Curating Conversations

As a Programming & Events intern this semester, I’ve had the great opportunity to share the room with some pretty remarkable people. This list includes guests of the Gibbes such as Jeff Rosenheim of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Charleston’s own Jonathan Green, artist Louise Halsey (daughter of Corrie McCallum and William Halsey), Lieutenant Governor Glenn McConnell, and Estée Lauder chairman emeritus Leonard Lauder. But the Gibbes has some remarkable people of its own. Its entire staff—from Executive Director Angela Mack to the custodian Russell Morrison—realizes the importance of museums as places to bring art and people together. The Gibbes staff is composed of hard workers who are dedicated to the success of the museum’s mission, to preserve and promote the art of this unique city.

Lieutenant Governor Glenn McConnell at the Gibbes Museum.

Lieutenant Governor Glenn McConnell speaks to a group of visitors in the Photography and the Civil War exhibition.

To some, museums appear to be passive temples of art where visitors must be silent and detached. But the Gibbes is so invested in this community; they seek to promote an active conversation between their collection, their programs, and the public. And to initiate such great conversations, the Gibbes is bringing some really good stuff to our city.

Traveling from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the exhibition Photography & the American Civil War presents intimate snapshots of life during the war—battlefields, street scenes, political propaganda, portraits of the young and the old. The exhibition also shows how photography influenced how we perceive the Civil War today. I was fortunate enough to talk with the Met’s curator in charge of the Department of Photography, Jeff Rosenheim, when he visited for the exhibit’s opening. He was incredibly knowledgeable about photography and its history and uses. But what impressed me most was his deep passion for the impact of photography. Jeff explained to me how photography is accessible, perhaps more so than any other medium, and how this justifies its instant popularity. He explained how photography is a democratic medium, an art form for everyone.

Photography and the American Civil War

Visitors explore the Photography and the American Civil War exhibition at the Gibbes.

I believe this idea of democracy and art for all can also be found in the Gibbes’s mission. They strive to present art and programming that is relatable to everyone. Their art speaks, and is, Charleston’s history—our history. If you love our city, then there is absolutely no way that you could not love what the Gibbes has to offer. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity I’ve had this semester to work with such a dedicated team of art managers who care so greatly about art and its influence in Charleston. Like I mentioned above, the Gibbes team is truly committed to their work in this community and this is what will always stick with me long after my internship is over. I know what I’ve learned here will benefit me wherever I end up in the art world, and I’m proud to call Charleston, the Gibbes, and its great art my starting point.

Intern Amelia Roland

Intern Amelia Roland stands next to a painting by Robert Gordy at the Gibbes.

Amelia Roland, Public Programs & Marketing Intern and guest blogger

Curatorial Perspective: Charles Burchfield and Edward Hopper

Friends and colleagues, Charles Burchfield and Edward Hopper are considered two of the most significant American watercolor painters of the twentieth century. They were also among the many American painters and printmakers who visited South Carolina in the early decades of the century. During the months of October, November, and December we are pleased to display paintings by these two American masters side-by-side.

Gateway to Mule Stables [Camp Jackson, South Carolina], by Charles Burchfield (American, 1893–1967)

Gateway to Mule Stables [Camp Jackson, South Carolina], 1918, by Charles Burchfield (American, 1893–1967)

During World War I, Burchfield was stationed at Camp Jackson, South Carolina, from July 1918 until January 1919. It is estimated that he created as many as sixty watercolors while in residence at the camp. Most of these pictures were created in the form of sketches, done rapidly on weekend excursions, in the evenings, and even during lunch breaks. This past June, the Gibbes acquired one of Burchfield’s South Carolina watercolors for its permanent collection, Gateway to Mule Stables [Camp Jackson, South Carolina]. This purchase was made possible with funds provided by Mr. and Mrs. Van and Susan Campbell, Mr. and Mrs. Robert and Jeannie Dolson, Mrs. Katy Huger, Dr. and Mrs. Anton and Caroline Vreede, Mrs. Prudence Yost.

