Guest Blog: Preview of a New Open Studio Event

I recently became aware of a new open studio event taking place this October known as "WNC Open Studios". Its format is different from other open studios in several ways, among them: a lengthy 16-day event schedule and wide geographical range of studio locations. This is, as it turns out, is an intentional strategy intended to create a more leisurely, in-depth connection with the featured artists and provide an opportunity to discover unfamiliar mountain communities. Many of the craftsmen and visual artists participating are highly accomplished, so I thought it was an event our museum community would like to know about. Bradly Schwartz is a retired architect and painter, who put together this preview of three participating studios in Spartanburg and Polk counties. -(Mat Duncan)

Thank you for your interest, Mat. I visited Dartmoor Park, in Devon England in 2013, a
holiday combined with exploring the roots of my wife's British family. We came across
Devon Open Studios, the largest art event in the West Country, and we visited several of
their artists and came away quite impressed. Not only was our visit to Devon enhanced
by discovering some unexpected, interesting places, but we returned home with a print
from one of the villages my wife's ancestors lived in. A four-color woodcut, it is the
creation of a local artist who based it, in detail on the 1841 tithe map of that village.

Inspired, I became more aware of the similarities between Devon and Western North
Carolina, and decided to see if a comparable event could be started here. This is our
inaugural year, and already we've enlisted forty artists at thirty studio locations
throughout Polk, Transylvania and Buncombe counties. Although I was setting out to do
something more complicated than I realized at first, all the effort was well worth it.
Most of our studios are off the beaten path, just as in Devon, and I am now amazed at
the number of high-level artists who enliven so many of our smaller communities. So in
the way of an event preview, let me introduce three of our artists in this area.

Recently I visited Carol Beth Icard, and watched her working in her studio in Landrum,
SC. We have participating visual artists who work with a variety of paint types, and
Carol talked to me about the unique inspiration and evolution of her painting style. She
is looking forward to demonstrating her brushless cold wax technique and explaining
how it developed from more traditional styles.

“Art knows no boundaries” might be a good introduction to the workshop of Ralph
Berger, one of our metal sculptors. Ralph's sculptures grow from mostly found steel
objects or industrial cast-offs that are transformed through intricate patterning. I love
the contrasts between large, solid objects and the delicacy of Ralph's cut patterns, which
explore realms of positive and negative spaces.

Ann Gleason is a ceramic sculptor, who also teaches ceramics at Wofford College, among
other schools. With an emphasis on flawless technique and emotive content she creates
figures that seem to come alive, so much so that I wanted to photograph them
populating her secret garden, nestled in a quiet Tryon lane. A magical garden like hers
is a good example of the working environments that artists often rely on for inspiration,
and which can only be experienced by visiting them.

Mat, as we have both noted in our discussions about these open studios, the connection
between artist and an inquiring, sympathetic visitor creates a new dimension of art
appreciation. There is quote from a recent article by W.S. Wylton in the NY Times about
Chuck Close, that I've become fond of:

“It seems to me now, with greater reflection, that the value of experiencing another
person’s art is not merely the work itself, but the opportunity it presents to connect with
the interior impulse of another. The arts occupy a vanishing space in modern life: They
offer one of the last lingering places to seek out empathy for its own sake...”

So in conclusion, although I've featured three studios located within a short drive of
Spartanburg, I am hoping that our event, during Fall foliage season, draws some of your
patrons to the less-explored countryside and villages, not only to explore their studios
and their art, but their inner creativity, as well. They can't wait to welcome you!

Posted on October 3rd 2016 in Museum Musings

A New Palette for Colors

For the past two decades, COLORs has provided 6-18 year old children a supportive, safe environment in which to express themselves and connect with their peers. What began as a single young artist’s vision evolved into a program that supported the creative capacities of thousands of Spartanburg County school-children.  Much of this past success was rooted in the fact that COLORS was housed in a residential space close to area schools, where it was free and highly accessible to any child with a desire to make art.

Once the Spartanburg Art Museum moved from its old grounds on Spring Street to the Chapman Cultural Center, the COLORs program became less accessible.  Although COLORs remained steadfast in its mission to support the creative capacities of local youth, it was no longer in close enough proximity to schools to operate as a walk-in program.  COLORs’ approach to reaching and serving area students had to evolve, and it did – instructors connected with area schools, churches, recreation centers and community spaces to bring COLORs those that needed it.  Consequently, as many as eleven off-campus COLORs sites operated simultaneously across Spartanburg County from 2010-2014.

