Archive for February, 2013

A Commitment to Conservation: Alice Smith’s Rice Plantation Series

When you walk into the galleries of the Gibbes, you expect exquisite works of art beautifully framed, lit, installed, and interpreted for your visual and intellectual pleasure. And while this experience is what draws most people to the museum, sometimes the story of how these works arrived to the gallery walls is equally compelling. Such is the case with Alice Ravenel Huger Smith’s series of thirty watercolor paintings known as the Rice Plantation Series, currently on view at the museum.

Ever since Smith donated the Rice Plantation Series to the Gibbes in 1937, the watercolors have been among the most popular works owned by the museum. Unfortunately, the delicate works on paper were slowly deteriorating. The culprit: acidic boards mounted to the back of each painting. The acid was capable of discoloring the works and depositing brown spots known as foxing; and with many of the watercolors, the damage was well under way. Fortunately for the Gibbes, donors Ralph Blakely and the late Wilmer Welsh recognized the need to intervene, reverse the damage, and prevent future damage through professional conservation of Smith’s entire series of watercolors. To accomplish this, they established the Welsh-Blakely Fund, a substantial financial commitment that funded the five-year conservation project.

To complete the project, the Gibbes turned to the Straus Center for Conservation at the Harvard University Art Museums. The paintings were shipped to Boston in groups of five, with each painting requiring several weeks for treatment. Led by the late Craigen Bowen, the Straus Center’s talented team of conservators developed a treatment plan specifically for this group of paintings and undertook the highly technical task of removing the acidic mounting boards. Once the majority of the board was removed, conservators used an ethanol solution and various tools, including spatulas, bookbinders’ knives, scalpels, and tweezers, to remove extraneous paper backing and adhesive materials. Once all traces of the backing were removed, the reverse of each painting was cleaned with warm water. Following cleaning, each painting was housed in a humidity chamber to relax the paper fibers, and then sandwiched between blotters and secured with weights for one to three weeks to eliminate any buckling of the paper. The results are truly remarkable. Each painting returned to the Gibbes in pristine condition with more vibrant colors—Alice Smith herself surely would be thrilled with the results.

Completing the conservation of all thirty paintings was a monumental task of which the museum is very proud. Not only was damage reversed, the paintings were stabilized to prevent future deterioration. Such preventative conservation measures are key in the museum’s commitment to preserving the artistic heritage of the South. The current installation on the first floor of the museum is a rare opportunity to view the series as a whole and a great tribute to the many individuals who made this project happen.

Pam Wall, Curator of Exhibitions, Gibbes Museum of Art

The Rice Plantation Series will be on view at the Gibbes Museum through July 2013.

Art of Design: Luncheon, Lecture, and Auction!

Cathy Horyn, fashion critic for The New York Times. Photo by Elizabeth Lippmann.

Cathy Horyn, fashion critic for The New York Times. Photo by Elizabeth Lippmann.

Everyone at the Gibbes Museum is excited in anticipation of the Art of Design Luncheon & Lecture that will be held in the tented museum courtyard on March 15 at 12:30pm. The Women’s Council presents this annual fundraiser in support of the museum’s exhibition and educational programming. This year’s featured speaker is the internationally known fashion critic for The New York Times, Cathy Horyn. Ms. Horyn is known for her say-it-like-it-is writing style in the On the Runway style blog and in feature fashion articles for The New York Times. In 2002, Cathy received the Eugenia Sheppard Award by the Council of Fashion Designers of America, and Scene Magazine recently referred to her as “The Most Fearless and Feared Woman in Fashion.” Her presentation—fresh from the runways of New York City, Paris, and Milan—promises to be stimulating and entertaining.

An added attraction at this year’s event will be a silent auction that includes paintings and jewelry donated by local artists, as well as fashions from Charleston retailers, and a wonderful Italian leather desk ensemble. The auction begins at 11am and will conclude at noon. We invite you to take a moment to view the items that will be available for bidding by clicking on the images below for details and bidding information in advance of the event.

Luncheon tickets are $125 each, and are available by calling Amanda Breen at 843.722.2706 Ext. 21 or by visiting gibbesmuseum.org/events. I hope to see you there!

Joyce Hudson, Art of Design event chair, and guest blogger

Andreas Karales’ Memories of his Father, James

How does a photograph stand the test of time? What makes it different than one taken at the same moment and place?

