Archive for March, 2013

Last Chance to Vote for People’s Choice: A Community-Curated Exhibition!

When we decided to invite the public to vote on their favorite works of art from our permanent collection, we weren’t sure what to expect. We wondered if an unexpected painting, a piece of sculpture, or a print would rise to the top of the Leader Board. We wondered what we would learn about the community through the voting process. And while the voting isn’t over, there are clear favorites. With two days left to vote, four of the top five picks are by local artists. Linda Fantuzzo’s Still Life with Open Book has garnered over 200 votes, while West Fraser’s 126 Oak Street, McClellanville, South Carolina is right behind. Corene by Jonathan Green is in 3rd place, followed closely by Mary Whyte’s Iron Man.

Still Life with Open Book, 1991, by Linda Fantuzzo

Still Life with Open Book, 1991, by Linda Fantuzzo (American, b. 1950).

So what do these numbers tell us? What can we learn about our collection through this experiment? It’s too soon to tell just yet, and it may be that voting is an ineffective way to poll the community’s taste in art. The pieces of art at the top of the leader board are favorites for many reasons, including the technical skill of the well respected artists, the attention to light and shadow, and the vivid and descriptive use of color. But as the marketing and communications manager at the museum, I also wonder if the leader board is influenced by familiarity? Many of the works on the leader board are works that are currently hanging on the museum walls. Are we more apt to “like” a work of art we’ve seen before?

126 Oak Street, McClellanville, South Carolina, by West Fraser

126 Oak Street, McClellanville, South Carolina, 2000, by West Fraser (American, b. 1955).

Corene, 1995, by Jonathan Green

Corene, 1995, by Jonathan Green (American, b. 1955).

A comment about Still Life with Open Book disputes the notion of familiarity: “I’ve only recently been introduced to Ms. Fantuzzo’s works. She has achieved a style of her own and her passion for her works is obvious!” While this comment on The Veiled Lady, who is #6 on the Leader Board, comes from someone who is familiar with the sculpture: “I have stood mesmerized by this piece many times. It is just exquisite, and enchanting. It has such an ethereal beauty, and the artistic execution seems astonishingly flawless.” Some of our Featured Voters lamented the challenge of choosing favorite artists. Darcy Shankland of Charleston magazine said it was “not a fair question! How to possibly choose?!?” That’s why we wanted to give the public the freedom to vote on as many favorites as they desired, because we know how difficult it is to choose one work of art over another. That is one of the challenges curators face when designing an exhibition.

Iron Man, 2000, by Mary Whyte

Iron Man, 2000, by Mary Whyte (American, b. 1953)

So in these next few weeks we will tally the votes, and Sara Arnold, our curator of collections, will curate your top 40 “favorite” artworks into the upcoming People’s Choice exhibition. For the next 48+ hours, take advantage of the chance to vote until our polls close on Sunday, March 31 at midnight. We can’t wait to see what you’ve selected.

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

Ashley Hall’s Junior Docent Journey

In a city as vibrant and storied as Charleston, where history is said to live and artistic influence to breathe, it seems that we locals would be remiss to miss out on the enlightenment readily available in our own backyards. Lately, Charleston has proudly embraced a love of all things local, from local business to local produce. To me, it seems only logical that we equal-opportunity “locavores” should also indulge in the local cultural fare of our fair city. It was in this spirit that the History and English instructors of Ashley Hall’s 7th grade decided to orchestrate a local lowcountry exploration—leading our class on an adventure as “tourists” in their own town.

The 7th-grade girls pose in front of the Gibbes before their special tours.

The Ashley Hall 7th-grade girls pose in front of the Gibbes.

After studying the fundamental elements of art and architecture, the girls departed on a walking tour of the peninsula to put their new knowledge to the test. Equipped with widened eyes for art and armed with iPads poised for documentation, the class set out on foot, bundled up and bound for the Gibbes Museum of Art.

Once dubbed an “ornament to Charleston,” the Gibbes Museum has long served as a bastion of fine arts in this picturesque city. Today, the museum houses over 10,000 objects. The majority of these are tied in some way to the culture and history of South Carolina’s Lowcountry, hence the permanent exhibit’s title, The Charleston Story.

On this first trip, the girls were taken under the wings of seasoned museum docents Pat Burgess and Elise Detterbeck, who regaled them with tales of art and adventure, style and scandal, trends and broken traditions in the world of art. They led the group from gallery to gallery, bringing to life a story of Charleston than spanned centuries. The collective past they described was a vast one, told from many different perspectives and set against multiple backdrops, from the Plantation to the Sea Islands. The Charleston they described was multifaceted and marked by both astounding privilege and staggering oppression. The shared message of the exhibit resounded: the authentic “Charleston Story” can hardly be reduced to a single tale.

At the end of the training, it was apparent that what goes into adorning the walls of the Gibbes is far more complex than just picking out the prettiest pictures. In a matter of hours, the students began to appreciate the full force within the frames, and several voiced curatorial aspirations.

A 7th-grader presents Mary Edna Fraser's batik, <em>Charleston Runner</em>.

A 7th-grader presents Mary Edna Fraser’s batik entitled “Charleston Runner.”

After the tour, students were given time to interact with the paintings individually. Stationed before a work of their choosing, each student mused about possibilities inspired by her favorite image and penned (or, rather, pecked out) a creative reflection to post and share on the class website. Soon enough, it was time to pack up and bid farewell to Charleston’s “ornament” of a museum and its spectacular contents.

The girls departed the Gibbes and set out on the second leg of their touristy romp: an architectural tour of the city led by Ashley Hall 7th grade history teacher Mary Webb that featured visits to the Edmundston-Alston House and the Charleston Library Society. With several miles—not to mention several centuries and countless facts—under our belts, we finally returned to Ashley Hall and the familiar territory of campus.

