Archive for January, 2014

My Charleston Story, as told by the In-House Graphic Designer

Few designers have the privilege of working alongside masterpieces of art, and I count myself among those lucky few!

Six months ago, I joined the Gibbes Museum of Art as the new in-house graphic designer, and I’ve been pinching myself ever since. I recall the rainy summer Charleston day when I interviewed for this position. During the interview, Executive Director Angela Mack made the poignant observation that people in the arts often follow a path that is more meandering than straight-lined. Such has been the case for me. Although I came armed with a BA in graphic design and MFA in illustration, my path has indeed been a meandering one.

Erin Bennett Banks

Erin Bennett Banks

It began over a decade ago, when I left my hometown in upstate New York to venture down south for graduate school. With formal training in graphic design, illustration and studio art, I sought out to build a creative, integrated, meaningful life.

The next ten years were spent building my freelance illustration portfolio, while cultivating a professional career at the Savannah College of Art and Design. My role as director of scholarships, admission, and regional recruitment took me all over the globe, participating in numerous gallery and museum based events around the United States, China and Korea. In fact, during my last years at SCAD, as part of an effort to align with premier galleries and art museums, we began hosting annual information sessions at the Gibbes Museum of Art. I remember thinking this would be an incredible place to work. Kismet in motion!

Fast-forward to today. Not only am I working for a premier art museum, but one that is dedicated to preserving and promoting the art of Charleston and the American South. Surrounded by history, art and story. This resonates. I thrive on storytelling, whether it be using graphic design to tell the story of the Gibbes, or using my oil paints to create an illustration. My dual-career in illustration has often focused on traditional narratives and historic themes, ideas that continue to gain inspiration from my role at the Gibbes.

On my “commute” to the museum, I walk through the canopy of trees (the hidden Gateway Walk) and approach the iconic century-old building, and I am cognizant of my unique role. I get to design all of the print materials for this amazing art museum!

Graphic designers are the ultimate visual communicators. My goal is always to organize information in a way that clearly communicates the message in a beautiful way. As a designer, I have the power to pair together fonts and images into materials that connect with viewers and make a lasting impression. If I succeed, then each person that encounters a Gibbes branded piece will catch a glimpse of the Gibbes experience, a teaser that culminates in more foot traffic and deeper devotees.

<em>Photography and the American Civil War</em> banner

Photography and the American Civil War banner.

Upon my inaugural tour of the Gibbes gallery space in late August, I was given my first assignment: to create all of the museum signage for Photography and the American Civil War, the record-breaking fall exhibition organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Posters of gilt-framed Civil War soldiers. My responsibilities included: banners featuring original Matthew Brady photographs, and old-timey typefaces and sepia toned images (a haunting contrast to the current Romantic Spirits exhibition). It was a sweet introduction to the thrill of welcoming a new exhibit every few months.

And that was only the beginning. Next, I was asked to design collateral for the Distinguished Lecture Series, featuring a Picasso (pinch) and Cubist art collector Leonard A. Lauder, Chairman Emeritus of The Estée Lauder Companies Inc. Then we moved onto the Gibbes Women’s Council Art of Design invitation honoring renowned New York interior designer Charlotte Moss. This project was followed closely by a collaboration with auxiliary group Gibbes, etc. to create the Kiawah Art & House Tour materials. Ads, posters, postcards and such, for a myriad of Gibbes events, exhibitions, educational programming, and of course, the epic Annual Report (a member magazine that includes information on exhibitions, programs, events, education, development and the financials for the past fiscal year)!

Gibbes Annual Report

The Gibbes 2013 Annual Report cover.

One of the benefits of working as an in-house designer is the opportunity to build relationships and become truly invested in the mission of the organization. And so, I’ve been warmly welcomed by the immensely talented Gibbes staff and wildly supportive auxiliary groups. This is the life force that is so necessary in the arts community, reminding Charleston about the importance of supporting the city’s only visual arts museum. Now I get to be part of this life force.

