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.

A Passion for Museums

It has been my pleasure for the past month to intern with the Gibbes’ Programs, Events, and Marketing department. I assisted in writing social media posts, responding to donation requests, documenting press and brainstorming ways to publicize the upcoming exhibit, Photography and the American Civil War, (which of course I will plug here) opening September 27th.

I was thrilled to have been offered the position. It has always been a favorite pastime of mine to spend hours wandering through galleries, sometimes in search of a particular work but often aimlessly, soaking in the history. I have traveled to cities for the sole purpose of catching an alluring exhibition, and have a bucket list of museums that I would like to see. I hold on to my ticket stubs and write any significant works on the back, so that I can recall the experience in the future. To me, a visit to a museum is a cathartic experience that we can collectively enjoy. Much of the modern world has access to museums, and the privilege of plumbing our history in the comfort of a quiet, air-conditioned building.

Each museum has a different flow and architectural structure; the organic spiral of the Guggenheim Museum in NYC creates a totally different atmosphere from the soon-to-be-renovated Beaux-Arts style of the Gibbes. Each museum has a unique collection; I was amazed to find out that the Gibbes over 10,000 objects, including paintings, sculpture, photographs, and archival materials. Every museum boasts an individual mission statement—their purpose for keeping the lights on. However while the intent of the Smithsonian may not be identical to that of the Gibbes, all museums serve the same general purpose: to preserve the vestiges of human existence.

But what distinguishes an art museum from a museum of history? While history museums hold primary documents, ephemera, tangible facts if you will, art museums tell a different story. The Gibbes and institutions like it hold items that speak of our interpretation of a time in history, and how we use art as a tool to remember. As I have been learning more about the Civil War and exploring the collection catalogue, I have been thinking about how we have use photography for the sake of documentation. Dorothea Lange said it best, “Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still.” As time continues to pass since “our nations bloodiest war,” the war between the states, our memory of it will continue to be informed by what was left behind.

[President Abraham Lincoln, Major General John A. McClernand and E. J. Allen (Allan Pinkerton)], 1862, by Alexander Gardner (American, Glasgow, Scotland 1821–1882 Washington, D.C.)

Alexander Gardner (American, Glasgow, Scotland 1821–1882 Washington, D.C.), [President Abraham Lincoln, Major General John A. McClernand (right), and E. J. Allen (Allan Pinkerton, left), Chief of the Secret Service of the United States, at Secret Service Department, Headquarters Army of the Potomac, near Antietam, Maryland], October 4, 1862; albumen silver print from glass negative; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gilman Collection, Gift of The Howard Gilman Foundation, 2005 (2005.100.1221), image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

The Photography and the American Civil War exhibition consists of more than two hundred photographs that document many different facets of wartime. Some are very gruesome (I had to quickly flip through the disturbing catalog pages with images of severed limbs and sick soldiers). Other documents are quite endearing and representative of Americans patriotism from the very beginning, even when the conflict was internal. I had to chuckle reading a little girl’s letter to President Lincoln instructing him to grow his beard so that he may have a better chance of winning the 1860 election. While the collection appears at first to reveal much of what happened during those years, there also seem to be holes in the story. The gruesomeness of some photographs leaves me wondering what they decided to censor from public view. Ultimately there is something for everyone, and I predict that the exhibit will draw in history buffs, art and photography lovers of all ages.

Bombardment of Fort Sumter, Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, 1863, by William Aiken Walker

Bombardment of Fort Sumter, Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, 1863, 1886, by William Aiken Walker (American, 1838 – 1921)

The exhibit is traveling all the way from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and I could not think of a more suitable place for it to be held than Charleston, home to several important sites of action in the Civil War. In fact, we recently passed the 150th anniversary of the Union’s attempt to storm Fort Sumter. I am a proud Charlestonian, and I am proud to have played a small part in the promotion of this highly anticipated exhibition.

