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

A Summer Behind-the-Scenes at the Gibbes Museum

Interning at the Gibbes Museum of Art for the majority of this summer has been an absolute privilege and certainly an eye-opener towards discovering the elements that allow a museum to function successfully. Here, I have been exposed to almost every different department, a few being Development, Curatorial and Collections Management, and Education Programs. Given the opportunity to assist various staff-members in these departments, I have entered an incredibly determined, passionate, and efficient network of people. The museum staff have devoted an immeasurable amount of effort and enthusiasm towards interpreting and preserving the meanings of various art collections that derive from Charleston and the South. Throughout my time here, I have noticed that the Gibbes’s mission—to preserve and promote the art of Charleston and the American South—rings true within the museum as well as with local communities and visitors to the Lowcountry.

Gibbes Renovation Rendering

A cross-section of the building reveals plans for a renovation to the Gibbes Museum of Art.

In my first week, I was introduced to the more “executive” facet of the Gibbes, working with the Development team. I learned that the museum is not-for-profit and depends on funding from various sources including private trusts and foundation grants, as well as individual and corporate gifts, for its daily operations and to maintain its collection. Each fiscal year the Development team starts all over to identify funding sources that will help with the operations of the museum. I realized how much more work and fortitude is essential in order for a non-profit organization to function. During my time in the Development office, I also learned about plans for an extremely substantial and thoughtfully planned renovation that will commence in the summer of 2014. Throughout each meeting that I was attended, staff-members delivered innovative and fascinating ideas contributing to the plans of the redesign, and further emphasizing the importance of preserving the Gibbes’ mission statement. I am ecstatic to see the end result and to be able to watch everyone’s ideas blossom as they come to life in 2016!

After working with the Development group, my directors provided me with a complete change of scene. For the next week, I assisted with the summer art camp and my coworkers consisted of creative mini-Picassos. It was remarkable to see how eager and focused the children were when it came to organizing their ideas and then tactfully putting them onto paper. The end result was fantastic, expressive, and always original! As they discovered their artistic abilities, the enthusiastic teacher Kristen Solecki also enlightened the children about contemporary artists such as Jasper Johns and Mary Whyte. The children were interested to use the work of the artists that they learned about as models for their own pieces of art, incorporating characteristics of abstract and modern artwork into their own masterpieces.

Instructor Kristen Solecki with campers.

Camp Instructor, Kristen Solecki, teaches campers about color palettes.

For the next two weeks, I worked with the Collections Management and Curatorial departments. With Collections Management, I was always on my feet and was able to see each different part of the museum, and even took a thrilling adventure into “deep, dark storage” where sizeable amounts of artwork were carefully kept. I was so lucky to be able to see and even handle some of the artwork, including marvelous paintings, many delicate miniatures, and valuable sketches done by Alice Ravenel Huger Smith. As I worked in these departments, I learned about numerous past exhibitions, even those that took place during the early 1900s. These departments provided me with an amazing view into the museum’s past and historical culture, as well as a wonderfully close look at the collection.

Receiving an inside look at the careful consideration of curating exhibitions, establishing connections to the community, promoting educational programs, and further projects that define the creative purpose of the Gibbes, I have seen the museum’s mission statement continue to speak louder and grow more meaningful each day. The Gibbes Museum of Art is built upon and held together by a thoughtful, strong, well connected, and ambitious group of people with whom I have had the absolute pleasure of being able to work.

Elizabeth McGehee, Porter-Gaud High School Intern and guest blogger

2013 is the second year of a partnership between Porter-Gaud School and the Gibbes Museum of Art. Made possible by the generous support of past Porter-Gaud parents Mr. and Mrs. Charlie Wendell, this internship is designed to enrich a student’s knowledge of art history and the museum profession.

Days (Not So) Beyond Recall: An Intern’s Reflection on Art and Change

At the start of each day of my summer internship at Gibbes Museum of Art, I walk past Michael Tyzack’s Days Beyond Recall on my way into the office. It is great way for any person enthusiastic about visual arts to start their day, but lately, this part of my routine has taken on more meaning.

Since the start of my Master of Library and Information Science program, change has been a reoccurring motif, and one that I cannot help but contemplate frequently, especially now that I myself am in the midst of a lot of changes taking place in my own life… Today is my 26th birthday. I am now a Reference Librarian at my alma mater, College of Charleston, working at Addlestone Library. Tomorrow marks two and a half years of being married to my husband, an art educator in Colleton County School District. The last day of my internship at Gibbes is only 15 days away. In just 20 days, I will turn in my final project for Humanities and Art Information Services—my last course in the MLIS program. And in 24 days I will graduate from The University of South Carolina.

