10/30/2014

The Museum Loses a True Friend, Benefactor and Leader

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By Carl P. Borick, Director


The Charleston Museum lost a true and dear friend with the passing of ADM Arthur M. Wilcox on October 13.  A descendant of Joseph Manigault, whose house the Museum owns and preserves, Arthur Wilcox was a great believer in the mission of the Museum.  He served on the Museum Board of Trustees for four decades and was President (1972-1980) during a critical time in its history.  When E. Milby Burton, the Museum’s longest serving Director, announced his retirement in 1971, Wilcox headed the recruiting process which hired his successor, Don Herold.

He then led efforts to construct a new facility for the Museum, which, at the time he became President, was still housed in the rapidly deteriorating building on Rutledge Avenue.  A longtime editor for the News and Courier (later, the Post & Courier), Wilcox recognized the importance of public opinion to a project that involved government funding.  Accordingly, he lobbied local support for the associated vote on County and City bond issues that would raise the money for the new facility.  This ballot question was approved overwhelmingly by voters in November 1974.  He later said of their decision “it all goes to show that when you really have a need…and can show it, the voters are likely to be reasonable.”



With funding in place, Wilcox led a Board committee that oversaw selection of a site for the new Museum, chose an architect, and closely supervised construction.  Thanks to his leadership, the Museum’s collections are now housed, preserved and exhibited at its modern facility at 360 Meeting Street.

With the departure of Don Herold in 1982, he served on the search committee that hired influential Museum Director, John Brumgardt, who modernized the Museum and developed an essential organizational coherence.

He remained dedicated to the Museum even after leaving the Board of Trustees.  He and his wife Katie gave generously to preservation and exhibition efforts at the Museum.  In honor of his service and accomplishments, the Board named him Trustee Emeritus in 2006, and, in 2008, named the newly renovated auditorium the Arthur M. Wilcox Auditorium.


Wilcox served in the U.S. Navy during the Second World War and in the reserves afterward, where he rose to the rank of rear admiral.  While curating an exhibition on Charleston and the Second World War, I had a chance to sit down with ADM Wilcox and other veterans to talk about their service during the war.  It was one of the most interesting experiences I have had at the Museum.  Wilcox recounted his service on the USS Ellyson, a destroyer which shelled the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, hunted German U-boats, and was attacked by Japanese kamikazes off Okinawa in the Pacific.  After the Ellyson sank a U-boat, he led a party to pick up the crew, and he walked the streets of Hiroshima a few weeks after the atomic bomb was dropped.  He was one of the rare servicemen who served in both the European and Pacific theaters.  We spent only a couple of hours together while he talked of life during the war, but I felt as if I could have spent the whole day.

A patriot who proudly served his country and a great friend and leader to The Charleston Museum, the entire Museum community will miss you, Arthur Wilcox.


Storeroom Stories: John Bartlam’s Pottery at Cain Hoy, 1765-1770

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Fragments from an elaborately-molded plate, featuring a pierced rim, fruit and basket design.


Master potter John Bartlam immigrated to Carolina from the Staffordshire region of Britain to search for clays appropriate for English-style tablewares. He found good clay at Cain Hoy, a small settlement on the Wando River, just north of Charleston. He began a pottery enterprise there in 1765, employing African Americans as apprentices in the business. His factory failed by 1773, and Bartlam moved his efforts to Camden. From there, he exported “Queen’s Ware” to Charleston “equal in quality and appearance and can be afforded as cheap, as any imported from England.” (South Carolina Gazette, April 11, 1774). Bartlam died in 1788, and his property was sold for debts in 1788.

Fragments of pineapple motif bowls, and teapot lid. The lid fragment is red clay biscuit (pottery fired once but not yet glazed).