Annie Stoppelbein, Public Programs & Marketing Intern and guest blogger

The Jewish High Holy Days: Impressions of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur

The Jewish High Holy Days are here. Rosh Hashanah, celebrated on September 5 this year, means “Head of the Year.” It commemorates the Jewish New Year, and is the first of the High Holy Days, otherwise known as the “days of Awe.” Rosh Hashanah begins each year on the first day of Tishrei, which is the first month of the Jewish Calendar, and is believed to be the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve. The significance of the day is that it leads to Yom Kippur, which is described as the “Day of Judgment” and the “Day of Remembrance.” Some descriptions depict God as sitting on a throne, while books containing the deeds of all humanity are opened for review. Reflection, Repentance, Reconciliation, and Responsibility are the themes of the “Ten Days of Awe” between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. As a museum docent, I am often struck by how images I encounter in the galleries remind me of the symbols and practices that surround these important Jewish Holidays.

The Sisters, 1921, by Edmund Charles Tarbell (American, 1862 - 1938)

The Sisters, 1921, by Edmund Charles Tarbell (American, 1862 – 1938)

Robert and Elizabeth Gilchrist, 1836, by George Cooke (American, 1793 - 1849)

Robert and Elizabeth Gilchrist, 1836, by George Cooke (American, 1793 – 1849)

During the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, there is the opportunity to repent for any misdeeds committed during the past year, to be charitable, and to offer prayer, in order to be sealed in the “Book of Life” for the following year. Apology between fellow humans can be offered by admitting to hurtful deeds and asking the individual for forgiveness. The painting The Sisters by Edmund Tarbell looks to me like the two women have something difficult to discuss with each other. It reminds me of talking with a family member, friend, or colleague to ask for reconciliation so that each person no longer feels hurt.

I often experience mixed feelings at Rosh Hashanah, just like at the secular New Year, of both festivity and serious reflection about the past year. I recall an amusing painting in the Gibbes of George Cooke’s work, Robert and Elizabeth Gilchrist, shows an important law book being marked in by one of the children. I can almost picture God deciding who will be sealed in his book of life for the following year!

Untitled (Three Toomer Children), 1849, by Lewis Towson Voight

Untitled (Three Toomer Children), 1849, by Lewis Towson Voight

In addition to self-reflection, Rosh Hashanah is also a time for families to get together. Two paintings at the Gibbes come to mind for warm family gatherings: Larry Francis Levy’s Project New Day and Lewis Towson Voight’s work depicting three Toomer children. When families get together there is inevitably a festive meal, and the paintings: Still Life with Watermelon by Thomas Wrightman, and Still Life with Duck and Snipe by Charles Fraser, depict the makings of bountiful feasts.

Still Life with Watermelon, ca. 1840s, by Thomas Wightman (American, 1811 - 1888)

Still Life with Watermelon, ca. 1840s, by Thomas Wightman (American, 1811 – 1888)

Still Life (Ducks and Snipe), ca. 1840 Charles Fraser (American, 1782 - 1860)

Still Life (Ducks and Snipe), ca. 1840, by Charles Fraser (American, 1782 – 1860)

In contrast to the delicious meals consumed during Rosh Hashanah, traditionally followers observe Yom Kippur with an approximately 25 hour fast and intensive prayer, often spending a large part of the day in synagogue services to demonstrate atonement and repentance. Yom Kippur is the final Day of Judgment, when the “Book” is closed for another year. It is also known as the Day of Atonement, and is the holiest day of the year for the Jewish people. The word, “Yom” means “Day” in Hebrew, and “Kippur” comes from a root meaning “to atone.” The goal of Yom Kippur is to have public and private confessions of guilt, and to amend one’s behavior for the following year and seek forgiveness.

One of the main symbols of Yom Kippur is the shofar, a musical instrument made from a ram’s horn. It is blown in long, short, and staccato blasts that follow a set sequence. Traditionally it is blown each morning the entire previous month to awaken the listeners from their “slumbers” and alert them to the coming judgment. Instruments are used in many instances as a call to attention, such as a drum in a parade or a bugle signaling dawn or dusk. Manning Williams’ painting, Sherman Marches South illustrates the use of sound alerting and rallying the troops.