I continue to work as an illustrator, which I juggle alongside my dream job at the Gibbes. As an illustrator I’ve created three nationally published children’s books, which have earned recognition in The New York Times’ Best Children’s Books, The Washington Post, and Parents magazine, as well as the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Award and Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights Outstanding Book Award. Other clients have included Highlights for Children Magazine, The Weekly Reader and Harvard Business Review. And I occasionally pause to participate in a gallery show. My work has been featured in collaborative shows with Faith Ringgold, Benny Andrews, and Eric Carle (The Very Hungry Caterpillar illustrator & author) in exhibitions at the Asheville Art Museum and other galleries in the southeast. Locally, my work has been highlighted in Charleston City Paper, The Post and Courier’s Charleston Scene and the cover of Art Mag.

<em>Patchwork Path</em> Cover by Erin Banks

The Patchwork Path, cover by Erin Banks.

I also teach Drawing and Photoshop classes at Trident Technical College and have recently worked as a consultant for the Columbus College of Art and Design in Ohio, endeavors that keep me connected to higher education.

And although I’ll always be hopelessly devoted to my native New York, I consider myself an adopted Southerner. Married to my Southern soul mate (and co-artist Timothy Banks), we live a thoroughly creative, chaotic life together with a toddler, baby, and two Southern pugs.

I couldn’t be happier. And I couldn’t work for a more inspiring, culturally significant landmark in the heart of the most beautiful city in the world. Charleston is lucky to have a gem like the Gibbes Museum of Art. And I am so lucky to add the Gibbes to my story now.

Erin Bennett Banks, Graphic Designer, Gibbes Museum of Art

Make Your Own Wave: Japanese Woodblock Printmaking with Kate MacNeil

Distinction, by Kate MacNeil

Distinction, 2013, by Kate MacNeil

 

Woodblock printmaking is an ancient art that was used as early as the eighth century in Japan to reproduce written texts. As technology evolved, printmakers were able to work with a range of colors to create romantic landscapes and historical events. On January 17th, we opened The Great Wave: Japonisme in Charleston that features a variety of woodblock prints from the museum’s permanent collection. We always work to include interesting programs and events that relate to our exhibitions, and this weekend we are partnering with Redux Contemporary Art Center to host Make Your own Wave: Curator-led Tour and Woodblock Printmaking Demonstration. Sara Arnold, Gibbes Curator of Collections, will lead a private tour of the exhibition, and later guests will travel to Redux for a printmaking demonstration by local artist Kate MacNeil. Kate was gracious enough to take some time to speak with me about her work and creative process.
 

Kate MacNeil in her studio

Kate MacNeil in her studio.

Q. You studied printmaking at the College of Charleston. What drew you to that medium?

There’s a bit of a printmaking history in my family. My mother studied printmaking at the College of Charleston back in the day, and my aunt and uncle operate Abaca Press in Buffalo, NY. So it’s definitely something I grew up with. Beyond that, it’s an incredibly complex medium with a wide range of techniques available to interpret my imagery. I love the versatility that it offers and the dedication to process it requires.

Q. Tell me about your process.

For me, I start by building an image in my sketchbook, and from there I determine how I want to interpret it. Recently, I’ve been working a lot with intaglio, which gives me the opportunity to create some really detailed line work. It changes from image to image, though. The important thing for me is to constantly keep making images, whether drawing, printing or painting, good or bad, in the hopes of finding something real. It’s all research.

Q. Tell me about the current relevance of printmaking in today’s artistic community.

Printmaking is everywhere. Whether it’s a screen-printed poster, or a letterpress wedding invitation, or a lithographed nautical map. I think people are surprised when they realize how vast and prominent of a medium printmaking is. It’s an integral part of human history and I think it’s only natural that it continues to play a part in the art world. New techniques are constantly being invented and it gives artists a wide range to interpret their work.

 

The Ink Jar, by Kate MacNeil

The Ink Jar, 2013, by Kate MacNeil

 

Q. Are you inspired by the Japanese prints or have you studied them previously? In looking at the prints in the museum’s permanent collection, how (if at all) do they speak to your own work?