George Terry (University of South Carolina, Columbia), Brad Rauschenberg (Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts, Winston-Salem, NC), and Stanley South (South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology, Columbia) searched for the Cain Hoy pottery for decades. They found the site just as the property was subdivided into small lots and sold for development. South received permission to excavate from three property owners. His excavations with Carl Steen and Jim Legg in 1991-1992 located evidence of pottery production. Though a kiln or waster dump was not found, the recovery of bisque ware (pottery fired once but not glazed), wasters (imperfect pottery that is discarded), and unique pottery styles is proof that Bartlam’s pottery at Cain Hoy was discovered.

Cauliflower ware saucer and cream pitcher, green melon ware lid.

The archaeologists recovered Bartlam’s wares from the ground surface, a series of small test pits, and five-foot excavation units. The work revealed evidence of at least five buildings. Bartlam pottery was concentrated around a brick hearth and in a large well pit. The pottery produced by John Bartlam at Cain Hoy includes Whieldon-type wares, a refined earthenware with multi-colored glaze. Whieldon wares were produced in Britain between 1740 and 1760. Bartlam also experimented with soft-paste porcelain, a white-bodied ware decorated in blue.

John Bartlam is one of only two colonial potters working in Carolina. Only a few complete examples of Bartlam’s wares have been documented. The Charleston Museum acquired the Bartlam archaeological collection in 2014. The artifacts are important for comparative research, as only a few examples of Bartlam’s work have been identified.
Figurine fragments from Bartlam's pottery include a cat, birds, and a deer.

Joanna Foundation Grant

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Mr. Carl Borick, Director, accepts the Joanna Foundation’s check for $25,000 in honor of Mr. Charlie Menefee

Joanna Foundation makes $25,000 grant to The Charleston Museum in honor of former Museum Board of Trustees member, Charlie Menefee

The Joanna Foundation has generously supported Charleston Museum preservation, exhibition and education efforts since the early 1980s. Grants have been made for the Dill Sanctuary, maintenance and preservation of the Heyward-Washington and Joseph Manigault Houses, special exhibits such as Queens and Commoners, Redcoats, Hessians and Tories, and Kidstory, and other endeavors that support the Museum’s educational mission.

Mr. Charles “Charlie” Menefee


On October 24, the Joanna Foundation Board of Trustees met at the Museum and made a special grant of $25,000 to the Museum in honor of Mr. Charles “Charlie” Menefee. Menefee, a longtime Charleston financial advisor, served on the Museum’s Board of Trustees for 12 years (1980-1992) and the Joanna Foundation’s Board for 25 years (1989-2014). He has been a stalwart friend to both organizations, offering sound financial advice and guidance. Because of his association with the Museum, Joanna Foundation Trustees voted to confer the grant in his name to support the future Natural History Gallery renovation.

With the Menefee family in attendance, Mr. Walter “Kit” Regnery presented the check to Mr. Carl P. Borick, Director of the Museum, and read a special resolution in appreciation of Charlie Menefee. Menefee spoke of his affiliation with the Museum which went back to his childhood, when he would spend hours in the halls of the “old” Museum on Rutledge Avenue. Mr. Borick noted “it is a true honor to receive this grant in Charlie’s name. The renovation of the Natural History Gallery is a critical endeavor for the future of the Museum. We are tremendously grateful to the Joanna Foundation for this support.”

Mr. Charlie Menefee, his family, Joanna Foundation Board members and staff, and Museum staff gather in the Museum’s Boardroom.

10/28/2014

Bewitchingly Beautiful

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What could be a better treat for Halloween than a gorgeous pair of shoes? How about these delectible black satin shoes, c. 1895, with elegant beading. The beading goes around the shoe opening and over the toe, with a sculpted three-layered “bow” in front. The 3” Louis heel sets off the fashionably pointed vamp. These shoes bear a label from “Hook, Knowles & Co. Ltd.,” a London shoemaking establishment on Bond Street which had a reputation for being the most fashionable shopping district in the city. It was definitely the place to shop for shoes. By 1890, they had few equals in the business and in 1902 they launched their ready-to-wear line.