2015 marks a year of further evolution for COLORs. Another re-imagining of the program has taken place during SAM’s strategic planning process.   As part of The Spartanburg Art Museum’s commitment to providing high quality art education, we resolved that COLORs should continue to impact the creative and cognitive development of area youth with a redefined academic structure.  The COLORs staff and director asked themselves: How can COLORs strengthen what it does? How can the museum’s exhibitions contribute to the learning experience? How can COLORs projects align with work children see at the museum?  How can the program sustain itself financially?

We are excited to unveil the result of our inquiries: a new educational format that will revitalize the COLORs mission with stimulating, dynamic and enlightening programming. COLORs will continue its mission in the years to come with an academic structure that is exhibit-based and studio-focused.  This will be accomplished with 8 key changes to the COLORs program:

  • 12-week sessions studio sessions
  • maximum student capacities
  • Welcome orientation sessions with tours, instructor meetings, introductory presentations supported by guidelines and procedures for safety and manners in the studio and comprehensive course outlines
  • guided tours of current exhibitions from SAM Executive Director, Curator of Collections, and/or Exhibitions Coordinator
  •  individual and group projects
  • adherence to South Carolina Academic Standards of the Visual and Performing Arts
  • collaborations with guest artists to create unique large-scale works of art
  • student exhibitions

For more information, contact the COLORs director, Kathy Wofford, at 864.582.7616 ext. 221 or email

Posted on June 16th 2015 in COLORS

An Interview with Maggie Leininger

I had the opportunity to interview one-time Spartanburg native turned urban artist turned local artist once more, Maggie Leininger, following her Mass + Effort workshop at SAM this past week. An aura of accomplishment, skill and confidence surrounds the artist – and she seems equally at home whether seated at a conference table, delivering a site-specific proposal, or at a loom, plaiting strips of handspun woolen yarn together. But it is at the loom or spinning wheel that Leininger seems to be most in her element, and here that her enthusiasm and charm are at their most infectious. We sat down at the loom for this interview, and while we talked, a bolt of hand-woven cloth materialized between her nimble fingers.

What’s your connection to Spartanburg, and to textiles in Spartanburg? Why make all your work textile-based?

I went to school with many families who worked at Inman Mills.  Since I moved to the area as a transplanted Midwesterner at a young age, I was always aware of the area's textile economy as a source of pride. It provided jobs both within high sector positions such as research and development and to skilled labor dedicated to the operation of the mills. In fact, when I first moved to SC, I lived in Union in a house that I now understand is a typical mill village house.

As I developed my creative sensibility, I was introduced to various textile practices within my high school art program at Woodruff High School where I was taught by Diana Olencki….the biggest impact the textile industry had upon me was a yearly scholarship from Inman Mills so that I could attend the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where I obtained my BFA. It wasn't until later on as a professional artist that I was able to reflect upon these experiences and connect them to my current practice that often incorporates many traditional textile skills such as weaving, spinning, and dyeing.

My interest in the economy related to cloth making has informed much of how I see the many ways we are all intricately connected to one another.

Why do this work in Spartanburg?

Well, there are many aspects of the local textile industry that have inspired my doing this project in Spartanburg. One is the weaving room at Walnut Creek Plantation. The equipment there, which was in operation prior to the American textile industrial revolution, is identical to what I use today within my own practice. Weaving and spinning by hand using pre-industrial equipment is recognized as one of few practices within the industrial arts that is directly connected to the modern technology we use today. The Jacquard loom, for example, inspired the first computer. Punch cards, similar to those used by early computers, told the loom operator which thread to pull up (turn on) or leave down (off). This binary coding is essential in today's economy and society--and it all relates back to the loom.

I am also drawn to the industrial spaces that once housed a tremendous work force. The mill tower was the center of the town. It symbolized many things as well as serving as a marker of time for the community. I currently live in Chicago among expansive industrial sites--some are active, and some are abandoned. I live 2 miles away from the original Sears Tower and live in the same town that founder Richard Warren Sears resided in during the heyday of the Sears and Roebuck Co. The mill tower transformed into skyscrapers, as evidenced by the Sears Tower we all recognize. Textile mills transformed landscapes, created communities, and contribute to the expansion of globalization, for better or worse. The mills that no longer are in operation in Spartanburg County are like derelict ships….they’re no longer moving the economy forward or contributing to "progress", yet they are still here, waiting, silently, to be transformed into yet another form.