Selma to Montgomery March for Voting Rights in 1965

Flag-Bearing Marchers, Selma to Montgomery March, 1965, by James Karales

“Get Right with God” Sign on Highway 80, Selma to Montgomery March, 1965, by James Karales

“Get Right with God” Sign on Highway 80, Selma to Montgomery March, 1965, by James Karales

Many people have told me that the photographs by my father, James Karales, are iconic, beautifully printed, great works of art and I agree with them. What makes them what they are is still a bit of a mystery to me. I was too young to be around my father when he took his most important photographs and I never asked him much about his work or talents before he passed away when I was 21 years old. Before I came down to Charleston to attend the opening night of the exhibition of his work my mom asked me to say a few words to the audience. I thought of what it means to be a photographer and what it takes to make a great photograph. The analogy I came up with was that a photographer is like a fisherman. He must have patience, talent with the tools he uses, and must be in the right place at the right time to make that great catch. That is how I view my father, a man of great talent with the camera and print making equipment, who had this calm demeanor and patience, and who worked in a period of time in our nation which was full of meaningful, interesting, and historical moments.

Selma to Montgomery March, 1965, by James Karales

Selma to Montgomery March, 1965, by James Karales

I am assured of my idea with a story that he told many times of his iconic picture of the Selma March, in which he described trying to find an image that would symbolize the meaning and feeling of the march. He struggled over the course of the five-day march, making countless attempts to produce something that he felt worthy of his goal. On the last day a storm swept in and he knew that this was his moment. He rushed to get to the right spot to frame both events as they happened. He was fortunate to get the shot as the storm moved on quickly. It so happens, another photographer was trailing him and attempted the same shot, but did not get the same effect. The menacing clouds and synchronized stride of the marchers happened in one short moment and is what makes this photograph so special. It was one of my father’s greatest catches and was the result of his great patience.

Andreas Karales and his father, James

Andreas Karales and his father, James, in Nantucket, MA, 1988.

My father would be honored that the Selma March photograph and his other works are on display in Witness to History: Civil Rights Era Photographs at the Gibbes Museum.

Andreas Karales, Architectural Designer, NYC, and guest blogger

Monica and Andreas Karales celebrate the opening of Witness to History at the Gibbes Museum.

Monica and Andreas Karales celebrate the opening of Witness to History at the Gibbes Museum.

People’s Choice: A Community-Curated Exhibition

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This week, we launched our People’s Choice website: www.gibbespeopleschoice.org. This website was created to allow the community to vote on their favorite artworks from a selection of 140 objects in the Gibbes Museum’s permanent collection. The top 40 choices will be included in People’s Choice: A Community-Curated Exhibition, opening at the museum on May 3.

The idea for People’s Choice began when we were discussing plans for the upcoming building renovations. This is the last exhibition of our permanent collection in the Main Gallery before construction begins, and we wanted to engage the public and give the community the chance to select, comment on, and share their favorite works of art. We thought the best way to achieve that goal would be through a community-curated exhibition. As the idea grew, we decided to reach out to a group of noted figures from diverse backgrounds in the Charleston community including Chef Mike Lata, news anchor Carolyn Murray, artist Brian Rutenberg and event planner Tara Guérard. We wanted to spark conversations about the impact of art in the lives of people in the community. Everyone responded with enthusiasm and agreed to answer five questions about art including:

1. Why is art important in your life?
2. What is your first memory of art?
3. What is your most memorable art experience?
4. Who is your favorite artist?
5. Why are museums important to you?

The responses have been overwhelming and inspiring! Carolyn Murray wrote, “Museums are libraries for the senses. I never leave a new city or town without stopping in a museum. It is inside local museums and galleries that you can allow images to tell the story of the community.” And Brian Rutenberg said, “A museum is a love letter to ourselves.” The messages are as diverse and thought-provoking as the art work.

All Featured Voter responses and favorite art works will be presented on the People’s Choice website leading up to the opening of the exhibition on May 3. We hope you will check back regularly to see their comments and news updates on the site. You can also register to receive weekly emails with updates about People’s Choice. The full list of works will be available on March 1, when public voting begins. For any question about this project, see our FAQ page.

Amy Mercer, Marketing and Communications Manager, Gibbes Museum of Art

Image: Aesthetic Pleasure (detail), 1932, by Peggy Bacon. Lithograph on paper. Gibbes Museum of Art, Museum Purchase with funds provided by the National Endowment for the Arts Living Artist Fund (1977.010.0021).