Curatorial Perspective: Celebrating Contemporary Art

Since the Gibbes Museum of Art first opened its doors in 1905, contemporary art has been a core component of the museum’s mission. Much of the institution’s beloved historical art collection was, in fact, contemporary when it joined the museum collection. This spring, the Gibbes celebrates our continued commitment to the art of our time with two special exhibitions, John Westmark: Narratives and Beyond the Darkroom: Photography in the 21st Century. Both exhibitions will be on view April 4 through July 13, 2014.

The Narratives exhibition showcases new work by John Westmark, a contemporary artist who weaves imaginative story lines into his large-scale paintings. Westmark explores the human figure in dynamic ways through his innovative use of text and paper sewing patterns collaged on canvas. His paintings depict strong courageous women, some portrayed as stoic martyrs and others as warriors engaged in conflicts of rebellion.

Trained as a painter, Westmark created Abstract Expressionist work in graduate school but was searching for a new direction. One day, he noticed a pattern his wife was using for a sewing project. Westmark was intrigued with the pattern design and the cultural meaning of the pattern itself. He began reading feminist theory and also creating collage studies with the sewing patterns. Over time, Westmark found his artistic direction, combining painting and collage to explore the traditional roles of women, and how those roles have shifted over time. It is no coincidence that his change in approach occurred shortly after the birth of his second daughter. Westmark wanted to create art that had meaning for those around him, particularly his wife and two daughters.

In Westmark’s current body of work, many of the paintings depict women preparing for an impending crisis or conflict. Some women are stoic, some are playful, and others steel themselves for battle. Paintings such as Wave upon Wave and The Tinderbox portray women actively engaged in conflict, fighting to enact social change. Other works, such as Exaltation, show moments of transcendence after the conflict has ended.

Exaltation by John Westmark

“Exaltation,” by John Westmark (American, b. 1963)

Of this work he writes,

“My intention with “Exaltation’” is to present a scene suggesting a violent event, in this case an explosion. This event functions as the first layer to be peeled away to expose a deeper meaning of transcendence. The figures are not so much victims of a destructive event as they are propelled by the intense energy of white light. They are the beneficiaries of something powerful and unexplained. The sewing patterns are released from the role of containing flesh to fly away,” says Westmark.

With each painting, the narrative is open to interpretation; however, the embedded text offers clues to the implied storyline.

A resident of Gainesville, Florida, Westmark holds a BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute and an MFA from the University of Florida. In 2012, he received the Factor Prize for Southern Art, (renamed the 1858 Prize for Contemporary Southern Art) awarded by the Gibbes to an artist whose work contributes to a new understanding of art in the south.

The Gibbes explores another aspect of contemporary art through the exhibition Beyond the Darkroom: Photography in the 21st Century. Since the invention of photography in 1839, the medium has constantly evolved with the development of new technologies. In the twenty-first century, photographic processes have shifted from the darkroom to the digital world, bringing new possibilities to the medium. Beyond the Darkroom examines a variety of photography-based works acquired over the past ten years for the Gibbes Museum’s collection. Ranging from the text and photo-based works of Carrie Mae Weems to the digital montages of Stephen Marc, this exhibition showcases the great innovation in photography today.

A great example is Botany Bay Plantation Boardwalk by Atlanta-based artist John Folsom. Trained as a photographer, Folsom begins his mixed-media landscapes with a photographic image. Using digital software, the image is then divided into a grid and printed on separate panels. The panels are then attached to a large wooden panel to create a unified image. However, the grid remains visible as a reminder that the image is a construction of the artist’s making, not an objective representation of nature. Folsom pushes this idea further by working the surface of the image with oil paint and sealing it with a wax medium. The technique gives the surface of Folsom’s work a rich patina that suggests the layers of history accumulated in the Lowcountry landscape.

Botany Bay Plantation Boardwalk by John Folsom

“Botany Bay Plantation Boardwalk,” by John Folsom (American, b. 1967)

The connection between past and present is an underlying theme of Beyond the Darkroom. The introduction of the exhibition offers a history of photographic processes, including early works from the Gibbes collection. An antebellum daguerreotype, late nineteenth-century albumen prints, and early twentieth-century stereographs give context to the remarkable contemporary works on view. By combining the old and new, Beyond the Darkroom highlights a great strength of the museum’s collection—to engage people with the past while building an appreciation for the present.

Pam Wall, Curator of Exhibitions, Gibbes Museum of Art

John Westmark: Narratives and Beyond the Darkroom: Photography in the 21st Century, are on view at the Gibbes Museum of Art from April 4–July 13, 2014. Visit our online calendar to find programs and events related to these exhibitions.

