Founded in 1773, The Charleston Museum is, in fact, America’s first. Needless to say, over the centuries the Museum has acquired many incredible artifacts. A myriad of items exemplifying the rich history of South Carolina, the Lowcountry, and Charleston itself are on display permanently. However, one must also wonder about the artifacts not typically displayed in our formal galleries. Furthermore, with such a magnificent, vast collection as well as an intelligent and passionate curatorial staff, The Charleston Museum has incredible resources. We would like to use these resources to share more with the public. Therefore, the Museum will now be offering a special monthly exhibit, titled Storeroom Stories, which highlights a specific and unique artifact, personally hand-picked by a curator to share with the public.
A “story” related to each item will be included along with its description, providing the viewer a unique and intimate perspective on each individual piece. This an incredible opportunity for the public to take a look into our collections as well as see some of the items that our curators are most excited about sharing with you! We invite you to keep up with Storeroom Stories via our website, blog, Facebook, or twitter account. Please come and take a peek into our storeroom, view some of the pieces our curators our most passionate about, and learn the story behind these incredibly historic items! Read our interview below with Chief Curator Grahame Long about Storeroom Stories and the item he chose this month, the Pinckney Sword.
As Chief Curator here at the museum, what makes you the most excited about Storeroom Stories?
Graham Long: Obviously, since The Charleston Museum has been around since 1773, there is a lot of stuff here. The best part about Storeroom Stories is that it presents a chance for our visitors to see things that are part of our collection, but may not be on a regular exhibit rotation. For instance, since The Museum was once collecting globally, some items are vital to our institutional history as nation’s first museum. Even though they might not have much (if anything) to do with Charleston, they are still fascinating to see and learn about.
Do you think that, while this is a great opportunity for the public, it’s also a great chance for the curators as well since they will be able to highlight things that they’re interested in or passionate about?
GL: Indeed. All of our curators here at The Museum have incredibly diverse backgrounds, and this is a good thing. These monthly installments definitely present a chance for each of them to express their own enthusiasms. Furthermore, when we first started discussing the concept behind Storeroom Stories, I quickly decided that all bets were off as far as what could or could not be highlighted month to month. In other words, I expressly told each department (Archives, Natural Science, Archaeology, Textiles, and History) that, when their turn rolled around, they could choose anything they wanted out of our entire collection. There will be no pattern or recurring theme here. So expect to see anything from fossils to fire helmets, potsherds to potato mashers!
For you personally, is it the item itself more intriguing or the story behind it?
GL: I would have to say – in most instances, anyway – it’s the story. For example, there is a very plain and drab iron artillery fragment in our weaponry collection, which I am planning to use in an upcoming Storeroom Stories installment. There is nothing at all visually remarkable about it. It’s just a chunk of beat-up iron. The story behind it, however, I think can actually change the way you see and understand it.
Do you think that this is going to offer people a new perspective on history in general, perhaps, by offering a more personal feeling to these singular items?
GL: I certainly hope so, and that to me is the whole mission behind these monthly installments: to encourage people to look beyond an artifact. Sure, its material, size, shape, and origin can tell us something, but it by no means tells us everything. Who owned it? What did it do? Why is it here? These are all questions that should be addressed when examining any historic piece.
Why did you choose the Pinckney Sword to display first?
GL: For one thing, this piece is new to the collection, and, although it will very likely will be on permanent exhibit in the not-too-distant future, I couldn’t wait to show it off. We’ve had Pinckney’s officer’s dress sword on display here for quite a while, but this is his workaday war sword, not a ceremonial or presentation piece like the other one. This is the one he had at his side during the Siege of Charleston, and the one he surrendered with in 1780 (but was fortunately allowed to keep). To be sure, it doesn’t look like much, and, expectedly, is a bit beaten up, but if this thing could talk it would no doubt be screaming at you.
Are there many other pieces that you’re excited to share with the public?
GL: Hundreds – if not thousands – and they range from all over; different places, different times and, of course, different stories!
What is the one thing that you hope visitors at the museum will be able to take away from this focused and intimate monthly exhibit?
GL: That you never know what you might see – or what you might learn. More than that, though, I think everyone likes a good story, and here at The Charleston Museum, we have those in spades!