For those that didn’t make it to Mass + Effort at SAM, could you describe for them what it was all about?

Participants learned to weave fabric using a portable multi-harness loom. They also were able to engage with additional tools associated with hand spinning. Myself and other community residents provided their expertise to participants wanting to contribute creatively to the work

As a part of the natural dialogue that occurs during such interactive sessions, we swapped stories related to the history of textiles, and started a dialogue about the textile industry in Spartanburg. Future workshops will also feature natural dyeing techniques using locally resourced plants as dye stuff.

What are you going to do with the cloth that you and citizens of Spartanburg wove together?

The cloth that we produced during the interactive sessions embodies each hand that spun the yarn or wove the fabric - as both processes capture a person’s response to the material. This work is a communal effort. The final product is going to be combined with salvaged bricks from the area to make an artwork, and installed at SAM in the fall.

My role as the artist is to provide opportunities of engagement for the community so that they can come together to share in these newly learned experiences and relate to one another about their own place in the historical context of the textile economy of the area.

In addition, my role is to discover and connect community assets related to textile production and history of the area. For example, I have been able to connect with a local weaver in Spartanburg who is eager to become involved in continuing the dialogue and interest generated from these upcoming events. While I will be actively involved in coordinating the project and overseeing the details, the essence of the creative expression will be that of the community.

Any closing remarks?

Textiles by nature are a source of social identity--both within the making as exemplified in quilting bees, spin-offs, and knitting groups and in how we use them. They identify where we belong in society and provide us the ability to transform. Textiles also drive our economy, especially in our global marketplace.

You can read more about Leininger on her website, and meet her at our next textile workshop in May.

Interview by Mat Duncan

Posted on April 17th 2015 in Exhibitions

So Long, Farewell

Of all of the blog posts I have written for SAM this is by far the hardest and most bittersweet one to complete. I have written it a dozen times, a dozen different ways and yet nothing I say seems to adequately portray my thoughts and feelings.

As a self-proclaimed control freak, I can honestly say I hate change and I really hate goodbyes, but in just a few days that is exactly what I will be saying to the Spartanburg Art Museum, the staff, and the city that I have grown to love.

I have been offered, and have accepted, a position in the Development office of the Columbia Museum of Art. Growing up in the outskirts of our capital city, I often visited the art museum and dreamed of one day working there. This job is a dream-come-true for me and a wonderful opportunity to further my career. Saying yes to this dream, however, has been significantly harder than I ever imagined it could be.

Sara during Wofford Freshman Orientation

I moved to Spartanburg in the fall of 2009 to attend Wofford College. While I immediately fell in love with Wofford, it took me a bit a time to warm up to the Hub City. If you had told me then that I would be heartbroken about leaving it, I probably wouldn’t have believed you, but in many ways this town has become more of a home to me than my hometown of Chapin ever has been. This is where I feel I truly grew up.

Over the past six years, Spartanburg has allowed me to build a home and a life for myself. Spartanburg is where I fell in love. It’s where I learned to cook. It’s where I made friends who turned into family. It’s where I learned to enjoy playing team sports and, for the first time in my life, got a jersey with my own name on it.

Red Ball and Vodka Kickball Team, sponsored by Delaney’s Irish Pub

This is where I learned the importance of caring about and being active in my community. I learned how to think and write critically about art and how it can directly affect culture and the community we live in. I have learned how museum’s and non-profits operate, how to think fast on my feet, how to survive trial by fire, and how to make a beautiful Excel spreadsheet.

The list of mentors, surrogate-parents, friends and role-models that have shaped my experience in Spartanburg is long, so bear with me. If this was the Oscars, the not-so-subtle “get off the stage” music would have started playing a long time ago. But these people have helped make me who I am today, and my dream of working at the Columbia Art Museum wouldn’t have come true without their love, support, and help along the way.

Dr. Goodchild and Sara at opening reception of Sara's exhibition at The Johnson Collection

First, I have to thank Karen Goodchild, Jennifer Evins, and Elizabeth Goddard. These three brilliant women have each taken me under their wing, been my biggest cheerleaders, and have gone above and beyond to provide me with opportunities to shine. They have inspired me to be stronger, bolder, and more hardworking every day.