Sherman Marches South, 1990, by Manning Bethea Williams, Jr. (American, 1939-2012)

Sherman Marches South, 1990, by Manning Bethea Williams, Jr. (American, 1939-2012)

Although the works I mention were not created specifically to represent the themes and tenants of the Jewish High Holidays, I can observe my own references in the subjects, moods, and actions that are depicted. The opportunity to incorporate one’s own experiences in the interpretation and appreciation of a work of art is something that I appreciate about my interactions with the public in my role as a docent at the Gibbes. L’Shana Tova!

Mindelle K. Seltzer, Gibbes Museum Docent and guest blogger

A Whirlwind Tour of AAM 2013 in Baltimore

“I will be at the American Alliance of Museums conference next week,” I announce to our staff. Everyone says “great, we can’t wait to hear all about it,” and we move on with the business of the day.

I am extremely fortunate to represent the Gibbes Museum of Art at professional museum conferences each year. Upon my return from a conference, I try to fill our staff in on what I learned as soon as possible, usually during the first hour of being back at work. After that small window of opportunity, the real world takes over; emails and phone messages must be returned, new projects must be faced and lengthy “to do” lists (which have grown longer during my absence) must be tackled. More often than not, I am able to provide a general synopsis of sessions I attended, but that’s about it. I never really get the chance to tell anyone what I actually did at the conference! So Gibbes staff, this post is for you too! It’s been over two months since I attended the AAM Annual Meeting but finally, you will learn what I did at the 2013 AAM Annual Meeting!

Sometimes getting there is the hardest part!
Sunday May 19

This year the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) held its annual meeting in Baltimore, Maryland from May 19-22. Over 5000 people representing museums in 50 different countries attended this conference. More than 170 different sessions and workshops were offered and the conference theme, The Power of Story, was woven into all activities.

Greetings from Baltimore

The program usually comes out a few months before the meeting so one has time to peruse the offerings and determine if attending would be beneficial to both the individual and the institution. While it seems like the answer would always be “yes, of course it would be beneficial to attend,” there is a considerable amount of expense involved. Registration fees, airfare, meals, events, workshops; it all adds up and sadly, professional development funds are often the first to be cut from an institutional budget. Even though AAM does its best to keep the conference reasonably priced, I can usually only attend every couple of years. However, this year the meeting was in Baltimore, a quick and reasonably priced direct flight from Charleston. I added the expense to my travel budget, crossed my fingers during the budget process and thankfully was approved for take-off! Of course the AAM dates were not convenient to my work world (they never are, you just have go) and fell during an exhibition installation. However, a quick trip (Sunday-Tuesday) was feasible and I was determined to make the most of it!

Flying to Baltimore was the easy part. Extracting me from my regular life and its crazy schedules was more of a challenge. My six-year-old daughter was competing in a two-day horse show on the days leading up to my departure. To complicate matters, my son and husband were out of town during the same time so all the horse show prep and logistics were on me. I am providing this detail primarily so you will have an idea of my frame of mind as I tried frantically to get ready for a major conference in the midst of the horse stuff. On Sunday, my husband returned to relieve me so I could race to the airport for a 1:00pm flight. I was finally ready to switch gears, focus on museums and the conference, and plan which sessions I would attend and how I would maximize my time. Thankfully, this year AAM came out with a free, downloadable, Annual Meeting “app” that provided detailed lists and summaries of daily conference sessions and activities. This app was a tremendous help in plotting my time. While I am certain the creation of an annual meeting app was part of AAM’s larger technology plan, I would also like to think that someone realized how useful it would be to those of us who left for Baltimore stressed out and in various states of disorganization; using this app helped me calm down, get organized, and regain my equilibrium!

Party on a boat….I promise it was business!

By the time the plane touched down at Baltimore Washington National Airport (BWI), my early morning at the horse show was a fuzzy memory. My thoughts had switched from ponies, equitation, and ribbons to museums, museums, museums. I was finally able to relax and enjoy the fact that soon I would be among my peers from all over the country. AAM does a great job of welcoming its participants; huge banners greeted us at BWI alerting every traveler in the airport that this week, Baltimore was THE place to be for museum professionals.

The Baltimore Convention Center, the nucleus for all AAM activities, was just one block from my hotel so I ran over to pick up my conference registration packet. These packets provide participants with all the essentials including name badge, event tickets, maps, etc. AAM has become more “green” in recent years, and my bag contained much less paper than in the past. Attendees were encouraged to use the app for conference planning and all session information and handouts were online.

