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.  

7/11/2014

The Largest Flying Seabird in the World

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The publication of paleontologist Daniel Ksepka's paper, Flight Performance of the Largest Volant Bird, which was released just this month, has created a lot of buzz worldwide. Everyone has been talking about the incredible, now extinct animal with such outlets as CNN, FOX News, NBC News, BBC, National Geographic, and The Washington Post posting articles about the finding as well as the research results of the Pelagornis sandersi.

Dr. Ksepka first became interested in this topic of research after being invited to study fossils at The Charleston Museum in 2010. This is the only fossil of it's kind in the world and it can be found here at The Charleston Museum. Dr. Ksepka notes "It was a surprise to see that the giant pelagornithid was hiding out in the collections, and I was eager to figure out whether it was a new species because the jaw was very different from other species that I had seen in museums (more slender, and holding more bony 'pseudo-teeth'). Sure enough, it turned out not only to be an undescribed species, but to have the largest wingspan of any known bird."


Matthew Gibson, The Charleston Museum's Curator of Natural History, adds "the recent description of Pelagornis sandersi is an extremely exciting development in the scientific community. P. sandersi, possessing a wingspan of roughly 6.4 meters (roughly 20 - 24 feet with the feathers included) in length, represents the largest known volant bird. This dwarfs the largest living bird, the Royal Albatross, which possesses a wingspan of roughly 3.5 meters. Due to its immense wingspan, P. sandersi was likely not capable of launching itself into the air as many modern birds do, but rather would make a running take off similar to how small aircraft take flight.


This new species is incredibly significant in that it breaks the previously thought limit on avian (bird) wingspan of roughly 5.1 meters. Before the description of P. sandersi, it was thought that birds would be physically unable to flap such large wings to say aloft. Computer models suggest that it is highly likely that P. sandersi could flap its wings to an extent, and also primarily glided on air currents coming off the ocean similar to the albatross. This false-toothed bird, which lived in the late Oligocene (25 - 28 million years ago) probably snared fish swimming near the surface and was most likely incapable of taking off from the water." A partial fossil skeleton of this species was found near the Charleston Airport in 1983 and is now in the collections of The Charleston Museum.


A cast replica of P. sandersi is currently on display in the Museum's Natural History gallery. Dr. Ksepka is scheduled to speak on his research and the Pelagornis sandersi here at The Charleston Museum in 2015.

5/06/2014

Pinckney Perfection

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Grahame Long, Chief Curator

It might be a bit of an old cliché, but one of the best parts of this job is never knowing just what is going to come through my office door here at America’s first museum.

Having an appointment with both our Director and me a few weeks ago, two friends-loyal museum supporters and members of Charleston’s long-heralded Pinckney family-decided that perhaps the Charleston Museum was the best, most suitable, location to donate a few family heirlooms. Nothing could have prepared us for what exactly they had in store for us.

Presenting a few unremarkable cardboard boxes, imagine our surprise when the first item was unpacked to reveal the war sword of Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, a Charleston-born Revolutionary War general, signer to the United States Constitution and two-time Federalist Party candidate for the U.S. presidency. It was an unmarked, likely American-made rapier dating to the 1760s-70s. The piece is still accompanied by its leather and brass scabbard and, even more amazingly, its original hilt tassel. As many know, the Charleston Museum has been home to Pinckney’s dress sword for many years currently on view in the Becoming Americans exhibit area. This new battlefield sword unlike the dress piece, is all business.


While Pinckney’s dress sword bears notable decorations and elegant accents such as an ivory wrapped handle, gold-plated and decorative pommel, the newly acquired sword has far more wear and tear typical of battlefield conditions, presents practically no decorative attributes and is equipped with a far sturdier and stronger wire-wrapped wooden handle. Furthermore, its formidable blade is actually more of a three-sided spike and, upon close examination, has been sharpened repeatedly.


Now, as much as the meeting could have ended in success right then and there, the gracious donors were just getting started. Inside another packed box was an immense coin silver wine trolley neatly engraved “HH” for none other than Harriott Pinckney Horry, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney’s younger sister and only surviving daughter to Charles and Eliza Lucas Pinckney. Besides its fantastic provenance, the clear maker’s marks appearing on either side of the trolley’s base denote the piece’s local manufacture: “CˑF WITTICH” for brothers Charles and Frederick Wittich, whose Charleston partnership lasted only from 1802 to 1806.

Different from smaller cruet sets or castor stands, this mammoth wine trolley was made to hold two full-size and two somewhat smaller wine bottles and their accompanying stoppers (note the smaller rings between the larger ones). Of course, when filled and ready to serve, the wine trolley made for an exceptionally heavy serving piece, but, fortunately, the Wittich brothers thought of that and equipped the trolley’s floor with four wrought silver rollers to ease movement around a large dining table.


