In March of 1950, five women—Mrs. E. E. Wehman, Mrs. Ashby Farrow, Mrs. H. Evans Townsend, Mrs. James Wilson, and Mrs. C. Smith Toms—gathered in the museum to discuss the formation of a new group called the Gibbes Art Gallery Auxiliary. The auxiliary group’s main activities would include running receptions for exhibition openings and supporting children’s art classes operated in the Gallery. This meeting initiated what is now known as the Women’s Council of the Gibbes Museum of Art, and began a long career of giving back to Charleston’s art museum.
For the next three years, the Gibbes Art Gallery Auxiliary raised money for the children’s art program through card parties, silver teas, and raffles. The group defined their purpose “to foster an interest in art in the city, especially among children,” and in 1955, they contributed $300 to the Junior Gallery. They also worked to maintain the grounds of the museum. Joining forces with The Garden Club of Charleston, volunteers improved the museum’s courtyard landscape and the restoration of the historic Charleston Gateway Walk.
By 1960, the auxiliary group had grown to 87 members, and in 1961 the group initiated a docent program at the museum. Twenty-four women were part of the inaugural program that assisted with education in the galleries. During the 1960s, the Council supported the public school art programs in Charleston County. Under the direction of artist Corrie McCallum, the first art appreciation program began in the schools, and reached an estimated 20,000 children a year.
In the late ‘60s the group changed their name to the Women’s Council, and defined their mission as volunteerism. Under the direction of a member named Lenora Kessler, thirty women staffed the reception desks at the Gibbes five days a week. In addition to the visitor services the group provided, they organized garden parties, house tours, and gala fundraising events.
In 1970, the Women’s Council added a museum shop to their roster of duties, and dubbed it “The Turtle” based on an Anna Heyward Taylor print in the museum’s collection. The women organized a gala event to raise money to purchase the inventory and staff the operation. The Women’s Council had become an integral part of the museum, and their volunteerism and fundraising efforts were an important resource for the day-to-day operations of the institution.
In the 1980s, members of the group continued their educational focus by providing curriculum objectives, instructional assistance, and classroom visits to five elementary schools serving the underprivileged community. They continued to host the exhibition opening events, and to produce fundraising events to support the Gibbes. In the late eighties, they gave a gift of $15,000 towards a permanent gallery for the Charleston Renaissance collection, now called the “Alice Smith Gallery” on the first floor.
The Council established an Annual Holiday Tour of Homes in 1990, which continued until 2007. Historic homes were decked in holiday décor and tickets were sold for admission on the tour. During this time, their ranks grew to 248 members and they contributed research to a museum publication titled, Alice Ravenel Huger Smith, An Artist, a Place and a Time; aided the implementation of a collections department and museum archive; and funded, in-part, a new museum store, just to name a few accomplishments. In 1993, the South Carolina Federation of Museums recognized the Women’s Council for “their contributions of services, manpower, money, and ideas to support the goals, ideals, and programs” of the Gibbes.
The Women’s Council remains an auxiliary eager to support the Gibbes Museum through participation and fundraising. Their fundraising efforts have evolved over time, and now are focused on a spring luncheon and lecture, called the Art of Design. This year, the group is proud to present renowned designer, Carolyne Roehm, as the speaker.
Today, the membership includes women of all ages from across the Tri-County area, and is actively reaching out to potential new members. Four meetings are scheduled each year, exploring a variety of topics relating to the arts. The Women’s Council continues their legacy of sponsoring exhibition openings, and supporting community outreach efforts at the museum. Its goal is to impact the community in a favorable way by bringing educationally and socially stimulating opportunities through the arts to Charleston’s vibrant constituency.
—Contributed by Joanne Harth, Women’s Council President, and Ginny Brush, Women’s Council Past President
Save the Date: The Women’s Council presents the Art of Design Luncheon and Lecture with Carolyne Roehm, designed by Tara Guérard Soirée, on Friday, March 30, at noon.
Photocredits: All images courtesy of the Gibbes Museum of Art.
Corrie McCallum with works from the Gibbes Picture Lending Gallery, ca. 1965: photo by Gene Evans.
Fine Art & Flowers event images, March 2011: photos by Jason Baxley