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Carolinas: Artful insights

Courtesy Gibbes Museum of Art

Look closely at a piece of art, and you’ll see more than just paint on canvas. Inside the frame is a glimpse of the artist and some of the many factors that make the particular artist’s perspective unique.

In the Carolinas, a whole host of factors such as history, the mountains and the sea have helped to influence generations of artists and craftspeople. At art museums in both North Carolina and South Carolina, groups can get a feel for the collective expressions of artists from the regions they are visiting.

Gibbes Museum of Art
Charleston, S.C.
Originally conceived by the Carolina Art Association in the mid-1800s, the Gibbes Museum of Art has been showcasing the work of Charleston-area artists since its current building opened in 1905.

“Our mission and our focus is primarily Charleston, the Lowcountry and the American South,” said Marla Loftus, the museum’s director of communications. “We have a permanent collection of over 10,000 objects, and it’s very focused on this area. It’s wonderful for tourists, because it’s a great place to understand the area through the artwork.”

At the core of the museum is the ongoing exhibition “The Charleston Story,” which uses artwork from the permanent collection to trace the area’s history from early European settlement in the 1600s to the present day.

In addition to the many paintings, sculptures and photographs in the museum, visitors will find a collection of historic miniature portraits.

“Miniature portraiture predates photography, and it was very big in Charleston. People would have them made so that they could carry around a picture of their loved ones.”

Columbia Museum of Art
Columbia, S.C.
Since beginning in a house some 50 years ago, the Columbia Museum of Art has grown to become a significant collecting institution.

“We have a large collection of European art, American art and Asian art,” said Allison Horne, the museum’s marketing and public relations coordinator. The collection includes a lot of pieces from the Italian renaissance, the baroque period and the rococo period.”

Among favorite Italian pieces is a Sandro Botticelli fresco, one of the few outside of Europe.

The American gallery includes historic furniture and sculpture, and a chandelier created by modern glassblower Dale Chihuly hangs in the museum’s atrium.

The Asian gallery has a variety of ceramics and bronze pieces, as well as a rare six-panel jade book that was a gift from Chinese emperor Kangxi to his grandmother.

Groups can arrange guided tours of the museum and combine them with lunch or wine tastings.

Asheville Art Museum
Asheville, N.C.
The mountainous region around Asheville is known for its concentration of artists and craftspeople, and the strength of that creative community is reflected in the Asheville Art Museum.

“We focus on the American art of the 20th and 21st century,” said adult programs manager Nancy Sokolove. “We have American craft and studio art, which means all different kinds of pieces. We have so many nationally and internationally recognized craft artists in our community, it’s staggering.”

Throughout the galleries, visitors will find work by renowned local and national crafters, in addition to some Cherokee art from nearby areas of North Carolina. The crafts are shown alongside other traditional artworks from the museum’s 2,700-piece collection.

“We don’t see any distinction between craft and fine art,” Sokolove said. “So in our permanent collection, you’ll see everything in one space. We really understand what it takes to be a crafter, because we’re in this area.”

Items on display change throughout the year as curators rotate pieces into the galleries from the permanent collection

Cameron Art Museum
Wilmington, N.C.
The Cameron Art Museum is a central arts and cultural institution for its area of North Carolina.

“What we do is a balance of populist, accessible art and scholarly, more important works,” said museum director Deborah Velders. We have a really active interdisciplinary program, with public programs featuring music, dance, theater, film, lectures, and classes and workshops.”

The museum’s collection includes work from Asia, Europe and the Americas ranging from the 17th century to the present day. Visitors will find traditional fine arts in the permanent collection gallery; crafts, decorative arts and other more whimsical genres can be found in a second wing.

“Our museum is probably becoming best known for presenting surprising and unusual exhibits,” Velders said. “One is an exhibition entitled ‘PuppetArt’ featuring the first museum display of the famous political and social puppet theater group Bread and Puppets. It also includes international puppets from the 18th century to the present.”

For more on the Carolinas:

Gardens get blooming recognition
Artful insights
Historic flavor
WEB EXCLUSIVE! 10 plantation homes in the Carolinas

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.