Thanks Ashleigh, Kathy, Kathleen, Mat, Caitlin and Cody (aka my partner in crime) for making every day at work fun and rewarding. It has been an honor to be on your team and I can’t tell you how much I am going to miss you all.

SAM Staff at
From New York to Nebo and Dark Corners Opening Reception

I have to thank Chris Kennedy and the entire Spartanburg Art Museum Board for hiring me and, for reasons I may never understand, wholeheartedly trusting me to do a job that I was by no means qualified to do.

To the volunteers and interns at SAM, you are all amazing and I love you all to pieces. Without you SAM couldn’t operate or exist and you are all actually the best people I know.

Thank you to Sarah Tignor and the entire Johnson Collection for your constant support and encouragement. Thank you for allowing me the privilege of curating an exhibition of your beautiful work and for giving me a job after graduation.

Thank you to all of my professors at Wofford for the lessons you taught me and the support you continue to give.

Thank you, Mike, for putting up with me, for pushing me, and for seeing me more brilliantly than I have ever seen myself.

Sara and Mike at Shipwreck: The Anti-Holiday Party

Bess, Mary Katherine, Amy, Katherine, Cal, Charles, and the rest of the crew, thank you for making Spartanburg so fun! You are all so generous with your time and energy and I know that whether it’s a night out on the town, a shoulder to cry on, or a few warm bodies to make an event look more crowded, all I have to do is call and you’ll be there.

Of course, I have to also thank my family. Besides being ridiculously cool (don’t tell them I said that), my parents have been nothing but supportive and proud of me. Even when they don’t understand the decisions I make they trust my judgement and support me wholeheartedly. I also have to thank my Spartanburg parents, Hank and Simmons Welter, for providing me with home cooked meals and a family away from home.

Thanks Jenny, Caroline, Holly and the rest of the Diva Dynasty, John, Thomas, my sweet Theta sisters, Ruru, the Rockers guys (and Sara), Sarah II, Sydney, Sherrill, Mary Linda and everyone else who has loved me, supported me and shared in my excitement. The amount of support I have felt from my family and friends has been overwhelming.

This has been the most incredible experience and I am so sad to see it end. This city and this museum have been a more wonderful adventure than I ever dreamed it could be and I am so grateful for the time I have spent here. 

Written by Sara Shealy, Community Development Coordinator

Posted on March 16th 2015 in Museum Musings

Guest Post: Sarah Tignor of the Johnson Collection

Who would have thought that a girl from California could have fallen in love with a collection of art all about the South? I certainly didn’t when I moved to Spartanburg in August 2006, but nine years and hundreds of beautiful paintings later, here I am writing for SAM’s blog about the Johnson Collection’s latest exhibition, From New York to Nebo: the Artistic Journey of Eugene Thomason, on view at the Spartanburg Art Museum until April 19th. 

Eugene Thomason (1895-1972) was one of the first artists to catch my eye during my initial days at TJC in January 2007. There was something about his bold, primary palette and character-filled portraits that seemed unlike any type of art I had experienced before. His rugged interpretations of western North Carolina—its rural landscapes and people—engendered in me an appreciation for an area of the country I had very limited exposure to. Thomason’s Appalachian paintings were like postcards of a far-off locale that was now practically my backyard. 

Pig Hankins by Eugene Thomason (1952)

One of my favorite Appalachian works is currently installed in SAM’s galleries: Pig Hankins, 1952. In this portrait a broad-shouldered farmer leaning over a fence is reaching towards a sizable hog. Thomason’s rendering of the fence with thick planks of wood stretching horizontally across the canvas and the farmer’s resting position adds a sense of harmony and peacefulness to this work. The farmer’s gaze is directed downward at the pig. On his face is a gentle smile conveying a compassionate connection with the animal. The combination of Thomason’s choice to clothe the farmer in a bright blue-green shirt, lacking the dirt and stains of daily farm life, as well as the farmer’s relationship with the animal shows a different kind of mountain man; liberated from the stereotypes often seen in depictions of our Appalachian neighbors. 

Please enjoy Thomason’s paintings now on view at SAM, and through his art and the phenomenal works of Julyan Davis’ Dark Corners: the Appalachian Murder Ballads, also on display, I hope you get to know a little slice of Appalachian landscape and culture.  

