Archive for October, 2011

Breaking Down Barriers: 300 Years of Women in Art

Today, the Gibbes opened a new exhibition called Breaking Down Barriers: 300 Years of Women in Art. The exhibition takes a hard look at the history of art, exploring why there were so few early female artists, and how the tide has changed over the past century. The subject matter is compelling, and every object in the show is from the Gibbes collection. The fact that the Gibbes can tell the story of 300 years of women in art is noteworthy. Our collection is vast and includes many treasures of American art, including the largest public collection of portraits by Henrietta Johnston, the first female professional artist in America. The Johnston portraits are a real point of pride for the Gibbes, and five of her beautiful pastels will be included in this exhibition—a rare treat for our museum visitors! But this exhibition offers so much more. From miniature portraits to photography, sculpture, and abstract paintings, the exhibition highlights a wide variety of work, culminating with the stellar contributions of female artists working in Charleston today.

Want to hear more about these groundbreaking women? Join me on November 3 or December 1 at 2:30pm for an exhibition tour, free with museum admission.

Pam Wall, curator of exhibitions, Gibbes Museum of Art

Check the Gibbes calendar for related events.

Read more about the exhibition in Pam Wall’s article in the Autumn/Winter 2011 issue of Antiques & Fine Art Magazine.

Join in the fun with Women in Art Wednesdays on the Gibbes’ Facebook page. Test your knowledge of women in art with our weekly trivia questions. Hint: you might find some answers in this post and related article.

Artist Spotlight: Margaret Bourke-White

Piston Rods, ca. 1927, by Margaret Bourke-White

Since Margaret Bourke-White’s iconic images will be featured in both of the Gibbes’ upcoming exhibitions—Breaking Down Barriers: 300 Years of Women in Art and Camera Works: Masters in Photography—we thought her groundbreaking career worthy of the spotlight!

Margaret Bourke-White studied photography at Columbia University under renowned photographer Clarence H. White. She opened her own studio in Cleveland in the 1920s and found early artistic success creating images in factories and other industrial environments. She was conscious of modernist compositional techniques, and had a unique ability to find beauty in the raw materials associated with machinery—as is exemplified in her 1927 image, Piston Rods. However, from the outset of her career, Bourke-White was interested in using photography to examine social issues and she quickly broke into the male-dominated field of photojournalism.

She was a woman of many firsts. In 1929, Bourke-White was hired as the first staff photographer for Fortune magazine. She was also one of the first of four photojournalist hired by Life magazine and one of her photographs appeared on the magazine’s first cover in 1936. Bourke-White traveled throughout the world and was the first-ever Western photographer allowed in the Soviet Union. She photographed some of the twentieth century’s most notable moments, including the liberation of German concentration camps in 1945, and the release of Mahatma Gandhi from prison in 1946.

Two Old Women, 1937, By Margaret Bourke-White

Bourke-White traveled through the American south in the 1930s. Like many of the famed photographers of the era—such as Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, and Peter Sekaer—she worked to capture the devastating effects of the Great Depression. Many of her images from this experience were included in the publication, You Have Seen Their Faces, a collaborative project with her future husband, author Erskine Caldwell.

Sara Arnold, curator of collections, Gibbes Museum of Art

Breaking Down Barrier: 300 Years of Women in Art and Camera Works: Masters in Photography both open on October 28, 2011

Making Time for Art

The watercolor studio

Instructor Mary Lou Bloise (center) shares information with students.

I saw an announcement in the Post and Courier about a watercolor class at the studio of Mary Lou Bloise offered by the Gibbes Museum of Art. The notice intrigued me. I hadn’t had much experience with watercolor except for a brief six-week period on a cruise ship, offered as an enrichment program while at sea. I enjoyed the experience and upon my return to Charleston, I rushed to purchase art paper, watercolors, brushes, and books. I even bought a DVD with watercolor instructions, but as time passed, I never opened my supplies. My enthusiasm for this art medium had been replaced with day-to-day busyness and my art supplies sat on a shelf. I decided to sign up for the classes offered by the Gibbes. I was excited to reunite with my old friend watercolor! The day before the first class I drove to the location to be certain I knew exactly where it was and how long it would take me to get there. I took my art supplies off the shelf, placed them in a canvas bag, and I was ready to start.

