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McKissick Museum

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Past Exhibitions

Our past exhibitions are a window into our commitment to preserving Southern history. 

In September 2018, artist/scientist Dr. Anna Davidson was invited by USC geology professor and oceanographer Dr. Susan Q. Lang to be part of an expedition to study the Lost City as an artist-at-sea. The Lost City is a hydrothermal vent field located on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge at the bottom of the seafloor roughly between South Carolina and north Africa. They spent a month aboard the research vessel Atlantis and used a remotely operated, deep-submergence vehicle to collect samples and record video on multiple cameras. Based on her experience of being at sea and the documentary video footage, Davidson created a body of artwork about hydrothermal vents and the threats deep-sea mining poses to them. This exhibit juxtaposes Davidson’s artwork with scientific specimens and data collected by USC researchers to ask what visual art and science disciplines share, and how  artists and scientists might support each other’s work.

February 1 to May 12, 2023

Featuring 21 artists books from the Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, this student-curated exhibition explores how artists books challenge traditional conventions of literature and its physical forms. From accordion books to postcards, to “mini-sculptures” and card decks, each artists book represents a small yet impactful example of artists who question form, technique, and imagery to create unexpected works of art that emphasize a new way of defining and engaging with books.

December 10, 2022 to May 10, 2023 

Basketmakers have sewn baskets in the South Carolina Lowcountry since the 17th century. The tradition has been preserved at the hands of the Gullah-Geechee people, descendants of enslaved West Africans trafficked to North America. For over 300 years, basketmakers have transformed baskets from a plantation tool into an art form. Today, basketmakers continue to leverage heritage tourism to make a living, to advocate for the preservation of the ecosystem vital to the tradition, and to experiment with scale, form, and materials. This exhibition traces the evolution of sweetgrass baskets in South Carolina, highlighting the innovative work of contemporary makers.

August 11, 2022 to April 21, 2023

Drawing from the museum’s permanent collection and the South Carolina Broadcasting Association’s archive, The Medium is the Message  showcases a selection of devices that have made mass communication possible over the past century. The objects on display date from the late 19th century to the early 2000s. Some objects will appear unfamiliar and even strange, while others likely will evoke a sense of nostalgia.

April 12 to August 18, 2022

Brett Schenning’s photographs aim to capture the hope that drives southern sustainable farmers. Hope that they will succeed in raising foods to nourish people in their communities. Hope they their hard work will both bear fruit and enable them to pay their bills. Hope that the ways they farm will ensure that the land will continue to support future generations.  These photographs present select southern farms that differ in many ways, but are united in their stewards’  belief that sustainable agriculture can make the world a better place.

January 10 to July 15, 2022 

When most people think of bees, they picture the hives of honeybees. Honeybees, however, are a single non-native species among thousands of native bees that inhabit North America. Our native bees pollinate our vegetable and fruit crops, backyard gardens, fields, and woodland trees. The exhibit Wild Bees showcases a collection of stunning macro photographs by Paula Sharp and Ross Eatman depicting the world of America’s native bees.

January 10 to July 15, 2022

Whether or not museums like to admit it, they all have their secrets. What is that object? How did it get here? Why is it important? Should we keep it? Perhaps the paperwork was lost or misfiled. Maybe the original curator never fully documented the object. Whatever the reason, puzzled curators cannot ignore mystery objects forever. Eventually collections managers must fill in the gaps in their databases.

Each generation has the opportunity to research the mysteries their predecessors left behind. Sometimes it is easy. Sometimes the trail is cold. Research is ongoing. This exhibit is a cooperative effort between McKissick Museum and the Public History Program to use the museum's collections as tools for teaching graduate students about researching and interpreting material culture.

Let the sleuthing begin.

Friday, September 5, 2014 to Saturday, February 14, 2015

On July 26, 1990, President George H. W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a landmark piece of civil rights legislation making it possible for Americans with disabilities to participate more fully in society. Twenty-five years later our world is more inclusive, but there is still more work to be done. Opening Doors is a PhotoVoice exhibit that shows some of the obstacles students impacted by physical, mental, and psychological disabilities face. The photos depict physical obstacles, social barriers and academic difficulties.

