McKissick Museum’s “Not Your Average Joe: Mr. Knozit and the Peabody Award” exhibition has been on display at the Museum since January, 2020. Our building closures, due to COVID-19, have given us the opportunity to explore news ways of presenting our exhibits. This exhibit, curated by Graduate Assistant Hannah Patton, is one of our first attempts at making our exhibits accessible online. We’d love to know what you think in the comments below! We hope you enjoy the blog post and text panels by Hannah below.
The inspiration for the “Not Your Average Joe: Mr. Knozit and the Peabody Award” exhibit began well before there was even the possibility of a physical exhibit. During my first semester as a graduate assistant at the McKissick Museum, my position was funded by the South Carolina Broadcast Association (SCBA), and I began work in the Museum’s SCBA Archive. A substantial part of this work involved processing objects related to Joe Pinner, a South Carolina Broadcasting Legend and host of the Mr. Knozit Show for 37 years. As the semester progressed, I learned more and more about the Mr. Knozit Show and Joe Pinner, the person.
When the idea of an exhibit about Joe Pinner was presented to me, I was thrilled and thought it would be easy given the sheer amount of pictures, documents, and objects we have. Since this was my first time curating an exhibit, I learned the important lesson that more content did not necessarily make it easier to create an exhibit. In fact, it was challenging to craft a meaningful narrative about a man who has, and continues to live, such a full life. Ultimately, I focused on elements of his life, such as the Peabody Award, because it is those distinctions that make Joe Pinner undeniably “Not Your Average Joe.” I’m proud of the text panels that you’ll find below and I hope that you’ll enjoy them as we all stay home during this challenging time.
McKissick Museum is dedicated to telling the story of Southern Life, even while closed. Did you enjoy these text panels? If so, let us know in the comments. Your input will help us determine our next steps for bringing our exhibition content online.
As we work from home, our Executive Director, Dr. Jane Przybysz, takes a deeper look into the history of quilts, as more than just crafted textiles, but as charged sites. Explore how these textiles held memory, comfort, pain and ultimately, power.
A book by feminist quilt artist Radka Donnell titled Quilts as Women’s Art: a Quilt Poetics (1990) first introduced me to the idea of quilts as “charged sites”. Donnell perceptively observed that—in many cultures–quilts and other textiles are objects linked with major rites of passage—birth, marriage, and death. As such, they often evoke strong and sometimes conflicting emotions. What with fabric being so skin-like, and bedcoverings being so intimately associated with the bodily pleasures and pain we experience in beds, Donnell made the case that quilts as an art form are unique in that they simultaneously conjure feelings of comfort and vulnerability.
Thinking about quilts as charged sites really complicated how I subsequently thought about the history of quiltmaking in North America, particularly the history of quilting bees. Whereas quilting bees seem to have entered the popular imagination as quaint gatherings of little old ladies who gossiped away an afternoon while sharing the work of stitching the three layers of a quilt together, close readings of multiple historical accounts of quilting bees suggest women often hosted quilting bees—or “parties” or “frolics”—to jockey for resources, visibility, power and control over the fates of their daughters within their families and communities.
Unlike the rather tame affairs that most of us imagine quilting bees to have been, 18th– and 19th-century quilting bees often were quite rowdy “coming out” parties for newly marriageable young women or even widows. After the collective work of stitching a quilt together during the day was complete, men would arrive in the evening for food, drink, and making merry. Making merry might include singing, dancing to fiddle tunes, and play party kissing games late into the night and early morning. A quilting party, in other words, was a way that women proactively invited and vetted potential mates for their daughters and, on occasion, themselves.
In this context, the quilt itself might be a testament not only to the social networks but the actual skills, knowledge, and wealth—specifically cloth wealth– a woman might bring to a marriage. Prior to the industrial revolution, cloth of any kind was highly labor intensive to produce and, hence, an expensive commodity. People who knew how to raise, harvest, spin, weave, dye, cut and sew cloth possessed skills and knowledge widely valued within families and communities. Cloth was a form of wealth and quilts were listed in estate inventories as valuable property.
Mothers wanting to empower their daughters with cloth wealth might organize quilting parties as a means to that end. Whether the quilt was made from cloth purchased by the girl’s family or from blocks contributed by multiple family and/or community members, a quilt made for a young woman’s dowry provided her a resource that she could later use to pay or barter for other goods if the need arose.
Folklore has it that a young woman was supposed to have completed a baker’s dozen quilts prior to her engagement, at which point she would begin work on the 13th—her wedding quilt. In truth, most 18th– and 19th-century brides appear to have had two or three quilts with which to set up housekeeping. But I like to think that the supposed “tradition” of a girl having 13 quilts when she wed was more like an aspirational goal women of a certain era had for their daughters—a wish that they be well supplied with the physical embodiment of the emotional support of their female social networks and the economic resources they would need to cope with the ups and downs that married life almost inevitably entailed.