Presenting the Art of Healing

I recently had the opportunity to attend the South Carolina Federation of Museums (SCFM) annual conference in Camden, SC, both as a participant and a presenter. Zinnia Willits, Director of Collections Administration at the Gibbes (and now the president of SCFM!) suggested that I submit an application to present on our Art of Healing program sponsored by Roper St. Francis Healthcare, and I was thrilled with the idea! I knew this conference would be a great chance to meet other museum and cultural professionals from South Carolina as well as gain feedback on the Art of Healing program from my colleagues.

Amanda Breen, Rebecca Sailor, and Zinnia Willits

Amanda Breen, Rebecca Sailor, Curator of Education, and Zinnia Willits, Director of Collections Administration, at the South Carolina Federation of Museums (SCFM) conference.

Since the fall of 2012, I have been fortunate enough to help organize the Art of Healing Lending Collection, now up and running at the Roper Rehabilitation Hospital. Inspired by a patient’s request to have artwork displayed in his room while staying at the rehab hospital, the lending collection is comprised of 22 works of art by 16 local artists including Lese Corrigan, Rick Reinert, and Brenda Orcutt, who were generous enough to lend their pieces to the hospital. Upon admittance to the rehab unit, patients are allowed to choose a piece from this collection to have displayed in their room during their recovery. This collection compliments the Art of Healing lecture and workshop series at the Gibbes Museum. I’ve truly enjoyed working on this initiative, and wanted to be able to share this exciting program with attendees. I also hoped to gain ideas from those attending the workshop on their perspective of the program and suggestions for improvements.

A New Day, 2013

“A New Day” by Rick Reinert.

This year’s SCFM conference was held in the charming and friendly town of Camden, SC. The conference began the evening of March 12, and concluded on Friday, March 14. Each day was divided into several time slots, of which registrants were asked to select one of three workshop options to attend. After attending a session at the Camden Archives and Museum on the morning of March 13, I gave my presentation at another historic building that the city of Camden was gracious enough to let us use. After giving some background on the Art of Healing and explaining how the program began, I wanted to open the session up for discussion. I was very impressed with participant’s enthusiasm and the great ideas on how to improve the program. Suggestions such as complementary programming for children or veterans were just some of the interesting ideas that came out of the conversation portion of the presentation.

<i>Art of Healing</i>

Artist Brianna Stello with a patient who chose Stello’s photograph, “Wetlands,” to hang in his hospital room in 2013.

After the presentation concluded, conference participants met at the historic Robert Mills Courthouse for the Awards Recognition and Business Luncheon. The afternoon consisted of several more sessions which opened my eyes to what wonderful work other museums and cultural in the state are doing. I had the opportunity to learn about a program that Historic Columbia has created that pairs high school students with retired alumni from the school. The alumni mentor the students and encourage them to get involved with the community. That evening, attendees were invited to a lovely reception and the National Steeplechase Museum which gave everyone a chance to talk and get to know colleagues from around the state.

In the museum world, it is extremely important to reach out and learn from our sister institutions on how to improve our programs. We can learn so much from other museums that have faced the same challenges we may have, and we in return and teach others what has and has not worked for us. Overall, the SCFM conference was a great experience and I’ll definitely be going back next year!

Amanda Breen, Membership Coordinator, Gibbes Museum of Art

Pastel – Expressive and Brilliant

No Agenda by Tammy Papa

No Agenda by Tammy Papa, the painting that was accepted into the Appalachain National Pastel Society 2012 Show.

“What is Pastel?”

I am asked this question a lot.

People think of soft, light colors when they hear the word pastel.

I like to explain that the origin of the word pastel comes from the French word pastische, via the Italian word pastello, meaning paste.  As pastels are made, powdered pigment is combined with water and binder, which turns into a paste. The paste is then rolled out into sticks and dried. The softer the pastel, the more pigment it has and the less binder. Pastels are made from the same pigment used in other mediums such as oil, watercolor, and acrylic, but the pigment is held together with a light glue or binder called methylcellulose.

Many people confuse soft pastels with oil pastels. Instead of the light glue, oil pastels are made with beeswax, pigment, and other chemicals and have a waxy, crayon-like character.  Soft pastels and oil pastels are not the same and cannot be combined.

Whenever I do a pastel demonstration, I often get the question, “Is that chalk?”  I say, “Well, it may look like chalk, but it isn’t. Chalk is made of limestone and dye. Pastels are almost pure pigment.”

pastels

A colorful array of soft pastel (not chalk) in an artist’s tool box

This is one of the reasons people love pastels . . . the pure, brilliant colors. In fact, under the microscope a particle of pastel pigment has facets like a diamond. They have light-scattering properties and practically shimmer!