Charleston Slum, 1929 Edward Hopper (American, 1882–1967)

Charleston Slum, 1929, Edward Hopper (American, 1882–1967)

Edward Hopper (1882–1967) and his wife, Josephine “Jo” Nivison Hopper (1883–1968), came to Charleston for a brief visit in April 1929. During their three-week stay, Hopper produced at least twelve watercolors of Charleston, including Charleston Slum, which is on temporary loan to the Gibbes from a private collection.

Both Hopper and Burchfield chose watercolor as their primary medium, and both thrived on picturing everyday subjects. In an age of growing nationalism, American art and American subject matter was gaining recognition. In 1928 Hopper wrote an essay on Burchfield that was published in the July issue of Arts magazine. He declared, “The work of Charles Burchfield is most decidedly founded, not on art, but on life, and the life that he knows and loves best.” In turn Burchfield wrote of Hopper, “Edward Hopper is an American… It is my conviction that the bridge to international appreciation is the national bias, providing of course, it is subconscious. [For] An artist to gain a world audience must he belong to his own peculiar time and place.”

Sara Arnold, curator of collections, Gibbes Museum of Art

Esther Ferguson: A Woman with a Vision

Esther Ferguson is small in stature, but her dedication to the Gibbes Museum is immense. A long-time supporter of the museum, she joined the Gibbes Board in the spring of 2013. I sat down with her recently to talk about the inspiration behind The Distinguished Lecture Series.

Esther Ferguson at the Gibbes Museum of Art.

Esther Ferguson at the Gibbes Museum of Art.

Fifty years ago Esther Ferguson was a young woman alone in Manhattan. She traded the security of Hartsville, South Carolina, for the great unknown of New York City. “I was scared. Women didn’t do that sort of thing back then. I was very poor and on the weekend, I would go alone to The Metropolitan Museum to listen to the lecture series. I remember walking out of a lecture and sitting down to cry because I’d learned so much about the art world, and because I realized how much more there was to learn!” The experience was nurturing during an unsettling time in her life. “Attending these lectures kept me going throughout the week,” she explained.

The significance of the Met lecture series stayed with Mrs. Ferguson throughout the years, and after returning to the south, she began to dream about bringing a lecture series to Charleston. In 2010, the Fergusons loaned works of art from their private collection to the Gibbes Museum to form the exhibition, Modern Masters from the Ferguson Collection. Two mixed-media works by world-renowned installation artists Christo and Jeanne Claude were part of the exhibition, which ran from April 30–August 22, 2010. As part of Modern Masters, Christo was invited to speak about his large-scale temporary works of art including the wrapping of the Reichstag in Berlin and the Pont-Neuf bridge in Paris, the 24 ½-mile-long Running Fence in Sonoma and Marin Counties in California, and The Gates in New York City’s Central Park.

Esther-Ferguson-Christo-JuliaLynnPhoto

Esther Ferguson with artist Christo.

“At the end of his stunning lecture, it was the men who clapped the loudest,” recalls Mrs. Ferguson. “After the lecture these men gathered around Christo and told him they didn’t know if they liked his work, but they understood it. That’s when I knew art could fill stadiums.” She smiled.

The Old Mill, ©Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS) New York; by Pablo Picasso, oil on canvas; 15 x 18 inches, Leonard A. Lauder Cubist Trust.

The Old Mill, ©Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS) New York; by Pablo Picasso, oil on canvas; 15 x 18 inches, Leonard A. Lauder Cubist Trust.

Mrs. Ferguson began to formulate her plan to establish a fund to create the Distinguished Lecture Series at the Gibbes Museum. She had the perfect speaker in mind, her friend of thirty years, Mr. Leonard Lauder. “Every time you see him it’s art, art, art,” she laughed. Mr. Lauder’s attention to art became evident to the world at large last spring when he donated his $1.5 billion collection of Cubist art to the very museum that brought Mrs. Ferguson to tears all those years ago. In a Vanity Fair article, Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Thomas P. Campbell (who visited the Gibbes museum in October) said of the donation, “In one fell swoop this puts the Met at the fore-front of early-20-century art.” Mrs. Ferguson decided she would ask her friend and philanthropist, Leonard Lauder, to be the inaugural Distinguished Lecture speaker. “He is a very private man, but when I asked he said yes. I’ll do this for you Esther.”

Leonard A. Lauder

Leonard A. Lauder, Chairman Emeritus, Whitney Museum of American Art, and Chairman Emeritus, The Estee Lauder Companies Inc.

