston County First Steps to introduce preschool children to the fundamentals of art in a hands-on way. Rebecca Sailor, Curator of Education, and a team of teaching artists and museum educators have joined with First Steps Child Development Centers to offer experiences with colors, shapes, lines, textures, portraits, landscapes and pictures that tell a story.

“Gibbes educators and teaching artists are assisting the child care centers teachers on how to use the visual arts to expand their classroom curriculum. They demonstrate using literature, music and theater as well as hands-on art to encourage deeper learning of shape, line and color. The children are now recognizing these concepts in the world around them. Because the Gibbes educators and teaching artists are working with teachers and children on a continuous basis, they are forming relationships and are eager to learn more,” says Mrs. Sailor.

Lorraine Powers, chair of the Charleston County First Steps board and former Gibbes board member sparked the initial idea to encourage more African-American families to engage with the Gibbes museum through Eye Spy, an in-school program originally designed to help Charleston County School District elementary students look at and talk about art. Gibbes’ museum educators work with classroom visual arts teachers throughout the school year, creating interactive lesson plans. Classroom visits, using objects from the Gibbes’ collection, and major artists highlight the elements of art, introduce broad explanations of style, and teach students to compare and contrast.

Mrs. Powers says, “I think it’s really important to expose all young children between the ages of three and five to a variety of experiences. Young children are like sponges and absorb everything. Who knows, there may be a Jonathan Green, Romare Bearden or David C. Driskell amongst them, but first they have to know/see what is possible.”

eye spy students

Museum Educator Elise Detterbeck teaching students about movement

In 2013 the pilot project was supported by the Continental Society, an international public service organization dedicated to the socioeconomic and cultural welfare of underprivileged children and youth, and Charleston County First Steps, who joined forces to provide funding for this endeavor. Charleston County First Steps helps to prepare young children to reach school healthy and ready to learn.  The Eye Spy First Steps program is now offered in seven child development centers including Carousel, Child & Family, First African, Van Buren, New Israel, NIA, and Foster’s led by Gibbes Museum educators and teaching artists.

“The Eye Spy program works with children who are not often exposed to visual art concepts and cultural art pieces. The program expands their world by introducing them to the artworks from the Gibbes Museum, as well as to art concepts in general. It’s been inspiring for me to see the children gain an appreciation for art and the joy it brings them. The children also discover that there is a wonderful art museum in their own city that they never knew about and now can’t wait to visit when the museum reopens! The Eye Spy program is designed in a really fun, engaging way that makes them really want to be part of the world of art,” says teaching artist Leonora Dechtiar.

We look forward to continuing this program and incorporating field trips to the museum when the Gibbes reopens in spring of 2016. Engaging the students with actual works of art allows for a richer experience for these young students. Paintings that have been discussed in the centers will be seen in their actual, full enormity, and richness of color.
Amy Mercer, Marketing and Communications Manager

Art Educator of the Week, Elise Detterbeck

Did you know we currently have 15 active museum educators and teaching artists teaching and collaborating! These hard working educators have great insight into the value of arts education and we’ve decided to profile them here! Meet our Art Educator of the Week, Elise Detterbeck

Else with Eye Spy students

Else with Eye Spy students

Why is art an important part of learning?  

I view art as a window to the world. We all need to look beyond our little corner of the world to expand our experiences and grow. Art shows us how people live and think today and in the past in the United States and all over the world. It helps us understand ourselves and others. I see this every time I work with children either at the Gibbes or in the schools. It doesn’t matter if it’s a traditional painting or a very modernistic sculpture. They look, they think, and they respond.

How long have you been teaching and why did you get involved in teaching?

When I chose French as my major in college, I never really thought about what I’d do with it. I floated into teaching and loved it. A new language is also a window to another world, and I really thrived on leading students into that new world. Teaching children how to talk about art is similar, but easier. It’s more open-ended, more forgiving, and more expansive. With art you can teach almost any subject and students can respond in an increasing variety of ways after learning to look, think, and then respond.

What is a favorite memory of introducing a student to the arts?

I have a lot of great memories of students looking at art, but this may be my new favorite:

With my third grade Eye Spy students we were talking about genre scenes, which we call “pictures that tell a story.”  I showed them on the Smart Board a picture of 3 of my grandchildren (ages 20 months, 5, & 8) squished together on a sofa, all reading books in their pajamas. We talked about the elements of art in that photo, the medium used and then we got into the Who? What? When? Where? Why? game to figure out the “story.” They decided very quickly that these were (who?) 3 siblings (what?) reading their favorite books (where?) in their home (when) on a day off from school (why?) due to a snowstorm. Then all of a sudden, they said: “Wait a minute, are those YOUR grandchildren?” What thrilled me was that they could, from the picture, support every assumption they made, without any help from me.

