Billed as America’s Premier Lecture Series, The Charleston Art & Antiques Forum for 2012 was held in the Old Courtroom at the Confederate Home and College at 23 Chalmers Street, Charleston, South Carolina, between March 14th and 17th.
Founded in 1997, The Charleston Art & Antiques Forum opens Antiques Week each year with noted national and international scholars addressing topics relating to fine, decorative, cultural and material history. The Forum offers superb lectures in small-scale sessions with lively question and answer sessions that often continue over lunch or dinner. Speakers and participants enjoy special camaraderie as they study collections, visit historic properties and experience the best in Southern hospitality at receptions in landmark venues.
I was delighted to be asked to give the first “Jean Yarborough Helms Keynote Address” at the start of the Forum. It has recently been renamed in honour of the founder of the event (seen below with the Forum Moderator Tom Savage).
This was my third visit to Charleston, having previously worked on a private house in the city and having advised the Historic Charleston Foundation on the restoration of several of its properties. It was a perfect chance to catch up with many old friends and to make many new ones.
Seventeen speakers from a number of American museums and institutions together with a few independent scholars were invited to give papers.
The papers ranged in topic and the full schedule can be seen HERE. The standard was high and the atmosphere relaxed. It was good to be able to follow up the discussions over coffee or at the many social events that were fitted into the programme.
Of course, it would be invidious to pick out one favourite paper, but I particularly enjoyed the following ones:
a) Printing Wallpaper: The Rapid Transfer of Style. This was given by Steve Larson and Christopher Ohstrom of Adelphi Paper Hangings of Sharon Springs, NY. Adelphi has been trading since 1999 and is a producer of historically accurate block printed wallpapers for museums and historic institutions, as well as for period designers and those involved in contemporary design projects. Somehow, Chris manages to fit this in with also being Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the World Monuments Fund.
b) A second paper was given by another old friend, Margaret B. Pritchard, who is the Curator of Prints, Maps, and Wallpapers at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Her talk was entitled: Hang it Up: Wall Treatments in the 18th & Early 19th Centuries.
c) Tom Savage, who is Director of Museum Affairs at Winterthur Museum gave a fascinating talk on an English subject entitled A Most Colorful Collector: Horace Walpole at Strawberry Hill. It was very satisfying to see images of many of the interiors for which we had provided specially-mixed paint.
d) Elliot Bostwick Davis, John Moors Cabot Chair of the Art of The Americas Department of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston described the planning and installation of the Museum’s new wing for the art of the Americas in her talk A New World Imagined.
e) Another most interesting talk was given by David Houston, Director of the Curatorial Department of the new Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, in Bentonville, Arkansas. The building was designed by Moshe Safdie, and the collection was amassed by Alice Walton of the Wal-Mart fortune. A PBS interview with Mr Houston and a slideshow of this museum can be seen HERE.
Admittedly, I missed a few of the papers in order to catch up with colleagues and buildings that I knew from my earlier visits. Robert Leath, currently Chief Curator at the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA) very kindly took me for a return visit to the Nathaniel Russell House. Robert had been a curator with the Historic Charleston Foundation when we had first met. He reminded me that in the 1990s we had discussed the repainting of the balcony white following paint analysis. They were also finding that the use of black on ironwork was a comparatively recent phenomenon (as can be seen HERE). This was a controversial decision at the time, but now makes complete sense and, as he described it, looks like lace (see below):
Another excursion saw me revisiting the famous Pineapple Gates House where I worked about ten years ago. I also met up with Glenn Keyes the architect on that project and Richard Marks, the contractor I had worked with.
I was particularly pleased to be able to call on Anne Prescott Keigher who had employed me some years ago to work on the restoration of the Benjamin Franklin House in London. Dick, her husband, very proudly showed my wife and I the MBE that she had been awarded for her efforts. Sadly drinks in their delightful garden were cut short by our need to rush off to yet another event. In fact this was a dinner held in my honour at the Carolina Yacht Club. What a splendid occasion and yet another opportunity to sample the famed Southern hospitality.
On the following evening, after a full day of lectures, we assembled at the Timothy Ford’s House in Meeting Street for another party and a chance to meet yet more people.
The final evening saw us congregating at the famous Calhoun Mansion, where Mr Howard Stahl had graciously invited us for drinks and a chance to see his incredible collection. This slideshow will give a vague idea of the treats inside.
The Charleston Art & Antiques Forum is a really wonderful event. If ever one has an opportunity to attend I would recommend it. It is the perfect chance to hear many of the top American museum professionals speak in most pleasing surroundings. Charleston is city well worth visiting and on a scale that is comfortable to the English, or European visitor. The inhabitants are welcoming and the food quite delicious.
My grateful thanks to the organisers of the Forum and for the kindness and hospitality shown by everyone during the trip.
In 2013 I was asked to give a paper at the 65th Colonial Williamsburg Antiques Forum.
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