Archive for July, 2012

Same Eyes but a Different View

Working as an intern at the Gibbes has been an incredible experience for me. It has given me a whole new appreciation for art and the people who are behind-the-scenes making this museum a success. Although my internship is only six weeks, I have the amazing opportunity to spend each week with a different department head. Being the first high school intern to work at the Gibbes I had no idea what to expect, my only hope was to find the department that interested me the most so that I could further my studies in it when I go off to college next fall.

I spent my first week working with Rebecca Sailor, associate curator of education, helping with the Gibbes Summer Art Camp. I came here as a camper at age four and now I’m back fourteen years later with the same eyes but a different view. I didn’t know the challenge that came with teaching a class of four year olds, but I loved getting to know each of the kids and seeing them improve on their drawings and ideas every day. Helping with this class made me realize that even though I was in the position of a teacher, I would always be a student of art, learning new things about famous paintings I had seen multiple times before.

Mary Whyte Tour at the Gibbes Museum

Artist Mary Whyte leads a tour of her watercolor exhibition, Working South, on view at the Gibbes through September 9, 2012.

I spent my next weeks working with curator, Sara Arnold and the director of collections administration, Zinnia Willits. I had the unique opportunity of working at the Gibbes during the Mary Whyte: Working South exhibition. I loved learning about the process in which the exhibit was shipped and installed in the Main Gallery by only a few members of the small staff here. To me, the most fascinating aspect of this exhibit was that the Gibbes is offering a series of tours to museum visitors led by Mary Whyte herself. Working with the curatorial team, I was also able to assist with the upcoming exhibit Willard Hirsch: Charleston’s Sculptor. I was not only involved with researching and learning about the sculptures, I was able to test out a walking tour of public sculptures by Hirsch, and take photographs of each of his incredible sculptures. I enjoyed seeing the connections between the Gibbes Museum and the locations where these sculptures are installed.

Do-Si-Do, 1981, by Willard Hirsch

Do-Si-Do, 1981, by Willard Hirsch (American, 1905–1982). Bronze. Washington Square Park, Charleston, S.C. Photo by Douglas M. Pinkerton

This has been an unforgettable experience for me and I look forward to the upcoming weeks where I will assist Executive Director Angela Mack and work in the Museum Store. I have learned more about the inner workings of an art museum than I ever imagined I would. The amount of thought and work that the staff puts into each idea is truly admirable and I hope to one day pursue a career in the museum world.

Lexie Meyer, Porter-Gaud High School Intern and guest blogger

2012 is the first 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.

Make way for Minis: My Summer with the Miniature Portrait Collection

James Butler Campbell, Jr., 1845, by Charles Fraser    Eliza Huger Dunkin (Mrs. Percy Gamble Kammerer), 1923, by Leila Waring    Nathaniel Russel, 1818, by Charles Fraser
As this summer’s curatorial and collections intern I could not believe my luck when I found out I would be spending part of the summer getting acquainted with the Gibbes’ miniature portrait collection—the highly esteemed collection is the third largest in the country and I was getting the opportunity to see every single piece. I knew that part of my summer internship would be focused on collections inventory and, for some, the prospect of inventory may seem dull, but I found myself excited by the prospect of spending time in painting storage, surrounded by so much art, methodically inspecting miniature after miniature. I loved looking at the individual details of each portrait, getting to study the different historical outfits and hairstyles while imagining the personality of the subjects. Like looking through an album of old photographs, these small faces gave me a glimpse into another time, a time before digital cameras or Facebook albums—if someone wanted a portable image of their mother, father, spouse, child, or even themselves, these portraits were it!

Intern Allison Murphy examines miniatures from the Gibbes collection.

Intern Allison Murphy examines miniatures from the Gibbes collection.

The sizes of the works were captivating. Some of the portraits are small enough to have been worn as jewelry, a fact that gives the works an additional layer of allure: I couldn’t help but think “who wore these” and “for what occasion?” Handling the portraits also gave me an opportunity to see the backs of each one where intricately braided locks of hair are sometimes framed.

With the upcoming renovations and expansions to the Gibbes Museum, a large portion of the miniature portrait collection is going to be moving out of storage and into the public eye, so viewers will be able to experience, in greater volume, the charm of these small works. Especially built open storage cases are going to be designed for each work in the collection—a fact that has given me even more face time with these little guys. It has been part of my job this summer to re-measure certain portraits in the collection—ones with larger frames or cases so those measurements can be updated in our records. I have been entrusted with the handling of these works—taking them out of storage and to our prep area where I re-measure and photograph each one.