Days Beyond Recall, 1982, by Michael Tyzack

Days Beyond Recall, 1982, by Michael Tyzack (British, 1933–2007)

So, I am in a transitional stage of sorts, and I suppose this has led to a significant amount of reflection. My thoughts about the future are much like Tyzack’s painting—bright and alluring, though nonetheless abstract.

The title of the piece, Days Beyond Recall, denotes a time that has long since passed. I see now that my days as a student are coming to a close. And slightly to my chagrin, I admit that I am growing up and will probably continue to do so. I see that this time in my life will soon be a part of my past. However, I can’t see how these days could ever be beyond my recollection of them. They are far too memorable. And after all, everything I have worked at thus far will contribute to my future, whatever it may hold. Still, the unknown that comes with change can be daunting at times. I have found that focusing on what I know about change can help me cope.

Much of my graduate curricula and the LIS profession have revolved around a notion of embracing change. Technology and the overall realm of information are now tremendously different, among other things. In any case, if libraries are to continue to meet the needs of the communities they serve, they must adapt and develop new services accordingly. Succeeding at this can mean improvement. Information settings can then encourage intellectual and personal growth more effectively.

Art museums are no exclusion. As an emerging information professional, I have enjoyed being at the Gibbes this summer, and seeing an undertaking of such a valuable transformation in real life. The museum, as you may know, is preparing not only for being physically under construction, but there are also plans for re-branding. The goal is to make the Museum more relevant to its community, and to enhance the experience of visitors through reform of educational services and visual art information services.

Intern Alison Paul

Intern Alison Paul worked on Social Media and marketing campaigns for the museum this summer.

Perhaps you are wondering how a Public Programs & Marketing internship pertains to a LIS student. Although I may not be specifically handling books, I am most certainly working with information. Careers in Library and Information Science are evolving beyond their traditional forms. To remain valuable, it will be important to think of our work and skills more broadly. My summer reading—Rethinking Information Work: A Career Guide for Librarians and Other Information Professionals by G. Kim Dority—has been teaching me this. So, the value of a non-traditional LIS internship experience in a world immersed in change is an important one that has helped me to diversify my skill set.

Over the summer, there have also been changes in my understanding: I have learned how my research skills can support the development of the Gibbes’ brand, exhibitions, and programs. I have seen firsthand how information can be used and made available in ways that engage the Museum’s visitors and enhance its web presence and overall visibility in the eye of the public. Most importantly, I now realize how my specialization can help to advocate for the Gibbes, and foster its community’s love of art and culture.

Despite all of these changes, I feel that some things will remain as they are. The core values will persist—those of both the LIS profession and Gibbes Museum of Art. Also, my own values—my love for art and lifelong learning are still intact, perhaps even more so than ever before—I am just learning how to apply them in new and meaningful ways.

Just as we change, so can the way we see and respond to art. This is similar to rereading a book. We often will gain something different from the experience because we are at a different stage in our lives. I look forward to discovering new meaning upon viewing Days Beyond Recall in the years to come!

Alison Paul, public programs and marketing intern and guest blogger
[Written July 17, 2013]

The Art of Being a Curator: Details Matter!

I feel so lucky to be a collections and curatorial summer intern at the Gibbes Museum of Art! I have learned a lot about both curatorial and collections management work every day. I even got a chance to organize the Artist Spotlight exhibitions in Gallery H, which is located on the first floor next to the stairwell. I used to be a curatorial assistant in my undergraduate university’s museum, but this was my first time to actually curate an exhibition all by myself!

Molly hanging object labels.

Molly installs object labels in the gallery, making sure they are hung at the correct height and spacing.

I started my work by researching the themes of the exhibition. Later on, I used PastPerfect, which is a powerful collections management software, to help me manage the exhibition details. I needed to consider a series of questions for preparation, such as the size of the art works, their condition, whether the works were framed, and if I would need exhibition furniture for display. I also needed to prepare all of the text materials for the exhibition. The logic and order of artworks are also of great importance. In other words, this time I was no longer an assistant, but a real “curator!” It was so exciting to have this chance!!

Measuring a display case.

Measuring a display case.

As a student from architecture school, I also practiced what I had learned in my studio class when designing the exhibition. Google SketchUp is a very basic and easy-to-use software for architectural design. Architects never use it for professional drawings, but I found it perfect for curatorial work! It helped me measure and organize the works in the space quickly, and also provided me with a multi-perspective preview of the exhibition. I felt excited to put my school knowledge to good use!

Google Sketch-Up drawing.

A Google SketchUp drawing for the Art of the Print exhibition.

Google Sketch-Up Image

A schematic drawing of an exhibition of works by Edward Middleton Manigault.