Artist's Reception - March 24, 5:30 - 7:30 pm

Image:  Rebecca Alley, Uneven Bricks, 2015, photograph

Sunday, March 1, 2015 to Saturday, May 30, 2015

Crafting Civil (War) Conversations commemorates the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War with a juried exhibition of contemporary art. The Museum invited artists from across the Southeast who work in what historically have been regarded as craft-based media--clay, fiber, glass, metal and wood--to imagine the Civil War’s end as a scene of reconciliation—not between the North and the South—but between former slaves and former slave owners.

Conceived as a response to the 2010 Secession Ball in Charleston that kicked off 4-plus years of sesquicentennial commemorative events in the South, the exhibit asks: what’s at stake in how we choose to remember and commemorate the Civil War and its aftermath?  The artworks collectively invoke the material culture of everyday life—baskets, tables, chairs, quilts, and fiddle bows.  They speak to activities and experiences that post-Civil War southerners shared.     Individual artworks invite visitors to join a quilting bee, break bread together, tell family stories, and empathize with the physical and psychological experiences of formerly enslaved people and former owners.

This exhibit is curated by McKissick Executive Director Dr. Jane Przybysz, who said, “The exhibit poses more questions than it answers--about Civil War commemorative events, and  about art and museums as both sites of collective memory and change agents.” 

Exhibit-related programs include:

Screening of Fambul Tok and dialog with filmmaker Sara Terry on Thursday, April 9, 2015 at 5:30 pm in the Booker T. Washington Auditorium, 1400 Wheat Street.  Sara Terry is a 2012 Guggenheim Fellow whose film documents post-civil war efforts to revive a traditional truth-telling and reconciliation ceremony in Sierra Leone. 

Thursday, February 5, 2015 to Saturday, May 30, 2015

Henry William Ravenel (1814-1887), one of the foremost botanists of the American Civil War era, graduated from South Carolina College (now the University of South Carolina) in 1832.   An eager student of natural history and botany, particularly fungi, Ravenel developed friendships, corresponded, and shared specimens with many of the greatest botanists of his day.   These relationships helped shape Ravenel’s herbarium as both regionally significant and remarkably cosmopolitan.  In addition, Ravenel’s publications, which continue to figure heavily in the systematic taxonomy of fungi, established his reputation as a contributor to botanical knowledge and as the world’s leading authority on American fungi.

Ravenel was a dedicated botanical collector amassing a summary of specimens totaling 11,000 species.  Today, the University of South Carolina is home to the last intact portion of Ravenel’s herbarium containing over 6,200 individual plant specimens along with his journals and correspondence.  This exhibit features just a few of the specimens Ravenel and his contemporaries collected.  Herbarium staff are in the process of remounting these specimens to make all of his work more accessible.  Because he bridged the transition in botanical research from gentlemen-amateurs to professional scientists, Ravenel continues to provide important insights into both the taxonomic study of fungi and the evolution of science.

Image: Henry William Ravenel, 1861, carte-de-visite by Quinby & Co., Charleston, Courtesy of South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia

Beginning in June, McKissick Museum will host an exhibit on the history of Pomaria Nursery, a renowned nursery that thrived from the 1840s to the 1870s in central South Carolina. Pomaria was the first major nursery to develop in the lower and middle South and became the center of a bustling town that, today, bears its name. Begun by William Summer in the late 1830s, it grew into one of the most important American nurseries of the antebellum period, offering wide varieties of fruit trees and ornamentals to gardeners throughout the South. At its peak, the nursery offered over 1000 varieties of apples, pears, peaches, plums, figs, apricots and grapes developed and chosen specifically for the southern climate, as well as an equal number of ornamentals, including 400 varieties of repeat-blooming roses for the South. William Summer also published catalogs containing well selected and thoroughly tested varieties of plants, and assisted his brother, Adam, in publishing several agricultural journals throughout the 1850s and until 1862.