To be honest, even though I have been to several AAM conferences, I still find them slightly overwhelming, particularly at the beginning. The convention center is huge, there are literally hundreds of people milling about and you need to really study the maps to figure out where sessions and events are located. I decided to take care of all that later; I had people to meet and places to be!

Greeters_Baltimore_Convention_Center

Helpful greeters at the Baltimore Convention Center. Image courtesy of American Alliance of Museums.

I had one hour to unpack and get cleaned up for my big evening kick-off event, the famous Shippers Party! This greatly anticipated event is an annual party sponsored by a long list of domestic and international shipping companies for all Registrars and Collections Managers attending the AAM Annual Meeting. It is always held at a fabulous local venue and the organizers outdo themselves from year to year. It is a great opportunity to interact with our peers, network with shipping agents, make new contacts and enjoy a terrific evening. The 2013 Shippers Party was held on the Spirit of Baltimore, a two-deck sailing vessel, and included dinner, dancing, and a cruise around Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. I connected with a few friends from graduate school who now work at the Mint Museum and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and we headed to the boat.

Spirit_of_Baltimore

The Spirit of Baltimore

Once on board, I was fully immersed in the business of museum conferences, talking, talking, and more talking about all kinds of museum topics. I searched out representatives from shipping companies I use to thank them for the party and for their assistance on my projects. I meandered around and introduced myself to registrars who I have worked with on loans and exhibitions but have only known through email. Finally putting faces with names is truly a fun experience. I found my colleagues from the Registrars Committee (RC) of AAM and discussed our upcoming RC business meeting. I reconnected with more friends from graduate school and previous museum jobs, catching up on everyone’s lives and careers.

Baltimore_Harbor

Evening view of the Inner Harbor from the boat.

As the night wore on and the boat sailed around the harbor, there was lots of laughter, genuine camaraderie and good fun among this group. There was dancing and there was singing; future projects and collaborations were planned; a good time was had by all. The boat docked at midnight. After being up for way too many hours, moving through all my various realities during the day, and talking non-stop at the party, I was done! Goodnight AAM.

Breakfasts, sessions, luncheons, receptions, dinners, oh MY!
Monday May 20

My alarm rang at 6am the next morning. I awoke in complete confusion wondering where I was and if my kids were late for school. Slowly, clarity set in and I realized, oh yes, I am at AAM in Baltimore and I need to be at the Fellowship Breakfast at 7:00AM! Buckle up folks… if you thought Sunday was a whirlwind, it had nothing on Monday and its many conference activities!

After my usual morning scramble and a short walk down the street, I arrived at the convention center in search of the AAM Fellowship Breakfast. This event was organized to honor the 2013 recipients of AAM Travel Fellowships which are awards that provide monetary stipends to attend the Annual Meeting. Recipients of these awards truly distinguish themselves as the application review process is rigorous and the competition is fierce! I currently serve at the Fellowship Chair for the Registrars Committee of the American Alliance of Museums. As such, I am also a member of the larger AAM Fellowship Task Force that reviews all applications across the Professional Networks (PN), and selects the recipients. I have been involved with the RC Fellowship Committee for ten years, but this was my first year working with the larger AAM Task Force. It was a lot of work but also enormously gratifying to be part of a process that provides well-qualified individuals the means to attend the conference. The Fellowship Breakfast was an opportunity for recipients to meet each other and make connections. This year, members of the Registrars Committee Executive Board were paired with each of the eight fellowship recipients representing the RC. The RC mentor-mentee pairing was a nice opportunity for us to get to know one another. The food was good, the coffee was strong and it was a great way to start the day.

After the early breakfast, the rest of the morning passed in an educational blur while I attended several different panel discussions. Sessions at AAM are huge and rooms are usually filled by 100 people or more. I have presented at AAM in the past. It is a wonderful, if somewhat nerve wracking experience. This year however, I was there to simply listen and learn which definitely took the pressure off. I tried to attend sessions that were relevant to my work at the Gibbes, particularly those that focused on museum renovation and movement and storage of collections. I learned a great deal at morning sessions about “green” practices for museums on limited budgets and how to remain a museum even when one’s doors are closed. I took many notes, poured over hand-outs, and introduced myself to presenters so I could follow up with questions at a future date. Sessions usually last about an hour and thirty minutes and time flies.

