Changing of the Art: The Charleston Story

Every six months, the curatorial and collections staff at the Gibbes rotates artwork on view in our permanent exhibition—The Charleston Story. Arranged chronologically, this exhibition features the museum’s core collection of American art and allows our visitors to follow the course of fine art in the South from the eighteenth century to the present. The exhibition highlights artists and images of Charleston through a wide range of media and artistic styles—from Benjamin West’s Colonial era oil painting of Thomas Middleton of the Oaks, to Pietro Rossi’s exquisitely carved marble the Veiled Lady, to Leo Twiggs’ batik rendering Sarah Remembered. This biannual refreshing of the permanent exhibition galleries allows us to highlight a broader range of the nearly 7000 works of art in the Gibbes collection.

Veiled Lady, 1882, by Pietro Rossi

The Veiled Lady as part of Changing of the Art, The Charleston Story

As is true in most museums, only a small percentage of the Gibbes’ treasures can be on view at one time and it is always exciting to see new artwork on the walls. I am often asked “How do you decide what works are exhibited?” Or when a beloved work is missing from our walls, “Why isn’t ‘such and such’ artwork on view now?” There are several key factors that guide our decision making when changes to the permanent galley spaces take place. In addition to thematic factors, curatorial changes are determined by preservation requirements, educational needs, and logistics.

Preservation requirements prioritize many of the changes that take place. For instance, oil paintings on canvas and marble sculptures are less sensitive to light damage than watercolor paintings on paper. Therefore audience favorites such as Thomas Sully’s 1823 portrait of Mrs. Robert Gilmor, Jr. and Barkley Hendricks’ 1972 portrait of Ms. Johnson (Estelle) can remain on view for a longer duration than Alice Smith’s watercolor landscape Reserve at Fairlawn on the Wando. Light exposure over time can cause fading and deterioration. The Gibbes and other museums take measures to reduce light intensity for works on view in galleries. However, some light is obviously a necessity. Light damage is cumulative so it is the total exposure over time that matters. In order to ensure the longevity of our more sensitive objects it is necessary to rotate works on paper, pastels, and watercolors to limit light exposure over time.

Mrs. Robert Gilmor, Jr., 1823, by Thomas Sully

Audience favorite Mrs. Robert Gilmor, Jr. by Thomas Sully

Curatorial selections are not made in isolation. The Gibbes has a robust art education program led by Curator of Education, Rebecca Sailor, and a group of truly dynamic museum educators. The needs of our museum teachers, docents, and our new Junior Docent program are all taken into account. Thousands of students from pre-school through high school are introduced to the museum’s collection every year. Thematic groupings such as portraits that contribute to the telling of South Carolina’s role in the Revolutionary War like Rembrandt Peale’s painting of General William Moultrie or James Earl’s portrait of General Cotesworth Pinckney enhance social studies curriculums and are frequently used by our museum teachers. These paintings are displayed in close proximity to each other and are rarely placed in storage. Contemporary works are also popular with students and museum teachers, so a painting such as Jonathan Green’s Corene that fits chronologically on the third floor balcony gallery occupies a central location. which allows the students room to gather for discussion.

<i>Corene</i> by Jonathan Green

Corene by Jonathan Green, a favorite of school children

The Charleston Story occupies six different gallery spaces on the first floor of the Gibbes and continues through portions of the second and third floor. Logistical considerations are broad in range—we ask ourselves many questions prior to any artwork installation. Does this work fit in the gallery chronologically and thematically? Does this work fit on the wall based on its size and composition? Does this work have special exhibition requirements such as casework or limited lighting? How will the display of this work affect traffic flow for visitors, school groups, and other programs? Is this work scheduled to go on view at the Gibbes in a different exhibition? Is this work scheduled to go on loan to another institution? What interpretive material is required? Will this work be highlighted on the cell phone tour? Does this work enhance other programs scheduled? In general, how can it best be displayed for our visitors now and in the future?

While each work of art in a museum stands on its own merit, an important part of the museum experience is the opportunity to make comparisons between works, and to understand the context in which the artwork was created. Providing an atmosphere that enhances and enriches our visitor’s interactions with the art is our primary goal. As we move forward with our plans to expand and renovate the Gibbes building, we will be able to showcase more than 600 works of art from the permanent collection in an environment that includes new walls and flooring, high-quality lighting, visitor-friendly display casework, and innovative platforms for interpretation. Not to mention a new café, renovated gift shop, and art-making studios—all the amenities necessary to inspire a creative community!

