Archive for August, 2013

Endless Variety and Superabundance of Beauty

If Katy Huger or Harriet Smartt suggests that something might be interesting, fun, and informative—do it! That’s one of the things I’ve learned most recently as a member of the Gibbes Collection Committee, when I volunteered (upon their advice) to spend some time, as they have done much more generously, helping with an inventory project. My experience took me behind the scenes with Zinnia Willits, Director of Collections Administration, to a room with long tables, shelves, crates, and the Solander boxes which held the works on paper we’d be checking against inventory lists. The inventories Zinnia brought out for my session featured primarily Charleston Renaissance artists such as Prentiss Taylor, Charles Henry White, Leila Waring, Emma Gilchrist, Eola Willis, Thomas Addison Richards, and Antoinette Guerard Rhett; others on the list included Harold Tatum and Richard Lofton.

My M.A. is in Literature of the English Renaissance; what I realized I don’t know about Charleston Renaissance art could fill many of those afore-mentioned Solander boxes. Since I’ve confessed to having been an English major, I’ll admit that I was preoccupied for a bit wondering how these boxes were named. It’s fascinating to learn that they are so named in honor of Dr. Daniel Charles Solander, a botanist who traveled to the Pacific with Capt. Cook and later became the British Museum’s Keeper of Printed Books. He invented the boxes to provide safe storage for precious prints and manuscripts. Interesting! I went home and looked him up on a bookbinders’ webpage, finding out even more about him and his passion for archiving and conserving.

Solander Archival Storage Boxes

Solander archival storage boxes

But back to “my” project boxes and their tantalizing contents… Zinnia opened a box, handed me a printed list of images and description of the works we were to verify—about five images per page, each packet consisting of fifteen to thirty pages. The procedure was that she would carefully lift each work, call out its catalogue number, largely in numerical order by year, while I would find the corresponding item on the inventory list and check it off to show that its location had been verified. First, naturally, I was struck speechless (well, maybe not speechless enough; speed and efficiency were also Zinnia’s goals…) by the volume of each box’s contents, realizing that here in my short morning’s work I was seeing only a tiny slice of the Museums’ holdings. Second, I was impressed by the accuracy and thoroughness of the staff’s work, as evidenced by the matching of box contents and image lists. As a member of the Collections Committee, I knew how dedicated and talented the staff is, but here was proof in an area not polished for display.

Crabapple Blossoms, ca. 1920s By Antoinette Guerard Rhett

Crabapple Blossoms, ca. 1920s, by Antoinette Guerard Rhett (American, 1884–1964)

Perhaps most thrilling about my experience with the inventory projects was seeing the variety of subject and technique represented in just these boxes—though I had to remember that I was there to inventory, not examine! Here was Hutty’s student, Antoinette Guerard Rhett (whose husband, I later learned, was of the family for whom our house in Charleston is named!). I could have studied a long time her delicate, small-scale color etchings (Crabapple Blossoms, for example), influenced by Japanese design, I learned, and printed on paper as fragile as their subject. In fact, I could have taken one home to enjoy had Zinnia only stepped out of the room… Alas, she didn’t! Rhett’s titles, too, sometimes delighted; her image of two caterpillars on a leaf is titled The Courtship.

The Courtship, ca. 1920s, By Antoinette Guerard Rhett

The Courtship, ca. 1920s, by Antoinette Guerard Rhett (American, 1884–1964)

Here also were images by Leila Waring, whom I knew to be a leading figure with Alice Smith in reviving interest in miniatures. After having checked off many images of lovely gates, alleyways, buildings and gravestones, how interesting to see her pencil drawing of a young woman sitting on a rug. This resting figure with fluid dress and bobbed hair looked as though she might at any minute get up and resume dancing “The Charleston.”

Untitled (Young Woman Sitting on Rug), n. d., By Leila Waring (American, 1876 – 1964)

Untitled (Young Woman Sitting on Rug), n. d., by Leila Waring (American, 1876–1964)

As I was getting accustomed to the delicate lines and colors and fine detail of characterization of many Etchers’ Club artists, I was surprised and intrigued to see the woodblock by Richard Lofton (1908–1966) called Politicians: The Joke. No Spanish moss or soaring steeples or finely-wrought gates here! The face in profile is brutish—huge, sharp teeth—huge, threatening hands—and one figure has a kind of Death’s Head back view. Are they crowding in on a voter? Offering a flask? I could almost feel the ooze and stink. Was “The Joke” on the voters who elected these politicians?

