Frankie Webb loved 18th-century furnishings and houses, friends and family say. For Webb, who retired as curator of historic houses for the Charleston Museum, a great day was finding the right piece of china, silver or other object that could help to present a historic house in the most accurate light.
While managing the Aiken-Rhett, Heyward-Washington and Joseph Manigault houses, Webb had a range of responsibilities, says Mary Edna Sullivan, curator at Middleton Place, who was mentored by Webb.
Those responsibilities included ensuring that the house was open for tours, attending to details for fundraisers and consulting with those involved in preservation work on the houses.
Webb died Oct. 18.
She began her museum career as assistant to E. Milby Burton, director of the Charleston Museum for 40 years, and worked at the old museum building until 1980, Sullivan says. Webb attended salons that Laura Bragg, pre-World War II director of the museum, held at her home and learned a lot about preservation there.
Margaret Axson, her daughter, says Webb enjoyed discovering how people lived in the 18th century and would point out traditions surviving from that time to her family. She had been a business major in college but ended up in the museum field and loved it.
Axson recalls how her mother had pondered whether to buy a candlestick table for their home a little too long. When she went to purchase the table, which she had seen at a consignment shop in St. Michael's Alley, she found Burton had purchased it for the Heyward-Washington house. "She always said the candlestick table in the Heyward-Washington House should be ours."
Sullivan met Webb in 1984 while writing a paper on the Joseph Manigault House for a College of Charleston preservation course.
On one of her interviews with Webb, she asked whether the curator ever took on anyone to study the museum business. The deal was that she would give Sullivan a recommendation for graduate school if she did a good job.
During Sullivan's internship, a column fell from the second floor of the Aiken-Rhett House to the bricks below, she says. Webb was very calm and self-assured.
"Pillar falling or pipe freezing, she never lost her sense of calm and tranquillity. She just always did what needed to be done."
Neil Nohrden, assistant curator of history at the Charleston Museum, remembers some training he received from Webb when he began working at the museum in its maintenance department, where it's essential to take care of cleaning and repairing things.
"We needed to strip and rewax the floors. She showed me a method of removing the wax, hot water and varsol (a cleaning solvent) and steel wool to remove the old wax and clean it and put fresh wax on."
Over the years, he continued to seek her advice, whether on restoration or to locate someone who once worked at the museum.
"Webb had a really grand knowledge of all three historic houses and all of their problems." Sullivan says. "She always knew a Charleston piece when she saw it. That is a very fine art. She did it without the help of computers.
"If I had a serious question about anything historical I was interested in or wondering who I needed to talk to or where I need to find something, she usually could tell me. In Charleston, she would be my go-to person," Sullivan says. "Charleston has lost a major person in historic preservation. She never beat her own drum or was much for public speaking. She was a quiet, gracious person who set the scene for others to do well."
Reach Wevonneda Minis at 937-5705 or email@example.com.