2023: A Year in Review

Season’s greetings to all our Museum friends! On behalf of The Charleston Museum Board of Trustees and staff, I wish you a joyous and healthy holiday season. Thank you to all of you who have made contributions to our Annual Appeal.

2023 has been a tremendous year for America’s First Museum as we have commemorated 250 years since our founding. We kicked off this celebration on January 12, the 250th anniversary of the Charleston Library Society’s creation of a “museum” that would become The Charleston Museum, with a keynote presentation by Dr. Anthea Hartig, Director of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Dr. Hartig gave a wonderful address, and we received letters of recognition for this momentous occasion from Governor Henry McMaster and Senator Tim Scott. The positive press we received related to the anniversary also helped drive the tremendous surge in visitation we have seen this year. To date, attendance at the Museum is at its highest level since 2001.

We offered three special exhibits to mark the anniversary: a two-part exhibit in the Historic Textiles Gallery, America’s First Museum: 250 Years of Collecting, Preserving, and Educating, and a special timeline exhibit in the Lowcountry Image Gallery, featuring photos that document the Museum’s history. These will be on display through the end of the year, and we encourage you to take some time during the holidays to see these unique offerings.

We also produced a series of videos this year featuring some of the more iconic pieces in the Museum collection. These are available on our YouTube channel, which we were excited to launch this year. Check it out!

Our book, The Charleston Museum: America’s First Museum, published for the 250th anniversary has been highly popular, and we are almost halfway through its initial print run. If you, a family member, or friend does not have a copy, it makes an excellent holiday gift. Another item in that category is the Charleston version of Monopoly, which was released just a few weeks ago. The Museum is pleased to be a part of this classic board game. You will find us, one quarter of the way around the board in the space normally occupied by Virginia Avenue in the traditional version. Look for us in the Community Chest cards as well!

As always, it has been an active year on the collections front. Our curatorial staff has made 58 accessions so far this year, numbering nearly 350 objects. Among the highlights were a pocket watch, signed by Joshua Lockwood, one of Charleston’s premier colonial watchmakers, a pocket knife, dated 1779, that belonged to Gabriel Manigault who designed the Joseph Manigault House, and a double chest, attributed to William Carwithen, the earliest known Charleston-made example of this form. With regard to the Carwithen piece, we are supremely grateful to the E. Milby Burton Trust for Historic Houses for donating the funds to purchase the piece. We were pleased to also receive a number of objects and archival materials related to Hurricane Hugo. Curatorial staff are particularly interested in acquiring new objects related to the Revolutionary War, as we head toward the 250th anniversary of the American Revolution in 2025-2033, and the local Civil Rights struggle, which will be a major theme in our forthcoming permanent exhibit update.

We were thrilled to see school groups return in large numbers to the Museum this year. These visits had dropped off considerably due to the pandemic but are now at their highest level since 2019. In addition to the schools that visit Museum sites, the Museum Education Department continues to provide significant outreach to Title I schools. Last school year and this school year, Museum educators have been presenting weekly after school enrichment programs at Sanders-Clyde and Mary Ford Elementary Schools. We are pleased to partner with Charleston County School District and Charleston Promise Neighborhood to offer these wonderful learning opportunities for these students. These colleague institutions also coordinate with the Museum to host the annual Social Studies Bowl in the Arthur M. Wilcox Auditorium to bring local Title I schools together in a friendly and fun competition that the students love.

The Garden Club of Charleston, a longtime friend to the Museum, has been busy this week decorating the Joseph Manigault House for the holidays. They always do a masterful job in this endeavor, and we are so grateful to these ladies for all their hard work in the gardens at Heyward-Washington House and Joseph Manigault House, and in the courtyard outside the Laura Bragg Boardroom. We hope that you will have the opportunity to visit the Joseph Manigault House to see the decorations or participate in some of the other great holiday programs that the Museum is offering this December.

Community Day at the Dill Sanctuary was another great success this year, and we had over 600 attendees. Guests had the opportunity to tour the African American cemetery on the Stono tract, Battery Pringle, Battery Tynes, the wildlife pond, and other parts of the property, and learn from curatorial staff concerning Museum efforts to preserve the Dill Sanctuary and its historic features. We are grateful to our sponsors, Publix Charities and the Henry and Sylvia Yaschik Foundation, for their grants that helped make this event possible, and for the individual donations made by so many of our attendees. Special thanks go to Board of Trustees members Jeanne Clement and Michele Johnson for their contributions to the success of Community Day. Jeanne was indispensable in checking in our many guests at the registration desk, and Michele provided tremendous assistance at the African American Cemetery, where for several years she has brought students from James Island Charter High School to help maintain it. The Board of Trustees approved a new Strategic Plan for the Dill Sanctuary in May, and again affirmed its commitment to the long-term protection of the property. Among the goals in the document is the development of a plan for resource management at the property, which we hope to have completed early next year.

We look to carry the momentum from the many good things that have taken place at the Museum this year into 2024. Our most exciting project is the completion of permanent exhibition through the end of the 20th century. The new exhibit, scheduled for installation in the fourth quarter of next year, will include interpretation on the Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras, the earthquake of 1886, the Charleston Renaissance, the transformation of Charleston in the 20th century, the two World Wars, and the local Civil Rights struggle. The update has been in the planning stages for several years and we are looking forward to its opening. Donations from this year’s Annual Appeal will go toward support of this important project. We also have two exhibits on the schedule in the Historic Textiles Gallery, The Art of Abstraction: Modernism in Quilting, opening January 20, and Lovely & Lethal: Killer Fashions from the Collection, opening September 28. On the facilities front, we are planning for the replacement of the Museum’s chiller units in April, which will allow for enhanced temperature and humidity control in exhibit galleries and collections storage.

As always, I wish to thank our wonderful members, donors, and volunteers for all your support of the Museum this year. This institution has flourished, now, for more than 250 years in large measure due to the assistance of people such as you. With you, it will continue to thrive.

–⁠Carl Borick, Director