Mrs. Johnson (Estelle), by Barkley Hendricks, is the featured artwork in this presentation.

“Mrs. Johnson (Estelle),” by Barkley Hendricks, is the featured artwork in this presentation.

In the three short weeks that followed this inaugural visit, a transformation occurred: the once-tourists became the tour guides! After selecting a specific work from the Gibbes’s collection, the girls dove into a full-fledged research project, digging for information, evaluating sources, and piecing together their findings. Through resourceful research, several students were able to contact their more contemporary artists firsthand, and 7th grader Hannah was able to strike up a conversation with renowned photographer and environmentalist speaker J. Henry Fair that ultimately resulted in a visiting lecture for the entire Upper School. Finally, students were ready to present their research for their peers in preparation for the big show: a docent tour for a live audience.

On the presentation day, the students were joined by an enthusiastic audience that included family, friends, and an entire class of first grade buddies or “little sisters” from Ashley Hall. With this group, the junior docents shared both a wealth of knowledge and a fun-filled afternoon.

Grace presents Highway Series, #9992 to classmates and artist Eva Carter!

Grace presents “Highway Series, #9992″ to classmates and artist Eva Carter!

A particularly special moment occurred when featured artist Eva Carter showed up to watch 7th grade student Grace as she presented Carter’s exhibited painting “Highway Blues.” When Carter initiated a round of applause in approval of Grace’s presentation, it seemed to echo my own euphoric sentiments: They nailed it! The performances not only dazzled me, but also impressed museum educators: Pat and Elise called Ashley Hall’s docent work “eye-opening” and “confident,” and Gibbes Head Educator Rebecca Sailor reported being “blown away” by the tours.

The girls were also proud of themselves. Here’s what they had to say about the project:

“I was amazed by how confident everyone was while presenting. We really knew the information and it was fun seeing our little sisters’ reactions to the art.”—Ella, 7th grade

“Our presentations were to the point, informative, and interactive. Our little sisters seemed excited to learn more!”—Olivia, 7th grade

“The best part of my project was when I got to email my artist, Jonathan Green, and find out why he painted the way he did.”—Chasity, 7th grade

“The best part of the project was when I got to meet my artist, Eva Carter!”—Grace, 7th grade

“The best part of this project was going to the museum the first day because I love the pieces of artwork at the Gibbes and loved getting to go there.”—Brooke, 7th grade

“The best part of the project was getting to walk around Charleston because it is a beautiful city that we often take for granted.”—Lou Lou, 7th grade

In the wake of our Gibbes Junior Docent project experience, I hope these students continue to nourish the instinct they cultivated in the museum to always look again—to give a second glance to the things before them-whether this be a work of art, an idea, a person, a story, or even a hometown—and to greet the world around them with ever-widening eyes.

Anne Rhett, Ashley Hall Upper School Faculty Member, English Department, and guest blogger

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

Drawing at Your Own Level, with Lese Corrigan

Since 1988, I have had the privilege of teaching classes through the Gibbes Museum of Art. Young, old and in between, my students have been enlightening and challenging with many becoming long-term friends, supporters and collectors. Drawing and painting classes for all ages, photography classes for teenagers, summer camps, printmaking for camp and teenagers, an hour here, nine hours there—they have all been fun, educational times for me as much as the students.

pencil grades

An example of different pencil grades; dark to light from left to right.

Drawing implements: graphite sticks, charcoal, and pencils.

Drawing implements: graphite sticks, charcoal, and numbered pencils.

The class I teach these days for the Gibbes is held at Corrigan Gallery and is limited in number so that no one has to carry tables and chairs around to make it possible. This creates an intimate setting for developing or expanding one’s drawing abilities and creative talents. I designed it to adjust to each student’s needs and levels. In many ways, the start of my 25 years of teaching was the result of filling in the gaps in my own art education. I loved studying about the materials available, how they developed and were made, and then having the students experiment with them so that they could begin the steps towards mastery of them. With my classes, I evaluate the students and have them gauge themselves, as well as give them the chance to say where they would like to go with their skills and what their ultimate goals are. The classes are short, as people’s lives are so busy now, and participants can escape easily taking with them the tools to better drawing!

A blind contour drawing of a stool.

A blind contour drawing of a stool.

Until recently, the basic drawing class used a chair as the subject for the first half of the series and then a lovely, decrepit old bicycle for the second half. Oh, what moans and groans when we switched to the bike! Yet, by the end of the session, the students felt the bike was much easier to conquer than the chair. We still use a chair or stool for the class and then move on to whatever surprise is necessary to challenge the individuals, sometimes with different subjects for each student. During the three-week session, we focus on moving the individual student’s skill to a level beyond their current one versus the exploration of materials.

French Cups in pencil by Lese Corrigan (c) 2000

Stacked French Cups, 2000, in pencil by Lese Corrigan.

Pencil sketch of a dog, 2013, by Lese Corrigan

Pencil sketch of a dog, 2013, by Lese Corrigan.

As I firmly believe drawing is the basis of all art (yes, even of abstraction)—and that we must all learn to recreate the literalness of what we see before us before we move beyond the veil of reality to something more ethereal—the class is about drawing what we see. Approaching the delicate balance of pushing past barriers and frustration, we seek to hone our eyes and skills (and yes, you already have skills… you can sign your name can’t you?). The process and methods are very simple, but take a great deal of practice to put us where we wish to be in our creative process. From blind contour drawings through sketches to finished pieces, we explore our own mark making. Come try it—with a three-week class of one and a half hours each week, it cannot hurt, but it sure can help!

Lese Corrigan, artist and owner of Corrigan Gallery, and guest blogger

Visit the Gibbes Museum online calendar of events to register for this and other studio art classes.