Archive for the 'Renovation Plans' Category

Lighting the Gibbes Museum, Q&A with Anita Jorgensen

Anita Jorgensen, IESNA, IALD, LEED, LC has been practicing architectural lighting design in New York for over twenty years. Her background in art history and theatrical lighting design brings a strong sense of aesthetics and drama to her lighting approach. Her hands-on experience gained from extensive exhibition lighting design work translates into specifications for lighting systems which not only meet the immediate lighting requirements, but also provide for durability, ease of maintenance, and long term flexibility. Anita was kind enough to answer a few questions about her work with the Gibbes Museum renovation.

2015 Gibbes Renderings

Gibbes Museum of Art, Preliminary façade lighting

How did you learn about the Gibbes Museum? I worked with Jeff Daly at The Metropolitan Museum for a number of years while he was the Head of the Department. When Jeff opened Jeff Daly Design, we worked on several projects together including: the Ringling Museum of Art; the annual Winter Antiques Show in New York; Rosecliff Mansion in Newport, RI; and others. In 2012 Jeff suggested I visit the Gibbes Museum and discuss its lighting needs with Angela Mack. Angela brought AJLD on board and I am happy to report that the Gibbes renovation has been a fabulous project with a fantastic team!

How did you get involved in lighting design? Give us a little information about what led you down this career path.

While studying Fine Arts and Art History in undergraduate school, I became aware of the work of renowned theatrical lighting designer Jennifer Tipton, who has designed for extensively for dance, drama and opera. Her work inspired me to pursue a career in theatrical lighting design. During my graduate studies at New York University Tisch School of the Arts, I became intrigued with the field of architectural lighting design. After five years with architectural lighting design firm Fisher Marantz Stone, who is best known for designing “Towers of Light” after the 911 twin towers incident, an opportunity arose to work as a lighting designer for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Design Department that I could not pass up. The projects I was involved with at the Metropolitan ranged from temporary exhibitions, large-scale renovations of entire wings, extensive custom case work, as well as exterior façade lighting.

After working on staff at the Metropolitan for a number of years, I began my own practice, Anita Jorgensen Lighting Design (AJLD).

What are the challenges with lighting museums? Please give examples. How can good lighting transform museum space?

One of the great challenges of designing lighting for museums is balancing art conservation standards with visual clarity. Among the many aspects to consider are the control of daylight while balancing supplemental glare free electric light. When designing the new lighting system for the East Gallery at The Frick Collection, which included both daylight and electric light, we completed an extensive mockup process to determine the optimal method for controlling the quantity of daylight entering the galleries in combination with supplemental LED lighting to highlight the artwork. The mockup process gives the team an opportunity to actually see and test the results of our research findings. We did the same for the Gibbes Museum where we reviewed the ability of various lighting sources to render paintings accurately. During a side by side lighting comparison in the galleries, it was unanimously decided that the track mounted luminaires would use 3,000 Kelvin LED sources. LED lamps have the great advantage of emitting no ultra violet radiation, consuming only 10 watts each as opposed to 50 watts and last more than seven times longer than halogen.

FRICK East Gallery

FRICK Museum East Gallery

Another important consideration when designing for museums are issues of conservation. For example all of the windows need to be properly fitted with screens and filtering film to reduce the level of light entering the galleries and to block the damaging ultraviolet portion of the incoming daylight.

The second source of illumination in galleries is typically a fully flexible overhead track lighting system which is often the primary source for lighting art. For the first time, the track lighting in the new Gibbes Museum renovation will be energy-efficient LED (light-emitting diode) track mounted luminaires. After all of the artwork is installed, the gallery lighting will go through a final fine-tuning process. During this stage, the exact lighting intensity levels for each object will be specified.

We also recently completed an exterior night-time lighting mockup for the garden where we reviewed lighting the garden with cool light mimicking moonlight vs. warm candle light effect. We also demonstrated illuminating the trees from below (uplighting) vs. locating lights up in the trees pointed downwards filtering through the leaves that created patterns of light on the ground much like the light coming from a full moon.