We are so fortunate to have friends like Mrs. Ferguson who are working to bring outstanding, world-renowned artists, art collectors, museum leaders, philanthropists, and art historians to Charleston to stimulate discussion about the visual arts and creativity. We are already planning for future speakers and are excited about the future of the Distinguished Lecture Series!

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

The inaugural lecture in the Distinguished Lecture Series, featuring Leonard A. Lauder, is Wednesday, November 20. A limited number of tickets are still available for this event at gibbesmuseum.org/events or by calling 843.722.2706 x21.

Create and Educate—Preserving a Legacy

Harkening back to traditions set by the trail blazers of dance, a “Renaissance” is afoot in the Charleston arts scene. Arts collaboration breeds fresh new ideas and brings new works to the forefront. As the co-founder and director of the Charleston Dance Institute (CDI), I am excited to share our involvement in the creation of a new ballet.

Wheels started turning at a meeting of the minds between CDI co-founder Stephen Gabriel, composer Laura Ball, and me. After endless cups of coffee, brainstorming sessions, and in-depth conversations on artistic philosophies and goals The Little Match Girl collaboration was born. Through this process I found out that not only did Laura and I have matching outlooks on art and music but that we were in very similar places in our professional careers—we both have a dual passion to create and educate. We are true contemporaries and that led to a synergy that was instant and second nature. Having a cohesive composer-choreographer bond does not often occur in one’s career and finding that as a choreographer is a real gift. Live performance art is a fleeting moment that can never be duplicated, so we agreed that having live accompaniment for this project was a must. Live music and dance is a time honored tradition but in these times a real treat. I can’t wait to hear the talented musicians of Chamber Music Charleston bring this score to life. It is just as invigorating for a musician to play a world premiere piece as it is for a dancer to dance the steps for the very first time. It will truly be a memorable experience for all. I am thrilled and honored to have The Little Match Girl be presented for the Gibbes Museum’s Art with a Twist series as our first of many new works to come.

Cellist Tim O'Malley and Charleston Dance Institute Dancers. Photo by Tom McCorkle

Cellist Tim O’Malley and Charleston Dance Institute Dancers. Photo by Tom McCorkle

I’ve been asked many times, “Why The Little Match Girl?” There are many holiday characters and tales out there, so why choose this particular story? I often don’t have the time to elaborate and the superficial answer becomes, “because I like it.” But of course the choice to me was much deeper than that, and I do my best to take the time to explain why. This story sweeps the spectrum of themes and emotions and that in turn provides so much fodder to the imagination and potential for creation. As a choreographer, I am always looking for that spark of something special for inspiration, but just as importantly as an arts educator, I look for projects that will enhance the growth and training of my pupils. The process of growing as a artist is multifaceted and collaborating on this story has been a perfect opportunity to expand the minds and talents of the young dancers at the Charleston Dance Institute.

Sarah Masser will dance the lead in The Little Match Girl performance

Sarah Masser will dance the lead in The Little Match Girl performance.

As a choreographer, my role is to project my artistic vision through the dancers’ movements but I also have a duty to develop these dancers’ abilities. Relying on dancers’ strengths, while pushing boundaries within their minds and bodies, always produces the most tangible choreography. It becomes much more personal and seamlessly transcends to the audience members. Having a role created around you is a unique experience that even seasoned professionals long for, let alone an aspiring ballerina of 14 years of age. Sarah Massar, pictured above, has been cast in the title role of The Little Match Girl. When I asked what the experience of being the little match girl has meant to her, this is what she had to say:

“Taking on this role is a life changing experience because I have never gotten the leading role and never realized how much work it actually takes. I have a lot more responsibility and have to practice a lot more; not only on the choreography but on my expressions and how it connects to the movement. It’s hard and takes a lot of time and effort, but every minute is worth it because it’s turning me into the dancer I never thought I would be.”

These words motivate and inspire me to continue to create and educate. Sweat equity is a dancer’s life—actually, an artist’s life—and I can’t wait for all of the hard work by this incredible team of collaborators to be shared with our community.

Jonathan Tabbert, co-founder/director of the Charleston Dance Institute, and guest blogger

The Gibbes Museum is pleased to present a special performance of The Little Match Girl with Laura Ball, the Charleston Dance Institute, and Chamber Music of Charleston, on Saturday, November 16 at 11am.