Today’s blog comes from Dr. Lana Burgess, McKissick Museum’s Faculty Curator and Director of the Museum Studies Management Certificate Program. The topic? Documenting and collecting projects during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
The idea of collecting stories during the COVID-19 Novel Corona Virus pandemic was originally shared with me by Amanda Belue, McKissick Museum’s awesome Communications Manager. Amanda is engaged with and follows all of our social media outlets. While the thought of doing that exhausts me, I appreciate that she shares what she learns. She sent me a link to a conversation on Twitter between faculty who were creating and sharing assignments asking their students to document this unprecedented, historical moment
Our initial research also turned up additional resources from the, now international collection and online exhibit, started by Catherine O’Donnell, Richard Amesbury, and Mark Tebeau in the School for Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies at Arizona State University aptly titled A Journal of the Plague Year: an Archive of COVID-19. Anyone can and is invited to contribute to their ongoing project here. At McKissick, we talked about having our student staff participate as a way to help them continue to work and earn a paycheck. I also began to think about it as an assignment idea for my class.
This semester, I am teaching a graduate seminar for UofSC’s Certificate of Graduate Study in Museum Management on the best practices in collections management. Much of what I teach leans towards the very practical, hands-on side of things. Not being able to have the class meet in person concerned me greatly, as the result could be an unfulfilling experience, given the hands-on limitations of online learning. Watching the news about a possible recession, stimulus packages, and spreading disease, I began reflecting on the student’s final project. It actually was an assignment that could be completed remotely. I had asked my students to submit an electronic portfolio demonstrating what they had learned about museum collections: their care, legal issues, policies, and procedures, etc. Normally, this assignment serves the students well, as students in past years have presented their work at conferences or used the portfolio in job interviews. However, at this particular moment in time (March 23, 2020), I felt strongly that the students needed to do something else. If there was any possibility that there are not going to be internships and jobs available by summer, then why put students through the torture of an assignment that is a constant reminder of their uncertain professional future? And what better way than to employ curatorial practice than by putting word and image together to tell a story of how they are experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic?
I polled the students to get feedback on the idea. They liked it and so I borrowed heavily from the open source, creative commons work of my colleagues at other universities to create the assignment. Some of the things that I added were a few directly personal questions as a way of checking on my students before they took a deep dive into documentation and reflection. Because I think that I am the funniest person that I know, I created a short slide show answering some of the questions to which I asked the students to respond. The PDF of my initial contribution to the collecting project, which I shared with my students, is available for you here too, as is their assignment.
So why collect the COVID-19 pandemic? For museums and archives, the items collected become a part of the historical record. Letters, journals, notes, such as grocery lists, photographs, oral histories, and medical supplies (or their absence) in such collections, will help future generations contextualize the past. It will teach fear, sadness, hope, change, adaptation, and resilience. In the present, and partly because we live in an information age, the act of collecting and sharing stories bridges the physical distance between human beings and penetrates the closed doors separating us from talking to each other in person. Commonalities emerge and communities form to mitigate the anxiety, loneliness, and grief experienced by so many.
At a time when we are all trying to figure out the best way to cope, I ask that you please share your story. What has daily life been like for you? If you wish to share these with McKissick Museum or the South Caroliniana Library at the University of South Carolina, we would welcome your submissions. We will share more as information becomes available about University-wide collecting efforts
But don’t do it just for us. Do it for yourself.
Make yourself a priority. Reach out and stay connected. After all, we will get through this together.
The University of South Carolina’s Digital Collections department is an important part of the Historic Southern Naturalists project. Our newest blog entry comes from Joshua Schutzenhofer, a grant assistant with the project. Read on and enjoy!
Hello, I’m Josh, and I’m working for UofSC’s Digital Collections department as an Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) grant assistant on the Historic Southern Naturalists (HSN) collection. When I am not working on homework or projects in my UofSC Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science, I’m digitizing HSN books, articles, or manuscripts that were written by (and sometimes for) naturalists, from as early as 1792 and as late as 1976. The work of scanning manuscripts and developing accompanying metadata can be tedious at first glance, but over time it becomes more interesting, seeing the different topics that the naturalists focused on. I get a glimpse at a variety of documents from the South, with details about botany, geology, and chemistry, as well as details about purchased items, account books, and ledgers of bills. All of the documents that have been scanned will eventually require someone to transcribe them, as they’re all handwritten manuscripts.
The work is great hands-on experience. Handling techniques for rare and fragile archival items prepares me for future archives work. And I get to utilize highly specialized scanners like the Qidenus SMART. I’m directly involved with the creation and editing of necessary and descriptive metadata as well as uploading digitized objects to our online repository. And I’m getting experience as a grant funded assistant, backed by one of the nation’s biggest granting foundations for libraries and museums, IMLS. The classes I take do provide me with knowledge that I will use, but the work I do here will provide me with skills and experience that I can possibly take with me to other positions after I graduate. Seeing all the different types of items and documents is also interesting because I have earned an undergraduate degree in history.
Stay tuned for updates on the pieces we digitize next!
William Gaillard Mazyck, as you learned in last month’s blog, was a world-famous malacologist (a.k.a. someone who studies mollusks or shells). The McKissick Museum took possession of the “Mazyck” shell collection, consisting of 570 lots of shells, in 1976 as an inter-institutional transfer from the South Caroliniana Library.