For over 100 years, education has been central to the mission of the Gibbes. Serving more than 15,000 preK-12th grade students each year, the Gibbes interactive programs develop intellectual and aesthetic skills while addressing South Carolina Learning Standards. We are so grateful to have the support of educators like Elise who have been instrumental to the success of these programs.

To learn more about the value of art education, here are a few recent articles:

What to do if your Child’s First Love is Art?

Art Education Poised for a Comeback in Nation’s Largest School Districts

Bringing Back What Works in Education

Art of Healing, Understanding the Five Elements

Q&A with Lisa Dunlevy



Please explain the psychology of the five elements.

The Five Elements are stages of transformation: Water (birth), Wood (growth), Fire (ripening), Earth (harvest), and Metal (decay). They are different aspects of nature, as are we, and are known as “Wu Xing.” There are numerous parallels to each element including a corresponding season, climate, emotion, sound, smell, archetype, and even an organ.

For example, the wood element corresponds to springtime and the experience of walking outside, seeing the buds in the trees, and feeling hopeful. Watching the green sprouting from the ground, the trees, and vines is a visual experience and the element wood connects with having a vision, a plan, and a sense of creativity. Maybe you know someone with a lot of creative rising energy, or someone who lacks vision and doesn’t have a plan. This would be examples of how we are either gifted, or deficient in this element. All five elements are found within the individual, but there is one element that stands out and determines how we relate to the world.

How do you determine someone’s element?

When a new client calls me I listen to her/his voice. Then I also take into account what is ailing them, what part of the body is involved, are they frustrated with their condition, are they overwhelmed, have they waited a long time to call, or do they want to get this resolved immediately? When they are come into the office, do they move quickly, or slowly, what do they do for a living? These are all pieces to observe who that person is and to determine their constitutional element. Then we can move onto the virtues of each element, which helps with healing and becoming aligned with our purpose. The virtues of each element are Wisdom, Listening (water), Benevolence (wood), Partnership, and Truth (fire), Thoughtfulness and Support (earth), and Respect (metal). We aspire to have all of these, but one is most important to us. This part can also become taxed or imbalanced, and becoming our best selves and recognizing our natural talents can be very healing.

Can you explain what participants can expect from this workshop?

The class will consist of an introduction into the five element theory. We will also take a short quiz to evaluate which element we align with. Then we will either have a few volunteers share about their element, or gather in groups of each element. We will also have time to address questions, and then we will practice the Dance of The Phoenix Qi Gong practice.

What are the benefits of Qi Gong Practice? What does this type of movement involve?

Qi gong is a beautiful practice of moving our bodies to open the various meridians and bring harmony back to our bodies and mind.  It is best described as a moving meditation that uses our breath and bodily movements to open blocked meridians and support the flow of qi or energy.  It is a practice that helps us become more vital and calm, which is a beautiful combination.

Finally, how do you describe the connection between art and healing?

Learning about the five elements allows for healing as we recognize that we all have a unique gift or genius, that our challenges can also be our strengths and when we are aligned with our ‘dao’ we can find our purpose.

Join us to discover your element in Understanding the Five Elements with Lisa Dunlevy on Tuesday, March 3 from 5:30-7:30pm.

Location: Hazel Parker Community Center, 70 East Bay Street

$35 Members, $45 Non-Members

Art To Go Teachers Inspiring Young Minds!

Arts education provides students with a sense of personal worth and fosters an appreciation for creativity and innovation. Education specialists across the county agree that effective arts education promotes self-directed learning, sharpens critical thinking skills, develops self- awareness, improves school attendance, and encourages positive behavior! These are just a few of the reasons we have developed education outreach programs like Art to Go. Working in partnership with Charleston County School District Title I schools, Art to Go combines art making and instruction through experiences with real works of art. Gibbes Teaching Artists work with art teachers in six schools on a specific project or to complement their curriculum. Each year Art to Go collaborates with the Charleston Marathon, which benefits the Youth Endowment for the Arts. Completed projects were on display at the Marathon Expo in January.