When I arrived for the first class, I was greeted by the warm, smiling, friendly face of the instructor Mary Lou Bloise. Her inviting demeanor made me feel at home. The space was set up as an artist’s studio and her love of art infused the room. There were five students in the group and Mary Lou gently guided us. My earlier watercolor experience came back to me, although it was very elementary, and I was open and willing to learn more.

The first lesson was about brush strokes. We were instructed only to use the primary colors. As I began to fill my page with red, yellow, and blue streaks and various sized lines, Mary Lou offered suggestions on how to hold the brush, the amount of water to use, and how to control the color pigment. As I examined my finished page of rainbow colored stripes, lines, and streaks, I felt reconnected with my long lost friend – water coloring! That rainbow effect was my promise of future creations, which lay within my mind and hand.

Apple Study

An apple study in watercolor.

Arriving for the second class, I saw apples in the center of the worktable. It was at this point I realized we were going to actually paint an object! I was thrilled! But before I could take brush to paper, our instructor gave a brief explanation of how to look for various colors and shadows on the apples. I carefully examined my chosen apple discovering amazing different shades of red, yellow, and a hint of green now and then. Mary Lou also pointed out how the light affected the objects. I will never view a fruit or vegetable in the same manner after discovering just how many colors are present in a “red” apple.

It took me three attempts to achieve the correct shape of my apple. The first try looked more like a red pumpkin but on the third attempt, I was pleased with the shape and coloring of my creation. At break time the group examined and chatted about each other’s work. It was interesting to see how others used different color intensity. I must admit, their apple stems were superior to mine!

Papaya with flower.

Jeannette's painting of a papaya with an orange flower.

To prepare for our next class, the group was asked to bring in a vegetable or fruit to use as a subject to paint. I chose to bring a papaya cut in half. The instructor placed complementary colored flowers beside my papaya. The lesson focused on composition and painting colors in relation to each other. I enjoyed manipulating the shape of the papaya as I painted. I discovered that if I made a mistake, I could correct it or go in a different direction. I call this a happy accident because I actually ended up with a better product than I had originally conceived.

Sadly, the last lesson day arrived quickly. Our instructor told the class to take out our T-squares and use a pencil to place lines at the edge of our paper to accommodate for the overhang of a mat if it was framed. Mary Lou had arranged a cobalt blue vase holding a purple flower, placed on a slab of marble. I felt totally comfortable as I began painting strokes to create the vase. It came together well, as did the stem and purple flower. I completed my painting by adding the gray and pink veined marble on which the vase rested.

Jeannette's painting of a still life with blue vase and purple flower

Jeannette's painting of the still life with blue vase and purple flower.

I enjoyed the classes very much, and I have a newfound appreciation for the accomplished artist. It takes a lot of practice to refine brush strokes and time to achieve the desired color by using the right amount of water for the desired hue. I look at things differently now, noticing the varied colors and shading. I think my watercolor work shall achieve satisfaction and not perfection—it is simpler and more enjoyable that way.

Jeannette prepping her paper before beginning her composition.

Jeannette Sink, watercolor student and guest blogger

A second session of Basic Watercolor with Artist Mary Lou Bloise begins next Tuesday, October 18. Contact Rebecca Sailor at rsailor@gibbesmuseum.org if you would like to register.

Looking to the Past to Plan for the Future

Gibbes Museum of Art, facade

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

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

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

Gibbes Museum of Art: First Floor

Current first floor layout for the Gibbes Museum.

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

Gibbes Museum of Art: Second Floor

Current second floor layout for the Gibbes Museum.

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

Longitudinal Cross-section of the new Gibbes Museum

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

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

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

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


—Jeff Daly, museum designer and guest blogger