Politicians, Number 2, The Joke, n. d, by Richard Lofton

Politicians, Number 2, The Joke, n. d., By Richard Lofton (American, 1908–1966)

Sometimes, reminiscent of discussions about acquisitions and de-accessions in the Collections Committee meetings, I was left wondering why some of the works were stored and maintained in several iterations although they didn’t seem to have a great deal of congruence with the collecting mission of The Gibbes. For example, the museum owns seven identical images by Harold Tatum of the often-depicted Construction Worker Resting [on a girder, skyscraper in background]. Those are issues which the staff and Director face daily, and this project has given me even more respect for and understanding of the delicate nature of these decisions.

On page nine of her beautiful book The Charleston Renaissance (1998), Martha Severens shares a quote from Charles Henry White, who said in a 1907 Harper’s article inspiring painters to visit and explore Charleston, “…as you press on, you are thrilled with a sense of the endless variety and superabundance of beauty that lures you… fearful that something might escape you…” That is a fair description of how I felt going through those Solander boxes during my inventory morning. Thank you, Zinnia, Harriet, and Katy, for encouraging me to take this opportunity—I pass on your encouragement to others! As Michaelangelo said in his 80s, “Ancora Imparo—I am always learning.”

Cathy Bennington Jenrette, Collections Committee Member and guest blogger

Create-A-Map Gets A Facelift!

Every teacher looks for ways to make learning “stick” and many will agree that hands-on lessons are the most unforgettable. The Gibbes Museum of Art has a portable kit called Create-A-Map that is totally hands-on, and it’s available for schools to use. With Create-A-Map, learning about South Carolina is fun, educational, and, most of all, memorable.

Gibbes Museum Create a Map

The Create-A-Map kit has been updated and is ready to travel to your school!

Create-A-Map allows students to construct a 9×12 foot, three dimensional map of South Carolina right on their classroom floor. The base is a large canvas floor cloth with the outline of the state and a numbered and lettered grid drawn on it to help guide the placement of cities, rivers, products, etc. Participants are divided into seven “teams” and for each team there is a small map for reference and a box of items to place on the floor map.

Adding SC Products to the floor map

Students can add their game pieces to the floor map.

The “Cities” Team has nine plastic cups, labeled with city names and covered with artwork and photos, to place on the grid. The “Rivers and Lakes” Team uses blue ropes and foam-board lakes. “Interstate Highways” are represented with long black strips affixed with Matchbox cars. The “Regions” Team divides the state with yellow ropes, and then adds labels, bean-bag mountains, and sandhills to the floor map. “Products” (a tiny basket of cotton, strawberries, a toy boat for shipping, etc.), “State Symbols” (a piece of blue granite, a plastic spotted salamander, etc.), and “People” representing famous South Carolina citizens (each represented with a small scrapbook), round out the teams. The map can be assembled in about an hour, and when it’s finished, it’s loaded with information that can foster discussions and further study. The map was an idea that began as an outdoor project at the museum more than fifteen years ago. Using the back patio of the museum as the grid, student visitors built an enormous South Carolina map right in the courtyard. The next step in its development was to make a travelling kit that would fit in a classroom, and Create-A-Map was born.

SC Products ready to be placed on map

Some of the products important to South Carolina’s agricultural economy.

Over the years the kit has been used by many schools and has been revised several times. This year the museum asked me to refurbish Create-A-Map, bring it up-to-date with school standards and technology, and streamline it for easier use. I’ve always been a big fan of the kit because it combines social studies, geography, history, mapping skills, art appreciation, problem-solving, and teamwork! It was my pleasure to tweak it for 2013.

A completed map

A completed map includes regions, people, products and other details specific to the state of South Carolina.

