Discovering Historic Charleston, SC
Can you believe it is February 2020, the second month of the beginning of another decade? It’s exciting to see this as a new beginning. Every new year is a chance for new expectations, resolutions, dreams, and changes we vow to make. Mine is to focus on every opportunity for sharing and finding inspiration from my getaways, travels, and adventures with hubby and friends through my paintings. It is to pour my heart and energy into creating…
In this blog I share my visit to Charleston, South Carolina last Christmas. It is such a beautiful, charming city filled with art and history and of course – its sumptuous cuisine!
My hubby and I decided to explore downtown Charleston by horse and carriage!
Horse and Carriage Around Town
It was a great way to navigate old Charleston’s historic streets. With seasoned guides and strong, powerful horses we trotted along the cobbled streets. I can still hear the rhythmic sound of the horse’s hoofs echoing down the narrow streets. It felt like Circa 1820 as we listened to the guide’s stories and anecdotes about the city, ghosts that still hover around a few haunted buildings. It was just like walking back in time as we passed by the historic homes, plantations and churches. I was completely enamored by this moment in time. The architecture was from the influences of both American Colonial and French designs.
The Circular and Congregational Church is amazing, dating back to 1890. Its architectural style is Greek Revival, Romanesque. It is not really circular but a modified cloverleaf design and continues to be known as the Circular Church.
The Circular Congregational Church
Another church that stood out to me is Saint Philip’s Anglican church. The steeple of this church is 200 feet tall and its glass windows once served as a lighthouse. The bells were donated to the Confederacy and melted for the iron. New bells were not installed until 1976. The main central doors are 25 feet tall and were ripped from their hinges by Hurricane Hugo in September 1989. Wow! During Christmas it is well known for its most solemn candlelight service. George Washington, John Wesley and Robert E. Lee are just some of noteworthy individuals who worshipped at St. Philip’s.
Sketch of St Phillip’s Anglican Church
We passed by many beautiful historic homes like the Aiken-Rhett House at Elizabeth street circa 1820, virtually unaltered and preserved. This was the former home of Gov. and Mrs. William Aiken Jr. The Calhoun Mansion at Meeting Street is the largest privately-owned home in Charleston circa 1876. This remarkable 24,000 sq. ft. private residence and its formal gardens are open daily for tours.
An 1800s Charleston Home
After an hour of cruising the downtown of Charleston we dropped by a delectable restaurant, Florence’s Low Country Kitchen. We were hoping for a good casual Christmas eve dinner and weren’t disappointed. Florences’s is popular for its delicious low country seafood cuisine. I must say it was the best seafood fare I have tasted in a long time. Gosh, great food can alter your state of mind!
On Christmas day, we headed to Folley Beach. I can’t miss a visit to the beach! The weather couldn’t have been any better. It was such a lovely day and I was ready to paint ‘en plein aire’! The ocean always gives me a special lift as I smelled the sea breeze. We found an ideal spot for painting and voila, I feverishly created several watercolor paintings.
Painting en plein aire at Folley Beach
The next day we visited The Gibbes Museum of Art. I loved the informative, inspirational and enlightening galleries and its architecture. When the Gibbes Museum opened in 1905, the nation celebrated what Charleston has always understood: “the power of art – to inspire our imagination, heal our hurt, and nourish our souls.” The permanent collection of the Gibbes Museum of Art has deep roots in history. The collection contains artworks inspired by the low country of South Carolina’s unique landscape and cultural heritage.
As the old adage says, a picture speaks a thousand words. As I viewed the paintings and artifacts housed in this magnificent, high ceilinged, three-story building, I really sensed the struggles artists of that era have gone through as they expressed the sentiments of their generation. From wars to slavery and colonization, this museum is filled with awesome history.
“View of Charleston” by Henry Joseph Jackson 1853
Let me begin with the early landscapes. A new appreciation for landscape painting emerged in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. A fascination with ancient civilizations and a renewed interest in classical landscape paintings by Nicolas Poussin, Salvador Rosa and Claude Lorrain shaped artists’ work. Early works of landscape painting were imported to America from Great Britain, where Thomas Gainsborough, John Constable and Paul Sandby led the landscape movement. The generation of American artists working between the American Revolution and Civil War learned painting techniques by traveling to Europe for training. Some of the earliest American landscape compositions were created in Charleston.
But here is the sad part –The civil war left Charleston in ruins. It destroyed family fortunes, and fires and looting devastated homes and art collections. Artists were not isolated from the effects of war and of African slavery. During the war, painters such as William Aiken Walker and Conrad Wise Chapman who had successful careers became artists for the Confederate Army. They explored issues of slavery, and enslaved artist David Drake expressed resistance to his condition through his ceramic art. I have seen many sketches, historical objects, etchings, and paintings depicting slaves. One section of a gallery showed tags with numbers identifying the slaves.
Slave tags in the Gibbes Museum Collection
I share some of the sentiments these civil war artists expressed. I came from a country that was colonized by Spain and the United States. Spain landed in the Philippines in 1565 and stayed there for 400 years! The United States granted us independence on July 4, 1946. For many long years my country has experienced its own tumultuous struggle for freedom and independence. Many of our history books, journals and works of art have documented the pain of being colonized. But ultimately independence was gained and we now have sovereignty. But sadly not without a price.
Oil Painting, Collection of Gibbes Museum
What a great gift we have now in this big country I now call my own, America, the beautiful. We can enjoy the freedom to express our own minds and hearts as painters, sculptors, writers, film makers, journalists, men and women to the whole world!
Today, the Gibbes Museum of Art hosts art exhibitions from contemporary artists of various media and styles not only from South Carolina residents but artists from other parts of the nation.
FUN FACT from Gibbes Museum of Art on the Secret Life of a Painting: Museums prolong the lives of objects and paintings through specialized handling, storage and environmental conditions. If a painting is in poor condition it may need conservation or repair. Conservators use many techniques to examine a painting. Previous repairs require a Black Light to see them. Black light is a spectrum of energy that causes materials to react in different ways. A conservator can understand what a black light uncovers, such as another layer of paint or prior restoration, and about the painting’s authenticity. Visit: http://www.gibbesmuseum.org
Well, bless y’all for reading all the way through my ramblings! Feel free to comment and share your thoughts. I would love to hear from you!