But what do you do when the provenance of an object, or objects, come into question? This is the situation the grant staff found themselves in when addressing McKissick’s Mazyck shell collection.
During the first phase of the HSN project in 2017, correspondence was uncovered from Wm. G. Mazyck to A.C. Moore. These letters refer to Mazyck’s contract malacological work for UofSC negotiated with Moore. The first indication that our Mazyck collection may indeed be Lewis Reeves Gibbes ’ collection came from a letter scanned by SCDL (South Carolina Digital Library) during the ASPIRE II phase of the project.
As you can see above, this handwritten letter from William G. Mazyck to Professor A.C. Moore, was penned on January 3rd, 1906 and post marked January 5th, 1906. Mazyck first apologizes for the delay in his response to a previous letter due to “enormous pressures of office work” and the end of the fiscal year. Then he addresses the specimens, “About your specimens…if the collection is a general one I would greatly prefer to have them all before me at one time.” And Mazyck goes on to say, “I anticipate much enjoyment from this work and trust that I may be able to…assist you in getting the collection into such shape as shall serve to make it attractive both for exhibition and study.”
In a typed letter dated, April 5, 1906, we read that Mazyck has received the collection from Moore along with a letter. Mazyck speaks to the condition of the shells and the fact that in some cases the locality of the specimen is not noted on the label. He goes on to state that… “In labeling these latter I have given the general habitat of the species or that of my cabinet specimens, in brackets, to indicate that such information was lacking in Dr. Gibbes’ labels and has been supplied by another hand.”
The last letter uncovered from Mazyck to Moore is dated June 4th, 1907. In this short letter, Mazyck lets Moore know that, “By Express I am sending today three of the boxes of your shells. I hope that they will reach you safely and the work done will prove satisfactory.”
With only these letters and the evidence from the historic labels, we are inclined to attribute the collection to Lewis Reeves Gibbes. We have reached out to multiple institutions to find other letters between the two but as of today we have not found any other letters.
Our next stop is the South Carolina Department of Archives and History. There, we will research the Appropriations Acts passed by the General Assembly to find records of the specific funds allocated for the purchase of Dr. Gibbes natural history collections. We know that Gibbes’ specimens were purchased by the state of SC for the university after his death (1894), so in accessing these records we hope to find a specific date for the allocation.
So Mazyck or not Mazyck…the search continues for more evidence to confirm our suspicions.
Man has been using minerals in the creation of art for more than 150,000 years. Earliest art consists of petroglyphs created by prehistoric man during the Paleolithic Period. When I think of the contentious debate involved in erecting a piece of public sculpture today, I chuckle at the thought of John Q Homoerectus’ sons and daughters explaining their intent to a less than admiring community. Did it get violent, did the debate involve clubs?
Petroglyphs are found on all the continents except Antarctica. They are generally found in groupings and can number in the hundreds at a single site. From the Greek word meaning “rock writing,” they predate written and oral history, and as such, many remain a mystery to modern scholars. Still, they represent a universal form of public art. Imagine the committees involved in determining what of the communities resources (man hours, tools etc…) would go for art. What would a prehistoric 2% tax for art look like?
South Carolina is the home of a number of petroglyphs unearthed at the Hagood Mill site in Pickens County. They number more than 300 and are thought to be between 1000 and 2000 years old. They were found by Archeologist Tommy Charles of the South Carolina Institute of Archeology and Anthropology.
Much of what we know about early cultures we know from examining their art. The oldest rock art, the Bimbetka petroglyphs and cave paintings in India depict everyday life, religious ritual, and myth. The paints are believed to have been made from a combination of manganese, hematite and coal. I recently saw the film “Beasts of the Southern Wild” and the film’s protagonist, a child called Hushpuppy, moves through silent moments in the film drawing on any and everything using charred sticks. At one key moment in the film she has started a fire in her home and seeks refuge in a cardboard box. When the lights come up inside the box the interior walls are covered with her childlike drawings. I believe the filmmaker sought to draw parallels between our contemporary understanding of life and the primal urge for self-expression. So in the film modern, storm ravaged Louisiana becomes the backdrop for coal paintings by Hushpuppy.
We humans like pretty things. We have painted, carved and built whatever we could imagine throughout history using the resources of our natural environment. We have adorned ourselves with gemstones, and fought wars over gold and diamonds and continue to paint our bodies with minerals using ancient and modern techniques. The Karo People of the OmoRiverValley in Africa use pulverized white ash, a powdered yellow mineral (perhaps mitridatite), hematite and black charcoal to adorn their bodies. They paint beautiful designs they have practiced this art since ancient times.
Throughout history we have carved monuments into the sides of mountains and built things with stone and minerals extracted from earth. Edgefield, South Carolina has found itself in the news recently as a newly discovered vessel by enslaved 19th century potter, Dave Drake has been identified and auctioned. Potters in Edgefield were using alkalized glazed stoneware.
Today’s artists participate in creating all manner of forms and images using a vast array of the earth’s resources.
Here are a few artists who use natural materials in their work:
– Michaela Pilar Brown
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