Our exquisite shoes belonged to Ethel Sanford, wife of John Sanford, a member of the Bigelow-Sanford family of New York. Ethel, also née Sanford, was the daughter of Henry Sanford who founded Sanford, Florida. This wealthy couple traveled extensively and certainly purchased these shoes while in London. The Sanfords also owned a summer home in Aiken, South Carolina, where their daughter, Gertrude was born. She later married Sidney Legendre, purchased Medway Plantation in the Lowcountry, and donated many family items to the Charleston Museum, including these stylish slippers.



9/30/2014

It’s Football Season Again in South Carolina!

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This black and white photograph, taken by M.B. Paine c. 1910, shows the Porter Military Academy football team in action against an unknown opponent.

Notice the heavy wool uniforms with extra padding in the pants and the leather nose guards worn for “protecting” the nose!

Originally located in downtown Charleston, the Porter Military Academy (now Porter-Gaud), is thought to have had one of the first high school football teams in the nation. From 1911 to 1915, they were considered good enough to scrimmage the Citadel Bulldogs and, according to their Annual Session, were the “undisputed champions of the State” in 1913.

It took some time, but, today, all football teams are outfitted with a better selection of protective wear, including shoulder pads and full helmets.

In these early years of football, some players would stuff padding under their uniforms to help protect their shoulders while others just “toughed it out”. In the 1950s this type of padding became popular and was made by sewing of pieces of leather together. It wasn’t until the 1960s that foam and plastic took the place of leather and protected not only the shoulders but the ribs as well. This type of protection is still used today.

Helmets were not a mandatory piece of equipment until 1939. The original helmets or “Head harnesses” were made of soft leather originally intended to protect only the ears. However, covering the entire ear made communication rather difficult (which is why the players in the images above are not wearing any head protection). The first leather helmet to completely cover the head was introduced between 1915 and 1917 and featured ear holes. It wasn’t until the 1920s and 1930s that a harder leather was used with more cushioning. Finally, in 1939, the first plastic helmet was developed. From the 1960s to the present, helmet designs have gone through some drastic changes to improve the protection of the players’ head by absorbing impacts. The latest improvement has been the use of a polyurethane top or “cap” that is meant to wear over the outside of the helmet to prevent concussions.

Clearly, football has come a long way since these boys first huddled up for this game in 1910. Over the decades, the sport has morphed in its cultural perception and status as well as greatly developed it’s means for protecting the boys on the field.


9/29/2014

Storeroom Stories: Bisque-porcelain doll, “Rebecca”

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Although only two years old at the time of receiving this doll, Mrs. Constance Bennett (then Miss Constance Courtenay) grew to understand its extraordinary journey from her grandmother’s house in New York to her temporary home in Camden, S.C.

Constance was born in Charleston on August 23, 1863 – right about the same time Union forces on Morris Island began shelling the already battered the city and forcing hundreds, including the Courtenays, from their homes. Seeking safety further inland, the family relocated to Camden later that autumn where they would wait out the rest of the War.

Constance’s grandmother, Mrs. Robert Hicks, meanwhile, had certainly not overlooked the birth of her little granddaughter even in the midst of The War. Determined to send her a gift, she purchased this doll from a New York retailer and set about finding a way to deliver it safely to her. Yet, already well aware of the Federal blockade of Charleston’s harbor, and not trustful of the war-weary post office, Hicks enlisted the help of a family friend who just happened to be a Federal officer heading south. “Together,” as Constance would recall, “he and my grandmother packed the gift into a small enough package to fit into his overcoat pocket.”
Unmarked
Continental Europe (attributed)
c. 1862

Over the next sixteen months, the still-unknown officer still carried Constance’s doll around the Confederacy until finally, as fate would have it, his regiment ended up in occupied Camden in February 1865.

In a 1948 interview, Constance recalled:

A year and a half after we moved, the family was seated at [the] table when there was a knock on the door. My mother opened it and saw a Union officer on the threshold. He asked if she could direct him to Mrs. William Courtenay, and when my mother replied that she was Mrs. Courtenay, he said, ‘My work is done’ and handed her a little box which my grandmother had given him nearly two years before in hopes that he might be able to deliver it.