Once the Museum renovations are complete, visitors will be able to spend more time getting to know the miniatures, so they, too, can discover what I have this summer—that the Gibbes’ smallest works have some of the biggest personalities!

Allison Murphy, curatorial intern and guest blogger

On the Timelessness of Art and Creativity

My name is Jessica Orcutt, and I am an assistant teacher for the wonderful children’s art camp that the Gibbes hosts each summer. I am a junior at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. Though my school is over a thousand miles away, I will always be thankful that I spent most of my childhood in Charleston. My years in this beautiful city have given me a deep appreciation for its impressive historical and artistic heritage, and it has been my pleasure this summer to introduce our next generation to Charleston’s creative traditions.

Eliza paints a self-portrait after studying Egyptian mummy portraits.

Eliza paints a self-portrait after studying Egyptian mummy portraits.

Gray paints a self-portrait in the style of Egyptian mummy portraits.

Gray's self-portrait is in the style of Egyptian mummy portraits.

I am a History major, but I have always enjoyed creating and studying art. Interning with the museum’s Education and Outreach department has allowed me to learn more about art right alongside my campers. In the first camp session, the children learned about many different ancient civilizations— we painted our names in Egyptian hieroglyphics, created rustic cave paintings, constructed fantastical African masks, pieced together Roman mosaics, and sewed Native American medicine pouches. Every day before we began our art projects, the children would sit together on the rug and learn about a particular civilization. Perhaps the best moment of this camp was when, after studying ancient Roman mosaics, the campers discovered present-day mosaics all around them, from the floor of the entrance into the Gibbes, all the way to the dome crowning the top of the museum. I greatly enjoyed laying down on the carpet of the Rotunda Gallery of the museum with the campers, and staring up into the green stained-glass dome. The kids were one hundred percent positive that it was made to look like the eye of a dragon; that the entire building made up the creature’s body; and that we were currently lying in the dragon’s belly.

Nikos' fish design ismade from small squares of paper, emulating Roman mosaics.

Nikos' fish design is made from small squares of paper, emulating Roman mosaics.

Ella creates a mosaic based on ancient Roman designs during "Art of the Ancient World."

Ella creates a mosaic design during Art of the Ancient World.

The second camp session was called “Go Green,” and was centered around teaching the kids about the importance of recycling and protecting our environment. We created all of our art projects in this camp purely out of recycled materials. Both the younger and older age groups greatly enjoyed tie-dying shirts, creating magazine collages, and putting together sculptures made from discarded objects. Many of the older campers made impressive and imaginative sculptures, such as a surfing scene, rockets, and a positively adorable giraffe. The younger campers, aged between four and seven, had the opportunity to make instruments from recycled materials— it was obvious that they greatly enjoyed this project. They proceeded to create an instrumental band and give us teachers a wonderful concert in the recess area!

Shep paints a papier-mache globe during Go Green week.

Shep paints a papier-mâché globe during Go Green week.

Alex creates a collage with recycled screw-caps during Go Green week.

Alex creates a collage with recycled screw-caps during Go Green week.

The third session, called “Charleston’s Gardens and Wildlife,” is perhaps the most popular of all three camps. Both weeks are completely full, and there is a waiting list a mile long! But I am so glad that children and their parents find interest and joy in Charleston’s natural beauty. In this camp, we will be learning about and drawing examples of the Lowcountry’s native flora and fauna. We will also be visiting several local gardens so that we may sketch and paint in a pleasant outdoor environment. The campers will also be taking home personal terrariums. We will focus on one particular temporary exhibition in the museum, Places for the Spirit: Traditional African American Gardens of the South. The black-and-white photographs that make up this exhibit are truly beautiful, and though I have seen them several times (we take each group of campers to the museum every Friday), the wonder and mystery of the photographs never fail to touch me. Truly, if you have not yet had the chance to visit either this exhibit or Mary Whyte’s watercolor masterpieces, please consider doing so. Such art should not be missed, and I am so glad the children who participated in each of these camps have had the opportunity to experience such beautiful creations.

Campers take an outing to Washington Park for plein-air painting.

Campers take an outing to Washington Park for plein-air painting during Charleston Gardens & Wildlife.

The museum provides the next generation with an invaluable opportunity to discover Charleston’s artistic history, and also provides them with a more modern view of the world they live in. From what I have gathered in talking with campers’ parents, the kids have truly enjoyed creating personal masterpieces. I feel truly blessed to have been given this opportunity to work with such wonderful and enthusiastic young artists over these past several weeks.

Jessica helps campers during a plein-air painting session.

Jessica with campers during a plein-air painting session.

Jessica Orcutt, Gibbes summer intern 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