The performance will be held across the street from the museum at the Circular Congregational Church. Following the performance, the audience is invited to the museum for a meet and greet with the performers, and to see the exhibitions on view.

Purchase tickets online or call 843.722.2706 x21.

A Successful Second Year for the Gibbes Art on Paper Fair

After months of preparation, this weekend the museum welcomed more than 1800 visitors for the second-annual Art on Paper Fair. In the days leading up to the event, art work was carefully taken off the walls in the Alice Smith and Garden galleries, and the Gibbes was transformed into a bustling community of artists, gallery owners, art collectors, art experts, volunteers, staff and curious onlookers. Vendors included eight galleries from across the southeast that showcased works celebrating the south and this year, we added new elements including the “Ask the Expert” booth and an Artisan Boutique.

Guests at the First Look Celebration perused the works of art for sale.

Guests at the First Look Celebration perused the works of art for sale.

Thankfully the rain held off and the fair opened on Friday night with the First Look Celebration. Guests enjoyed delicious treats from local food trucks, music and drinks. As a fan of anything with bacon, my personal favorite was the pimiento cheese, muenster, avocado, and bacon on sourdough sandwich made by Cory’s Famous Grilled Cheese. My colleague Justa Debnam of skirt! magazine and Where Charleston agreed. “Attending the party with fellow Gibbes supporters on Friday was extraordinary. It was such a treat to be part of a diverse and passionate group of Charleston’s arts community,” she said.

Food Trucks at the Art on Paper Fair

Food trucks lined up in front of the museum to provide delicious treats for the First Look Celebration.

Making art accessible to the public was the impetus behind the initial Art on Paper Fair. As a relative newcomer to the museum, I wasn’t around for the first fair, and so I asked Pam Wall, Gibbes curator of exhibitions, to elaborate on the intent of the fair. “It’s a good opportunity to learn about and be more comfortable around art. We offer free admission to the Art on Paper Fair in hopes that it will encourage the public to come into the museum to browse through the works on paper and to talk with the gallery owners. The fair helps to eliminate the intimidation factor.” Local artist Jonathan Green agreed, saying: “Works on paper are more affordable and less intimidating and will ignite a whole new culture of collectors.” His booth on the second floor displayed works of art that were twenty years old (and were pulled out of storage for this event!). Green’s early figure drawings are more linear and abstract than his contemporary oil paintings, and provided viewers a unique opportunity to glimpse the evolution of this artist’s journey. “Drawing is fundamental to being a good artist, and I’m glad I was a good student,” he laughed. The John K. Surovek Gallery of Palm Beach was a new addition to this year’s paper fair. Co-owner Clay Surovek, who participates in 2 to 3 shows including Art Basel and the American Fine Art Fair in New York, says these events provide a great opportunity to meet new clients.

Reynier-Llanes-Jonathan-Green-Paper-Fair

Artists Reynier Llanes and Jonathan Green represented Jonathan Green Studios at the Art on Paper Fair.

All weekend visitors strolled through the museum, stopping to browse through the Artisan Boutique and on to the booths where they could ask questions of gallery owners and artists. Erin Nathanson, Arts & Cultural Relations Director for ArtFields, visited the fair over the weekend. “Entering the Art on Paper Fair, I was delighted to see vendors selling handmade letterpress (Sideshow Press and Ink Meets Paper) and bound items for a very accessible price. I began my visit by sifting through many beautiful prints and monotypes—I LOVE being able to handle works and get them so close to my face that I can imagine the smell of ink and other materials through the plastic. My favorite piece was a large wood-cut print by Lese Corrigan! In all, the Art on Paper Fair was a great experience and I hope it expands. I am excited for next year,” she said. After another successful event, we are looking forward to next year’s fair too!

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

Photo credits: MCG Photography

Bringing Music to Life

As the director of Chamber Music Charleston (CMC), I am always looking for new ways to share our music with Charleston audiences. We are most well known for our House Concerts—intimate evenings and afternoons of classical music presented in a private homes—but sometimes we need to do something different, something unexpected… something that will capture the attention of someone new and energize those who already know us.

