SC State Museum Studies’ Interns and Students Travel to Historical Sites

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Museum studies’ interns and students from SC State’s I.P. Stanback Museum and Planetarium (The Stanback), along with the Stanback director Ellen Zisholtz, also formerly director of Cultural Affairs for the City of Savannah, recently traveled to Savannah, Ga. where they visited several historical sites and museums. Student interns at the Stanback are funded through a grant in African-American Culture and History from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), a federal agency.

The first stop was the Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum named after a famous Savannah civil rights leader who served as the pastor of Savannah's First African Baptist Church. The building, circa 1914, has three floors of exhibits dedicated to Savannah's African-American Heritage and Civil Rights Movement and was once the largest black bank in the United States. The founding spirit behind this museum was Wesley (WW) Law, leader of Savannah’s civil rights movement. The Stanback is just beginning a collaborative relationship with this civil rights museum.

The Telfair Museum is the oldest public art museum in the South. The legacy of one Savannahian visionary, the museum was founded in 1883 through the inheritance of prominent local philanthropist Mary Telfair. Telfair left her home and its furnishings to the Georgia Historical Society to be opened as a museum. Today, Telfair Museum consists of three unique buildings: the Telfair Academy and the Owens-Thomas House, which are two National Historic Landmark sites built in the early 19th century, and the contemporary Jepson Center.  Each of the museum’s three buildings is an innovative expression of its time and houses a collection corresponding to the era in which it was built. The museum studies’ interns and students had the opportunity to experience each historical site.

The next stop along the tour was the visit to the Owens-Thomas House, housing one of the earliest intact urban slave quarters in the South. Recently, it was discovered to have the largest expanse of “haint blue paint,” supposedly having the unique ability of repelling spooks, confusing them by blocking their ability to gain entry into a home. The main house served as a boarding house, and in 1825 the Revolutionary War hero, Marquis de Lafayette, was a guest. According to Savannah's oral tradition, the celebrated Frenchman Lafayette delivered his two Savannah addresses to thousands of adoring citizens from the ornate cast iron balcony on the south side of the house. A grant from IMLS has been received by the Owens-Thomas House to conduct research and receive interpretations of African-Americans in the house. This was of particular interest to students who are also working under an IMLS grant to the Stanback.

The final museum on the tour was the contemporary Jepson Center, which is home to the Telfair’s Kirk Varnedoe Collection, a cornerstone of the museum’s contemporary holdings. The museum was assembled in honor of the late Savannah native, scholar and Museum of Modern Arts (MoMA) curator, Kirk Varnedoe.  The students had the opportunity to view paintings, artistic laser light displays and sculptures that were influenced by the psychedelic culture of the art world.

The stops were enhanced by visits to slave holding sights and galleries at City Market and the Riverwalk.