What Got Printed

September Issue 2005
by Tom Starland

Happy Birthday!

On Sept. 9, 2005, the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston, SC, will offer the exhibition, 100 Years at the Gibbes. The exhibit presents a centennial retrospective, celebrating the first one hundred years of landmark exhibitions presented at the Museum. Since its doors opened at 135 Meeting Street in Charleston on Apr. 11, 1905, the Gibbes Museum of Art has featured exhibitions of nationally and internationally prominent artists and art collectors, and has played a significant role in shaping the careers of burgeoning regional artists. The exhibition will remain on view through Jan. 1, 2006.

The centennial celebration is of the building on Meeting Street. The renowned turn-of-the-century architect, Frank P. Milburn designed the building as a memorial to James Shoolbred Gibbes (1819 - 1888), a patron of the arts and one of Charleston's many 19th-century cultural benefactors. The building was first called the James S. Gibbes Memorial Art Gallery, which was later shortened to Gibbes Art Gallery.

Todays Gibbes Museum of Art is the flagship of Charleston's visual art community and the granddaddy of the Carolinas. The Museum was opened in its current location 100 years ago, yet the Carolina Art Association, which operates the Museum was started in 1857.

How does that compare with other visual arts institutions in the Carolinas?

The Mint Museum of Art in Charlotte, NC, opened in 1936 as NC's first art museum. The Columbia Museum of Art in Columbia, SC, opened to the public in 1950. The Greenville Art Association was established in 1958 in Greenville, SC. In 1963, the SC General Assembly established the Greenville County Museum.

Why, the South Carolina Arts Commission wasn't established until 1967 and we started publishing an arts newspaper, Charleston Arts, in 1987, just 20 years younger than the Arts Commission.

Yet folks at the Arts Commission would like people to think they're the established arts institution on the block.

In addition to the fine arts collection, the Gibbes maintains an archive devoted to the history of the Carolina Art Association, which also includes historical photographs and documents that trace the architectural and cultural development of Charleston. Primary materials and information on each artist represented in the collection has also been gathered since the Gibbes opened. As a result the archive is an indispensable source for scholarly research and historic preservation.

The Carolina Art Association also had an impact on other areas of the community. The Association inaugurated a citywide survey of historic and architecturally significant buildings. The survey, conducted by Helen Gardner McCormack, included 1,168 buildings. In 1944, the Carolina Art Association published the findings of the survey as This Is Charleston, illustrating more than 500 of the surveyed structures. The result was the first publication of an architectural inventory of an American city. This simple idea of monumental proportion had a far-reaching influence on future work in the city, in other cities, and on the formation of the National Register of Historic Places.

In 1945, Kenneth Chorley, president of Colonial Williamsburg, Inc. planted the seed of an idea during a public speech in Charleston, which was to become the Historic Charleston Foundation, Inc, which was chartered in 1947.

The combination of historical preservation and the arts has made Charleston one of the top cultural destinations in the US.

And no one should forget the contributions made by the Gibbes Art Gallery Auxiliary, which is today's Women's Council, to various Museum improvements - the new gift shop, the Charleston Renaissance Gallery, and the revamping of the 3rd flood space, among others. They are the backbone of the CAA.

So, you have to tip your hat to the Carolina Arts Association, which is 148 years old and has managed to stay in the same place for 100 years. Go and discover the history of the Gibbes. You just might learn something.

In response to James Daniel's guest editorial comments - by Jerry Spencer

I find it sad that some artists, who like and do one style, method, etc. of art, must try to elevate themselves by trying to lower or belittle other artists who prefer to do their art using a different style, method, etc. Mr. Daniel does exactly this by trying to label as "dishonorable" and "perverted" all artists who use photographs as a reference. Of course, he also confuses potential art buyers by trying to persuade them that there is only one way to paint. Is this greedy trying to convince everyone that his method is the only true method?

I also find it sad that some artists are so closed minded and uninformed that they are not at least somewhat open to new or different (read other) ways of doing art. How limited and impoverished our world would be with only one method of painting.

Many of the old masters used primitive pinhole cameras to assist them in their drawings and paintings. Many well respected and distinguished artists in more recent decades have used cameras and photographs in their work. Maybe Mr. Daniel needs to do some research concerning which ones and publish a list of those he considers dishonorable and perverted. Maybe he should also tell the patrons who are buying the art for thousands of dollars that the artists are dishonorable, perverted, greedy, and thus frauds. And definitely inform all the museums, of course.

My wife and I have just returned from a too brief a trip to the Greek Islands. Three weeks were not enough to absorb everything, but what we saw, felt, heard, tasted, smelled, etc. will definitely flavor our paintings as we use the photographs we took as references. Being very slow painters, we would certainly not have had time to paint only on site. Rather than sit on a rock and paint, we much prefer to take our time and explore and experience places and people and cultures when we travel, and then use photographs as reference material. Rather than the raw and immediate experiences of rain, winds, heat, etc. trying to paint only en plein aire, we would rather have time to let our memories mellow and distill their essences before we try to really create a painting. I think maybe we capture more of a holistic creation. I am sure we have a more complete experience and understanding of our subject matters than a painter spending all their time sitting on a rock.

Of course, complex art forms such as sculpture, collage, wrought iron, glass, etc. etc., are rather hard to do en plein aire. So I guess all artists are to be limited to 2-D work that is portable.

I wonder how many paintings are created from memories captured by the ultimate camera, the mind's eye.?? How many portraits are painted of people the artists have known extremely well but who have passed on?? I guess we should not do portraits unless the subject is immediately available to the artist.

I am sure Mr. Daniel would prefer us to "recreate our visual experience more accurately", but a camera does it very well. And then the "visual experience" can be filtered, adjusted, influenced, etc. by other things than the "visual experience" when we do art.

Enough said.

Jerry Spencer - 843/886-6617



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