Sara Arnold, Curator of Collections, Gibbes Museum of Art

Collage, Cut, and Paste Curation by Charlotte Moss

East Hampton Garden

East Hampton Garden Collage by Charlotte Moss.

 

“Found objects, chance creations. . . abolish the separation between art and life. The commonplace is miraculous if rightly seen, if recognized,” wrote poet Charles Simic.

How true. Collage is a vehicle for disseminating ideas, organizing thoughts, and developing and determining your tastes. What I most appreciate about collage is that it’s not a snob. It’s an art form for everyman; it is ignorant of skill level and thoroughly forgiving. Collage doesn’t require a deft hand like painting, yet it has been prevalent in fine art through the ages. Collage has seen us through Cubism, Surrealism, Constructivism, and Abstract Expressionism. Artists throughout history have embraced the technique, artists such as Braque, Picasso, Jasper Johns, and so many others. Collage became a twentieth-century art form thanks to these artists. Dreams, dissonance, eccentric and disparate bits and pieces merged to produce juxtapositions that gave the subconscious and our inspirations a legitimate outlet.

I have always collected things, wherever I go, whether they were objects, ideas, quotes, or images taken by my camera. It was natural that I would be drawn to collage. As I am a visually inspired person, collage has been my vehicle for recording and retaining important moments in my life, as well as absorbing things that I am drawn to: still-lifes, gardens, interiors, and fashion among them. The medium welcomes chance findings and randomness and understands the consequence might well be a totally unintended one. My collages are put into books and they have become my visual memoirs, personal storyboards, my inspiration, and my creative outlet for years—the DNA of my design aesthetic as well as the story of my life so far. And I’m more aware than ever about the importance of these hand-recorded memories and dreams for my family and for the future.

 

Hautefort France

Hautefort France collage by Charlotte Moss.

 

“There are no new ideas in the world, only new arrangements of things,” wrote Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Scrapbooks are the working documents that have been essential in my evolution as a designer. I’m a teacher in my work. I am always studying and learning. By examining what others have written and done and processing those ideas with my hands, scissors, and a glue stick, I’ve been able to develop my own approach to living and design, one that works for my home and my life—the basis of which has been honed from others over the course of my career. Collage always made sense to me as a methodology. I am a hunter, a collector, an editor—in truth, a stylist, I think, since birth. I see the world in composition—always have. A gathering of anything, anywhere, inside or out, can be arranged into a still life. I’ve learned that the most ordinary of found objects can be elevated when artfully considered and arranged. It is in our carefully curated environments that we share a specific point of view, a personal aesthetic, a vision, and a passion for life. In essence, creating a composition is about seeing. And sometimes, it’s seeing the beauty in ordinary, everyday found objects.

 

The Orsan Gardens, France

The Orsan Gardens, France collage by Charlotte Moss.

 

Collage permits experimentation.

Collage is self discovery.

Like David Hockney said, “The thing with high-tech is that you always end up using scissors.”

Charlotte Moss, author and designer, and guest blogger
Learn more about Charlotte Moss on her website, charlottemoss.com.

Excerpted from A Visual Life by Charlotte Moss (Rizzoli, 2012). Purchase a copy of A Visual Life from the Gibbes Museum Store.

Charlotte Moss is the featured speaker at the Art of Design luncheon and lecture on March 7, hosted by the Women’s Council of the Carolina Art Association and the Gibbes Museum of Art.

Embracing the Disco Era

As the co-chair of this week’s long awaited Society 1858 winter party—taking place Friday, February 7th, at the museum—I could not be more excited to see months of planning, ideas, creative decor, and entertainment come to life. This year’s theme will not disappoint, as we embrace the disco era with Studio 58: Your Ticket to the Arts Beyond the Velvet Rope.

Photos from the original Studio 54 club in New York City.

Photos from the original Studio 54 club in New York City.

Encouraging seventies-style dress appropriate to the theme, we expect characters of all types to be filing past the paparazzi’s flashbulbs and bouncers, through the Gibbes’ blacked out entrance and into our infamous “club.” Once inside, our guests will see the Gibbes transformed into a fabulous disco, with dueling DJ’s downstairs and upstairs, a delicious spread by Cru Catering and Fuel, beer by Westbrook Brewery, wine and bubbly by The Wine Shop, and a delicious cocktail featuring Cathead vodka. Just after 9pm, we’ll present a very special performance in the Rotunda Gallery (a can’t miss experience)!

