12/19/2014

Storeroom Stories: Xenorophid Whale

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The Charleston Museum holds the largest collection of Oligocene cetaceans, or whales, in the world. The Oligocene epoch is a geologic time period spanning from roughly 23 million years ago (mya) to 34 mya, and it represents a very important time period for cetacean evolution. Many species of Oligocene cetaceans have been described from South Carolina, with several discovered in and around Charleston.


The genus Xenorophus, which is within the cetacean family Xenorophidae, was originally described by R. Kellogg in 1923. Xenorophids were predatory whales that most likely fed on fish and perhaps small sea birds. Xenorophids are an extinct group and have only been found in the Ashley and Chandler Bridge formations of South Carolina. This specimen, found in Charleston County, is potentially a new species of xenorophid.

Fashion Flashback is taking shape

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As we were preparing the garments that will be shown in our upcoming textile exhibition, Fashion Flashback, 1920s-1960s: Five Decades of Style that Changed America, one dress seemed to stand out as a marvelous selection for a December holiday party. Made of changeable taffeta, the dress would shimmer between a luscious green and vibrant blue, as the wearer swirled around the room, the focus of everyone’s attention. And this wearer might have done just that. She was Margaret Middleton Rivers, the wife of Congressman L. Mendel Rivers. First elected in 1940, Rivers served in Congress for 30 years and was the influential chairman of the Armed Services committee from 1965.

Mrs. Rivers’ dress, dating from the late 1940s, has the stylish wide neckline and pleated full skirt of the period. The enormous bow in back sets the figure off without being cumbersome. Margaret (1913-2004) was a debutante from old Charleston families (Simons & Middleton); she attended Memminger High School and graduated from the College of Charleston in 1935. It is not surprising that she would have selected such a stunning garment.


Changeable taffeta is taffeta (a plain weave silk with considerable body and sheen) with warp of one color and weft of another, giving different effects in different lights. This dress does not have a label and could have been made here.


An image of her from her memoirs, co-authored by her daughter and son and published in 2007 by History Press.

To see this dress and other beautiful garments, come by the Museum January 12 - June 14, 2015 for this special exhibition or join us, dressed in your favorite vintage attire, on January 15, 2015 from 6-8 pm for our Fashion Flashback Opening Reception!

Fashion Flashback
1920s-1960sFive Decades of Style that Changed America
The Charleston Museum’s presetns a journey back through time with a decade-by-decade look at clothing styles, beginning with an exploration of the hip 1960s and working backward to the swinging 1920s. Women’s and men’s clothing and accessories will be displayed, offering a light-hearted look at fifty years of fashion. Learn More


12/12/2014

2014 Holiday Decorations at The Joseph Manigault House

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The Garden Club of Charleston, once again, brought holiday spirit into the Joseph Manigault House, adorning its rooms, hallways, and stairways with greenery, feathers, ribbons, and more! These spectacular arrangements represent this year's chosen theme, A 19th Century Christmas Reverie, by decorating as Charleston families would have done in years past.

The décor incorporates the essence of traditional celebrations by intertwining Christmas carols and popular books along with decorative objects from the period. While the Manigault family would not have historically celebrated Christmas in this home (traditionally, the winter months were spent at their rice plantation), The Charleston Museum and The Garden Club of Charleston are pleased to bring some holiday cheer inside the beautiful antebellum walls for visitors to enjoy!

Stop by and experience these delightful designs for yourself! The house is decorated from now through December 31 and you may view the holiday decorations as part of the regular public tour. Regular admission is FREE for members; $10/adult, $5/child 3-12 and under 3 free. Please visit our website for hours of operation and holiday schedules.








12/01/2014

Flags

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Gadsden Flag, 1775

So-called for its designer, Charleston’s own Christopher Gadsden (1724-1805), presented this pattern in 1775 first to Commodore Esek Hopkins, commander of the brand new United States Navy established by General George Washington. Later, Gadsden presented a second flag of the same design to South Carolina’s state Congress upon their February 1776 convening in Charleston.

Although there is debate as to whether the depicted rattlesnake is that of an Eastern Diamondback or Canebrake, the image was first used satirically by Benjamin Franklin in the 1750s, but over the next several decades came into its own as an American icon similar to the Bald Eagle. Like the burgeoning nation itself, Franklin wrote, the rattler “never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders: She is therefore and emblem of magnanimity and true courage.”

As for the underlying slogan, “Don’t Tread On Me,” this passage utilized by Gadsden reflects the rattlesnake’s general demeanor; a fairly docile animal until threatened or provoked; a behavior that easily mimics those of liberty-minded Americans of the day. As the rattler on Gadsden’s flag appears bearing fangs, coiled, and ready to strike, for an enemy to disrespect these obvious warnings and subsequently step (or “tread”) upon it would be a dangerous decision to say the least.




Flag of the Palmetto Guard:

A spinoff of the state flag of South Carolina, why Guardsmen replaced the traditional crescent shape with a lone star remains unclear. Obviously, they did not wish to replicate entirely South Carolina’s already established state flag, choosing instead an equally traditional five-pointed star. This change could possibly be a tribute to the 1861 Bonnie Blue flag, an unofficial banner of the Confederate States, which bears a single white star on a large blue field.

The first variation of the flag of South Carolina, an indigo-blue field (indigo being a major cash crop in the state’s infancy) decorated with a solemn and crescent “moon,” appears initially around 1775. This pattern, created by General William Moultrie in response to a request by the Revolutionary Council of Safety, however, differs greatly from the flag presently used. Decades later in 1861 that the singular Palmetto tree was added to the flag’s center, an homage to Moultrie’s remarkable victory at Fort Sullivan on June 28, 1776, where from an unfinished fortification built from Palmetto logs and packed sand, Charleston patriots fought off nine heavily armed British warships, damaging four and killing more than 100 redcoats.