Not forgetting Charles and Harriott’s heroic mother, of course, the donation further included a massive London-made 1768 hot water urn belonging to Eliza Lucas Pinckney, who as a teenager took control of three of her parents’ plantations and forever changed South Carolina’s agricultural history with her successful cultivation of indigo. Crafted in three sections, the urn’s front is engraved with the Pinckney’s unmistakable coat of arms. Furthermore, the silversmith’s attention to detail is evident in its Chinese Chippendale fretwork, ball-and-claw feet and elegantly turned finial.

Finally, sometimes it’s the smallest pieces that pack the most punch. It hardly ever happens nowadays, but what emerged from the depths of the last box left me gasping for air. No larger than the palm of my hand was a Charleston-made, coin-silver pap boat made by Thomas You, whose simple “TˑY” mark on the back side nearly knocked me out of my chair. Despite his renown as a local silversmith by the late 1750s, Thomas You marked silverwares are, today, remarkably elusive. Not just the maker, though, a mid-eighteenth century, southern-made pap boat is in itself quite a rarity. Designed as feeding devices for infants and/or invalids, pap boats were essential tools for delivering soft or liquefied food to those unable to feed themselves.

Alas, Charles and Eliza’s children were just past the need for a pap boat by the time Thomas You opened his Charleston shop circa 1753. However, since he maintained his roundly successful silvermithing firm into the 1780s, it is quite likely that at least one of those children - Harriott, Thomas, or Charles Cotesworth Pinckney - were feeding their own infants with this very piece, and it’s got the dents to help prove it!

With each piece needing only minor restoration and conservation, rest assured these new gifts will be showing up in the Charleston Museum’s galleries in the coming months.

Editor’s note:

Check out even more Pinckney family collections pieces held by the Charleston Museum:

Eliza Lucas Pinckney

Charles Cotesworth Pinckney

Thomas Pinckney

5/02/2014

FANS host a lovely Evening Under the Stars!

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On April 25, 2014 the FANS (Friends and Needed Supporters of the Charleston Museum) hosted “An Evening Under the Stars.” It was an exciting and beautiful evening in the Museum’s newly renovated courtyard and the Joseph Manigault House. We were thrilled with the large turnout for our fundraiser benefitting renovation and educational programs at the Museum’s Dill Sanctuary on James Island. We are truly grateful for the generous support of our guests and sponsors.

Our thanks to the FANS, who put in countless volunteer hours and much creativity! The mission of the FANS is to promote awareness of the Charleston Museum through new membership; to promote and support activities of the Museum; and to organize special fundraising events outside regularly scheduled activities for the benefit of the Museum. The group has been instrumental in establishing the Annual Family Picnic and the annual fundraiser, as well as serving as strong supporters of the Museum's Kidstory, Historic Textiles Gallery, courtyard renovation and, now, the renovations at the Dill Sanctuary.

A big thank you to Lowcountry Eats for the fabulous supper – the quail and grits were the big hit of the evening! As usual, their staff created an elegant presentation.

Photos by English Purcell Struth. Also, be sure to check out photos from the Post and Courier's Charleston Scene!








3/28/2014

Two Parties for the Price of One

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Two parties for the price of one – that’s what you get at the Charleston Museum’s
“AN EVENING UNDER THE STARS” on Friday, April 25th.  And what a price! $80 (for non-members), for two cocktail parties, elegant dinner stations with ALL DRINKS INCLUDED and dancing to the music of Breezin’.  Where else can you find such a deal for an elegant night on the town in Charleston?

The evening, hosted by the Museum’s FANS, begins at 6:15 p.m.at the Joseph Manigault House, a federal-style National Landmark House and garden across the street from the Museum. Guests will enjoy a signature cocktail or wine with hors d’oeuvres, a tour of the house and live music by David Archer.


Then the party moves on to the recently redesigned Museum courtyard for a glittering evening of drinks, elegant food, dance  music with vocalist, and a silent and live auction. 

Lowcountry Eats will provide a host of scrumptious Southern treats, including a seafood raw bar and a quail and grits station.  A Southern Bartender will be serving up the Lowcountry’s favorite drinks – just take your pick. 

Charity auctioneer extraordinaire Doug Warner will entertain guests with a spirited live auction featuring items and packages sure to tempt one and all.  A silent auction precedes the live one. A list of auction items will be posted at the Museum website on April 8th.

Proceeds from the evening go to a very worthy cause: benefiting educational programs and restoration work at the Museum’s Dill Sanctuary on the Stono River on James Island.

