Search Results for 'civil war'

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

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

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

Exhibition banners along Meeting Street

Exhibition banners along Meeting Street

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

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

Portrait of William Houston House, 1862–65

Portrait of William Houston House, 1862–65

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

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

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

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

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

Maggie Jordan, Visitor Services and Retail Assistant

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.

Prize Winners

As submissions pour in for the 1858 Prize for Contemporary Southern Art (formerly named the Factor Prize), I’ve been thinking about the individual artists from across the southeast who are submitting their work for review. Before I came on board as the marketing manager of the Gibbes Museum, I worked from home as a freelance writer and in that role I frequently submitted my work to various writing prizes. It was hard at first, getting my hopes up and being let down, but eventually the submission process became easier and I won a small prize from a publication in my home-state of Vermont. Winning was thrilling, and even though I had been writing since childhood, the prize made me feel like a “real writer.” Winning gave me the confidence to go to graduate school to earn my MFA, and I can even credit that small prize with the publication of my first book. The experience gave me the recognition and confidence to continue to pursue my writing.

Now that I am working on the other side of a prize, I’ve been curious to know whether my experience was unique or universal. I wanted to know if winning the 1858 Prize for Contemporary Southern Art affected the five artists in a similar manner. Did the prize give these artists the confidence to dig deeper in their careers? Did wining the prize help them define themselves as “real artists”? Seeking answers to these questions, I reached out to past winners to ask them to share how winning the prize has affected their career. Below you will read the answers.

Jeff Whetstone is the 2008 winner and says,

“Winning the Factor Prize in 2008 opened several new possibilities in my career. I was able to expand my approach to portraying and describing the Southern landscape and its people by moving into new mediums. I produced two short films with support of the Factor Prize that were shown at the Moving Image Art Fair and at a solo exhibition in New York. Without the funding and the broader support of the Gibbes Museum this work would have never been a reality.”

Untitled from the Passage on the Underground Railroad

Untitled from the Passage on the Underground Railroad, by Stephen Marc.

The 2009 winner, Stephen Marc, shared,

“Two of the most significant and memorable events in my life happened in the South. The first was in 1976, while running track for Pomona College when the NAIA (National Athletic Intercollegiate Association) national championship meet was held at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, AR. I became an NAIA All American, placing 2nd in the 110 meter High Hurdles. The second event was receiving this prize.”

Tobacco Blues by Radcliffe Bailey

Tobacco Blues by Radcliffe Bailey, 2010 Winner.

Radcliffe Bailey is the 2010 winner and a frequent traveler who is difficult to pin down! Bailey’s work has gained recognition in the last two years and he is best known for his mixed media works and site-specific installations that explore his personal background and the history of African Americans. Bailey’s work is included in the collections of many prestigious organizations including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the High Museum of Art, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Patrick Dougherty won the Prize in 2011. He replied,

“After 30 years of working day-in and day-out as a sculptor, I was delighted to receive the call with the news that I had been selected for the 2011 Factor Prize. I was working on a new sapling sculpture in Dayton, Ohio, when the call came and I nearly fell off the scaffolding in surprise. (…) This journey has allowed me access to a variety of organizations, an ever-changing public, and a portal to the world of ideas. Thank you for the Factor Prize and all the opportunities that it will bring.”

For John Westmark, winning the Prize was a real boost on many levels. Receiving critical acclaim has helped validate his work and has served as great personal motivation to continue pursuing his art with passion. Westmark explains, “Without opportunities and acknowledgements such as the Factor Prize, an artist runs the risk of toiling away in relative obscurity.”

John Westmark and family

2012 Prize winner John Westmark with his family at the opening reception of his solo exhibition, Narratives, at the Gibbes Museum of Art.