Being a part of the planning process has been a very rewarding experience, as we have worked hand in hand with Lasley Steever and the amazing museum team, and our wonderful and generous vendors partnering on this event. It is nothing short of incredible to be involved with our still fledgeling, but extremely strong and active group! It is so rewarding to see the difference that is being made amongst our peers in Charleston. I can see how we are bringing awareness to the arts, as well as making an impact in the museum by giving back financially, and securing new and active members. I am very proud to be a part of Society 1858, and I know I speak for the rest of our board when I say that we are honored see our auxiliary group grow into one of the largest of its kind in Charleston.

A collage of submissions from Finalists and Winners of the contemporary art prize.

A collage of submissions from past finalists and winners of the contemporary art prize.

Additionally, starting this year, we are thrilled to announce that we are sponsoring the 1858 Prize for Contemporary Southern Art. The prize accepts submissions from artists in ten regional Southern states, and awards $10,000 to an artist “whose work contributes to a new understanding of art in the South.” It will be presented annually, and will recognize the highest level of artistic achievement in any media. We are beyond excited to be making an impact in the art world in this way, and believe it will be a lasting gift from the Gibbes by way of Society 1858 in not only our community, but in the entire region. We hope this effort will put us on the map as a respected endowment for contemporary southern artists. Please visit 1858prize.org for complete details about this wonderful annual contest.

So plan to join us this Friday, donning your disco duds, as we transform the museum into a fantastic delight for the senses, and make this a night you will not forget! We can’t give away all of our secrets, so you will just have to attend to see what Society 1858 has in store, but don’t wait as tickets are almost sold out! See you Friday… be there or be square!

Liza Cleveland, Society 1858 Board Member

Liza Cleveland, Society 1858 Board Member.

Liza Cleveland, Society 1858 Board Member, guest blogger

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.

The End of the American Civil War… (And Photography Exhibition)

When it was announced that the Gibbes Museum of Art would be a part of The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s blockbuster Photography and the American Civil War traveling exhibition tour, I was both excited and apprehensive. You see, I work in the museum’s Retail and Visitor Services department, and I knew I must be prepared for a range of questions, opinions, stories, and emotions from museum visitors.

As many of you know, the “War Between the States” began in our lovely city of Charleston, South Carolina one hundred and fifty years ago. I grew up in South Carolina and saw how aspects of the Civil War affected people’s perceptions and memories, and of course, their ideas on what it means to be patriotic. Despite all of my “education,” I didn’t understand the depth of the Civil War until this exhibition.

Exhibition banners along Meeting Street

Exhibition banners along Meeting Street

The exhibition banners appeared outside of the Museum in the middle of September to advertise the exhibition, and visitors came ‘a-running.’ We had over one hundred people those few weeks before the opening vying to get sneak peaks, tours, and admission into the museum to see the Civil War photographs. When opening day finally arrived and over three hundred people came into the museum, I was elated (and exhausted)! Jeff Rosenheim (Chief Curator of the Department of Photography at the Metropolitan Museum) gave thorough training to docents and staff, but he couldn’t prepare me for the emotional toll of the exhibition that is visible on the faces of our visitors.

Many visitors come downstairs into the museum store with tears in their eyes. Others rush up to the Visitor Services counter and simply say “Wow! That was so powerful.” Even after seeing over two hundred and twenty photographs, many take the extra time in the Museum Store to look carefully at the accompanying catalog written by curator Jeff Rosenheim to further examine the impact of the war. They also will share a story or a memory from their own family about the Civil War. Many families still have diaries, uniforms, or even photographs of their ancestors from the 1860’s. In fact, many of the pieces in the exhibition came from private lenders who for years have carefully maintained these pieces of history.

Portrait of William Houston House, 1862–65

Portrait of William Houston House, 1862–65

The physicality of the exhibition, from the stark black and white portraits, to jewelry made from small daguerreotypes, and propaganda posters from the era, strikes a chord in our viewers, and seems to draw memories from their own distant past. Our comment book reflects the emotional impact of the exhibition. One viewer writes, “This is one of the most moving exhibits I have ever seen! I’ve seen these photos in books, but to see the actual photographs made me unexpectedly emotional.”

What this exhibition has repeatedly shown me, through working at the Visitor Services department, is the power of photography. As cliché as it sounds, I didn’t fully realize how many people were affected by the Civil War until I saw the photographs. Photography was only approximately 25 years old at the start of the Civil War, and it was immediately embraced by soldiers and their families. The small portraits were inexpensive and allowed Confederate and Union soldiers a tangible source of pride, self-awareness, and property throughout the horrible experience of war. The families of soldiers were able to send photos in the letters they wrote to their loved ones. Surgeons and medical teams were able to document certain injuries and improve their medical practices through photographs.

