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ARTS AND HUMANITIES: Anniversaries take many forms

November 17, 2018

Anniversaries can mark an infinite variety of events and take an equally limitless variety of forms. The 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, for example, is being commemorated with parades and other ceremonies in a host of countries this November; the same international focus has been evident in the numerous concerts currently signaling the 100th anniversary of the birth of American musical genius Leonard Bernstein.

What more appropriate way for a museum to call to remembrance its founding than by mounting a special exhibition? Thus, the South Carolina State Museum has currently assembled in a third-floor gallery a fascinating assortment of artifacts culled from its permanent collection – all in an effort to mark the institution’s 30th anniversary. Since 1988, the museum has been providing visitors with “an in-depth picture of the state’s past, present and future.”

All of the state museum’s major collecting categories are represented in this special show: art, science and technology, and both natural and cultural history.

From the state art collection come key examples of some of South Carolina’s most characteristic forms of creative expression. The tradition of cutting silhouettes by hand is represented by images fashioned by Carew Rice and his grandson Clay; our state’s significant contribution to outsider art is epitomized by several of the concrete replicas of ancient buildings that retired contractor L.C. Caron laid out in his backyard in Orangeburg.

Equally noteworthy are the many murals that dot our state thanks to federal arts programs implemented during the Great Depression. The current show features a work that once graced the walls of the post office in Woodroff. Completed in 1941 by Russian-born social realist Abraham Lishinsky, “Cotton Harvest” has been on permanent loan to the State Museum since 1999.

In the category of science and technology is the largest artifact in the current show; it represents one of our state’s most significant contributions to the transportation industry: boatmaking. Gracing the center of the exhibition space is a wooden motorboat produced by the Halsey Boat Company in 1956. Before the advent of fiberglass in boat construction, this Charleston-based company was a significant force in the making of aquatic craft.

Lovers of natural history will enjoy getting up close and personal with such items as a saber tooth tiger skull found in Dorchester and flipper bones of a baleen whale unearthed in Beaufort County. Marks that researchers have noted on the latter artifact offer evidence that the whale’s carcass had been gnawed by sharks.

Individuals, both famous and forgotten, are represented by items that enrich the state’s cultural history. Vanna White, a Conway native who has served as hostess of the television game show “Wheel of Fortune” since 1988, is embodied in this exhibition by a white dress she wore on screen in 1997. Another resonant article of clothing is the pair of epaulettes that long ago graced the uniform of Captain Swanson Lunsford, who fought alongside Gen. “Light-Horse Harry” Lee during the American Revolution. Legend tells us that Lunsford is buried on property once owned by his family but now encompassed by the grounds of the South Carolina Statehouse.

On the other end of the glamour scale is a shellacked loaf of bread a cook at Fort Jackson sent his mother in 1942. Both the cook and his parent were so enamored of the skill exemplified in the creation of his braided loaf that they were intent on its perpetual preservation.

Be it ever so humble, even this “petrified” bread contributes to the story of South Carolina, a narrative that the South Carolina State Museum has been so admirably recounting with the help of the 280,000 artifacts collected over the last 30 years.

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