Archive for May, 2012

Mary Whyte: Working South

By now you have probably heard about our current Main Gallery exhibition, Mary Whyte: Working South. The exhibition has been written up in magazines, newspapers, online newsletters, and even has a billboard on I-26. And if you have seen the exhibition, you know that all of the attention is merited. Working South includes fifty watercolor paintings and sketches that depict blue-collar workers across the American South. The portraits are astonishingly beautiful, capturing weathered hands and timeworn faces with incredible detail and sensitivity.

As our curatorial team unpacked the paintings for installation, I knew the works would be beautiful, but was overwhelmed to see them in person. The scale, the color, the sharp detail contrasted with delicate washes—I couldn’t stop staring at the paintings. And the works are made all the more stunning by the exquisite frames, handcrafted by Whyte’s husband and master gilder, Smith Coleman. Each frame is unique to the painting, picking up on a subtle nuance of the work. The frame surrounding a portrait of a tobacco farmer has the rough hewn feel of an old barn, and the frame for a portrait of a waterman is embedded with fishing net, layered with silver leaf. This exhibition has so many wonderful details to absorb, down to Whyte’s sketchbook, brushes, and palette used to create the paintings.

Frame detail

Handcrafted by Whyte’s husband and master gilder, Smith Coleman, the frame for a portrait of a waterman is embedded with fishing net, layered with silver leaf.

So if you haven’t been to the Gibbes in a few weeks, make sure you get here before Working South closes on September 9. Join us on July 8 for Working South Sunday, when the museum will be open free of charge from 1 to 5pm. And you never know, you may see the artist herself wandering through the gallery!

Pam Wall, curator of exhibitions, Gibbes Museum of Art

The Gibbes Goes Global!

Last month, the Gibbes, along with 151 other museums of the world, began sharing its historic collection with a global audience through the Google Art Project. Officially launched on April 3, 2012, the Art Project is a unique collaboration between Google and the world’s most respected and acclaimed museums, enabling visitors to virtually explore museums, discover and view hundreds of artworks online at incredible zoom levels, and even create and share their own collection of masterpieces with a few clicks of a mouse. The Gibbes is one of 151 museums in the world participating in The Art Project, of which 29 are in the United States, and 2 are in the Southeast.

Gibbes logo on the Art Project screen in the Musee d'Orsay, Paris.

The Gibbes logo lights up the screen during the Google Art Project press conference at the Musée d'Orsay, Paris.

The Gibbes was invited to participate in this exciting new endeavor last August. We knew that the Google Art Project would offer an unprecedented international platform to show-off our collection so our goal was to feature some of the true treasures our collection has to offer. In order to demonstrate the long history and stellar quality of art in the South, we chose a diverse, cross-section of works to represent our collection, from easel paintings to miniature portraits, sculpture, and watercolors. Over forty works from the Gibbes Museum are highlighted on the site and more will be featured in the future.

For this phase of the project, we received final specifications for uploading our data and images of works of art in November 2011. Our team worked feverishly through December to finalize selections and format our data according to Google’s program specifications for the January deadline. Thanks to our social media expert and program and events manager, Lasley Steever, who promoted the vision and helped me coordinate many of the technical aspects of the project with Google representatives; Joyce Baker, curatorial assistant, who handled the formatting of image files; and our dedicated volunteer Rebecca Hiester, who assisted me and curator Pam Wall with the details of inputting and proofing data fields, we are now virtually in the company of the world’s most revered museums!

Angela Mack, Gibbes Executive Director, at the press conference in Chicago.

Gibbes Executive Director Angela Mack attended the Art Project press conference at The Art Institute, Chicago.

Launch parties were held in Chicago, Illinois, at The Art Institute, and in Paris, France, at the Musée d’Orsay, and were attended by museum representatives from all over the world including Gibbes staff members Angela Mack, executive director, and Lasley Steever, respectively.

I hope you will take time to peruse the works of art included in the Art Project. Visitors to the site can view works across museum collections, search by artist and medium, and zoom in to images to see fine details. Make your own gallery of favorites and share it with our online community via Facebook, Twitter, or in the comments field below.

—Sara Arnold, Curator of Collections, Gibbes Museum of Art

Summer Fundays

Campers create artist palettes.

Campers create artist palettes.