AAM_Conference_Session

A packed session! Image courtesy of American Alliance of Museums

In what seemed like the blink of an eye, the morning was gone and it was time for my next scheduled event, a luncheon sponsored by Willis Fine Art, Jewelry & Specie, the Gibbes fine art insurance broker. Willis has a long tradition of holding this event at AAM as a way to show its appreciation for Registrars and all they do. This year, the lunch was held at the historic Pratt Street Ale House and was yet another opportunity to catch up with friends and chat with our insurance brokers, a team of individuals who I have known and worked with for many years and truly enjoy spending time with at conferences. I feel lucky to have such solid relationships with many of the vendors who provide services to the Gibbes and make my job easier.

After an animated lunch with the Willis folks, I headed back to the conference for sessions that taught me about grant opportunities with the National Endowment for the Humanities and the latest trends in sustainable preservation. By late afternoon I could have used a nap but I was on auto-pilot; the day was not over by any stretch of the imagination. After a few more sessions, I headed down to the MuseumExpo, a gigantic maze of an exhibit hall filled with vendors from over 250 companies that provide services to museums.

2013_AAM_Expo_Hall

The 2013 MuseumExpo Exhibit Hall. Image courtesy of American Alliance of Museums

Cruising the exhibit hall takes some getting used to and is another annual meeting activity that requires a plan. One must decide which type of service providers to make contact with; it’s ok to wander but it helps to have a strategy. I always visit vendors the Gibbes works with first; it helps me get oriented to the exhibit hall and is a good way to strengthen relationships. This year, I also visited booths of several companies that design exhibition furniture with an eye toward new and innovative ways to display our miniature portrait collection. I chatted with the sales people, asked lots of questions, took catalogs and contact information, and was on my way. At this point it was around 5pm so I sat down for a few minutes and gather my wits before heading to my NEXT event—a reception for Museum Assessment Program (MAP) Peer Reviewers, which began at 6pm. I have been a MAP peer reviewer for a little over a year and didn’t want to miss the opportunity to meet the MAP leadership and other peer reviewers from around the country. I walked in not knowing anyone and an hour later I had made a few new friends from the Mountain Plains Museums Association (MPMA), had good conversations about the ins and out of being a peer reviewer, and picked up some really great ideas for possible events for our state museum conference. For example, the MPMA folks do something called a “bar” session at conferences. It is held after hours and encourages free-form, spirited discussion on controversial (and possibly ludicrous) topics such as “is it really necessary for a museum to have a Registrar?” I would love to participate in that one!

It was now 7pm and I had to move on to the final event of my day, dinner with friends from Transport Consultants International (TCI). I have worked with the good people at TCI for many years on all our art packing and shipping needs. The TCI team has helped me with many complicated projects and I depend on their expertise and advice a great deal. This particular dinner included a group of us who work with TCI including colleagues from Chicago, Colorado, and Florida. We were an animated party from the get go and boy was it fun. We headed out to an amazing Baltimore restaurant, Kali’s Court, and enjoyed a wonderful dinner among friends full of museum tales and more laughter. Time passed quickly that evening and many hours later, after fabulous food, lively conversation, and an unexpected limo ride back to our hotels, I was finally back in my room, exhausted yet satisfied with my day. Good night, Monday.

Can it really be the last day already?
Tuesday May 21

Waking up Tuesday, it was hard to believe that this was my last day in Baltimore. What a whirlwind and strange to think that when I finished the day I would be home in Charleston! Thankfully I did not have any breakfast obligations but sessions did begin at 8:45AM; no rest for the weary. I had a few minutes before the morning sessions so I braved the very long line for a Starbucks coffee and made my way to my first session, “Balancing Preservation Needs of Collections with the Integrity of the Building.” This session was packed with curators, registrars, conservators and exhibition designers, all eager to hear the latest discussion regarding guidelines for temperature and relative humidity for the preservation of artwork. The session was led by both conservators and engineers who discussed ways in which museums can address the integrity of the environment and their obligation to preserve our cultural heritage in the context of new, much broader environmental guidelines. A very interesting session indeed and one that I may expand upon in future blog posts!