Written by Sarah Tignor, Collections Manager and Registrar of The Johnson Collection

A native Californian, Sarah Tignor was selected as the Johnson Collection’s first curatorial intern during her senior year at Converse College. Upon graduating with a degree in Art History in 2008, Sarah joined the Johnson Collection’s staff and now serves as its Collection Manager and Registrar.  Sarah graduated from the Jekyll Island Management Institute, a leadership and museum professional program, in January 2014. She is currently enrolled in the Master of Arts Museum Studies program at Johns Hopkins University.


Posted on February 24th 2015 in Exhibitions

Just Call Him the Renaissance Man

When Mat Duncan applied for SAM’s Art Administration Internship in the fall of 2014, the staff was intrigued by his resume. A graduate of Winthrop University, with a BFA in Printmaking, he had been recognized with several Departmental Awards, and his skills ranged from museum and gallery practice to oil painting, event promotion, woodworking and CPR.  A native of Lexington, SC, Duncan has lived and worked in Charlotte, Asheville, Brazil and Finland. He has backpacked through Europe, and is a published author (Newark International and T.B.O.M.H.I.M.).

Mat came in for an interview and we quickly realized that his resume was not, in fact, too good to be true, and he really was all he said and more. Over the past six months he has become an integral part of the team. That is why we are so pleased to be able to announce that, thanks to the endowment given by the Palmetto Bank in honor of Les and Betty McMillan, we were able to officially hire Mat as the Curator of Collections, or as I like to call him, the ‘Crypt Keeper’.

For Mat and the SAM Permanent Collection it was love at first sight. He immediately was drawn to the enormous task of sifting through the repository and has since unearthed some incredible pieces of art. He has begun the process of organizing, cataloguing, conserving and maintaining the art within the collection. Over the years SAM has operated without any one person focused on the collection, so we are thrilled to finally be able to provide the art that the community has entrusted to us with the love and care that it deserves.

To introduce Mat as an official staff member, I thought I would let him tell you about himself in his own, very eloquent words.

What will you actually do as the Crypt Keeper (aka Curator of Collections)?

A Collections Manager or Curator of Collections, whether he or she is entrusted with 10 artifacts or 100,000, assumes the guardianship of not just those objects, but of the cultural heritage and local, national, or world history to which they correspond.  Art objects have material value in the present, perhaps because they are rare or costly, or perhaps because they are beautiful, or sometimes because they are symbols of an individual, a group, or a time that has passed into history. 

But an artifact, in my opinion, can be said to have more than just this material value, it can be said to have a sort of soul – in that it has meaning not just for today, but to all the people, cultures, and times it will encounter in the future, who will communicate with it through interpretation, education, research, and aesthetic enjoyment. 

As the Curator of Collections, I will ensure that the numerous works in SAM’s collection are able to communicate with and benefit future generations in this way.  However, the work of a Curator isn’t carried out in isolation.  For me, making art intelligible and accessible in the present is just as important as preserving, conserving, and guarding it for the future. 

So, to answer your question, as of Curator of Collections I’ll be wearing many different hats – I’ll be investigating, conserving, analyzing and interpreting works that we have, endeavoring to learn more about their history and significance to the present, thus ‘hearing their story.’ I’ll also be ensuring that chemical, biological, and environmental conditions are right for them to remain in the best possible condition far into the future, in that way ‘giving them a voice’ for future generations. In the present, I’ll be making them accessible and intelligible for everyone, whether for education, research, or entertainment…in that way, ‘telling their story’. 

Collections are an awesome resource for the community.  I want to make it so that people can actually use that resource, and I want to make sure that resource is around for a long time to come.

What drew you to the SAM Permanent Collection?

Spartanburg is a really interesting town, in that it has a quite multifaceted history.  So many have contributed to make it what it is – early on the Cherokee and Catawba, then the Scots-Irish, French, and English, and of course ‘King Cotton’.  The SAM Permanent Collection reflects these many influences in its considerable depth, breadth, and variety - I was really amazed, and quite taken aback, when I first saw the collection.  I never expected such a trove to be hidden beneath East St. John Street. It definitely got my attention - piqued my curiosity – and the more I delve into it, the more interesting it becomes.

What is your favorite piece in the Permanent Collection?