What can the community expect to ‘see’ with the renovated Gibbes?

The visitor will be able to see the fabulous Gibbes Museum art collection rendered in a crisp new glare-free light. The galleries will be brighter and more daylight will enter the building giving the visitor a greater connection to the outside.

Below is a listing of Anita’s more memorable projects:

  • Frick West Gallery, East Gallery: designed a new lighting system that integrates invisibly with the museum’s landmark interiors
West Gallery, 2010 (new lighting installed)

West Gallery, 2010 (new lighting installed)

  • Metropolitan Museum Great Hall: recreation of the original McKim Meade and White pendants
  • Royal Bank of Canada Capital Markets: a conference center and trading floor

Q & A with Architect, Joe Schmidt

Joe Schmidt

Joe Schmidt and Rick Fisher at the Groundbreaking Ceremony in October, 2014

Evans & Schmidt Architects has designed a wide range of projects since it was established in 1984. The primary focus, however, has remained unchanged over the past twenty-nine years. Evans & Schmidt Architects has openly embraced the challenge of targeting new and existing construction in the dense historic fabric of downtown Charleston and the surrounding Lowcountry. These include private residences, corporate offices, retail, municipal buildings, as well as academic and performing arts projects.  The firm has been the Architect of Record for the renovation and preservation of numerous properties individually registered as National Historic Landmarks. Joe Schmidt was kind enough to answer some questions about the museum renovations.

How did you become involved with this project?

In 2006, Angela Mack and I worked together on the renovation of City Hall. She coordinated the removal, off-site storage, and eventual return of City Hall’s permanent extensive art collection within the Council Chambers. Restoring the Council Chambers to its pre-1886 earthquake floor plan presented unique challenges as we sought to better showcase the art for all to enjoy while also maximizing the available seating space for the public wishing to attend council meetings. We also enhanced the environmental indoor control system to ensure the art is protected to the highest possible standards.

Describe your design process, for example, what specific challenges did this 100+ year old building pose?

The Gibbes was constructed very stoutly of solid masonry in 1905, but absolutely without any physical accommodation space for running any electrical piping or air conditioning. Consequently, as those necessities were added over the years, the ceilings were repeatedly lowered, which totally changed the character of its many spaces.  The challenge was to selectively redesign and consolidate these modern day necessities, incorporate additional life safety features, and then restore as much of the original spatial character as possible.

How will the renovation change the visitor’s experience?

The original building was incredibly open, dependent entirely on natural light and a few gas light fixtures to illuminate the interior. Over the years, as more gallery hanging space became needed and exhibit layout fashions changed, the natural light was eventually blacked out entirely. Our hope is that future visitors will embrace the far brighter renovated spaces that better connect the indoor gallery spaces with the outdoor garden. Because of advancements in glass protected surfaces, the additional sunlight will not harm the artwork and sculpture on display.

 What aspect of the renovated museum do you think will have the biggest impact on the visitor’s experience? 

Being able to step through the front door and see clearly through the building all the way to the beautifully redesigned Lenhardt garden in the rear, then looking right or left and glimpsing for the first time ever the marble flanking staircases enticing you to venture upstairs. A physical visual relationship with the exterior is maintained at all levels, which is contributory in helping to lower stress and increase stamina.

Joe Schmidt

Joe and Mayor Riley on a hard hat tour, February, 2015

Why is this project important to Charleston?

The renovation restores not only the façade, but encourages the public to once again freely walk down the 1905 hallways and observe active art studio work and classes taking place on a daily basis as was originally envisioned in 1905. This practice has been discontinued since the 1960s. The Gibbes Museum is one of Charleston’s preeminent cultural institutions and this renovation will ensure that the future needs of the museum are best addressed while restoring this 110 year old building as close as possible to its original condition and mission.

Can you give us some behind the scenes glimpses of what’s happening right now with the renovations?