All-inclusive tickets are $75/members, $80/non-members.  Advanced registration is requested.  Register online through the calendar of events at www.charlestonmuseum.org or by calling (843) 722-2996 x235


This fundraiser would not be possible without support from our fabulous sponsors!

Gold Level Sponsors:
Robert W. Baird & Co., Inc.
Adelaide & Scott Wallinger

Silver Level Sponsors:
Katharine and John Crawford Family Endowment of Coastal Community Foundation of SC
Hugh C. Lane, Jr.
Dr. & Mrs. H. Biemann Othersen, Jr.
Sarah Moïse Young

Bronze Level Sponsors:
Judy & Larry Tarleton

My thanks to my fellow FANS, especially my fundraiser co-chair English Struth, for all their hard work! Hope to see you in April!

Adelaide Wallinger
Fundraiser co-chair

1/27/2014

Oyster Roast 2014

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On Sunday, January 12, the Charleston Museum celebrated its 241st birthday with an Oyster Roast. Held at the Dill Sanctuary, the Museum’s wildlife sanctuary on James Island, this beautiful, mild winter day was full of friends, fantastic oyster, great music and history!

Thank you to all our friends and supporters of America’s First Museum! Hope to see you again next year!













1/15/2014

Armory Renovation at the Charleston Museum!

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We are starting 2014 with a renovation to the Museum's armory. Although a few things will be going back into storage, a few new firearms and edged pieces will be coming out.

Rest assured, however, all the old favorites will still be there including James Petigru's dueling pistol, Henry Nock's volley gun (left) and, of course, the headsman's sword (right) (which set last year's Weaponry Wednesday record for number of notes and re-tweets).



In any case, some new paint, new labels, and a general rearrangement of things have been long overdue in this particular section between the Museum's first and second galleries. Stop in and see it soon!

The Charleston Museum's history department continues to collect all manner of firearms, edged weapons, artillery and accouterments related with Charleston's armed conflicts and beyond. The weaponry collection consists of over 600 pieces (so far!) dating from the American Colonial period on up through the 20th century with many Charleston and other southern gun and swordsmiths including John Michael Happoldt, F.D. Poyas, William Glaze and P.W. Kraft represented.

Grahame Long
Chief Curator

1/03/2014

Recent Acquisitions

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The following are recent accessions for the Charleston Museum. 
Thank you to all of our wonderful donors!

Train conductor’s uniform coat & cap (above) worn by donor’s grandfather, James W. Gatch on the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, c. 1904-1921; railroad memorabilia (including poster of the Palmetto Division No. 208 Order of Railway Conductors with photograph of James W. Gatch [pictured below]); memorial poster with portrait of Mary Ann Jacques, age 4 in 1888
Gift of Dorothy B. Schroder

 
1872 “Lost Cause” Memorial document with eight pieces of Confederate currency arranged around a poem by P. C. Carlton and portraits of Confederate leaders
Gift of Rev. & Mrs. James Parker in December 2012

Unfinished Battenburg lace bedspread and table cover, works in progress by donor’s aunt Mabel Petersen Wichman or grandmother, Doretta Bohlmann Petersen
Gift of Emilie Patton deLuca, Chapel Hill, NC

1956 Visitor Log from The Charleston Museum
Gift of Jeannette MacDougal


Four two-cent postage stamps celebrating the 250th Anniversary of Charleston, 1930 (left)
Gift of Howard Park, Washington, DC

Appliquéd and embroidered bedspread, Sunbonnet girl pattern, made in 1945 for the donor as a child in Myrtle Beach; portion of a biscuit quilt, started by Mary Elizabeth Howard Jenrette around 1913
Gift of Martha Elizabeth Moore Fields, Reston ,VA

Chintz appliqué quilt top, Trophy of Arms medallion, made by the donors’ great-great-great grandmother, Hannah Noland Henderson c. 1830
Gift of William Rutherford Trumble and Fitz Trumble, Belfast, ME & Aiken, SC

Three photographs of Elizabeth Steingaster Knapp wearing her World War I Red Cross headscarf (a previous donation)
Gift of Debbie Pratt
Pieces of currency and bank stock from Bank of Charleston and Bank of South Carolina, 1860-1876; South Carolina Interstate & West Indian Exposition ticket, 1902
Gift of Robert J. & Susan Chandler, Lafayette, CA

Archaeological materials from the Nathaniel Russell House recovered during testing, monitoring and installation of HVAC renovations
Gift of Historic Charleston Foundation

Two bills of sale for enslaved people purchased by George Lynes, 1844-45 (above)
Gift of Michele Moore, Atlanta, GA in memory of Ruby & Bill Walling