Vipera caudisona, Mark Catesby (1729-1747)

 Wow, what a difficult question! Honestly every piece in the collection has its own really unique ‘story’ to tell, and its own very particular beauty about it, related to the time and circumstances within which it was created – but if I had to pick one, maybe this one etching by Mark Catesby, an English Naturalist and antecedent to James Audubon.  Catesby’s Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands (1729-1747) was the first published account of the flora and fauna of North America.  It had 220 etchings of birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, insects, mammals, and plants.  Catesby observed the plants and animals in person and then drew and etched images of them himself for the book.  We have a few prints from that book, one of which is a rattlesnake, Vipera caudisona, and it’s just a really handsome image, in impeccable condition.  And at the time this etching was created, Mozart hadn’t yet been born and the steam engine wouldn’t be invented for another 18 years.

What do you like most about working at the Spartanburg Art Museum?

Well, I’d have to say…the staff!  Rarely have I had the opportunity to encounter so many talented, dedicated people under the same roof!  I’m really honored to work with them.  Thanks for taking the time to ask me these questions, Sara!

Written by Sara Shealy, Community Development Coordinator and Mat Duncan, Curator of Collections

Posted on January 26th 2015 in Museum Musings

Spartanburg Art Museum 2014

The Spartanburg Art Museum has much to be thankful for as we close out 2014. This past year has been one of substantial growth and transformation.  SAM has welcomed new members to our staff, Board of Directors and volunteers, all of whom are committed to fulfilling our mission of supporting the visual arts by: exhibiting regional, national and international artists, fostering the creative capacities of our area youth through our education outreach program COLORS, and offering adults and children studio classes in a variety of art disciplines. 

On behalf of the staff, Board of Directors, volunteers and our members, the Spartanburg Art Museum wishes you a healthy and creative 2015!

Posted on December 31st 2014 in Museum Musings

Message From the Director

The Spartanburg Art Museum has much to be thankful for as we close out 2014. This past year has been one of substantial growth and transformation.  SAM has welcomed new members to our staff, Board of Directors and volunteers, all of whom are committed to fulfilling our mission of supporting the visual arts by: exhibiting regional, national and international artists, fostering the creative capacities of our area youth through our education outreach program COLORS, and offering adults and children studio classes in a variety of art disciplines. 

Areas of growth in 2014

  • 2014 Fall Membership Drive saw a 53% increase in memberships sold from last year
  • Over 20,000 website visits within the past year
  • SAM’s presence on social media expanded from 3 to 7 sites all of which experienced significant growth, including a 10.5% increase in Facebook followers from last year
  • Served over 100 youth in our COLORS program weekly
  • Over $23,000 in national, state, and city grants since July 2014
  • Exhibited more contemporary and compelling works of art such as the museum’s first ever site-specific installation, Memory Ship by Christopher Nitsche 

This month SAM completes the Museum Assessment Program created by the American Alliance of Museums and the Institute for Museum and Library Service. This invaluable learning experience has provided the board and staff with a clear understanding of the work that lies ahead from major conservation efforts with our permanent collection, to build capacity in our Art School, and broaden our donor base throughout the Upstate. 

A few of our priorities for this upcoming year include placing many works from our permanent collection on our website providing free access and resources for educators, students and the general public. We are committed to continually improving the quality of our exhibition program, namely to represent a diverse range of artists, mediums and concepts that foster critical thinking and engagement with the broader issues of our time. In 2015 SAM will continue to offer new and improved programming designed for families, young professionals and seniors. We strive to enlighten, engage and educate through informal creative programs such as SAW it @ SAM, Community Yoga and TECH(nique) Nights

Please help us achieve these goals by making a contribution to the Spartanburg Art Museum. Your tax deductible donation allows us to continue to improve and contribute in meaningful ways to the cultural fabric of our community and beyond.

To donate online through our easy to use PayPal system, click here. If you wish to mail in a donation, our address in 200 East Saint John Street, Spartanburg, SC 29306.

On behalf of the staff, Board of Directors, volunteers and our members, the Spartanburg Art Museum wishes you a healthy and creative 2015!

Elizabeth Goddard
Executive Director 

Posted on December 29th 2014 in Museum Musings

What I’m Thankful For…

As Thanksgiving approaches I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’m really thankful for. My list is long and extensive but one of the brightest spots on it is the Spartanburg Art Museum. When I reflect on the year that the museum has had I can’t help but feel immensely blessed. We have had an extraordinary year and I thought I would take a moment to give a shout out to all of the incredible people have made it possible.