The building has been undergoing extensive interior demolition work since December. This includes the removal of added partitions and antiquated electrical utilities in careful preparation for the expansion of appreciably more spacious galleries and event spaces. This dismantling work will continue for several more months before any actual renovation work will be observable from the street. In the meantime, pilings have been driven for the new extension on the building’s south side to house a new first class art delivery and storage facility.

Gibbes facade

Rendering of the renovated Gibbes Museum

To learn more about the renovations, please visit our renovation website!

The Gibbes Museum of Art Receives $100,000 from The Henry Luce Foundation for the Re-installation of the Permanent Collection

The Gibbes Museum of Art has received a grant award in the amount of $100,000 from the prestigious Henry Luce Foundation for the reinstallation and reinterpretation of the permanent collection as part of the Gibbes renovation. The renovation will begin in early fall of 2014, and is designed to showcase the museum’s distinguished collection and afford a complete picture of American visual culture in the South from the early colonial era to the present. The Luce Foundation is committed to supporting the continued vitality of American art scholarship and programs, and this grant strengthens the Gibbes’ commitment to generating scholarship and exhibitions that promote a broad understanding of the dynamic role that the art of the South plays in the larger context of American and world art history.

Rendering of the Renovated Museum

Rendering of the Renovated Museum

“We are thrilled to receive this grant from the Henry Luce Foundation for the reinstallation of our collection. The highly regarded Henry Luce American Art program has supported significant projects including the reinstallation of the permanent collection at a number of museums, including the Andy Warhol Museum in 2014 and the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in 2013. We are honored to be included in this selection of esteemed institutions,” says Gibbes Museum of Art Executive Director, Angela Mack.

The newly expanded and renovated galleries will provide a 30% increase in gallery space to showcase more than 600 works of art from the permanent collection (a 125% increase in works on view). The Grand Gallery, with its original Beaux Arts skylight, will showcase early American art of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. In the newly expanded South Galleries, innovative display cases and open storage cabinetry will allow for up-close interaction with over three hundred portrait miniatures by some of America’s most significant miniature painters as well as a number of French émigré and British artists painting American sitters. The newly expanded North Galleries will feature several works that demonstrate the national shift in American art from academic painting to impressionism. While steeped in history, the Gibbes collection also reflects the artists and artistic styles representative of contemporary Southern art. The Garden Gallery will feature works by late twentieth-century and early twenty-first century artists native to the south or working in this region. The central rotunda gallery will serve as a sculpture hall.

Mary Roberts miniature

A miniature by Mary Roberts from our permanent collection. Unidentified sitter (possibly Sarah Wilkinson Middleton), ca. 1745. By Mary Roberts (American, ?-1761)Watercolor on ivory. Bequest of Mrs. Amelia Josephine Emanuel

 

“Gaining funding from a prestigious organization like the Luce Foundation is truly an honor. A chief goal of Luce is to support exemplary American art collections so their support and recognition is a real compliment to the significance of our permanent collection,” Says Sara Arnold Gibbes Museum of Art Curator of Collections.

Henry Luce Foundation – New York, New York

The Henry Luce Foundation was established in 1936 by Henry R. Luce, the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Time Inc., to honor his parents who were missionary educators in China. The Foundation builds upon the vision and values of four generations of the Luce family: broadening knowledge and encouraging the highest standards of service and leadership.

The Henry Luce Foundation seeks to bring important ideas to the center of American life, strengthen international understanding, and foster innovation and leadership in academic, policy, religious and art communities.

Amy Mercecr, Marketing and Communications Manager

The Spirit of the Garden

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

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

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

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

The rear facade of the original museum building.

The rear facade of the original museum building.

The Persephone fountain and rear facade of the Gibbes.

