Museum opens with virtual exhibit of 'Etchings to Pastels'

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The Charleston Museum recently reopened and did a Facebook virtual showing of its new “From Etchings to Pastels” exhibit, a collaboration with The Pastel Society, on display until October: I interviewed Jennifer McCormick, Chief of Collections & Archivist at the museum; Renee Bruce, President of The Pastel Society of SC with Deborah Rosato/Coordinator; and, artists Sarah Kuhnell, Karen Gaag, and Maureen Gonzalez whose work was chosen from the 33 Pastel Society artists. As Kuhnell said, “Participating in the challenge to interpret an earlier well-known artist’s work in another media meant translating the linear ink etching into texture, color, and analysis of intention as well as setting.”

ART On the Square gallery, 420 Nexton Square Dr., Summerville, 843-871-0297. Daily from noon…

Regan: Jennifer, what is the historical significance of exhibit?

Jennifer McCormick: We are in the 100th anniversary year of the Charleston Renaissance movement, a cultural renewal that brought a diverse mix of people together to improve and preserve the city through artistic expression.

Mary Regan

Mary E. Regan

Artists, architects, writers, musicians, and photographers all participated in organizations such as the Charleston Etchers’ Club, the Jenkins Orphanage Band, the Society for the Preservation of Old Dwellings, and the Poetry Society to communicate Charleston’s past through art.

The Charleston Etchers’ Club-founded ‘23, was comprised of many of the leading artists of the day, including Elizabeth O’Neill Verner, Alfred Hutty, Antoinette Rhett and Alice Kuhnell Huger Smith. This exhibit presents a new interpretation of selected etchings, created by members of the Club displayed alongside the pastel artist’s reinterpretation. A good example is “Maum Tina,” an Elizabeth O’Neill Verner creation that illustrates an African American nanny holding her infant charge.

The soft pastel painting created by Anne Brownyard reinterpreted Verner’s etching as “Mama Tina” holding her own child.

R: Debbie, how did this exhibit come together?

Debbie Rosato: Jennifer and I discussed how we could collaborate for an art show. After some thought on Jennifer’s part, she brought up the idea of doing something in conjunction with the anniversary of the renaissance art movement in Charleston in the 1920s — mainly the etching movement.

R: Renee, how were the artists chosen? Tell us about your piece, “Against the Wind”?

Renee Bruce: Once details were worked out, members of the Pastel Society were able to choose which etching they wanted to interpret from 40 original etchings in the Museum’s collection.

Then we painted our pastels and 20 of them were chosen for the exhibit by a jury committee. I chose “Against the Wind” because of the wonderful swirls the etcher used to create the sensation of a sea breeze.

R: Sarah, tell us about your work, “Those Who Serve”.

Sarah Kuhnell: I chose a piece by Elizabeth O’Neill Verner, a widow who supported her young family with her etchings of Charleston locations, and also with pastel or oil portraits of nannies with their charges, of basket and flower sellers, and of many local scenes over a long, celebrated career.

Her “Looking Up Meeting Street” is set from the portico of the Carolina Society Hall toward St. Michael’s Church and City Hall with a lone figure carrying her basket of work at mid-morning on a beautiful day.

Using hue to add contrast and enliven the scene, my interpretation is titled “Those Who Serve,” acknowledging the quiet daily contributions of individuals and institutions to the community at large.

R: Karen, your piece, “Sunlight”?

Karen Gaag: My piece is called “Sunlight”, the same name as the original piece. I found it difficult to know just what it means to interpret the work of another artist, so I tried several things.

I drew the somewhat ramshackle buildings and then I did it again but with vivid colors and then decided to do only the person in the original and put her in the sunlight. I felt that was the important part of the picture as she seemed to be going somewhere for a purpose that I could only imagine.

R: Maureen, your piece, “The Bee and Apple Blossoms”?

Maureen Gonzalez: Ms. Antoinette Rhett’s etching, “Apple Blossoms”, was of several bees harvesting pollen among the apple blossoms of her era. 1OO years ago this land was plentiful of bees.

This world has changed. Our honeybees and all bees are now endangered. Rhett had several bees in her etching despite its title.

Mine is “The Bee and Apple Blossoms” and I intentionally put only one bee in my colorful pastel painting to show the stark difference of what 100 years can make and still try to bring a fragile love connection of them both together with color.

Mary E. Regan, Columnist, is a Publicist with her ProPublicist consultancy and is seeking more clients. Story ideas? send email to