Summer Art Camp may just be my favorite part of my job. With six weeks of camp throughout June and July I have plenty of opportunities to be around the excited 4–12 year olds. I guess you could say it takes me back to my teaching days, and even though I am not the camp teacher I get to meet and greet the children and their parents and oversee the days. We always have returning campers that I have enjoyed watching grow not only physically but also as artists.

At some point during the week the campers are brought from Circular Congregational Church classrooms to the museum galleries. Watching the way they engage with the artwork, it is so different from our school group tours. The campers are in summer mode and typically are more talkative. They have become instant buddies with one another and their camp teacher seems to be thought of as more fun than their school teacher. At the end of each week, a mini exhibition is held in the classrooms so parents and friends can view the artwork that has been created. It is amazing to see all that is accomplished in five days.

Designing a Charleston Single House.

Designing a Charleston Single House.

Teaching camp for the first time this summer is our wonderful teaching artist, Chessie McGarity. She has worked with the Gibbes for a year on our Art to Go program and has taught our Painting the Masters class. She has a great line-up of camp session themes including Art of the Ancient World, Go Green, and Charleston Gardens and Wildlife. Each session will include its own unique aspects of visual art education.

Lucky for you we still have spots available in some of the sessions! Don’t miss the opportunity to register your child, grandchild, niece, nephew, or any child you think would benefit from a fun-filled week of art education with the Gibbes Museum of Art! Call 843-722-2706 x41 or email me rsailor@gibbesmuseum.org. I would love to get to know the special child you have in mind!

—Rebecca Sailor, Associate Curator of Education

You can also download a camp registration form from our website.

Career Day

I recently had the pleasure of speaking to my son’s second grade class at Blessed Sacrament School as part of their 2012 Career Day. I love talking about what I do and enjoy watching people of all ages consider (often for the first time) what goes on behind the scenes in a museum. As Director of Collections Administration, one of my primary responsibilities is care of the art collection. Whether art objects are on the walls, in storage, moving throughout the museum or traveling nationally or internationally, it is my job to make sure they are safe and cared for properly. It is a great job and I was excited to share my experiences with a lively group of 7 and 8 year olds. I decided to present a modified version of the Behind-the-Scenes Program that Greg Jenkins, Operations Director and Preparator, and I have been offering at the museum for several years. My collections road show included several examples of archival storage containers which prompted discussion on how we preserve (a new word for second graders) art work in a museum. I also brought several small, easily transportable works from the collection to review the proper way to handle art. Miniature portraits were a big hit with this group; the children were amazed by the extraordinary details miniature portraitists produced using water color paint (a medium familiar to second graders).

Showing the class a 19th century miniature portrait painted with water color on ivory

Showing the class a 19th-century miniature portrait painted with water color on ivory.

As part of the program, I also had a selection of reproduction miniature portraits. Each child chose one of these pieces to examine more closely. I explained that all works in the collection have a computer record. These records contain information about the object including its identification number, title, the name of the artist who created it, the object’s location in the museum, a thorough description of the object and notes on its physical condition. The process of recording and describing an object is referred to as cataloging; references to its condition are the condition report. I asked each child to describe their miniature portrait (what the sitter was wearing, hair color, background) and also look for any condition problems (scratches to the frame, loose glass, etc.) Cataloging and creating condition reports are a daily part of my job; this exercise gave the class a basic idea of the process. With their observant eyes, the children provided detailed descriptions of their miniatures and alerted me to many flaws on the frames of our reproduction collection.

BSS second graders Leo Sparacino, Lauren Nadeau and Maria Alexander consider their miniature portraits.

BSS second graders Leo Sparacino, Lauren Nadeau, and Maria Alexander consider their miniature portraits.

Throughout the program I encouraged questions and was both amused and amazed by the variety of queries. Below are a few of my favorites from the Blessed Sacrament second grade.

Q: What would happen if you went to get a painting [from a borrowing institution] and took the wrong one home? (This question was in response to my description of outgoing loans and the fact that I occasionally travel with works from our collection when they are borrowed by other museums.)

A: Great question! If I took home the wrong painting I would probably be in big trouble because it would mean I was not paying attention. Every painting in the Gibbes collection has its own individual identification number called an accession number. The accession number can be found directly on each painting or work on paper. When retrieving a painting from a borrowing institution I have images of the painting as well as the accession number to make certain I take the correct work of art!

Q: Do you run the whole museum? Do you have any help or do you take care of all 10,000 works by yourself?