I have had a few opportunities to view of some of the Japanese woodblock prints in the Gibbes’ collection. They are simply breathtaking, especially when you realize how much work and expertise was put into each and every print. I was inspired to take a workshop this past summer on Japanese woodblock printing, and I’m eager to continue working within that medium (Though I doubt I will ever be considered a Master Carver/Printer!).

 

Bats and Moon, n. d. By Katsushika Hokusai (Japanese, 1760–1849) Woodblock on paper Image courtesy of the Gibbes Museum of Art/ Carolina Art Association

Bats and Moon, n. d., by Katsushika Hokusai (Japanese, 1760–1849)

 

Q. What will this workshop involve?

I think Make Your Own Wave will give people a great deal of insight on the Japanese woodblock prints. They play an interesting part in world history, starting in Japan and moving to Europe to inspire many Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artists. For my part, I will be demonstrating how these prints would have been created, and giving participants a chance to make their own print. I really think people will walk away with a greater appreciation of the Japanese woodblock print and hopefully printmaking in general.

Thanks Kate for your time! We will continue to explore the Japanese culture with a cooking demonstration at Southern Season in Mt. Pleasant on February 15 at 5pm. For more information please visit our calendar at gibbesmuseum.org/events.

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

The Art & Heart of Philanthropy

Why is giving back important to the community? This was the theme of a recent panel discussion hosted by the Gibbes Museum of Art and the Center for Women. The “Art & Heart of Philanthropy” panel discussion was held at The Sanctuary on Kiawah Island on Tuesday, January 14, and featured four prominent, local women who are passionate philanthropists. Panelists Laura Gates, Carolyn Hunter, Susan Romaine, and Anita Zucker spoke with moderator Jane Perdue about the art of giving back.

The Art & Heart of Philanthropy at the Sanctuary on Kiawah Island

Guests attending the Art & Heart of Philanthropy panel discussion at the Sanctuary on Kiawah Island.

As the marketing manager for the museum, I had been preparing for the event for some time, and was looking forward to it on a personal level because I was seeking inspiration. When I was young, my dad was very involved with our small town community in Vermont, and worked hard to model this behavior to my sister and me. However, instead of being inspired, I often dragged my heels and complained when he took us to a nursing home to sing carols on Christmas Eve, or pulled us out of the house to help build the town playground. Those memories are more than three decades old, and now it’s my turn to introduce the concept of giving back to my children. As the mother of three boys, I finally understand what dad was trying to do, but I don’t know how to do it. So, I was looking forward to hearing what these women would share about getting involved with the community.

I recorded several of the questions and answers I found most inspiring during the conversation to share with you below. Moderator Jane Perdue began with asking the women to explain why giving back was important to them.

A. Susan Romaine, a nationally recognized artist, said she starting giving out of a sense of gratitude. “I gave to Planned Parenthood because they offered me free health services and enabled me to be healthy when I was young and didn’t have any money.” As she grew older and earned more money, she began to widen her giving reach, and shared her time and money with other non-profits. Carolyn Hunter, President of C&A Unlimited, and owner of three local McDonald’s franchises, said giving back is important to her because “we need to share what we have with others.” Anita Zucker, Chairperson and CEO for the InterTech Group, said her parents were Holocaust survivors who taught her that if you don’t have the money, give your time. Laura Gates, Board President of the Carolina Art Association/Gibbes Museum of Art, said she is motivated to give back because she feels very fortunate. Laura began her philanthropy when she was young by giving $5 to her alma matter, Wellesley College, because she wanted to participate. “There is a thrill associated with giving,” Laura added. “Endorphins are released and there is a ‘giving high.’”

Q. In their book Reinventing Fundraising, the authors describe six reasons women are motivated to give:  create, change, connect, collaborate, commit and celebrate. Do any of these six resonate with you? And if so, why?

A. Carolyn Hunter said her reasons for giving were to Change and Celebrate. She said, “I want to know how I can get more African American women from the community involved.” Laura Gates said her reasons for giving were to Change and Create because “educated women will change the world.”