Those of you who have used the kit before might notice some changes. I added the outline of South Carolina directly to the floor cloth so students wouldn’t have to lay out the border with a rope (which never stayed put!). I added a team for famous South Carolinians and made a tiny “scrapbook” to represent each of the ten people. I reworked the regions team to comply with the SC standards. The instructions and team boxes have been streamlined so now the entire kit fits into one rolling bin (2’6” x 1’6” x 1’2”).

The new kit is complete and ready to go! Reserve it for your classroom by contacting Rebecca Sailor at the Gibbes Museum by phone, 843-722-2706 x41, or via email at rsailor@gibbesmuseum.org. We would love your feedback, and we hope you enjoy the new and improved Create-A-Map!

Mary Droge, Gibbes Museum Educator and guest blogger

A Summer Behind-the-Scenes at the Gibbes Museum

Interning at the Gibbes Museum of Art for the majority of this summer has been an absolute privilege and certainly an eye-opener towards discovering the elements that allow a museum to function successfully. Here, I have been exposed to almost every different department, a few being Development, Curatorial and Collections Management, and Education Programs. Given the opportunity to assist various staff-members in these departments, I have entered an incredibly determined, passionate, and efficient network of people. The museum staff have devoted an immeasurable amount of effort and enthusiasm towards interpreting and preserving the meanings of various art collections that derive from Charleston and the South. Throughout my time here, I have noticed that the Gibbes’s mission—to preserve and promote the art of Charleston and the American South—rings true within the museum as well as with local communities and visitors to the Lowcountry.

Gibbes Renovation Rendering

A cross-section of the building reveals plans for a renovation to the Gibbes Museum of Art.

In my first week, I was introduced to the more “executive” facet of the Gibbes, working with the Development team. I learned that the museum is not-for-profit and depends on funding from various sources including private trusts and foundation grants, as well as individual and corporate gifts, for its daily operations and to maintain its collection. Each fiscal year the Development team starts all over to identify funding sources that will help with the operations of the museum. I realized how much more work and fortitude is essential in order for a non-profit organization to function. During my time in the Development office, I also learned about plans for an extremely substantial and thoughtfully planned renovation that will commence in the summer of 2014. Throughout each meeting that I was attended, staff-members delivered innovative and fascinating ideas contributing to the plans of the redesign, and further emphasizing the importance of preserving the Gibbes’ mission statement. I am ecstatic to see the end result and to be able to watch everyone’s ideas blossom as they come to life in 2016!

After working with the Development group, my directors provided me with a complete change of scene. For the next week, I assisted with the summer art camp and my coworkers consisted of creative mini-Picassos. It was remarkable to see how eager and focused the children were when it came to organizing their ideas and then tactfully putting them onto paper. The end result was fantastic, expressive, and always original! As they discovered their artistic abilities, the enthusiastic teacher Kristen Solecki also enlightened the children about contemporary artists such as Jasper Johns and Mary Whyte. The children were interested to use the work of the artists that they learned about as models for their own pieces of art, incorporating characteristics of abstract and modern artwork into their own masterpieces.

Instructor Kristen Solecki with campers.

Camp Instructor, Kristen Solecki, teaches campers about color palettes.

For the next two weeks, I worked with the Collections Management and Curatorial departments. With Collections Management, I was always on my feet and was able to see each different part of the museum, and even took a thrilling adventure into “deep, dark storage” where sizeable amounts of artwork were carefully kept. I was so lucky to be able to see and even handle some of the artwork, including marvelous paintings, many delicate miniatures, and valuable sketches done by Alice Ravenel Huger Smith. As I worked in these departments, I learned about numerous past exhibitions, even those that took place during the early 1900s. These departments provided me with an amazing view into the museum’s past and historical culture, as well as a wonderfully close look at the collection.

Receiving an inside look at the careful consideration of curating exhibitions, establishing connections to the community, promoting educational programs, and further projects that define the creative purpose of the Gibbes, I have seen the museum’s mission statement continue to speak louder and grow more meaningful each day. The Gibbes Museum of Art is built upon and held together by a thoughtful, strong, well connected, and ambitious group of people with whom I have had the absolute pleasure of being able to work.