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

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

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

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

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

The Charleston Gateway walk

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

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

A current view of the rear portion of the courtyard

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

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

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

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

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

Jeff Daly, museum designer and guest blogger

A Summer Behind-the-Scenes at the Gibbes Museum

Interning at the Gibbes Museum of Art for the majority of this summer has been an absolute privilege and certainly an eye-opener towards discovering the elements that allow a museum to function successfully. Here, I have been exposed to almost every different department, a few being Development, Curatorial and Collections Management, and Education Programs. Given the opportunity to assist various staff-members in these departments, I have entered an incredibly determined, passionate, and efficient network of people. The museum staff have devoted an immeasurable amount of effort and enthusiasm towards interpreting and preserving the meanings of various art collections that derive from Charleston and the South. Throughout my time here, I have noticed that the Gibbes’s mission—to preserve and promote the art of Charleston and the American South—rings true within the museum as well as with local communities and visitors to the Lowcountry.

Gibbes Renovation Rendering

A cross-section of the building reveals plans for a renovation to the Gibbes Museum of Art.

In my first week, I was introduced to the more “executive” facet of the Gibbes, working with the Development team. I learned that the museum is not-for-profit and depends on funding from various sources including private trusts and foundation grants, as well as individual and corporate gifts, for its daily operations and to maintain its collection. Each fiscal year the Development team starts all over to identify funding sources that will help with the operations of the museum. I realized how much more work and fortitude is essential in order for a non-profit organization to function. During my time in the Development office, I also learned about plans for an extremely substantial and thoughtfully planned renovation that will commence in the summer of 2014. Throughout each meeting that I was attended, staff-members delivered innovative and fascinating ideas contributing to the plans of the redesign, and further emphasizing the importance of preserving the Gibbes’ mission statement. I am ecstatic to see the end result and to be able to watch everyone’s ideas blossom as they come to life in 2016!

After working with the Development group, my directors provided me with a complete change of scene. For the next week, I assisted with the summer art camp and my coworkers consisted of creative mini-Picassos. It was remarkable to see how eager and focused the children were when it came to organizing their ideas and then tactfully putting them onto paper. The end result was fantastic, expressive, and always original! As they discovered their artistic abilities, the enthusiastic teacher Kristen Solecki also enlightened the children about contemporary artists such as Jasper Johns and Mary Whyte. The children were interested to use the work of the artists that they learned about as models for their own pieces of art, incorporating characteristics of abstract and modern artwork into their own masterpieces.

Instructor Kristen Solecki with campers.

Camp Instructor, Kristen Solecki, teaches campers about color palettes.

For the next two weeks, I worked with the Collections Management and Curatorial departments. With Collections Management, I was always on my feet and was able to see each different part of the museum, and even took a thrilling adventure into “deep, dark storage” where sizeable amounts of artwork were carefully kept. I was so lucky to be able to see and even handle some of the artwork, including marvelous paintings, many delicate miniatures, and valuable sketches done by Alice Ravenel Huger Smith. As I worked in these departments, I learned about numerous past exhibitions, even those that took place during the early 1900s. These departments provided me with an amazing view into the museum’s past and historical culture, as well as a wonderfully close look at the collection.

Receiving an inside look at the careful consideration of curating exhibitions, establishing connections to the community, promoting educational programs, and further projects that define the creative purpose of the Gibbes, I have seen the museum’s mission statement continue to speak louder and grow more meaningful each day. The Gibbes Museum of Art is built upon and held together by a thoughtful, strong, well connected, and ambitious group of people with whom I have had the absolute pleasure of being able to work.

Elizabeth McGehee, Porter-Gaud High School Intern and guest blogger

2013 is the second year of a partnership between Porter-Gaud School and the Gibbes Museum of Art. Made possible by the generous support of past Porter-Gaud parents Mr. and Mrs. Charlie Wendell, this internship is designed to enrich a student’s knowledge of art history and the museum profession.

Uncovering the History of the Gibbes Rotunda Dome

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

Chris Botti on the scissor lift

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

The glare-guard above the dome.

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

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

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

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

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

A detail of the intricate patern of cut stained glass.

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

A section of the glass dome that has been cleaned.

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

Jeff Daly, museum designer and guest blogger

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

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

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