Westmark’s success has come full circle and on April 4, 2014, we opened a solo exhibition of his latest work titled John Westmark: Narratives. This is the first time his work is being exhibited in a museum setting and the reviews have been overwhelmingly positive. In Southern Glossary, Brad Rhines writes “Some of the most evocative paintings from this series show women on the attack, often organized in battle formations and carrying rifles or flags. The scenes are reminiscent of images from the Civil War or the American Revolution, iconic depictions of revolt. The painting Exaltation riffs on the theme of women at war, but the moment captured is more stylized.” In an article entitled “Painting feminism: Before Gibbes Museum starts renovations, a dynamic exhibit of works by John Westmark” the Post & Courier Arts Writer Adam Parker writes, “The judges were especially impressed with Westmark’s emphasis on narrative, which is in line with Southern storytelling, according to museum director Angela Mack.”

Winning the Prize has brought attention to these five artists’ work, which is exactly the point. The $10,000 cash award helps support an artist’s career, but the recognition is likely more important. I was not surprised to discover in my research that winning a prize is equally significant for writers and artists alike!

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

Submissions for the 1858 Prize for Contemporary Southern Art are being accepted through May 28, 2014. To submit a portfolio for consideration, please visit 1858Prize.org.

My Charleston Story, as told by the In-House Graphic Designer

Few designers have the privilege of working alongside masterpieces of art, and I count myself among those lucky few!

Six months ago, I joined the Gibbes Museum of Art as the new in-house graphic designer, and I’ve been pinching myself ever since. I recall the rainy summer Charleston day when I interviewed for this position. During the interview, Executive Director Angela Mack made the poignant observation that people in the arts often follow a path that is more meandering than straight-lined. Such has been the case for me. Although I came armed with a BA in graphic design and MFA in illustration, my path has indeed been a meandering one.

Erin Bennett Banks

Erin Bennett Banks

It began over a decade ago, when I left my hometown in upstate New York to venture down south for graduate school. With formal training in graphic design, illustration and studio art, I sought out to build a creative, integrated, meaningful life.

The next ten years were spent building my freelance illustration portfolio, while cultivating a professional career at the Savannah College of Art and Design. My role as director of scholarships, admission, and regional recruitment took me all over the globe, participating in numerous gallery and museum based events around the United States, China and Korea. In fact, during my last years at SCAD, as part of an effort to align with premier galleries and art museums, we began hosting annual information sessions at the Gibbes Museum of Art. I remember thinking this would be an incredible place to work. Kismet in motion!

Fast-forward to today. Not only am I working for a premier art museum, but one that is dedicated to preserving and promoting the art of Charleston and the American South. Surrounded by history, art and story. This resonates. I thrive on storytelling, whether it be using graphic design to tell the story of the Gibbes, or using my oil paints to create an illustration. My dual-career in illustration has often focused on traditional narratives and historic themes, ideas that continue to gain inspiration from my role at the Gibbes.

On my “commute” to the museum, I walk through the canopy of trees (the hidden Gateway Walk) and approach the iconic century-old building, and I am cognizant of my unique role. I get to design all of the print materials for this amazing art museum!

Graphic designers are the ultimate visual communicators. My goal is always to organize information in a way that clearly communicates the message in a beautiful way. As a designer, I have the power to pair together fonts and images into materials that connect with viewers and make a lasting impression. If I succeed, then each person that encounters a Gibbes branded piece will catch a glimpse of the Gibbes experience, a teaser that culminates in more foot traffic and deeper devotees.

<em>Photography and the American Civil War</em> banner

Photography and the American Civil War banner.

Upon my inaugural tour of the Gibbes gallery space in late August, I was given my first assignment: to create all of the museum signage for Photography and the American Civil War, the record-breaking fall exhibition organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Posters of gilt-framed Civil War soldiers. My responsibilities included: banners featuring original Matthew Brady photographs, and old-timey typefaces and sepia toned images (a haunting contrast to the current Romantic Spirits exhibition). It was a sweet introduction to the thrill of welcoming a new exhibit every few months.