Art To Go Project

Art To Go Project from Mitchell Elementary. Teaching Artist Leonora Dechtiar

Each year the Art to Go grows in strength and numbers! We asked each of the four art teachers to share a few words with us about their experience in the classroom.  Sally Collins, a long time Gibbes teaching artist, was not available for an interview, but you can see her student’s work pictured below.

Art To Go

Art To Go Project From Pinehurst Elementary, Teaching Artist Sally Collins

Q. How many years have you been involved in Art to Go and how do you decide on your project each year?

Kristen: This was my third year working with Art to Go. Each year I try to plan a project that is inclusive to all ages, while also using different art forms and mediums. This year we created a large paper mache Angel Oak tree sculpture. This was the first time many of the students had created such a large work, used paper mache, and made a sculpture. The students took pride in the assembly of the tree and helped each other apply the wet sheets of paper around our wire frame to build the tree. Fourth and fifth graders tied and cut out leaves, work that required a lot of patience and detail. Each week the classes would come in to check the tree’s progress to see it go from a wire frame to a wet paper mache base to a fully painted trunk to then being full of branches and leaves.

Art To Go

Art To Go from Angel Oak Elementary, Teaching Artist Kristen Solecki


I have been involved in Art to Go twice, once in 2012 and again this year. I decided on the concept for the projects based on what grades I’d be working with, what materials were available, and what the kids would benefit from. For example, the first year we created a clay mosaic because I had access to a kiln for firing the clay. This year, we also made a mural but instead we used a mix of different materials, such as paper, paint, aluminum foil, and model magic clay. I made sure to use materials the students normally didn’t work with or worked with rarely, so that they could learn something new.


This was my first year with the program!  I researched different ideas, and met with my teachers a few weeks before class to discuss what their thoughts were.  The projects ended up being collaborative ideas between what we thought would be really fun, but also informative.

Q. Tell me about your student’s experiences with art. What do you hope they walk away with or remember about creating art?


From my experience it seems that art class is one of the opportunities  that students look forward to most. It is the opportunity to learn new mediums, work with your hands, and a place where all skill levels are welcome because uniqueness is encouraged.


I think what my students remember the most from their experience is the joy of using materials they have never used and exploring those materials with a sense of excitement and curiosity. I think it’s special for them to have a guest come in to their art room and this excitement carries over to their art making. I think art is primarily about having fun and expressing one’s creativity, and if we achieved that, I think that’s the most important goal. The other thing my students took away from it was an exposure to the Gibbes Museum and their connection to the history and art of Charleston, which is so important for them.


I hope that they hold on to the feeling that comes with creating something that you’re really proud of.

Q: How do you think art enhances education?


Art enhances education in countless ways. Through these projects I can see first-hand how art teaches not only new skills and techniques for making art, but also how to work as a team, problem solve, and be creative.


Art, unlike many other subjects, gives the children an opportunity to use their hands and develop their fine motor skills, which is important to have in any future career. Also, art gives children an opportunity to expand and practice using their creativity and imagination. Without creativity, I don’t think you could be a good scientist. Also, art gives students a chance to relax, have fun, and unwind from a day that may be filled with stress. I noticed that when the kids worked with clay in the art room, they were relaxed when molding the clay. I think art has a therapeutic effect in children and can relieve stress, which allows them to focus more on other subjects.


Art helps people express themselves in a way that’s different than other educational activities. Instead of writing something down, or acting something out, kids are given the opportunity to physically create something that’s completely their own.  That’s an accomplishment in itself, and I think it helps build a sense of confidence and self-worth.



Kristen Solecki is an illustrator and art educator that uses paint and ink to translate stories and moments using strong changeable line work and bold color.  She has created work for publications such as Taproot Magazine, Uppercase Magazine, Skirt Magazine, the television show, Mad Men, as well as for galleries and shops across the U.S. You can see her work at

Leonora Dechtiar has her BFA in Illustration from Maine College of Art and her Masters of Arts in Teaching from Savannah College of Art and Design. She studied art for a semester in  Spain, where she developed a deep appreciation for art history. She loves illustrating for children, and  has published with Studio 9, Inc., which publishes educational materials and coloring books for children. After getting her certificate in art education, Leonora has worked as an art teacher at the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston, SC for two years. She also spent a year and a half in Beijing, China teaching art at an international Montessori school.

Hannah Durant grew up in Alexandria, VA and went to college at Elon University. After she graduated, she moved back to Virginia to get a “real” job and quickly realized that wasn’t her path.  Hannah has spent the last two years in Charleston, SC working with creative businesses in different capacities, and building on her interests.

