Archive for the 'Museum Store' Category

The End of the American Civil War… (And Photography Exhibition)

When it was announced that the Gibbes Museum of Art would be a part of The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s blockbuster Photography and the American Civil War traveling exhibition tour, I was both excited and apprehensive. You see, I work in the museum’s Retail and Visitor Services department, and I knew I must be prepared for a range of questions, opinions, stories, and emotions from museum visitors.

As many of you know, the “War Between the States” began in our lovely city of Charleston, South Carolina one hundred and fifty years ago. I grew up in South Carolina and saw how aspects of the Civil War affected people’s perceptions and memories, and of course, their ideas on what it means to be patriotic. Despite all of my “education,” I didn’t understand the depth of the Civil War until this exhibition.

Exhibition banners along Meeting Street

Exhibition banners along Meeting Street

The exhibition banners appeared outside of the Museum in the middle of September to advertise the exhibition, and visitors came ‘a-running.’ We had over one hundred people those few weeks before the opening vying to get sneak peaks, tours, and admission into the museum to see the Civil War photographs. When opening day finally arrived and over three hundred people came into the museum, I was elated (and exhausted)! Jeff Rosenheim (Chief Curator of the Department of Photography at the Metropolitan Museum) gave thorough training to docents and staff, but he couldn’t prepare me for the emotional toll of the exhibition that is visible on the faces of our visitors.

Many visitors come downstairs into the museum store with tears in their eyes. Others rush up to the Visitor Services counter and simply say “Wow! That was so powerful.” Even after seeing over two hundred and twenty photographs, many take the extra time in the Museum Store to look carefully at the accompanying catalog written by curator Jeff Rosenheim to further examine the impact of the war. They also will share a story or a memory from their own family about the Civil War. Many families still have diaries, uniforms, or even photographs of their ancestors from the 1860’s. In fact, many of the pieces in the exhibition came from private lenders who for years have carefully maintained these pieces of history.

Portrait of William Houston House, 1862–65

Portrait of William Houston House, 1862–65

The physicality of the exhibition, from the stark black and white portraits, to jewelry made from small daguerreotypes, and propaganda posters from the era, strikes a chord in our viewers, and seems to draw memories from their own distant past. Our comment book reflects the emotional impact of the exhibition. One viewer writes, “This is one of the most moving exhibits I have ever seen! I’ve seen these photos in books, but to see the actual photographs made me unexpectedly emotional.”

What this exhibition has repeatedly shown me, through working at the Visitor Services department, is the power of photography. As cliché as it sounds, I didn’t fully realize how many people were affected by the Civil War until I saw the photographs. Photography was only approximately 25 years old at the start of the Civil War, and it was immediately embraced by soldiers and their families. The small portraits were inexpensive and allowed Confederate and Union soldiers a tangible source of pride, self-awareness, and property throughout the horrible experience of war. The families of soldiers were able to send photos in the letters they wrote to their loved ones. Surgeons and medical teams were able to document certain injuries and improve their medical practices through photographs.

Visitors peruse the works of art in the Photography and the American Civil War exhibition

Visitors peruse the works of art in the Photography and the American Civil War exhibition

The museum has welcomed over 14,000 visitors from September 27th to December 29th and only a few days remain to see this stunning collection. I feel immense pride in seeing these numbers grow throughout the last three months, knowing that the public is coming to the museum to view an important exhibition that documents the Civil War and its impact not only on Charleston’s history, but America’s history as well. The next stop for this traveling exhibition is the New Orleans Museum of Art. I can only hope they are prepared for an emotional rollercoaster of an exhibition!

Maggie Jordan, Visitor Services and Retail Assistant

A Mad Hatter Inspired by the Gibbes

Thirty-one years ago, Charleston welcomed us—my husband John, our two young children, Rough our Jack Russell terrier, and me, a painter, potter, and art teacher. We had left our stone cottage on the side of a mountain in Wales for Crystal Lake, Illinois, on a two-year job stint. At the end of our stay, John was told to “look for somewhere nice to live on the Eastern seaboard and establish a US headquarters.” So he opened the US headquarters for a European business in Summerville, and here we are!

Meyriel surrounded by her designs in the Gibbes Museum Store.

Meyriel surrounded by her designs in the Gibbes Museum Store.

The Gibbes Museum has been a part of my life since my first visit to Charleston. I taught at the museum school on Queen Street, and I also took art classes there. As a teacher at Charleston’s Ashley Hall school for girls, I involved my students with the museum’s early internship program for high school students, which provided a behind-the-scenes look at the museum and its programs, and took many field trips to the Gibbes. One of my favorite projects was in 2006, when the eighth grade art class created a treasure hunt for children to use when visiting the exhibition Babar’s Museum of Art. It was a lovely “by children for children” adventure. I retired from Ashley Hall last year, but I am delighted that my connection with the museum continues… this time with HATS! You may have seen some of my fascinators or hats in the Museum Store.

 Meyriel's new hat designs available at the Gibbes Museum Store

Meyriel’s new hat designs available at the Gibbes Museum Store.