I finished out the morning in a session about utilizing off-site collection storage facilities, a situation the Gibbes will find itself in while the museum is under renovation. Next, I was off to the annual business luncheon for the Registrars Committee of AAM, a professional organization I have been involved with for many years. This gathering of the RC membership includes reports from the national officers and committee chairs. As Chair of the Fellowship Committee, it was my responsibility to report on the monetary travel stipends presented to RC members. This is a wonderful part of the luncheon and I am always thrilled to recognize the Fellowship recipients, many of whom are emerging professionals and first time attendees of AAM. Awards were given, pictures were taken, promises to see each other soon were made, and then it was back to the conference.

Zinnia_Willits_Melanie-_Neil

Zinnia Willits with RC Fellowship recipient, Melanie Neil, Assistant Registrar at the Chrysler Museum of Art.

Of course I stayed late at the lunch to chat with members of the RC Executive Committee and do some impromptu brainstorming about the coming year, and soon found myself rushing to the 1:45pm session. Simply titled, “Legal Issues in Museums,” this was a session I had been looking forward to! The room was filled beyond capacity with standing room only. I really wanted to attend this session so I sat down on the floor in the middle of the aisle. It was worth it. The session was led by a panel of lawyers and a curator who work with art law, intellectual property and other fields related to museums. The audience was encouraged to ask the panel general questions and the lawyers weighed in. There were definitely some crazy questions as well as interesting situations to ponder, including a great query about copyright related to a pair of Christian Louboutin shoes in a museum collection.

After sitting on the floor for an hour and a half, I was ready to move on to a comfortable chair… or any chair. My final session that afternoon was on facilities planning in the current economy and reviewed several recent case studies including the Art Institute of Chicago’s 2006 Gallery Re-Installation Master Plan, which aimed to create the most beneficial display of collections while addressing visitor circulation and existing building deficiencies. I picked up good information at this session but admittedly, was beginning to reach my saturation level with information retention. I took a final stroll through the exhibit hall to say goodbye to friends and caught a great hands-on demonstration about art shipping crates. One of the art packers actually retrofitted a crate before our eyes to fit a piece of delicate porcelain safely and securely into a custom cavity. It was really cool! Soon however, it was time to bid adieu to the Baltimore Convention Center and my museum friends, old and new.

I convinced myself that I had time to stop in at one last event before heading to the airport. This gathering was for those of us from southern states representing the Southeastern Museums Conference (SEMC). After a few days of interacting on a national level it was wonderful to see all my southeastern colleagues gathered in one place. SEMC is comforting, familiar and supportive and I am so thankful I had time to drop in. As an added bonus, another reception for alumni of the University of South Carolina Public History Program (that’s me!) was happening at the same venue and I was able to see more friends from graduate school! However, all too soon, it was time for me to rush out again. Typical to my entire 2013 AAM experience, I left the reception late, literally ran to my hotel to retrieve my bag, and paid a cab driver an exorbitant amount of money to get me to the airport on time.

And so my story ends where it began, with my arrival back at work and the limited amount of information I was able to convey to staff. But now you finally have it all, my 2013 AAM experience in a (very big and wordy) nutshell. It was two and half days of non-stop talking, learning, networking, laughing, reminiscing and planning. It was thrilling and exhausting and I am ever thankful to have had the opportunity to represent the Gibbes!

Zinnia Willits, Director of Collections Administration, Gibbes Museum of Art

Endless Variety and Superabundance of Beauty

If Katy Huger or Harriet Smartt suggests that something might be interesting, fun, and informative—do it! That’s one of the things I’ve learned most recently as a member of the Gibbes Collection Committee, when I volunteered (upon their advice) to spend some time, as they have done much more generously, helping with an inventory project. My experience took me behind the scenes with Zinnia Willits, Director of Collections Administration, to a room with long tables, shelves, crates, and the Solander boxes which held the works on paper we’d be checking against inventory lists. The inventories Zinnia brought out for my session featured primarily Charleston Renaissance artists such as Prentiss Taylor, Charles Henry White, Leila Waring, Emma Gilchrist, Eola Willis, Thomas Addison Richards, and Antoinette Guerard Rhett; others on the list included Harold Tatum and Richard Lofton.