Sally Collins holds a Commercial Art Degree, Bachelor of Social Science Degree, and Master in Teaching (MIT) Degree. She has previously taught Art, English, and 4th grade at the First Baptist School in Mt. Pleasant,  1st and 3rd grade at Midland Park Elementary in Charleston County as well as Art at Trident Academy in Mt. Pleasant. She has served as a Gibbes Teaching Artist for over 5 years with experience in summer camp, after school classes as well as Art to Go.

Unlocking the Secrets of Jeremiah Theus with Colonial Williamsburg Conservator Shelley Svoboda

The passage of time, layers of grime, discoloration, and improper restoration efforts can all hide the true grandeur of an artist’s original work. When this happens, art museums and private collectors alike turn to professional conservators to return a painting to its original glory. The conservation process not only restores a painting to a displayable condition, but when done properly, it also provides clues to an artist’s individual techniques.

At last week’s Insider Art Series event, Colonial Williamsburg Paintings Conservator, Shelley Svoboda, shared her recent experiences in the conservation of paintings by eighteenth century Charleston artist Jeremiah Theus (1716-1774). Among the earliest artists painting in Colonial America, Theus, a native of Switzerland, arrived in Charleston in 1735 as a fully trained painter. He is best known for his portrait paintings and seems to have enjoyed a good deal of success painting Charlestonians in his vibrant Baroque style. Svoboda’s talk inspired new appreciation for this early American artist and encouraged audience members to look closely at the physical aspects of a painting from the canvas and stretcher frame to the artist’s distinct brushwork, impasto, and layering of paint colors.

Highlighting examples from Colonial Williamsburg and the Gibbes permanent collections, Svoboda discussed challenges conservationists face when working with centuries old paintings and demonstrated the techniques used to uncover the artist’s true hand. For example, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s 2012 acquisition of the painting, Portrait of Elizabeth Allen Deas by Jeremiah Theus, added to that institution’s existing portraits by the artist creating a small, yet informative set of works representative of the artist’s oeuvre. However, major treatment was required on the new acquisition, involving careful removal of overpaint from the entire background to once again reveal the artist’s long-lost original.

In the conservation lab Svoboda used ultraviolet light to discern areas of heavy overpaint, and infrared photography and a surgical microscope to see the artist’s working technique. Once the overpaint was removed a layer of heavy grime was revealed, and preserved beneath the grime was the original painted surface ready to be revealed.

Conservation of Jeremiah Theus painting

Conservation of Jeremiah Theus painting

Before, Jeremiah Theus conservation

(Before conservation)
Portrait of Elizabeth Allen Deas (Mrs. John Deas), 1759, attributed to Jeremiah Theus


After Conservation

After Conservation efforts

The Gibbes is one of the largest repositories of Theus’s work with twenty-two paintings by the artist in its holdings. During her visit Svoboda had the opportunity to review four of the Gibbes Theus paintings including the companion portraits of Charlestonians William and Mary Mazyck painted by Theus in the 1770s. 

These paintings were moved to Canada by family descendants after the Civil War and were returned to Charleston in the 1980s as a gift to the Gibbes collection. Never before exhibited, Svoboda considers these paintings true treasures as they remarkably retain much of their original paint surfaces. Both are in need of cleaning and stabilization to remove the dirt, grime, and other signs of age that have drained the works of their original vibrancy. With professional conservation these paintings, like that of Elizabeth Allen Deas, could be returned to their original glory.

Shelley reviewing Jeremiah Theus paintings from the Gibbes permanent collection

Shelley reviewing Jeremiah Theus paintings from the Gibbes permanent collection

This spring the Gibbes will launch an Adopt a Painting program in order to raise funds for the conservation of paintings that will be featured in the new installation of the permanent collection. Stay tuned for more exciting conservation news!
Sara Arnold, Curator of Collections

Image credits:

Portrait of Elizabeth Allen Deas (Mrs. John Deas), 1759, attributed to Jeremiah Theus

Images courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

Building the Gibbes Gator

Gibbes Gator Mascot

Gibbes Gator Mascot, designed by Erin Banks

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

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

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

How long have you been a student at SOA?

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

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

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

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

Gibbes Gator

Gibbes Gator designed by Julia

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

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

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

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

Julia at work on the Gibbes Gator

Julia at work on the Gibbes Gator

Tell me about the process of designing the Gibbes Gator.

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

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

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

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

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

Amy Mercer, Marketing and Communications Manager

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