CMC performs a house concert at The Palmer House on the Battery.

CMC performs a house concert at The Palmer House on the Battery. Jenny Weiss, Frances Hsieh, Debra Sherrill, Timothy O’Malley, Ben Weiss. Photo courtesy of BT Hunter Photography

When the opportunity to collaborate with Laura Ball, Charleston Dance Institute, and the Gibbes Museum of Art presented itself to us, it didn’t take much time at all for me to eagerly accept. You see, while we have collaborated in the past with some incredible local actors for Music and Spoken Word productions and have even collaborated with singers to stage a mini-opera, we have never had the change to combine our music with dance.

Even more exciting, we are not simply preparing music by a standard, great “European Classical Composer”—say, a Beethoven String Quartet or Brahms Piano Quintet. No, for this collaboration we get to bring a brand new piece of music to life. A piece of music that only months ago was a mere though in the composer’s mind but is now a fully orchestrated score, engraved on paper and in the hands of the individual musicians.

CMC cellist Timothy O'Malley

CMC cellist Timothy O’Malley (playing at the SC Aquarium). Photo courtesy of BT Hunter Photography

How does all of the music come together? First, I had to assemble the musicians based on the instrumentation for the work. Laura Ball, our fearless composer and artistic leader, chose an octet for this work: 2 violins, cello, bass, flute, oboe, percussion, and piano. It was not hard at all to find the musicians to fit the bill, as CMC has a fantastic core of local professional musicians to draw from. The CMC musicians performing for this project include violinists Frances Hsieh and Ben Weiss, cellist Timothy O’Malley, oboist Mark Gainer, and flutist Regina Helcher Yost. We added some good friends: Jean Williams on bass, James Cannon for percussion, and Tomas Jakubek for violin, and warmly welcomed composer Laura Ball to play the piano part. This past week each musician received their individual parts and have been charged with learning the notes, dynamics and tempos. On November 5, the real fun begins as we gather together for the first time to read through the music as an ensemble.

CMC violinist Frances Hsieh.

CMC violinist Frances Hsieh. Photo courtesy of CMC

What happens at this first rehearsal? I know the string players will discuss bowings—the direction that the bow runs across the strings. As a wind player (I am a bassoonist), it took me quite some time to realize how important bowings can be, but I now realize that bowings greatly affect the phrasing of a line of music; making some notes stronger than others and helping build and taper intensity to specific notes. Also, if you have two violinists playing the same music, it is nice to see their bows moving in the same directions!

CMC flutist Regina Helcher Yost

CMC flutist Regina Helcher Yost (playing at the SC Aquarium). Photo courtesy of BT Hunter Photography

For the wind players—the oboe and flute—I bet they will be focused on matching articulations (length of notes and attacks of notes) and pitch, and blending their sounds together. The ensemble as a whole will focus on making sure everyone starts every note perfectly together and changes notes at the same time. They will also work as one as they interpret dynamics and musical lines.

The goal of the musicians for this project is to interpret the notes on the page and create the musical story that will accompany the dance. It is an awesome responsibility, but one that each of our musicians take up with great gusto. There is something incredibly exciting about bringing a new piece of music to life, especially when this music is just one element of a bigger project.

I know I can’t wait to see how this all comes together, and I certainly can not wait to see the dance set to the music! It will be incredible!

Sandra Nikolajevs, president & artistic director of Chamber Music Charleston, and guest blogger

The Gibbes Museum is pleased to present a special performance of The Little Match Girl with Laura Ball, the Charleston Dance Institute, and Chamber Music of Charleston.

The performance will be held across the street from the museum at the Circular Congregational Church. Following the performance, the audience is invited to the museum for a meet and greet with the performers, and to see the exhibitions on view.

Purchase tickets online or call 843.722.2706 x21.

Curatorial Perspective: The Fine Art of Printmaking

The Gibbes’s permanent collection is rich with examples of fine art prints made by artists ranging from James McNeill Whistler to Jasper Johns. While printmaking techniques have been around for thousands of years, American artists’ interest in printmaking as a fine art form did not develop until the mid 19th-century. Since then, printmaking has played an important role in many artists’ creative repertoire. This fall, the processes behind some of the best-known printmaking techniques are explored in The Fine Art of Printmaking now on view in Gallery H.