By working on the two exhibitions in Gallery H for the coming fall, I realized the importance of details in curatorial work. For example, one thing to remember when writing for a museum text panel is many of my readers will be first-time visitors. Therefore, text materials should be clear, readable, and interesting. Another important method I learned was how to arrange multiple profile portraits. Visitors feel more comfortable when seeing two portraits facing one another rather than hanging back to back. In addition, it’s better to have a figure in a portrait staring at another image rather than staring at a corner or a wall. These types of details are carefully considered by a curator—hopefully the visitor won’t even think about it—and the impact on a whole exhibition can be huge. That is why sometimes we feel comfortable when visiting an exhibition, while other times we feel weird or unsettled. Art is to a gallery like notes are to a symphony—they are following harmony rhythms and melodies, and the “symphony” of a museum is carefully composed by its curators.

A current installation of works by George Biddle in the H-Gallery.

A current installation of works by George Biddle (1885–1973) in the H-Gallery.

I hope you will enjoy the upcoming Spotlight exhibitions about Edward Middleton Manigault and Gibbes’ outstanding collection of prints! Come and visit Gibbes Museum this fall!

Molly Huang, collections and curatorial summer intern and guest blogger

Summer Art Camp: An Intern’s Perspective

Working with Rebecca Sailor, curator of education, at the Gibbes Summer Art Camp has been a unique experience that has allowed me to see many aspects and details that go into working with a prominent local art museum. As the Education Department intern, I’ve had the opportunity to work with different groups of children each week as they engage their creativity through various art mediums and styles.

Young campers explore Modern Art.

Intern Caroline Haygood helps campers ages 4 – 7 explore Modern Art styles and techniques.

It is particularly fun for me to be able to work with new groups of campers each week. I have spent a significant amount of time with children, from interning as a third-grade teaching assistant, to being a full time nanny each summer. Working with children in the early developmental stage can be challenging, but extremely rewarding. There is a great deal to learn from young children who are just beginning to exercise their imaginative minds, and helping out in the Gibbes Art Camp has certainly been an ideal spot for me. I enjoy watching the transition from aimless doodling at the beginning of the week to thoughtful projects towards the end of the session— especially in the 4 to 6 year-old age group. During each session, children learn to take their time and to follow instructions, as well as how to use different mediums, textures, and styles to convey their creative ideas.

I appreciate the way the Gibbes structures their sessions. Our first session taught printmaking, and was a neat way to understand how art can be reproduced many times over. The next session, focusing on modern art, has also been incredibly interesting as the children learned to paint portraits like Mary Whyte, or attempted marble splatter paintings like Jackson Pollack. I look forward to our last sessions, which will examine Charleston’s rich history and connection to the beautiful sea landscape.

Instructor Kristen Solecki with campers.

Camp Instructor, Kristen Solecki, talks with campers about color palettes.

I have thoroughly admired the guidance of our camp teacher, Kristen Solecki. She is not only a successful local artist, but also an experienced teacher who continually inspires the children to work to their best ability and seek meaning in their art. Her artistic talent and knowledge provide a great example for the children, and she helps them recognize that their artwork can be appreciated and admired.

My favorite part of working with the Gibbes Summer Art Camp is our weekly trip to tour the museum galleries. The campers spend each week learning about new artists, such as Jasper Johns and Jackson Pollock. They are enthusiastic about the chance to view works of art in the styles they’ve been emulating in the classroom. As an adult, I am inspired to see young children gaining an appreciation for art through outlets like the Gibbes Summer Art Camp. So many young people do not have the opportunity to gain insight into their local artists and exhibits, and the Gibbes has made that possible for these campers.

Parents and campers enjoy an art show at week's end.

Parents and campers enjoy an Art Show at week’s end.

Although it is just three hours each morning, by the end of the week the children have incredible displays of all the artwork they have made. I love the way the children’s’ faces light up at the art show on Fridays when they proudly get to reveal to their parents the many projects they’ve worked on throughout the week.

Caroline Hagood, Education Department summer intern and guest blogger

Stroll down King Street on Second Sunday

Second Sunday on King Street is the brainchild of Susan Lucas of the King Street Marketing Group. If you haven’t come downtown for one of these events, you are missing out! With the streets closed off to traffic, King Street is transformed into a European city where strolling is a time honored tradition. Second Sunday draws tourists, locals, children, and even dogs who stroll in and out of delightful boutiques, stop for lunch at some of Charleston’s favorite restaurants, and of course, visit the Gibbes Museum.

King Street Second Sunday

The Gibbes offers three Free-Admission Sundays throughout the year. We have waived admission on select days for many years because it’s a way for us to open our doors and give back to the community. This is the first year that we have partnered with Second Sunday, and we want to encouraging strollers to continue down King Street, through the Gateway Walk next to the Charleston Library Society, and come into the museum.