My M.A. is in Literature of the English Renaissance; what I realized I don’t know about Charleston Renaissance art could fill many of those afore-mentioned Solander boxes. Since I’ve confessed to having been an English major, I’ll admit that I was preoccupied for a bit wondering how these boxes were named. It’s fascinating to learn that they are so named in honor of Dr. Daniel Charles Solander, a botanist who traveled to the Pacific with Capt. Cook and later became the British Museum’s Keeper of Printed Books. He invented the boxes to provide safe storage for precious prints and manuscripts. Interesting! I went home and looked him up on a bookbinders’ webpage, finding out even more about him and his passion for archiving and conserving.

Solander Archival Storage Boxes

Solander archival storage boxes

But back to “my” project boxes and their tantalizing contents… Zinnia opened a box, handed me a printed list of images and description of the works we were to verify—about five images per page, each packet consisting of fifteen to thirty pages. The procedure was that she would carefully lift each work, call out its catalogue number, largely in numerical order by year, while I would find the corresponding item on the inventory list and check it off to show that its location had been verified. First, naturally, I was struck speechless (well, maybe not speechless enough; speed and efficiency were also Zinnia’s goals…) by the volume of each box’s contents, realizing that here in my short morning’s work I was seeing only a tiny slice of the Museums’ holdings. Second, I was impressed by the accuracy and thoroughness of the staff’s work, as evidenced by the matching of box contents and image lists. As a member of the Collections Committee, I knew how dedicated and talented the staff is, but here was proof in an area not polished for display.

Crabapple Blossoms, ca. 1920s By Antoinette Guerard Rhett

Crabapple Blossoms, ca. 1920s, by Antoinette Guerard Rhett (American, 1884–1964)

Perhaps most thrilling about my experience with the inventory projects was seeing the variety of subject and technique represented in just these boxes—though I had to remember that I was there to inventory, not examine! Here was Hutty’s student, Antoinette Guerard Rhett (whose husband, I later learned, was of the family for whom our house in Charleston is named!). I could have studied a long time her delicate, small-scale color etchings (Crabapple Blossoms, for example), influenced by Japanese design, I learned, and printed on paper as fragile as their subject. In fact, I could have taken one home to enjoy had Zinnia only stepped out of the room… Alas, she didn’t! Rhett’s titles, too, sometimes delighted; her image of two caterpillars on a leaf is titled The Courtship.

The Courtship, ca. 1920s, By Antoinette Guerard Rhett

The Courtship, ca. 1920s, by Antoinette Guerard Rhett (American, 1884–1964)

Here also were images by Leila Waring, whom I knew to be a leading figure with Alice Smith in reviving interest in miniatures. After having checked off many images of lovely gates, alleyways, buildings and gravestones, how interesting to see her pencil drawing of a young woman sitting on a rug. This resting figure with fluid dress and bobbed hair looked as though she might at any minute get up and resume dancing “The Charleston.”

Untitled (Young Woman Sitting on Rug), n. d., By Leila Waring (American, 1876 – 1964)

Untitled (Young Woman Sitting on Rug), n. d., by Leila Waring (American, 1876–1964)

As I was getting accustomed to the delicate lines and colors and fine detail of characterization of many Etchers’ Club artists, I was surprised and intrigued to see the woodblock by Richard Lofton (1908–1966) called Politicians: The Joke. No Spanish moss or soaring steeples or finely-wrought gates here! The face in profile is brutish—huge, sharp teeth—huge, threatening hands—and one figure has a kind of Death’s Head back view. Are they crowding in on a voter? Offering a flask? I could almost feel the ooze and stink. Was “The Joke” on the voters who elected these politicians?