Visitors peruse the works of art in the Photography and the American Civil War exhibition

Visitors peruse the works of art in the Photography and the American Civil War exhibition

The museum has welcomed over 14,000 visitors from September 27th to December 29th and only a few days remain to see this stunning collection. I feel immense pride in seeing these numbers grow throughout the last three months, knowing that the public is coming to the museum to view an important exhibition that documents the Civil War and its impact not only on Charleston’s history, but America’s history as well. The next stop for this traveling exhibition is the New Orleans Museum of Art. I can only hope they are prepared for an emotional rollercoaster of an exhibition!

Maggie Jordan, Visitor Services and Retail Assistant

Arts Education: A Continuing Legacy at the Gibbes

Arts education has always been central to the mission of the Gibbes Museum of Art. In 1912, the Charleston Sketch Club was formed and aspired to be “the basis of an art school where the fine arts in all branches should be taught by the best of teachers in the Gibbes art building.” With exhibition space, lecture room, and art studios, the museum was a hub for local artists and art supporters. Archival photographs show artists poised in front of their easels in a museum classroom in 1910. Another photograph shows artist Minnie Mickell working in the Gibbes Art Gallery Studio in 1925. By 1965, in need of additional exhibition space, the museum purchased 76 Queen Street, now the popular Husk restaurant, for its school of art. Studio art classes included drawing, painting, printmaking, photography, and clay and were held in this location for many years. As a college graduate in 1993, I took a drawing class in the Queen Street studio. Little did I know that nearly 20 years later, I would be an employee at the museum—a dream come true! Arts education has always been a vital part of the museum no matter where the actual classes have been held, and this focus on art education continues today.

Minnie Michael at work

Minnie Michael painting in the Gibbes Art Gallery.

Recent research from a partnership between the University of Arkansas and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art has validated this mission through a large-scale, random-assignment study of school tours to the museum. Researchers were able to determine that strong relationships exist between arts education and a range of desirable outcomes. In other words, art makes students smart!

In an ongoing partnership with Charleston County School District Title I schools, the Gibbes education outreach program, Art to Go, combines art making and instruction through firsthand experiences with works of art. The goal of the program is to increase understanding of visual expression, creativity, and art. Gibbes Teaching Artists work with public schools to enhance the schools’ art curriculum. Through this program, the museum’s notable collection is explored as part of the instruction along with a field trip to the museum. All lessons are designed to broaden students’ understanding of art principles, art history, and creative expression.

A mosaic created for the 2012 Charleston Marathon

A mosaic created for the 2012 Charleston Marathon by Mitchell Elementary School students.

Art to Go has been implemented in five local Title I schools including Angel Oak, Murray LaSaine, Mitchell, Pinehurst, and Goodwin Elementary. “Our Art to Go program has been a great success year after year. It’s a wonderful partnership and collaborative effort that enhances the visual arts curriculum,” says Gibbes Museum Curator of Education, Rebecca Sailor.

Art to Go program at Angel Oak Elementary.

Students at work in the Art to Go program at Angel Oak Elementary.

Local artist and Gibbes Museum teaching artist Kristen Solecki has been involved in the Art To Go program for two years. She appreciates the access to fine arts and art education that the program provides to her students. “However, perhaps even more importantly it gives them confidence and pride,” she adds. This year Kristen is teaching at Angel Oak Elementary on Johns Island, a Title 1 neighborhood school that serves approximately 350 students.

“One week we learned about printmaking. This is a very forgiving medium and allows students to create abstract pieces using simple line and form. Students were so excited to reveal their prints and to show each other what they made. They would encourage each other and tell one another, ‘great job!’ ‘Wow! Look at hers!’ Some students would even ask me to show their work to siblings who were coming into the next class after them. The best part is seeing the same students later in the day walking around with their work still in hand.”

Kristen explains that her students have also been working on a mosaic mural where each child’s hand painted work makes up a piece of the giant mosaic. “We have assembled it and each child’s work is crucial because without it our mural will be missing a piece. This mutual respect between peers, teachers, and students, is wonderful. Art class encourages students to experiment, express their ideas, and to create. There is not a stress on perfection, it is a medium to celebrate who you are. When I walk through the halls on the way to class, students stop me and ask if I will be coming to their class today, and that they cannot wait for art.  I don’t think you could ask for anything better.”