Canyon Wall, ca. 1975, by Boyd Saunders

Canyon Wall, ca. 1975, by Boyd Saunders

Various methods of printmaking have evolved over the long history of the medium. This exhibition features examples of woodcuts, etchings, lithographs, and screenprints by a variety of artists who mastered these techniques including James McNeill Whistler, Alfred Hutty, Prentiss Taylor, and Hale Woodruff. Prints are created through an indirect transfer process in which an image is produced on a surface (known as a matrix) such as a metal plate, wood block, or stone. The surface of the matrix is then inked and the image is transferred to paper by applying pressure. The resulting impression or print is a mirror image of the composition on the matrix. Numerous prints can be made from a matrix, so unlike paintings or drawings, prints usually exist in multiple impressions.

Returning Home, Selections from the Atlanta Period, 1935, reprint 1996, by Hale Woodruff

Returning Home, Selections from the Atlanta Period, 1935, reprint 1996, by Hale Woodruff

To learn more about the art of printmaking, please join us November 1-3 for the second-annual Art on Paper Fair weekend! The Fair celebrates the visual arts of Charleston with lively programs, conversations, and even artist demonstrations. Most importantly the Fair features works on paper for sale from eight premier dealers from across the Southeast.

Sara Arnold, curator of collections, Gibbes Museum of Art

The Gibbes Museum of Art and Redux Studios teamed up with Marcus Amaker to create a video examining the tradition of printmaking in Charleston. Gibbes Executive Director Angela Mack, and Gibbes Curators Sara Arnold and Pam Wall share works from the museum’s collection and discuss the history of printmaking in the Lowcountry. Redux artists Alex Waggoner and Kate MacNeil discuss the current relevance of printmaking in today’s artistic community. Watch the video on YouTube.

Score to Floor

Whew! It is such a relief to see a score fly out the door and into the arms of the orchestra!!

Last night I met with Sandra of Chamber Music Charleston and had a cursory read through of The Little Match Girl score. I am happy to say that two of my favorite themes belong to the cello. Cellists have always had a special place in my life, beginning with Ward Williams who broke my heart every time he played Julie-O by the Turtle Island String Quartet. The piece is so fascinatingly joyful and danceable and I have been in love with the cello ever since. The dancing roast in our performance is dedicated to Ward Williams, who used to play in Charleston with the band Jump Little Children.

Tim O'Malley of Chamber Music Charleston. Photo by Tom McCorkle

Tim O’Malley of Chamber Music Charleston. Photo by Tom McCorkle

The other cello theme represents the Mother figure in the Match Girl story. My boyfriend’s grandmother is a cellist and quite talented. After meeting her, I decided that only the rich, wise and hauntingly beautiful voice of the cello could represent the Motherly presence that so comforts the match girl. We are so excited to hear Tim O’Malley give voice to these two contrasting characters at the performance on November 16th! The cello is such an incredible instrument with a range of emotion, and diversity of character. I look forward to sharing my favorite instrument with you all at the Circular Church—make sure to meet Tim and his cello afterwards at the Gibbes!

Laura Ball, composer and guest blogger

The Gibbes Museum is pleased to present a special performance of The Little Match Girl with Laura Ball, the Charleston Dance Institute, and Chamber Music of Charleston.

The performance will be held across the street from the museum at the Circular Congregational Church. Following the performance, the audience is invited to the museum for a meet and greet with the performers, and to see the exhibitions on view.

Purchase tickets online or call 843.722.2706 x21.

The Spirit of the Garden

When Gibbes Executive Director Angela Mack first asked me to visit the museum to discuss the renovation project, I immediately began to pay attention to the beauty that is everywhere in Charleston. As plans progressed for the interior of the museum, I began to relax and enjoy evening walks around the city. I was impressed by the many beautiful gardens I encountered. I have always loved gardens and have had the great fortune to see many of the premier gardens of Europe, and all over the world, thanks to my “field trips” for the Metropolitan Museum. However, during the busy days at the Gibbes I rarely seemed to find the time to contemplate the garden at the back of the museum.

A view of the courtyard, ca. 1960s, with the Charleston Library Society in the distance.

A view of the courtyard, ca. 1960s, with the Charleston Library Society in the distance.