First and foremost, I am thankful for our new and returning Board of Directors. These generous and selfless volunteers are the backbone and foundation of this organization and without their time, energy, and expertise we would be lost. They are quick to lend a helping hand or words of encouragement and govern SAM with thoughtful care.

Another group that makes the museum possible is our corporate sponsors. Without the financial support of local companies we would not be able to fulfill our mission of exhibiting artists for our community and fostering creative capacities among area youth and adults. The standout sponsors for this year are Bank of America who sponsored our first ever site-specific installation, Memory Ship by Chris Nitsche, Palmetto Bank whose endowment is allowing us to explore and maintain the permanent collection, and finally our Shipwreck sponsors who are helping us throw the best party this side of the Atlantic!

Along with our corporate sponsors are the individuals who support us through their time and financial contributions. One group of donors, our Phoenix Fund members, has been exceptionally generous this year. It’s no secret that SAM has gone through major changes and without these individuals none of our goals would have been accomplished. Because of the Fund’s support we have had the freedom to spread our wings and fly into new and exciting territory.

I am particularly thankful for the group of individual donors who have joined SAM as members! As the coordinator of the membership program, I am in awe of the outpouring of support that was shown during October’s Membership Drive. Not only did we meet our goals of memberships sold, we exceeded them and have almost doubled our membership base in just 18 months! By becoming a member of SAM not only are you saying that you want to take advantage of the fun programs we’ve been creating, you’re also saying that you support the mission and goals of the museum. 

Along with individuals, the overall community of Spartanburg has embraced SAM and breathed new life into our galleries and classrooms! I am not a native of the Hub City and I am constantly amazed at the civic engagement and generosity that this small but proud city displays on a regular basis. SAM has made some bold moves and we’re bringing some truly challenging exhibitions to this town. Every step we have made has been met with enthusiasm. Thanks to that support we can continue moving forward, confidently knowing that this county is committing itself to helping the arts flourish.

Finally, I have to say how thankful I am for the amazing SAM staff, interns, and volunteers that I get to work with every day! It has been a dream of mine to work at an art museum and help other people love art as much as I do. Thanks so the Spartanburg Art Museum I get to do just that.  Not only do I get to spend every day surrounded by art but I get to do it in a community I love with people who are fun and inspiring. My coworkers are some of the most talented and creative people. Working with them is a blast and it is an honor to be a part of a team that is accomplishing so much.

This Thanksgiving I’ve got a lot to be thankful for and I hope that you do too. Wishing you all a happy and safe holiday season!

-Written by Sara Shealy, Public Relations Coordinator

Posted on November 26th 2014 in Museum Musings

Behind the Repository Door: The Tree of Life and The Tree of Death

Enigmatic doors often appear in popular literature and Hollywood movies - one turns a corner, opens a wardrobe, pronounces a secret incantation, or happens to brush against a hidden lever – and is suddenly confronted with a passage to unknown environs.  In real life one rarely, if ever, happens to encounter such portals.  But if one were to take a wrong turn and, by chance, end up wandering the subterranean areas of S.A.M., he or she might find just such a door.  White, with a silver handle and uncommonly large, this door is almost featureless, and occupies a featureless corridor, and is naturally always locked. It thereby exudes a powerful aura of mystery. 

Only a small placard affixed to the wall near this door gives any hint of its purpose.  It reads “W005: Art Museum Repository”.   In attempt to deduce what secrets lay beyond the door, a clever person might search for the meaning of the word ‘Repository’:

 noun \ri-ˈpä-zə-ˌtȯr-ē\
: a place where a large amount of something is stored
: a person who possesses a lot of information, wisdom, etc.

Such a search would leave the curious disappointed.  A large amount of what?  Or, alternatively, whom?
But the gatekeepers of this doorway, the staff of S.A.M. - being themselves of a boldly inquiring mind – have taken it upon themselves to reveal the strange treasures within in an ongoing blog series entitled... "Behind the Repository Door"

November 14: The Tree of Life and The Tree of Death

Throughout the serpentine annals of history and into the present day, Art and Artists have far more often than not been allied with political, religious, and moral institutions, the variety of which is surpassed only by the range of artworks they have inspired.  The Pyramids of Giza were designed to testify to the grandeur and divinity of the Pharaoh Khufu, Dante Alighieri’s visions of hell were populated with his adversaries in the Guelph-Ghibelline conflict of the 13th and 14th centuries, and the French Realist Gustave Courbet was notorious for his frequent clashes with the government and police over the politically radical subject matter of his works.  In the Victorian Era, this trend demonstrated itself in a deluge of politically and religiously moralizing pamphlets, prints, tracts, and illustrations.  Works such as William Hogarth’s Beer Street (1751) and Gin Lane (1751) survive as excellent examples of the style; and the political, social and moral atmosphere of the time and place they were created in is fossilized within them.