Art to Go at Angel Oak Elementary

Artwork from the 2013 Art to Go program at Angel Oak Elementary.

For several years the museum has collaborated with the Charleston Marathon, which benefits the Youth Endowment for the Arts, a local non-profit that supports fine arts programming in Charleston County Schools. Gibbes Teaching Artists work with schools to create structures designed for the race expo that signifies the marathon’s purpose: Going the Distance for the Arts. Dr. James Braunreuther, Charleston County Fine Arts Learning Specialist says,

“The Charleston Marathon and the Gibbes Art to Go programs were both designed to offer greater opportunities in the arts for the children of Charleston County. It is only logical that these two tremendous programs would work together to increase the impact of both. The Charleston Marathon raises funds to support arts programs while increasing awareness of the importance of health and movement. The Gibbes museum supports this effort by working with schools to produce art work that highlights the athlete in the artist and the artistry of the athlete.”

This year’s marathon takes place the weekend of January 17–18 and the student’s artwork will be exhibited at the Health and Fitness Expo on Friday, January 17, 2014, held in the gymnasium at Burke Middle High School, 244 President Street. Come out and see the beautiful and creative art work the students have created. Enjoy the rewards of an arts education and maybe you’ll decide to enroll in a class yourself! To see a full listing of our studio art classes visit gibbesmuseum.org/events.

Amy Mercer, marketing and communications manager, Gibbes Museum of Art

New Experiences

My internship at Gibbes Museum of Art, located in the heart of Charleston, was both fascinating and rewarding. Under the watchful eye of Rebecca Sailor, curator of education, I learned first hand what it takes to keep a world-class museum up and running. I gained a better understanding of the roles and responsibilities of my colleagues, who work tirelessly to see that all aspects of the museum are “picture perfect” each and every day.

While my two previous internships directly influenced my decision to major in Communications, coming into this internship I had no previous knowledge of art history or arts management. Through the various events I participated in over the semester, I increased my skills in communication and in art. My experience at the Gibbes Museum has inspired me to learn more about art history through some of the wonderful classes offered at the College of Charleston. I was happy to find out that many of the professors work directly with the Gibbes.

Museum educator, Pat Burgess with a group of elementary school students

Pat Burgess, museum educator, explores the Gibbes collection with a group of elementary school students.

The Gibbes Museum certainly delivers on its mission statement to “preserve and promote the art of Charleston and American South.” From the loan exhibitions, such as Photography & the American Civil War, to the important works of art illustrating Charleston’s history from the permanent collection, the Gibbes Museum contributes to Charleston’s reputation as one of the most historically rich cities in the United States. Working at the Gibbes has been a wonderful opportunity for me to learn more about my college town and to explore a subject I had not known much about before.

As a sophomore from Connecticut, I have sadly never endeavored to throw myself into Charleston’s history. Simply shadowing one of the Gibbes’ wonderful docents, I can now state random facts from Charleston’s history. Just as one individual, I can successfully say that the Gibbes Museum has made me more aware of my surroundings through their collection and their educational offerings.

MMA curator of photography, Jeff Rosenheim, and the Photography & the American Civil War exhibition.

MMA curator of photography, Jeff Rosenheim, led a group through the Photography & the American Civil War exhibition.

During my internship, the Gibbes Museum hosted one of the most enthralling and historically riveting exhibitions, Photography & the American Civil War, on loan all the way from The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Jeff Rosenheim, the Met’s chief curator in the Department of Photography, provided a detailed tour and lecture about all the different photographs presented in the exhibit. Having some photography background myself, I took particular interest in this exhibit and learned a lot more about the history of the art form. One of the most interesting facts that I had not previously known was that the Civil War was the first war to be captured by the camera, and this exhibition includes many of the first photographs from that time period.

Interns Amelia Roland, Chase Hughes, and Hannah Shepard

Interns Amelia Roland, Chase Hughes, and Hannah Shepard volunteered for the Gibbes Art on Paper Fair.

Working at the Gibbes Museum has opened my eyes to not only what it takes to operate a museum, but also to the rich history of Charleston. This internship has been one of the most inspiring experiences I have ever had, and has encouraged me to pursue the history of art through many different means, including courses here at the College. Having been an insider at this great institution, I can heartily recommend that both locals and visitors pay a visit the Gibbes Museum of Art. You will not be disappointed!

Chase Hughes, Education Intern and guest blogger

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