Once I began to consider the courtyard space hidden behind the building, I started asking everyone about the history of this grand old garden. Having spent 30 years therapeutically strolling in Central Park outside of The Metropolitan Museum, I knew that great gardens have a spirit of their own. I started to examine the history of the Courtyard through images of the garden taken over the years. Although many good attempts were made to upgrade it, the garden never seemed “just right” to complement the museum’s Beaux-Arts building.

The rear facade of the original museum building.

The rear facade of the original museum building.

The Persephone fountain and rear facade of the Gibbes.

The Persephone fountain, centered in the courtyard, after the 1970s museum addition.

In addition to the history of the Gibbes garden space, I learned more about tradition of Charleston gardens over the centuries and started to see similarities. The Gibbes archives contain numerous images of the transformations behind the museum, and curator Sara Arnold helped me compile examples and track the changes over the years. The museum’s earliest photos of the Courtyard date back to the 1930’s when all of the plant material was smaller and the trees were not so overwhelming. The historic iron gates, which were originally part of the William Aiken House, were completely visible. As you can see in the images included in this post, there were some winners and some losers in the various renovation designs, but each transformation had some good ideas that helped take the garden plan forward. Angela and I began talking about how we could not renovate the building without paying serious attention to the garden and the Gateway Walk, as well as those marvelous gates that mark the boundary between the Gibbes and the Charleston Library Society.

The Gibbes Couryard ca. 1947, looking towards the Charleston Library Society

The Gibbes Couryard ca. 1947, looking towards the Charleston Library Society.

That is when I first began to really understand that there was something missing at the back of the Gibbes. The Gibbes Courtyard Garden now contains too much mature plant material that overwhelms the minimal ground cover. As everyone in Charleston knows, if you leave a garden to its own vices it can soon become a beast and quickly grow out of control. As the months went by and we planned the new spaces for the museum’s interior, I realized that the garden had to be next on our list of improvements. So my evening walks began to shift focus from therapeutic strolls to investigative research. First, I walked the Gateway Garden Walk to see what all the fuss was about. The Charleston Historic Gateway Walk starts at St. John’s Lutheran Church on the eastern side of the peninsula and winds west to Archdale Street, meandering through historic cemeteries and walkways including the Gibbes Courtyard.

The Charleston Gateway walk

The Charleston Gateway Walk from the Gibbes Courtyard towards Meeting Street.

I explored further south towards the Battery, touring the historic areas of Charleston and the centuries old walkways. I strolled through the neighborhoods near the water, and discovered that many gardens took on an entirely new appearance and feeling during the hours between sunset and dusk. I noted that many easily converted into special private event spaces and how the use of lighting could give a garden a spectacular appearance at night. As for the city’s public garden spaces, the thoughtful ambient and directional lighting made those areas very accessible for the public. In the last 6 months I was invited to several private gardens so that I could continue my research. Each time I visited a new space I observed how the gardeners grouped the plants, where they employed water as a relaxation tool, and how they used mature plants as a foundation to ground the newer additions. I saw sculptures, stone walls, and “botanical backdrops” that wrapped the garden spaces with flowers, shrubs, perennials and annuals. These “private garden worlds” provide a haven from the stress of the city. What I love about Charleston (among many things) is the way the landscapers and gardeners create restful environments for beauty, contemplation, and relaxed socializing.

A current view of the rear portion of the courtyard

A current view of the rear portion of the courtyard, facing northwest.

After seeing so many gorgeous gardens in downtown Charleston and in the neighboring communities, I realized that the new Gibbes Garden has to follow the spirit of the city. It needs to become a haven for residents and tourists of the city, and it has to be an urban garden that reflects the artistic mission of the museum. This new garden must be contemplative, restful, artistic, and most important of all—an inspiration for everyone. At my home, I have a large garden with a meadow that looks out onto a regional valley near the foothills of the Berkshires. That is where I go when I need to clear my head. The romance and beauty of a garden can be the key to artistic inspiration.

An architectural rendering of the Gibbes Courtyard as viewed from the first floor interior of the renovated museum.

An example of an architectural rendering of the Gibbes Courtyard as viewed from the first floor interior of the renovated museum.