And that was only the beginning. Next, I was asked to design collateral for the Distinguished Lecture Series, featuring a Picasso (pinch) and Cubist art collector Leonard A. Lauder, Chairman Emeritus of The Estée Lauder Companies Inc. Then we moved onto the Gibbes Women’s Council Art of Design invitation honoring renowned New York interior designer Charlotte Moss. This project was followed closely by a collaboration with auxiliary group Gibbes, etc. to create the Kiawah Art & House Tour materials. Ads, posters, postcards and such, for a myriad of Gibbes events, exhibitions, educational programming, and of course, the epic Annual Report (a member magazine that includes information on exhibitions, programs, events, education, development and the financials for the past fiscal year)!

Gibbes Annual Report

The Gibbes 2013 Annual Report cover.

One of the benefits of working as an in-house designer is the opportunity to build relationships and become truly invested in the mission of the organization. And so, I’ve been warmly welcomed by the immensely talented Gibbes staff and wildly supportive auxiliary groups. This is the life force that is so necessary in the arts community, reminding Charleston about the importance of supporting the city’s only visual arts museum. Now I get to be part of this life force.

I continue to work as an illustrator, which I juggle alongside my dream job at the Gibbes. As an illustrator I’ve created three nationally published children’s books, which have earned recognition in The New York Times’ Best Children’s Books, The Washington Post, and Parents magazine, as well as the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Award and Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights Outstanding Book Award. Other clients have included Highlights for Children Magazine, The Weekly Reader and Harvard Business Review. And I occasionally pause to participate in a gallery show. My work has been featured in collaborative shows with Faith Ringgold, Benny Andrews, and Eric Carle (The Very Hungry Caterpillar illustrator & author) in exhibitions at the Asheville Art Museum and other galleries in the southeast. Locally, my work has been highlighted in Charleston City Paper, The Post and Courier’s Charleston Scene and the cover of Art Mag.

<em>Patchwork Path</em> Cover by Erin Banks

The Patchwork Path, cover by Erin Banks.

I also teach Drawing and Photoshop classes at Trident Technical College and have recently worked as a consultant for the Columbus College of Art and Design in Ohio, endeavors that keep me connected to higher education.

And although I’ll always be hopelessly devoted to my native New York, I consider myself an adopted Southerner. Married to my Southern soul mate (and co-artist Timothy Banks), we live a thoroughly creative, chaotic life together with a toddler, baby, and two Southern pugs.

I couldn’t be happier. And I couldn’t work for a more inspiring, culturally significant landmark in the heart of the most beautiful city in the world. Charleston is lucky to have a gem like the Gibbes Museum of Art. And I am so lucky to add the Gibbes to my story now.

Erin Bennett Banks, Graphic Designer, Gibbes Museum of Art

New Experiences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interns Amelia Roland, Chase Hughes, and Hannah Shepard

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

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

Chase Hughes, Education Intern and guest blogger

Changing the World through the Visual Arts

Nelson Mandela Education quote

Nelson Mandela on the importance of education.

Last week the world lost Nelson Mandela; a great man who left a significant mark not only on the world, but on humanity. At the time of his death, my ten-year-old daughter noticed all of the news coverage and inquired about him. What did he do? Why was he important? Of course, I provided her with a basic summary that she might be able to comprehend, but then I began to consider the larger themes reflected by this person and his role in the history of humankind. As he stated, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

This year the American Academy of Arts and Sciences published a study on the significance of the humanities. In this study entitled The Heart of the Matter, and the partnering video, the value of humanities is reflected upon as it serves to “remind us where we have been and help us envision where we are going.” Screenwriter and Director George Lucas shares his thoughts on the importance of science and technology in partnership with the humanities by saying, “science is the how and the humanities are the why.” He then argues “we cannot have the how without the why.” As a liberal arts major, I find it particularly disturbing that according to the study, “less than a quarter of 8th and 12th grade students are proficient in reading, writing, and civics.” The study goes on to say that “three out of four employers want schools to place more emphasis on the skills that the humanities and social sciences teach: critical thinking and complex problem-solving, as well as written and oral communication.”