Naming her (relatively) new doll “Rebecca” after a half-sister, Constance Bennett treasured the doll for the rest of her life. Her son, Thomas Bennett, inherited the doll and in 1954, placed it in the collection of The Charleston Museum.

8/26/2014

Storeroom Stories: Canned Water

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Twenty-five years ago this month, Hurricane Hugo, a strong category four storm, smashed ashore just northeast of Charleston on September 21, 1989. It remains the worst recorded hurricane in the state’s history.

With damaging winds extending 140 miles out from its eye, Hugo’s outer edge began battering Charleston by midevening. By midnight, however, harbor buoys were recording sustained winds of 105 miles-per-hour, gusts over 130, and a storm surge seventeen feet above normal high tide. In addition, Hugo spawned numerous tornados, torrential rainfall, and unprecedented flooding. Homes dislodged from their foundations. Vessels from the City Marina broke loose and drifted into downtown streets and houses. Bridges bent and buckled. Even the National Weather Service’s building, located at the Charleston Air Force base, had its roof blown off.


Statewide damages from Hugo were in the billions of dollars. Out of the approximately 97,000 homes damaged, some 5,000 were obliterated. Hugo also caused a “forestry disaster,” and, according to a 1989 local news documentary, downed enough trees to “rebuild the City of Charleston forty times over.” Twenty-six South Carolinians perished.

Canned Water
Anheuser-Bush Regional Bottling Plant
Jacksonville, FL
1989

After the storm, thousands of businesses, civic groups and volunteers nationwide rushed to aid South Carolina’s stricken Lowcountry; providing essential supplies such as food, shelter, and, most importantly, potable water. The Anheuser-Busch brewing company, for example, being in a “unique position to produce and ship large quantities of drinking water,” utilized its southern-based bottling plants and distributors to can and deliver massive amounts of clean water to the Charleston area.


8/15/2014

Keeping Cool - Bathing Suits

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Still trying to cool off in these dog days of August? You might think that a quick trip to the beach for a dip in the ocean would be a great way to cool off. Today, it might be, but for women in the Lowcountry, that hasn’t always been true. Until the 1890s, women could really only take a dip into the water essentially fully clothed. As late as 1870, public baths and beaches had separate times for men and women to “swim” or bathe. Finally, by the turn of the century, it was socially acceptable for women to actually swim; women’s swimming events were added to the Olympic Games in 1912, but some of the bathing suits still left a lot to be desired.



Let’s start by looking at a fetching number from the 1890s. This two-piece suit is heavy wool – the one piece garment is a shirt and pants together, reaching below the knees. The gathered skirt then layered over to create the costume.



However, the ensemble was not really complete until you added a cap, stockings and bathing shoes, like these canvas lace-ups. One good wave and you’re “swimming” would be finished!




The suit lightened a bit at the turn of the century. These ”figure-flattering” garments are made of a much lighter cotton. The blue plaid suit, like our 1890s example, has a one-piece top and pants with a gathered overskirt. The red and black striped is a voluminous garment with a drawstring neckline and fairly long legs; it was worn by May Snowden of Charleston. But in 1907, Annette Kellerman (Olympic swimmer) shocked everyone by wearing a one-piece suit that revealed her ams and legs and was promptly arrested.

The 1920s saw the first real changes in attitudes toward mixed bathing and sunbathing. It was now acceptable – and desirable – to get a tan, stockings became a thing of the past and the new knitted, form-following swimsuits allowed a more active participation for women.