Another question people frequently ask is “Do you teach art lessons?” The answer is “Yes!” Teaching art started organically for me. As it turns out, I love to share information. I studied Studio Art at the University of South Carolina and worked as an Art Director for Rawle Murdy for years before dedicating myself to painting full time in 1996. During art shows and gallery openings, I found myself sharing more and more information with anyone and everyone that asked. My friends encouraged me to start an art class. So, I started doing demonstrations and workshops, and my classes grew. I have taught many classes locally and internationally including in Charleston, the Southeast, and in Spain.

Since art is my passion, I am gratified to share my knowledge and help people explore their authentic ‘art spirit’ and voice. I feel each person has their own artistic voice, just like everyone has their own handwriting. And each of us in the arts has an art spirit. I think teachers can squash a student’s art spirit pretty easily if they are overly critical too soon. It takes a lot of bravery to even go to an art class. I don’t want to teach people to paint like me. I want them to paint as themselves, their expression. One of my favorite books is the Art Spirit by Robert Henri—my approach comes from his amazing teachings. So many people say, “Oh, I can’t even draw a stick figure.” I always say, “You are probably more creative than you know. Anyone can learn to draw!” In short, I love to learn and I love to share what I have learned.

As an artist and a teacher, I continue to seek new information and inspiration. One of the most inspiring events for me was the Pastel Society of America’s 2013 National Show – Enduring Brilliance. From over 1,000 pastels entered, the judges chose 175. I was over the moon to be included in this competitive show. The show is held each year at the National Arts Club at Gramercy Park in New York City, and judged by master pastelists. It is a diverse and exciting show featuring a wide range of styles from highly representational to abstract.

Tammy Papa in New York

Tammy Papa at the National Arts Club in New York. The artist’s pastel painting, “Morning Mist on the Edisto” (above) was included in the Pastel Society of America’s 41st Annual Open Juried Exhibition in 2013.

My daughter, sister, and niece accompanied me to New York to see the show. We had a girls’ weekend, attending the reception and basking in the excitement. As I was entering the beautiful and sumptuous Grand Gallery of the National Arts Club, I could barely contain myself. The pieces were inspiring, diverse, and moving. Master pastelist Richard McKinley, PSA, gave a critique during the reception, which was a class in art appreciation itself. I oohed and aahed over the amazing works of art AND all the pastels supplies for sale—an artist can never have too many pastels! I returned to Charleston with renewed energy and perspective to share with my students.

I am very proud to be affiliated with and teach for the Gibbes Museum. Through the classes at the Hazel Parker Community Center, I am able to give back to the community and share my passion for art and the pastel medium. I have been fortunate to have amazing teachers. It is my hope to pass it on.

I am currently represented by Sandpiper Gallery on Sullivan’s Island and Edward Dare Gallery on Broad Street in downtown Charleston, SC. Please visit www.tammypapa.com to see additional examples of my work. And I hope you will sign up for a class at the Gibbes!

Tammy Papa, Artist, Teacher, and Guest Blogger

A Romance with Cuba, by Dr. Jeb Hallett

 

I have had a romance with Cuba all my life.

Havana Cathedral

Havana Cathedral

At the age of ten, I listened to the Revolution on Radio Havana via my small short-wave radio in my bedroom in West Virginia. I dreamed of visiting Havana. Riding in cool old Chevy convertibles. Maybe seeing Hemingway around town. But, the Revolution ended that dream.

Then came the Gibbes “artistic” trip in February. (Twenty-three Gibbes Fellows traveled to Cuba with Executive Director Angela Mack, Curator of Collections Pam Wall, and Membership Coordinator Amanda Breen to learn about Cuba and its art.) So well organized! So well executed! Angela, Amanda, and Pam hit this one out of the ballpark!

Classic Cars in Cuba

Dr. Hallett enjoying the ride!

Who can forget twenty five Charlestonians riding around Havana like a gang of teenagers  in ‘55 Chevy convertibles? Or, dancing to the music of the Buena Vista Social Club? Or, peering into the windows of Ernest Hemingway’s home at Vinca Figia?

Oh, wait! Angela reminds me that the trip was really about art. The amazing creativity of The Merger, Kadir Lopez, Roberto Fabelo, and Yoan Capote was inspirational for starters. And, the worn patina of the architecture that enigmatically felt both sad and beautiful in the moment. All of this culture in the context a truly resilient people who take pride in their independence and joy of life.

Roberto Fabelo's studio

Roberto Fabelo’s studio

None of this magic would have been possible without the company of so many old and new friends. My wife, Linda Austin, and I will always treasure this trip because of these friends.

So, my next dream: get back to see more of Cuba. When the Gibbes is ready for another Cuban “invasion,” count me in. Maybe on a Harley Davidson motorcycle riding toward Santiago with a Cohiba cigar in mouth and Linda in the sidecar!!

Dr. Jeb Hallett, Gibbes Museum Board Member and Guest Blogger

 

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

 

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