Mending a Break in a Rice-Field Bank, from the series A Carolina Rice Plantation of the Fifties

Post-Conservation

This Sunday, July 14, visitors will have the rare opportunity to experience the stunning watercolor series, A Carolina Rice Plantation of the Fifties, by Alice Ravenel Huger Smith. This collection is not often on display because of the fragile nature of the watercolors. Curator of Exhibitions Pam Wall wrote an earlier post “A Commitment to Conservation” about the museum’s efforts to restore and preserve the vibrant colors of the watercolor series. In the recent article, “The Quandry of Alice Ravenel Huger Smith” Post and Courier Arts Editor Adam Parker writes, “Smith was a master manipulator of watercolor, creating images, landscapes mostly, influenced by Japanese printmaking and woodblocks and romantic English art that transformed the objects of nature into symbol, myth and memory.” This exhibition will close on Sunday so the free admission day gives visitors a final chance to see the works as a whole.

The Spoleto Watercolors of Stephen Mueller and Carl Palazzolo From the Collection of David and Carol Rawle is on display in the Rotunda galleries, and People’s Choice: A Community – Curated Exhibition is on view in the Main Gallery.

This Sunday we are also excited to offer visitors the chance to meet Monica Karales, widow of award winning photographer James Karales. Come to the Museum Store from 1 – 4pm for a special book signing as Ms. Karales celebrates the release of the book documenting the life of her late husband, Controversy and Hope: The Civil Rights Photographs of James Karales, by Julian Cox with Rebekah Jacob and Monica Karales. Stunning photographs chronicling the Civil Rights Movement were on view at the Gibbes in the recent exhibition Witness to History: Civil Rights Era Photographs by James Karales.

Ms. Johnson (Estelle), 1972, By Barkley Hendricks (American, b. 1945) 

So this Sunday, take advantage of our free admission and stroll through the museum. One of the best parts about my job is that I get to do that on a daily basis. On my way into the office I am greeted by the Veiled Lady. On my way to lunch I walk past Ms. Johnson (Estelle) and on my way home at the end of the day, I pass Persephone bathing in the courtyard garden. I am so grateful to have this opportunity to surround myself with art, and am excited that our free admission days will give visitors that same opportunity. Stroll down King Street this weekend, and come say hello to Ms. Johnson.

Amy Mercer, Marketing and Communications Manager, Gibbes Museum of Art

Upcoming Free Admission Days:
Saturday, September 28, 10am – 5pm: Smithsonian Museum Day Live! Must present pass, available on smithsonianmag.com, to be eligible for free admission.
Sunday, October 13, 1 – 5pm: Second Sunday Free Admission Day
February 9, 2014, 1 – 5pm: Second Sunday Free Admission Day

Artist Spotlight: George Biddle (1885–1973)

This summer the spotlight is on Philadelphia native, George Biddle (1885–1973). Biddle spent most of his childhood in New England. He went to the Groton School, where President Franklin Roosevelt was a classmate, and received both his undergraduate and law degree from Harvard. In 1911, upon graduating law school and passing the Pennsylvania Bar exam, Biddle left a career in law behind setting off for Paris, France, to study art at the Académie Julian. Over the next five years, Biddle also studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, learned printmaking in Madrid, Spain, and spent summers in Giverny, France, to study Impressionism. After serving in World War I, he traveled extensively, going to Tahiti, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Cuba, the West Indies, and France.

The Battery, Evening, 1931, by George Biddle

The Battery, Evening, 1931, by George Biddle

In 1928, Biddle traveled to Mexico with muralist Diego Rivera. He spent six months with Rivera, learning the techniques of mural painting and soaking up the social and political ideas embodied within the art of the state supported Mexican School. In 1933, Biddle wrote a letter to President Roosevelt, his boyhood friend, campaigning for a government funded arts program to use as a platform for “expressing in living monuments the social ideals [President Roosevelt] was struggling to express.” The letter was acted on almost immediately and by year’s end the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) was established—the predecessor of the Federal Arts Project (FAP).

The Crowd, Folly Beach, 1930 By George Biddle

The Crowd, Folly Beach, 1930 By George Biddle

Biddle spent May and June of 1930 in Charleston, South Carolina, sketching a series of illustrations for George and Ira Gershwin, who were then developing the opera Porgy and Bess based on the 1925 novel Porgy, written by Charleston native Dubose Heyward. While Biddle was in town, Heyward encouraged him to explore downtown Charleston and the piers of Folly Beach. During those two months, Biddle created works reflecting the spirit and customs of everyday life and developed a large folio of drawings and watercolors recording the social and cultural landscapes of Charleston.

Sara Arnold, Curator of Collections, Gibbes Museum of Art

Works by George Biddle are on view at the Gibbes Museum through September 29, 2013, in the H Gallery.

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