Indispensable to any conversation about this period are the famous Nathaniel Currier and James Ives, the era’s most successful and well-known American lithographers, whose firm – Currier & Ives – produced over 7,000 editions between 1834 and 1907.  The Tree of Death and The Tree of Life are two pieces in the Spartanburg Art Museum Palmetto Bank Endowed Permanent Collection attributed to the firm.  Last week, I set out to date and authenticate those works as Currier & Ives prints and determine where they were printed and how.

            Both expressed a moralizing sentiment in an aesthetic arrangement appropriate to the period in question. A tree was prominent in each, upon the branches of which hung multicolored medallions inscribed with the spiritual fruit of said tree.  On The Tree of Death, whose roots read “Unbelief”, hung such yields as “Theft”, “Drunkenness”, “Lasciviousness”, and “Diesm”.  Upon The Tree of Life, whose trunk was inscribed with an image of Christ, hung the outcomes of “Peace”, “Pardon”, “Security”, and “Resurrection”.  The printer’s name in The Tree of Life had been obscured by water damage and was no longer legible, but was quite legible in The Tree of Death as “N. Currier”.  It seemed then, that the prints had come into the collection together, and due to the illegibility of the one and the clarity of the other, taken together with their similarity of subject and execution, were assumed to have originated from the same firm.  I accepted that inference and moved on to examining the prints’ constituent materials and ascertaining the likelihood of their authenticity.  First, I examined the paper itself.  It was mostly cotton based, definitely medium to heavyweight, and dry and brittle with age.  This was consistent with the paper historically documented as having been used by Currier for all his pre-1860 lithographs.  Next I checked the addresses printed at the bottom of each lithograph to see if they corresponded to one actually used by the firm.  The address in The Tree of Death was authentic and dated the print to between 1838 and 1856.

However, the address printed beneath The Tree of Life did not match any used by Currier & Ives.  I moved on to an examination of the actual ink application in each print.  Often, even a highly sophisticated copy will reveal pixilation & patterning under magnification – revealing that the print was produced mechanically rather than from an actual lithographic stone.  An authentic lithograph from this period, especially one produced by Currier & Ives, will show an irregular smattering of ellipses, dots, and areas of solid color under magnification.  Expecting to find that The Tree of Death displayed the latter and The Tree of Life the former, thereby confirming one as authentic and outing the other as a forgery, I was surprised to find that both had an ink pattern consistent with hand lithography.

The Tree of Life wasn’t a Currier & Ives, but it was a 19th century lithograph.  Consequently, the address printed below it - 245 Main St. Hartford, Conn. - must have been the location of another firm.  By comparing SAM’s lithographs to pieces from the same period in the Library of Congress’ digital archive, I was able to identify said firm as E.B. and E.C. Kellogg and date the print to 1846.  Ironically, this firm was none other than Currier & Ives’ biggest competitor.

While it was intriguing that the prints had been misattributed to the same firm, confirming that they had originated in different firms implied something more interesting:  that the Victorian print market could accommodate numerous editions of such similar works as The Tree of Life and The Tree of Death, and that competing firms produced pieces that were effective foils of each other.  One might dismiss this as mere plagiarism on the part of one of the firms, or both, or as indicating that the moralizing tree motif was a common image in Victorian America.  Both would be valid assertions, but the innumerable Victorian-style lithographs, engravings, and woodcuts which survive to us from 19th century America articulate the social atmosphere of that time in addition to their respective artistic content. While the prints were sought after primarily for their decorative value, they also served as emblems of a new aspect of American culture: a single moral system and cultural narrative held in common throughout the young nation.  In the 19th century United States, such works codified an emerging national identity, and in the case of moralizing art such as The Tree of Life and The Tree of Death – what we now regard as the distinctly American values of diligence, self-reliance, and piety.   

~written by Mat Duncan, Collections and Administration Intern

Posted on November 14th 2014 in Behind the Repository Door

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