Elizabeth McGehee, Porter-Gaud High School Intern and guest blogger

2013 is the second 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.

Days (Not So) Beyond Recall: An Intern’s Reflection on Art and Change

At the start of each day of my summer internship at Gibbes Museum of Art, I walk past Michael Tyzack’s Days Beyond Recall on my way into the office. It is great way for any person enthusiastic about visual arts to start their day, but lately, this part of my routine has taken on more meaning.

Since the start of my Master of Library and Information Science program, change has been a reoccurring motif, and one that I cannot help but contemplate frequently, especially now that I myself am in the midst of a lot of changes taking place in my own life… Today is my 26th birthday. I am now a Reference Librarian at my alma mater, College of Charleston, working at Addlestone Library. Tomorrow marks two and a half years of being married to my husband, an art educator in Colleton County School District. The last day of my internship at Gibbes is only 15 days away. In just 20 days, I will turn in my final project for Humanities and Art Information Services—my last course in the MLIS program. And in 24 days I will graduate from The University of South Carolina.

Days Beyond Recall, 1982, by Michael Tyzack

Days Beyond Recall, 1982, by Michael Tyzack (British, 1933–2007)

So, I am in a transitional stage of sorts, and I suppose this has led to a significant amount of reflection. My thoughts about the future are much like Tyzack’s painting—bright and alluring, though nonetheless abstract.

The title of the piece, Days Beyond Recall, denotes a time that has long since passed. I see now that my days as a student are coming to a close. And slightly to my chagrin, I admit that I am growing up and will probably continue to do so. I see that this time in my life will soon be a part of my past. However, I can’t see how these days could ever be beyond my recollection of them. They are far too memorable. And after all, everything I have worked at thus far will contribute to my future, whatever it may hold. Still, the unknown that comes with change can be daunting at times. I have found that focusing on what I know about change can help me cope.

Much of my graduate curricula and the LIS profession have revolved around a notion of embracing change. Technology and the overall realm of information are now tremendously different, among other things. In any case, if libraries are to continue to meet the needs of the communities they serve, they must adapt and develop new services accordingly. Succeeding at this can mean improvement. Information settings can then encourage intellectual and personal growth more effectively.

Art museums are no exclusion. As an emerging information professional, I have enjoyed being at the Gibbes this summer, and seeing an undertaking of such a valuable transformation in real life. The museum, as you may know, is preparing not only for being physically under construction, but there are also plans for re-branding. The goal is to make the Museum more relevant to its community, and to enhance the experience of visitors through reform of educational services and visual art information services.

Intern Alison Paul

Intern Alison Paul worked on Social Media and marketing campaigns for the museum this summer.

Perhaps you are wondering how a Public Programs & Marketing internship pertains to a LIS student. Although I may not be specifically handling books, I am most certainly working with information. Careers in Library and Information Science are evolving beyond their traditional forms. To remain valuable, it will be important to think of our work and skills more broadly. My summer reading—Rethinking Information Work: A Career Guide for Librarians and Other Information Professionals by G. Kim Dority—has been teaching me this. So, the value of a non-traditional LIS internship experience in a world immersed in change is an important one that has helped me to diversify my skill set.

Over the summer, there have also been changes in my understanding: I have learned how my research skills can support the development of the Gibbes’ brand, exhibitions, and programs. I have seen firsthand how information can be used and made available in ways that engage the Museum’s visitors and enhance its web presence and overall visibility in the eye of the public. Most importantly, I now realize how my specialization can help to advocate for the Gibbes, and foster its community’s love of art and culture.

Despite all of these changes, I feel that some things will remain as they are. The core values will persist—those of both the LIS profession and Gibbes Museum of Art. Also, my own values—my love for art and lifelong learning are still intact, perhaps even more so than ever before—I am just learning how to apply them in new and meaningful ways.

Just as we change, so can the way we see and respond to art. This is similar to rereading a book. We often will gain something different from the experience because we are at a different stage in our lives. I look forward to discovering new meaning upon viewing Days Beyond Recall in the years to come!

Alison Paul, public programs and marketing intern and guest blogger
[Written July 17, 2013]