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Good Things Come in Small Packages

Conservator and curator examine miniature portraits

Even though they are the smallest pieces in the collection, designing a new gallery for the miniature collection has been a lot of work. Thanks to a generous grant from the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelly Foundation we know the space will be amazing, but along the way we’ve faced different challenges from interpretation to installation. Early on in the process we made life-sized printed copies of each miniature in the collection to mock up the different display ideas. While that was a large task in itself, it has been a tremendous help.

Gibbes Miniature portraits
Facsimiles of two miniature portraits in the Gibbes Collection, along with documents relating to their provenance.

Not only did we want the new gallery to showcase more of the miniature collection, we also wanted to tell more stories about the people and objects themselves. Before the renovation, in a small room off the first floor, there was always a sample of miniature portraits to admire. Apart from their names and dates, however, there wasn’t much information on the people. Now, we’re constructing a family tree, delving into the physical aspects of these pieces, and highlighting Charles Fraser’s work, a native Charlestonian and miniature painter.

Photographing the collection
Curator Sara Arnold works with photographer Rick Rhodes to document the collection.

Along with the physical gallery, we are also developing an exciting interactive online component that will be accessible both in the museum and at home. This required a photoshoot with Rick Rhodes, a local photographer who has worked with the Gibbes collection for years, and a lot of research about the objects and the sitters. Some of the works were conserved and cleaned by Carol Aiken, miniature expert from Baltimore. While she was here, she and Sara Arnold created a video where you can see how these pieces fit together.

Tiny Treasures: A Closer Look at Miniature Portraits from the Gibbes Museum of Art from GibbesArt on Vimeo.

Installing miniature portraits
Andrew Steever and Aaron Ferrari work in the galleries to install the portraits.

The new display cases were designed by Glasbau Hahn in Germany, a preferred and prestigious case manufacturing company for museums around the world. They are beautiful (works of art themselves!) and I can’t wait to see over 150 of these treasures pulled out of storage and installed in their new home.

Becca Hiester, Curatorial Assistant, Gibbes Museum of Art


Published May 13, 2016

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