The history of millinery, or hat making, intrigues me. The word comes from Milaners, those Grand Tour folks who visited Milan to stock their wardrobes with the latest fashions. I am grateful to all those “mad hatters” poisoned by the stiffener they used, and to the medieval Guilds of Hatters, Haberdashers, Broderers, and such. They ensured that skills of a high standard were passed on. I enrolled in a millinery course at the London College of Fashion a number of years ago, and have since participated in several workshops to hone my skills and learn new ones. Just last November, I studied with Bridget Riley and Dillon Wallwork—both distinguished English milliners—at Chateau Dumas in France. From them I learned a variety of trimming techniques that are making their way into the Gibbes shop.

Millinery is surprisingly hard work. My favorite part is blocking, the process of tightly stretching damp fabric over a block of wood that has been carved into a hat form. When the fabric dries and is eased off the block, a hat is born! The block can be tall, short, indented or smooth. There are also tips and brim blocks—think of the different brims on a fedora or a Kentucky Derby hat. I will never forget the block room at The London College of Fashion, dark and creaky with shelves of old, well-used blocks of every size and shape imaginable. I felt the same sense of wonder when I visited the workshop of Guy Morse-Brown, a block maker who received the MBE for his services to millinery. Morse-Brown’s blocks were brand new, but they too were like perfect pieces of sculpture, surrounded by wood shavings. Guy’s son, Owen, has taken over the family business and he told me that blocks were traditionally made by hand because of the need to be oval not round. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century thousands of blocks were needed and machinery was invented to meet the demand. A master block was created and reproduced by a copy machine, but the copies were rough and had to be finished by hand. Today, block makers still require high level of carving skill and employ “hard hand work” using saws, planers, and sanders. Knowing this, I enjoy the sense of collaboration between milliner and block maker. I have always seen my blocks as sculptural forms—I even display them as such. They bear a remarkable resemblance to the large, hand built pots I made as one of Middleton Place’s potters, and they sit side by side on a shelf in my studio.

Meyriel's pots and blocks displayed together on her mantel.

Meyriel’s pots and blocks displayed together on her mantel.

When I begin a hat, I have usually imagined how I will construct it, but sometimes it evolves gradually. It must fit the head comfortably and enhance the beauty of the wearer, while upholding traditional design principles and millinery standards. I find it fascinating! Each piece is a unique piece of art/craft. In order to make the fabric malleable, steam is required. I cover the block with plastic wrap to protect it and steam the felt until it gives in and the fibers stretch over the block. Sometimes, this requires a great deal of pulling and coaxing. It is quite tough on the hands and muscles, and it is easy to burn an errant hand. The moment when all the wrinkles and lumps disappear never fails to thrill me. It is magic!

Taking down inspiring hats in the "Vibrant Vision" exhibition.

Capturing the lines of inspiring hats in the “Vibrant Vision” exhibition.

Often, the hat is made in two pieces and sewn together. I stitch wire around the brim edge, and ribbon over that, then add decorative trimmings like sinamay swirls or silk flowers that I have made, or curled feathers, most of which I find. Each time I make a hat, I strive for perfection. I rarely use a sewing machine preferring to work by hand. I enjoy the break from technology. I am currently working on a series of hats inspired by the current exhibition, Vibrant Vision: The Collection of Jonathan Green and Richard Weedman, as well as by the permanent collection, and the museum’s architectural details. Most of the pieces influenced by the works in Vibrant Vision will be made on Morse-Brown blocks, but the hats created with inspiration from elsewhere in the museum are likely to be blocked on my collection from the early twentieth century. I look forward to perusing the galleries, sketch book in hand, as I design this year’s collection. The first polka dots appeared in January, and I am sure there will be more!

Sketching hats in the galleries.

Sketching hats in the galleries.

Like technology, the Gibbes Museum is ever evolving. I am writing this for the blog, the shop is more vibrant with quality work by local artists and artisans, and the whole place has become a welcoming spot to bring my five-year-old triplet granddaughters for an exciting adventure. I am grateful to be part of this dear old, and, yes, contemporary museum, albeit in a very small way. And do try on a hat or a fascinator when you next pass the shop!

Meyriel J. Edge, milliner 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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The new Welcome Gallery at the Gibbes

The new Welcome Gallery at the Gibbes

If you haven’t visited the Gibbes lately, we have big changes in store for you! We recently opened the Welcome Gallery in the front of the museum. This new gallery offers a behind-the-scenes peek of the Gibbes while sharing the museum’s history, beautiful architecture, expansive collection, and the artmaking process. To tell the Gibbes story, the Welcome Gallery includes historic photographs, rarely displayed objects from the museum archives, and even architectural details from the Gibbes dome. But that’s not all, this multi-media gallery also includes video, a digital slide show, and computer stations where you can learn more about the Gibbes collection. The Welcome Gallery was created with our members and visitors in mind, so please stop by and make yourself at home! 

Printmaking tools on display in the Welcome Gallery
Printmaking tools on display in the Welcome Gallery

And while you are here, check out the new fall merchandise in the museum store. With bags, totes, jewelry, scarves, and home décor items, we have something for everyone. 

We think you’ll like our new look and hope to see you at the Gibbes soon!