250 Years of Collecting, Preserving, and Educating
Part 2 – June 17, 2023 – January 7, 2024 Historic Textiles Gallery
Commemorating two and a half centuries since its founding and spanning nearly 4.6 billion years of history, we are pleased to present Part 2 of America’s First Museum: 250 Years of Collecting, Preserving, and Educating.This exhibition showcases a church pew made by enslaved hands measuring 20 feet in length, centuries old Archaic carved bone pins, a skull from the largest known flying bird and a couture Fortuny gown.
We hope you will join us for this extraordinary milestone!
This year marks the 250th anniversary of The Charleston Museum, the first museum created in North America. Founded on January 12, 1773, by members of the Charleston Library Society, many of the first objects received were worldly curiosities and treasures brought to port by ship captains.
Carved Bone Pins, 2400 -1600 BC Precontact carved pins from deer bone recovered from an Archaic Period shell ring site. They were more than likely used as hair pins.
Throughout the years, the collections expanded to include such diverse objects as Egyptian artifacts, skeletal mounts of various animal specimens, early furniture, gemstones, pottery, and textiles. During the 20th century, the Museum’s focus shifted toward the collecting of objects related to the cultural and natural history of the South Carolina Lowcountry, the emphasis of its current mission.
Throughout the past two and half centuries, the Museum has survived multiple moves, fires, wars, natural disasters, and most recently a worldwide pandemic. Today it houses over 2.4 million objects and continues to educate visitors from all over the world.
Pelagornis Skull, 26–28 Million Years Old Pelagornis sandersi Discovered at the Charleston International Airport by a Museum volunteer, Pelagornis sandersi is the largest known bird capable of flight. The bony projections on the beak are bone spikes resembling teeth.
We are excited to display, in two parts, a year-long exhibit featuring a wide array of objects that span nearly 4.6 billion years. Please enjoy viewing the following objects that highlight the Museum’s rich history of collecting, preserving, and educating.
“Delphos” Gown & Coat, c. 1910 Mariano Fortuny, Venice, Italy Mariano Fortuny (1871–1949) created a stir with his “Delphos” gowns in the 1910s, pleated to resemble the drapery of ancient Greek statuary and designed to be worn sans corset.
To celebrate our 250th anniversary milestone, the Museum has published this special volume, The Charleston Museum: America’s First Museum, which documents its history and impressive collections in archaeology, natural history, archived materials, decorative arts, and historic textiles, as well as its preservation of historic landmarks, such as the Heyward-Washington House, the Joseph Manigault House, and the Dill Sanctuary, a 580-acre wildlife refuge on nearby James Island. This handsomely illustrated commemorative volume brings its rich history to life, offering insights into many of its 2.4 million collected artifacts while detailing the contributions of key figures, such as Gabriel Manigault, Laura Bragg, and Milby Burton, who made it one of the premier museums in the southern United States.
In the Museum’s Armory, see excellent examples of historic weaponry, dating from 1750 to the twentieth century, with uses that ranged from military to more personal applications such as hunting and dueling.
In the Lowcountry History Hall, see materials relating to the Native Americans who first inhabited the Lowcountry and the African American and European settlers who transformed the region into an agricultural empire.
In the Natural History gallery you will see an extraordinary array of birds, reptiles and mammals that have called the South Carolina Lowcountry home since prehistory, including contributions from noted naturalists.