This blue knitted wool Jantzen suit is much more revealing and athletic. It was sold in Charleston at Condon’s Department Store and was worn here probably around 1930. Just remember, that even men had restrictions on exposure. It was not until 1937 that men could go topless – a suit designed with a removable top in 1933 could result in an arrest!
In the 1940s, more flesh could be exposed, what with war shortages and all, and the bare midriff was introduced. They were still pretty modest, though, until in July 1946, French engineer Louis Reard designed a garment “smaller than the world’s smallest bathing suit.” He hoped his design would be as “explosive” as the nuclear test conducted four days earlier near the Bikini Atoll - and it was. At first even the Paris models wouldn’t wear it, but the French actress Bridget Bardot popularized them and the bikini was finally accepted in 1956.




These 1940s examples – a cherry red puckered wool knit two-piece suit and a yellow taffeta Par-Form Original – were both worn here in South Carolina.
Happy swimming!

8/01/2014

Storeroom Stories

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Founded in 1773, The Charleston Museum is, in fact, America’s first. Needless to say, over the centuries the Museum has acquired many incredible artifacts. A myriad of items exemplifying the rich history of South Carolina, the Lowcountry, and Charleston itself are on display permanently. However, one must also wonder about the artifacts not typically displayed in our formal galleries. Furthermore, with such a magnificent, vast collection as well as an intelligent and passionate curatorial staff, The Charleston Museum has incredible resources. We would like to use these resources to share more with the public. Therefore, the Museum will now be offering a special monthly exhibit, titled Storeroom Stories, which highlights a specific and unique artifact, personally hand-picked by a curator to share with the public.

A “story” related to each item will be included along with its description, providing the viewer a unique and intimate perspective on each individual piece. This an incredible opportunity for the public to take a look into our collections as well as see some of the items that our curators are most excited about sharing with you! We invite you to keep up with Storeroom Stories via our website, blog, Facebook, or twitter account. Please come and take a peek into our storeroom, view some of the pieces our curators our most passionate about, and learn the story behind these incredibly historic items!

As Chief Curator here at the museum, what makes you the most excited about Storeroom Stories?

Graham Long: Obviously, since The Charleston Museum has been around since 1773, there is a lot of stuff here. The best part about Storeroom Stories is that it presents a chance for our visitors to see things that are part of our collection, but may not be on a regular exhibit rotation. For instance, since The Museum was once collecting globally, some items are vital to our institutional history as nation’s first museum. Even though they might not have much (if anything) to do with Charleston, they are still fascinating to see and learn about. 

Do you think that, while this is a great opportunity for the public, it’s also a great chance for the curators as well since they will be able to highlight things that they’re interested in or passionate about?

GL: Indeed. All of our curators here at The Museum have incredibly diverse backgrounds, and this is a good thing. These monthly installments definitely present a chance for each of them to express their own enthusiasms. Furthermore, when we first started discussing the concept behind Storeroom Stories, I quickly decided that all bets were off as far as what could or could not be highlighted month to month. In other words, I expressly told each department (Archives, Natural Science, Archaeology, Textiles, and History) that, when their turn rolled around, they could choose anything they wanted out of our entire collection. There will be no pattern or recurring theme here. So expect to see anything from fossils to fire helmets, potsherds to potato mashers!

For you personally, is it the item itself more intriguing or the story behind it?

GL: I would have to say - in most instances, anyway – it’s the story. For example, there is a very plain and drab iron artillery fragment in our weaponry collection, which I am planning to use in an upcoming Storeroom Stories installment. There is nothing at all visually remarkable about it. It’s just a chunk of beat-up iron. The story behind it, however, I think can actually change the way you see and understand it.

Do you think that this is going to offer people a new perspective on history in general, perhaps, by offering a more personal feeling to these singular items?

GL: I certainly hope so, and that to me is the whole mission behind these monthly installments: to encourage people to look beyond an artifact. Sure, its material, size, shape, and origin can tell us something, but it by no means tells us everything. Who owned it? What did it do? Why is it here? These are all questions that should be addressed when examining any historic piece.

Why did you choose the Pinckney Sword to display first?  