Politicians, Number 2, The Joke, n. d, by Richard Lofton

Politicians, Number 2, The Joke, n. d., By Richard Lofton (American, 1908–1966)

Sometimes, reminiscent of discussions about acquisitions and de-accessions in the Collections Committee meetings, I was left wondering why some of the works were stored and maintained in several iterations although they didn’t seem to have a great deal of congruence with the collecting mission of The Gibbes. For example, the museum owns seven identical images by Harold Tatum of the often-depicted Construction Worker Resting [on a girder, skyscraper in background]. Those are issues which the staff and Director face daily, and this project has given me even more respect for and understanding of the delicate nature of these decisions.

On page nine of her beautiful book The Charleston Renaissance (1998), Martha Severens shares a quote from Charles Henry White, who said in a 1907 Harper’s article inspiring painters to visit and explore Charleston, “…as you press on, you are thrilled with a sense of the endless variety and superabundance of beauty that lures you… fearful that something might escape you…” That is a fair description of how I felt going through those Solander boxes during my inventory morning. Thank you, Zinnia, Harriet, and Katy, for encouraging me to take this opportunity—I pass on your encouragement to others! As Michaelangelo said in his 80s, “Ancora Imparo—I am always learning.”

Cathy Bennington Jenrette, Collections Committee Member and guest blogger

Create-A-Map Gets A Facelift!

Every teacher looks for ways to make learning “stick” and many will agree that hands-on lessons are the most unforgettable. The Gibbes Museum of Art has a portable kit called Create-A-Map that is totally hands-on, and it’s available for schools to use. With Create-A-Map, learning about South Carolina is fun, educational, and, most of all, memorable.

Gibbes Museum Create a Map

The Create-A-Map kit has been updated and is ready to travel to your school!

Create-A-Map allows students to construct a 9×12 foot, three dimensional map of South Carolina right on their classroom floor. The base is a large canvas floor cloth with the outline of the state and a numbered and lettered grid drawn on it to help guide the placement of cities, rivers, products, etc. Participants are divided into seven “teams” and for each team there is a small map for reference and a box of items to place on the floor map.

Adding SC Products to the floor map

Students can add their game pieces to the floor map.

The “Cities” Team has nine plastic cups, labeled with city names and covered with artwork and photos, to place on the grid. The “Rivers and Lakes” Team uses blue ropes and foam-board lakes. “Interstate Highways” are represented with long black strips affixed with Matchbox cars. The “Regions” Team divides the state with yellow ropes, and then adds labels, bean-bag mountains, and sandhills to the floor map. “Products” (a tiny basket of cotton, strawberries, a toy boat for shipping, etc.), “State Symbols” (a piece of blue granite, a plastic spotted salamander, etc.), and “People” representing famous South Carolina citizens (each represented with a small scrapbook), round out the teams. The map can be assembled in about an hour, and when it’s finished, it’s loaded with information that can foster discussions and further study. The map was an idea that began as an outdoor project at the museum more than fifteen years ago. Using the back patio of the museum as the grid, student visitors built an enormous South Carolina map right in the courtyard. The next step in its development was to make a travelling kit that would fit in a classroom, and Create-A-Map was born.

SC Products ready to be placed on map

Some of the products important to South Carolina’s agricultural economy.

Over the years the kit has been used by many schools and has been revised several times. This year the museum asked me to refurbish Create-A-Map, bring it up-to-date with school standards and technology, and streamline it for easier use. I’ve always been a big fan of the kit because it combines social studies, geography, history, mapping skills, art appreciation, problem-solving, and teamwork! It was my pleasure to tweak it for 2013.

A completed map

A completed map includes regions, people, products and other details specific to the state of South Carolina.

Those of you who have used the kit before might notice some changes. I added the outline of South Carolina directly to the floor cloth so students wouldn’t have to lay out the border with a rope (which never stayed put!). I added a team for famous South Carolinians and made a tiny “scrapbook” to represent each of the ten people. I reworked the regions team to comply with the SC standards. The instructions and team boxes have been streamlined so now the entire kit fits into one rolling bin (2’6” x 1’6” x 1’2”).

The new kit is complete and ready to go! Reserve it for your classroom by contacting Rebecca Sailor at the Gibbes Museum by phone, 843-722-2706 x41, or via email at rsailor@gibbesmuseum.org. We would love your feedback, and we hope you enjoy the new and improved Create-A-Map!

Mary Droge, Gibbes Museum Educator and guest blogger

« Previous PageNext Page »