The next step involves bringing in the pros to help us plan the exterior grounds that surround the museum. After conducting a proposal and interview process, we are pending Board approval on the selection of a landscape architect to create and implement a new courtyard design. Just as planning any great work of art, the composition of elements in a garden must provide cohesion and contrast, inviting the eye to move around the space and find places of rest. The Gibbes Museum strives to preserve and promote the art of Charleston and the American South—soon the garden will do the same thing. I can’t wait to walk into the museum and see a brand new, artful garden through the large windows at the back of the building!

Jeff Daly, museum designer and guest blogger

Curatorial Perspective: Photography and the American Civil War

In a matter of days the Gibbes will open the highly-anticipated exhibition Photography and the American Civil War. The show is traveling from The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where it attracted great attendance and received rave reviews from numerous media outlets. We are thrilled to bring the exhibition to Charleston, the very city where the Civil War began with the first shots fired over Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861.

Photography and the American Civil War includes over 200 photographs, ranging from large-format, framed prints to ambrotypes and tintypes housed in handheld cases. There are also small card-mounted photographs known as cartes de visite, hand-tooled leather albums, and even Mathew B. Brady’s camera and tripod. Together, these objects explore the role of photography during a defining period in American history, the Civil War years of 1861–1865.

Unknown photographer, [Captain Charles A. and Sergeant John M. Hawkins, Company E, "Tom Cobb Infantry," Thirty-eighth Regiment, Georgia Volunteer Infantry], 1861–62; Quarter-plate ambrotype with applied color; David Wynn Vaughan Collection.

Unknown photographer, [Captain Charles A. and Sergeant John M. Hawkins, Company E, "Tom Cobb Infantry," Thirty-eighth Regiment, Georgia Volunteer Infantry], 1861–62; Quarter-plate ambrotype with applied color; David Wynn Vaughan Collection.

Each photograph in this exhibition tells a story. These photographs are fascinating, not just for the images they convey, but for the ways they were used. Portraits of soldiers headed to war were treasured objects for family members on the homefront—a tangible piece of their beloved son or father or husband who may never return home. The double portrait of the Hawkins brothers is one such example. Charles, on the left, looks strong and confident, with his arm around John—perhaps a gesture of support for his brother who appears a bit more timid. I can only imagine how their mother felt at the start of the war. Perhaps this photograph provided a small measure of comfort.

The exhibition also includes a number of battlefield views, including a well-known photograph titled A Harvest of Death, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Due to the technical complexity of producing photographs at the time, photographers rarely attempted action shots on the battlefield. They generally arrived after the battle to capture the destruction left behind. Here, Timothy O’Sullivan documented dead bodies awaiting burial on the fields of Gettysburg, a gruesome reminder of the horrors of war. Photographs such as this one were used to communicate news from the battlefield back to the homefront. In many ways, Civil War photography represents the birth of photojournalism.

Timothy H. O'Sullivan (American, born Ireland, 1840–1882), Alexander Gardner (American, Glasgow, Scotland 1821–1882 Washington, D.C.), A Harvest of Death, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, July 1863; albumen silver print from glass negative, accompanied by text page from Gardner's Sketchbook; The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Timothy H. O’Sullivan (American, born Ireland, 1840–1882), Alexander Gardner (American, Glasgow, Scotland 1821–1882 Washington, D.C.), A Harvest of Death, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, July 1863; albumen silver print from glass negative, accompanied by text page from Gardner’s Sketchbook; The Metropolitan Museum of Art

A Harvest of Death also brings to mind a rather eloquent quote from a solider who fought in the Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862, the single bloodiest day in the history of the United States. In the words of Union Captain John Taggert: “No tongue can tell, no mind conceive, no pen portray the horrible sights I witnessed this morning.” Though no media could fully communicate the horrors of war, photography was a powerful tool for delivering information to the public and a means for loved ones to feel connected with soldiers in the field. To learn more about these and the many other roles of the camera during the Civil War, please visit Photography and the American Civil War at the Gibbes from September 27 to January 5, 2014.

Pam Wall, curator of exhibitions, Gibbes Museum of Art

Access our mobile website, http://bit.ly/CivilWar_Photography, to learn more about the exhibition.

Information about related programming can be found on our Calendar of Programs & Events.

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