GL: For one thing, this piece is new to the collection, and, although it will very likely will be on permanent exhibit in the not-too-distant future, I couldn’t wait to show it off. We’ve had Pinckney’s officer’s dress sword on display here for quite a while, but this is his workaday war sword, not a ceremonial or presentation piece like the other one. This is the one he had at his side during the Siege of Charleston, and the one he surrendered with in 1780 (but was fortunately allowed to keep). To be sure, it doesn’t look like much, and, expectedly, is a bit beaten up, but if this thing could talk it would no doubt be screaming at you.

Are there many other pieces that you’re excited to share with the public?

GL: Hundreds – if not thousands - and they range from all over; different places, different times and, of course, different stories!

What is the one thing that you hope visitors at the museum will be able to take away from this focused and intimate monthly exhibit? 

GL: That you never know what you might see – or what you might learn. More than that, though, I think everyone likes a good story, and here at The Charleston Museum, we have those in spades!

7/23/2014

Keeping Cool - Fans

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Keeping cool in the sweltering South Carolina Lowcountry has been a challenge from the days of the first European settlers. Dressed in their European finery, they surely felt the heat – and humidity, just as we do today. But fashion generally won out, and women coped as well as they could through the long, hot summer.

Yes, the 18th and 19th centuries were well before air-conditioned comfort, but one must remember that there was less pavement, less congestion and probably more shade. Houses were situated to catch the cooling breezes; the large porches, big open windows and high ceilings helped as did separate kitchen buildings – and someone else to do the cooking and heavy labor.

(Left) The brown and white spotted guinea fowl feathers were also a popular choice. This lovely fan belonged to Annie Pierce Smyth Blake (1875-1957) of Charleston.
(Right) Major Horace Hann Sams of Beaufort made this fan of 16 turkey feathers in the mid 19th century. The quills are sewn into a triangular “handle” of leather.

But it was still hot and sticky. Clothing of natural fibers wicked the moisture from the body, cooling as it evaporated. And anyone could use a clever ancient device – the hand fan. From a simple stiffened palmetto frond to an elaborate carved and lithographed work of art, the fan could provide a personal, but effective, breath of air. And these hand fans were extremely popular throughout the 18th, 19th and into the 20th century – for cooling and for fashion. The Charleston Museum has an extensive collection of these lovely accessories, many used right here by women long ago. While the imported ivory and mother-of-pearl fans are beautiful, some of my favorites are the more utilitarian fans made here of local materials. Ubiquitous in the Lowcountry were feather fans, using turkey and other plentiful birds. Often referred to as “church fans,” feather fans could be left around for anyone to use, providing a little respite from the relentless climate.

(Left) Tobias Scott, an African-American professional fan maker in Charleston (working at least from 1876-1888) wove the quills into a handle for these 12 feathers, in a technique similar to the Choctaw feather fans and other Native American fans.
(Right) The brown and white spotted guinea fowl feathers were also a popular choice. This lovely fan belonged to Annie Pierce Smyth Blake (1875-1957) of Charleston.


(Left)This magnificent turkey feather fan from John F. Maybank’s plantation in Green Pond was made by Charlotte Boykin Gammage. She used pine needles from her home in Camden for the handle.
(Right) The brown and white spotted guinea fowl feathers were also a popular choice. This lovely fan belonged to Annie Pierce Smyth Blake (1875-1957) of Charleston.


A quote from Our Women in the War – No. 17, “Eight Miles Under Fire,” by a Georgia woman, perhaps sums up the importance of these wonderful feather fans:

Preparing for a hurried flight from the family home at Resaca, Georgia, Captain Mitchell was helping his family leave before the battle began. His mother was frightened and overwhelmed.  “With her Bible and a large turkey-tail feather fan, from which she was never known to be separated summer or winter, she stood ready to depart, praying and fanning herself…” as her daughters quickly packed valuables onto the wagon.

The family managed to ride eight miles under fire, crossing the Oostanaula River, ending up in Calhoun which was also besieged for the next two days. For the next two years they were homeless refugees, staying with kind friends, until they could return to their ruined home.