Interestingly, the crescent “moon” in the top corner of the state flag is still cause for debate. While some believe it is indeed a moon hovering shining its light down over the palmetto, many others are convinced it depicts a French-styled gorget, a uniform adornment commonly worn among Patriot officers as a symbol of rank.




The 506th Coast Artillery Flag:
A branch of the U.S. Army during World War II, the Coast Artillery Corps (a.k.a. the Coastal Artillery) organized and maintained defensive batteries along the U.S. shoreline for the first half of the 20th century. A red field (a traditional color for artillery regiments) bears a Bald Eagle at the center similar to that of the Great Seal of the United States – except for one major difference: This flag shows the eagle with 13 arrows (weapons of war representing the original 13 colonies) held in the eagle’s right talon while a green olive branch, the ancient symbol for peace, is held in its left. The wartime use of the flag is one possibility for this reversal.

Storeroom Stories: Tree candles and holders

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In December 1856, President Franklin Pierce decorated the White House tree with candles. It was a risky move to be sure. After all, most festive folks who enjoyed illuminating their Christmas trees by this time were well aware of the dangers of having multiple open flames intermingling with large, dried out, and highly flammable tree branches. So high was the risk in fact, that by the 1860s, most fire insurance companies, were wholly denying any claims based on Christmas tree fires and amending their policies to include all “knowing risks.”



Still, tree lights were a holiday favorite as early as the 1830s. Of course, for safety’s sake, tree candles were never kept lit more than a short time, and no one typically left the room as long as they were burning.


Finally, tinkering at home on December 22, 1882, the vice president of Thomas Edison’s Electric Light Company, Edward Hibberd Johnson, individually hand-wired eighty bulbs to a generator and hung them on his own Christmas tree. Edison himself was impressed and, in 1890, began marketing “miniature lamps for Christmas trees” to the public. Eventually, General Electric put forth its pre-wired, “stringed” tree lights and the modern custom of electric holiday lights was born in America.


11/25/2014

Thankful for our Bounty

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The Charleston Museum boasts a wonderful quilt collection, most of them locally made, dating from the late 18th century through the 20th century. Particularly important are our 19th century chintz appliqué beauties that were obviously a favorite of the Lowcountry women that made them. Perhaps especially relevant to our celebration of Thanksgiving is a chintz print featuring a bountiful basket of luscious fruit found in four of the museum’s quilts. Made by different women and given to the museum from different families, these four dramatic quilts with identical center medallions attest to the tremendous popularity of this motif. Many of the quilts in other museums with this same center are even attributed to South Carolina.

So, as a Thanksgiving offering, let us feast our eyes on our four Basket of Fruit quilts, each a testament to the artistry and skill of their makers.

This chintz fruit basket medallion itself was from an English block-printed cotton, dating perhaps to 1815. The fabric as purchased included at least the lovely basket of fruit, the interlocking circular border and four triangular motifs with pineapple, grapes and peaches.


First up is a Basket of Fruit quilt made by Catherine Osborn Barnwell, probably around 1829. Her center medallion is the entire basket with its interlocking border. She placed the four fruit triangles in the corners of this interesting quilt. Surrounding the chintz basket are paper-template pieced rosettes and a floral chintz border. The corded quilting was said to have been worked by a servant/slave. Catherine (1809-1886) was the daughter of Elizabeth Osborn and Captain Edward Barnwell of Beaufort. According to family records, the quilt was completed before she married her cousin, Reverend William Hazzard Wigg Barnwell in 1829. He was the pastor at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Charleston for twenty years. They had twelve children; the quilt descended to her son Allard’s daughter, Nina Graham Barnwell Heyward, who gave it to the museum in 1942.



In our second lovely chintz appliqué quilt, the interlocking border around the fruit was expanded by adding a floral bouquet at top and bottom. The four fruit triangles are in the corners of the first border. The quilt then explodes with additional flowers, birds and borders. This one was probably made by Sarah Eliza Reynolds Croft (c. 1790-1859) around 1825. It was given to the museum in 1928 by Georgie L. Gready, the maker’s granddaughter.



Margaret Eliza Darley Seyle Burges (1804-1877) may have made our third stunning fruit basket quilt, perhaps a little later, c. 1840. She used the same center medallion but expanded the interlocking border even farther by adding four lovely floral motifs. She surrounded this with bouquets and flower baskets as well as birds perched on those four fruit triangles. It was given to the museum in 2010 by Margaret’s great-great granddaughter, Anne Burges Lake.



Lastly, is this unusual chintz appliqué quilt with the same fruit basket medallion. This time, however, the medallion is set without the interlocking border or the triangles and placed in the lower half of the quilt. It is surrounded by baskets of flowers, game bird pairs and a delightful fruit basket border. Perhaps the upper portion of the quilt was left plain to be covered by pillows or shams. We do not know who made this quilt, but the donor’s great-great-grandfather was Henry Pinkney Walker (1816-1890), British vice consul in Charleston during the Civil War. Perhaps this quilt was made by his wife, Dorothy “Dora” Modd Box Walker (1817-1900). It was given to the museum in 1998 by Jeanne Walker Myers.

This chintz print design may have been influenced by earlier published botanical drawings such as those of English horticulturist and author, Robert Furber, who is credited with producing the first seed catalog in England. He is most noted for his series of prints published in 1730, Twelve Months of Flowers. This was followed in 1732 by his Twelve Months of Fruit, featuring 364 different fruits. The fruit in this chintz panel bears a striking resemblance to Furber’s October image.

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.