Q. What are your thoughts on how to get children participating in and learning about philanthropy?

A. Anita Zucker explained that when her children were young, she took them with her to volunteer at Crisis Ministries. “It’s important to show your children how other people live, then they understand that everything they do has an impact,” she explained. Susan Romaine agreed and said when her daughter was young that she tried to lead by example. “At the end of the day my daughter wanted me to stay home with her, but I explained to her that this was important work. Sometimes I would take her with me to volunteer or attend a meeting so she could see what it was all about.”

Q. The Women’s Philanthropy Institute writes, “Women have traditionally been heralded for their generations of life-changing service to society. But today, women are not limited to contributions of service as they are achieving full confidence in their capabilities as financial donors.” You all certainly embody this transformation! What advice do you offer to other women in gaining confidence relative to money and influence?

A. Susan Romaine said that nothing is too small. “Give $5, $10, or $1,000 and you will feel empowered!” Anita Zucker agreed and said that she began giving in increments of $18 and called it ‘bite-sized pieces.’ “Then you can inspire people through your giving,” she said. Laura Gates added that women need to understand their financial situation so they can give in their lifetime. “Enjoy giving now,” she encouraged the audience.

Carolyn Hunter summed up the discussion with the simple phrase: “The more I give, the more I get.”

I left the discussion feeling empowered, and realized that I didn’t have to follow in my father’s exact footsteps and make my boys sing carols at Christmas, but that I could create my own path of giving. I could follow the panelist’s advice and lead by example.

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

 

Curatorial Perspective: Japonisme in Charleston

Rough Sea at the Naruto in Awa Province, No. 55 from the series Pictures of Famous Places in the Sixty Odd Provinces, 1855, by Ichiryusai Hiroshige

Rough Sea at the Naruto in Awa Province, No. 55 from the series Pictures of Famous Places in the Sixty Odd Provinces, 1855, by Ichiryusai Hiroshige

This winter the walls of the Rotunda Galleries will be decked with a vibrant array of Japanese woodblock prints from the Gibbes permanent collection. These examples of eastern art from Japan’s ukiyo-e school will be accompanied by works produced by Charleston artists who were profoundly influenced by the influx of Japanese art during the early 1900s. Ukiyo-e, or “pictures of the floating world,” is a term reflecting the long-held Buddhist belief in the ephemeral nature of the world of pleasure. Images by ukiyo-e artists were intended to appeal to broad audiences. Popular subjects were those of Kabuki theater actors, courtesans in the entertainment quarters, famous scenic spots, and views of the natural world.

“Japonisme” or, a taste for things Japanese, peaked in our port city during the first few decades of the twentieth century. Early introductions to Japanese art and culture in Charleston can be traced to the South Carolina Inter-State and West Indian Exposition of 1901-02, and to the 1905 inaugural exhibition at the Gibbes which included a room dedicated to the display of Japanese prints. Additional exhibitions of Japanese art took place at the College of Charleston and the Charleston Museum between 1905 and 1907.

Moonlight on the Cooper River, ca. 1919, by Alice Ravenel Huger Smith (American, 1876–1958).

Moonlight on the Cooper River, ca. 1919, by Alice Ravenel Huger Smith (American, 1876–1958)

The Japanese print collection at the Gibbes is comprised of over seven hundred prints, dating from early works of the mid-seventeenth century to the decadent styles of the mid-nineteenth century. The core of the collection was assembled in Charleston by Motte Alston Read between 1909 and 1920. Read began collecting Japanese prints after his retirement from Harvard University, where he was a professor of Physiography.  He acquired a cross section of types, styles, and methods from a wide range of artists, including works by ukiyo-e masters such as Utamaro, Sharaku, and many by Hokusai, and Hiroshige.

Read encouraged local artists to use his collection for study and many artists of the Charleston Renaissance period (1915 to 1945) found inspiration in the clean designs and vertical compositions characteristic of Japanese prints. Alice Ravenel Huger Smith, Anna Heyward Taylor, Elizabeth O’Neill Verner, and Antoinette Guerard Rhett all studied traditional Japanese printmaking processes and learned to assimilate elements of the Japanese aesthetic in their own work.
Sara Arnold, curator of collections, Gibbes Museum of Art

The Great Wave: Japonisme in Charleston is on view January 17–March 23, 2014.
See our calendar for programs and events related to this exhibition.