A: More good questions! I most certainly do not run the entire museum. We have thirteen full-time staff members at the Gibbes, several part-time employees and multitudes of dedicated volunteers and auxiliary groups. All of these individuals form “the Gibbes” and do everything from manage the staff to raise funds for museum operations, create exhibitions and educational programs, organize and manage museum events, keep the building and artwork secure, process museum memberships, oversee finances, lead group tours and much, much more! The Gibbes Museum is fortunate to have such a great team.

The short answer to the second question is yes, I do have help taking care of the art collection! While I oversee the details surrounding care and movement of the objects, there are other members of the curatorial, collections and security staff that help out. For example, Greg Jenkins, our long time museum preparator, hangs all the works in the galleries and makes sure that they are secure on the walls. Our curators contribute to the care of artwork by thoroughly researching the provenance of each piece and sharing that information with the public. They also choose what works will be hung in the exhibitions and decide how they will be arranged, keeping in mind the different sizes and types of objects and how they fit together. And of course our security team plays a huge role in helping me care for our collection. You can find the security crew in the galleries and behind-the-scenes keeping a watchful eye on the artwork.

Q: Do you take care of artwork like you take care of your children?

A: My answer to this is “not exactly.” However, there are similarities in caring for artwork and caring for children. As a parent, it is my responsibility to know where my children are and who is caring for them. Similarly, as Director of Collections Administration, I need to know where the artwork is (what gallery, what storage location, what other venue) and keep track of any location changes. As a parent I make sure that my children are always in a safe environment (at home, at school, with friends). Likewise, at work I constantly monitor the environment in which we exhibit and store the art collection. Museums maintain specific temperature, humidity and light levels to prolong the life of an object. Finally, when my children take a trip, I make sure they are prepared to travel, pack their suitcases and arrange details of how our family will get to our destination. Similarly, when artwork leaves the museum, I oversee all the details regarding packing and transportation to its destination. While I do not pack a suitcase for a painting going out on loan, I do make certain that it is clean, fit for travel, has an appropriate shipping container and is looking its best!

An example of a miniature portrait case which contains a lock of the sitter’s hair.

An example of a miniature portrait case, which contains a lock of the sitter’s hair.

Q: Have you ever seen a miniature portrait with pet hair in the back of the case?

A: This question arose after an extensive discussion of miniature portraits and the surprises that are often found on the backs of miniature cases. I brought a miniature from the museum’s collection that had a lock of the sitter’s hair in a special compartment on the back of the case. This sentimental nineteenth century tradition fascinated the children and generated much speculation as to why people did this. Regarding the question about pet hair, I have seen miniature portraits of animals (we have a lovely miniature by Leila Waring of her cat Dick) but have not come across one that contained a lock of the pet’s hair. I will keep an eye out!

Dick, 1910, by Leila Waring (American 1876–1964). 2008.005.0001

Dick, 1910, by Leila Waring (American 1876–1964). 2008.005.0001

Q: Why don’t you have enough space to show all the paintings in the collection?

A: I informed the second graders that at present, the Gibbes is only able to display about 2-4% of the permanent collection. The reason we cannot exhibit more works is that we are simply out of space. The existing museum building was constructed in 1905 when the art collection contained significantly fewer works. While more gallery space was added over the years the current layout can only accommodate a certain number of works. We rotate objects every six months to give the public a wider view of the depth and breadth of the permanent collection but long for more exhibition space. Thankfully, the Gibbes is headed for a major building renovation and expansion that will finally provide more room to exhibit and store the collection! We are excited to share a larger number of objects from the Gibbes collection once the renovation is complete. Stay tuned for future posts on this exciting project!

Q: Do you work on the weekends?

A: This question made me laugh but the class felt it was extremely important. No, I do not generally work on the weekends. However, there are occasions when a large exhibition installation with a tight schedule necessitates weekend hours to finish on time. There are also occasions where incoming art shipments must occur on a weekend due to the lenders schedule, the shipping route or the numbers and size of crated works. I am always front and center (along with Greg Jenkins) for those weekend deliveries.

Speaking at the Blessed Sacrament Career Day was a great experience. The children were genuinely interested in my job at the Gibbes and their enthusiasm was infectious. Describing your daily work to children and fielding their many questions is a great way to gain perspective on the importance of what we as museum professionals accomplish each day and why we do it. Many of the children told me I had the coolest job in the world. Without hesitation, I have to agree.

Zinnia Willits, Director of Collections Administration