The visual arts are a significant component of the humanities and decades of studies reveal that effective arts education promotes self-directed learning, sharpens critical skills, develops self-awareness, and improves school attendance. Yet a recent study from the National Endowment for the Arts on The Arts and Achievement in At-Risk Youth tells us that “nearly four million elementary school students do not get any visual arts instruction at school during their formative learning years.” In recent weeks, a number of articles have been published, such as the New York Times article entitled Art Makes You Smart, that emphasize the critical need for humanities programs including arts education. How will a ten-year old like my daughter be able to better understand the future world and her place without subjects like history and art?

Ashley River School group

Elise Detterbeck with students from Ashley River Creative School of the Arts.

To me the Gibbes Museum is a center for creativity that addresses these issues by offering solutions and resources. Museums are places where education thrives, and the Gibbes is no exception. It is a place that combines the how and the why. James Shoolbred Gibbes, who founded the museum after Reconstruction, envisioned a locus for creative capital in Charleston, and by providing it, he hoped to retain the area’s best and brightest minds. The academy-style institution he established continues this tradition to this day. Arts education remains central to the mission of the Gibbes and serves as a center of creativity for students and adults. From in-school programs such as Art to Go, Eye Spy, and Eye Opener, developed in conjunction with S.C. Learning Standards, to on-site museum programs such as Courage by the Sea: Revolutionary Tales of the Gibbes Family, where students become actors in a drama that traces the history of Charleston from the Revolutionary War to the dawning of the Civil War, these outstanding programs allow students within our community to stretch their minds and develop their potential.

At this time of year, I always reflect upon the past year and count my blessings. I can truly say that I am happy to have a place like the Gibbes Museum that stimulates innovation and discussion and offers our community a place to integrate our past with our future. I encourage you to take part in one of our many programs and to help share these programs with others. I also thank you for continually supporting the Gibbes and transforming education in the Lowcountry for generations to come.

Jennifer Ross, major gifts and grants consultant, Gibbes Museum of Art

Curating Conversations

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

Lieutenant Governor Glenn McConnell at the Gibbes Museum.

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

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

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

Photography and the American Civil War

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

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

Intern Amelia Roland

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

Amelia Roland, Public Programs & Marketing Intern and guest blogger

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

Memphis Music, the King, and All the Others

Me and Elvis we were cool with the chicks
We had a smooth delivery and we knew how to get our kicks
Me and Elvis never worried ‘bout the cops
He flashed that badge he got from Nixon every time that we got stopped
Me and Elvis used to play pinball all day
And the machines would never tilt, no one ever had to pay
Me and Elvis liked our leather jackets black
And we’d ride up and down the river in a brand new Cadillac
Me and Elvis, Elvis and I…
Human Radio (1990)

Elvis Presley, Chattanooga, 1956, by Alfred Wertheimer (American, b. 1929)

Elvis Presley, Chattanooga, 1956, by Alfred Wertheimer (American, b. 1929), pigment print on watercolor paper, © Alfred Wertheimer

I always say, Memphis music is about one-third of any Memphis boy’s discourse, the other two-thirds being the Civil War and barbecue. Those are not rules of my own creation; it just works out that way.

By the time I was old enough to appreciate the world around me, several huge figures in Memphis music had come and gone, some tragically, others by choice or poor fortune. W. C. Handy, the first person to put Memphis music on the map, died in 1958, five years before I was born. Otis Redding and four of the Bar-Kays were killed in a plane crash in 1967, and Stax Studio, home of the Memphis sound, went bankrupt in 1975. Also, the owner of Graceland was found dead in his upstairs lounge on August 16, 1977. However, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s comment that “There are no second acts in American lives” does not apply to Memphis music. If anything, Memphis is the musical cat that has nine lives, and quite possibly more.

Growing up, we took great music for granted. Even though I can barely read a note of music, the Memphis music experience is such an immersive one that most people who are like me—eclectic listeners, really—recognize Memphis as the center of not one, but several schools of quality sound. Clubs and concerts featured acts coming through the city who wanted to play Memphis just for the sake of playing Memphis. The Sex Pistols played Memphis on January 6, 1978, one of their seven American stops before their breakup.

By the time I was in college, I started hearing the stories and meeting a lot of the people. It seemed like every guy I knew in Memphis said he was a musician; some guys actually were. A lot of us would go drink beer in places where bands played. Even in Memphis there are awful gigs, of course, and I remember two guys I know absolutely murdering a cover of the Eurythmics “Here Comes the Rain Again.” Another night, I remember a metal band in a low rent club crucifying a baby-doll on a drum stand while the band members stripped and danced naked around the scene. Those guys are probably accountants or database administrators now.

I was not impervious to it all, by any means. I learned to run sound a little, I ran laser shows for a while—I titled and co-produced the longest running Elvis laser light show to date back in the 1980s—Elvis: Legacy in Light, a sanctioned event of Elvis International Tribute Week. Later on, I even moved pianos—possibly the heaviest work I’ve ever had outside working for my dad—for a rockabilly piano player named Jason D. Williams, a man who claims to be Jerry Lee Lewis’s illegitimate son.

Through it all, I kept notes and listened, and built up my mental encyclopedia of Memphis music and I saw, I heard, I met, and I read about many, many of those who helped give Memphis the name it has in music. Without ever realizing it was happening, I was taken over by the hometown industry, no different than had I grown up in Hollywood and decided to go into entertainment.

For the past eleven years, I have lived in Washington and researched and written for the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. In that time, I have curated and co-curated two Elvis exhibitions, and written thirty articles and co-produced ten short films on the Civil War. I am hoping my next assignment will be to put together a nice work on barbecue.

Warren Perry, writer, Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, and guest blogger

Warren Perry—author of Echoes of Elvis: The Cultural Legacy of Elvis Presley and co-author of Elvis 1956: Photographs by Alfred Wertheimer—will discuss how Elvis’s life, widespread fame, and legend fit into the greater framework of American culture and beyond on Friday, October 12, as part of the Gibbes Museum’s Art & Fame lecture series. The series was organized as a complement to the Sound and Vision: Monumental Rock and Roll Photography exhibition. To purchase lecture tickets, visit our online calendar at gibbesmuseum.org/events.

Artist Spotlight: Sam Doyle (American, 1906–1985)

The Gibbes has an amazing collection of 10,000 objects. With so many objects and only so much gallery space, at any given time, the vast majority of our collection remains safely tucked away in storage. But that doesn’t mean we can’t share it online! This post is one in what will be a series of artist spotlights, highlighting a variety of treasures from the Gibbes collection.

In honor of this summer’s focus on vernacular art (see my last post from July), I have chosen to spotlight South Carolina artist Sam Doyle (1906–1985). Doyle was an African-American vernacular artist from St. Helena Island, near Beaufort, and he found artistic inspiration within his community. Settled by the descendants of African American slaves after the Civil War, the residents of St. Helena Island remained largely secluded from the mainland through the mid-twentieth century. This isolation allowed residents to preserve many of the folk traditions rooted in their African heritage. Elements of Gullah culture, oral histories of Southern slavery, and Christian iconography greatly influence Doyle’s work. He is best known for his portraits which most frequently portray significant figures living on St. Helena Island. Using found objects, such as sheets of tin roofing or wood paneling as his canvas, Doyle created full-body portraits that often include text describing the subject’s importance to local culture. The Gibbes owns four paintings by Doyle, three of which you can see above.

And if you like Sam Doyle’s work, you should also check out our current exhibition in the Main Gallery, The Creative Spirit: Vernacular Art from the Gadsden Arts Center. It features work by artists who, like Doyle, are self-taught and live in the rural south. The exhibition closes on October 16, so you have a few more weeks to get here. Godzilla will be waiting!

Pam Wall, Curator of Exhibitions, Gibbes Museum of Art

Next »