Highlighting the life of William and Adam Summer and other individuals who contributed to the nursery’s success, the exhibition will feature their innovative technologies, from the Summers’ pioneering scientific approach to horticulture, to their new techniques for fruit tree and flower breeding, to the nursery’s introduction of new ornamentals to the American continent. The show will hopefully bring new appreciation for the advancements and beauty that this horticultural endeavor brought to plant cultivation in America.

In 2011, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) awarded McKissick Museum a two year grant to inventory and catalogue the minerals and fossils in the Museum’s natural history collection. Today, over 21,000 objects have been processed thanks to this grant and continued funding from IMLS.

Christian Maloney Cicimurri, Brian Dolphin and Allison Baker, along with other curatorial assistants who worked on the grant, organized this exhibit to reminisce on their experiences with the collection, choosing their favorite specimens and discussing the surprises that arose along the way. This exhibit offers a rare glimpse into the Museum's vast holdings, while also addressing the history of USC's natural history collection, and paying homage to the crucial guidance of the grant team's original leader, McKissick curator, Jill Beute Koverman.

Monday, May 19, 2014 to Saturday, August 30, 2014

In response to the imminent demolition of the South Carolina State Hospital, situated at the intersection of Bull and Elmwood Streets, this exhibition focuses on the architectural and social histories of the buildings and the grounds by exploring who lived on site, how they lived, and why their histories are worth preserving.

The subject focuses on an area of faculty and student research conducted during the fall of 2012 and continued in the fall of 2013. Led by architectural historian Dr. Lydia Brandt, undergraduate and graduate students were granted special access to the Bull Street campus to document the site. Last fall, students in the Museum Exhibition Development and Interpretation class took research papers produced by the students the year prior and abbreviated the content to produce this exhibition.

Monday, February 3, 2014 to Saturday, May 31, 2014

Photography of the Rural South [SOST 405] is a unique course that instructs students with no prior experience in photography about the theory and practice of photography. The course asks students to work together in groups to create photographic studies of communities around North and South Carolina with populations of 1,000 people or less. It introduces students to the long history of photographic and documentary projects done around the South, and provides opportunities to interact with internationally acclaimed artists and photographers.

While at work on their projects, students learn about the significant relationships that develop between an individual photographer and a community. Students create, select, sequence, and pace their own images for class discussions and digital projections, and prepare their work for exhibition. Over the past two years, student work from Photography of the Rural South has been viewed by an international audience in regional exhibitions and online journals such as Fraction Magazine and One, One Thousand.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014 to Saturday, May 10, 2014

This exhibit highlighted the many civil rights campaigns across the state of South Carolina during the early 1960s, giving voice to many of the students who participated in them. Exploring the movement through photographs by Cecil Williams, David Wallace and the staff photographers of the State Newspaper, the show set these against moving images of protests, marches, and bombings, as well as documented interviews of those South Carolina students who organized, gathered and stood up against segregation and racial discrimination.

Friday, October 4, 2013 to Friday, January 17, 2014

Dedicated to the late George D. Terry, Diverse Voices explores deeply-rooted traditions that help create and maintain the cultural landscape of South Carolina and the surrounding region. McKissick's South Gallery will permanently display folklore and material culture from the Southeast, and each year the exhibit will focus on a specific theme or tradition.  Year one of Diverse Voices offers a comprehensive presentation of objects from the museum's collection that represent the work of celebrated NEA National Heritage Fellows and Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award recipients.  This year's exhibit showcases the work of artists like Philip Simmons, Janie Hunter, Burlon Craig, Snuffy Jenkins, and Gale Mckinley.

Monday, August 12, 2013 to Friday, July 25, 2014

For two decades, McKissick Museum has organized annual fundraising exhibitions featuring works by artists residing in or maintaining ties to South Carolina. To further our mission of telling the story of southern life, in 2012 McKissick expanded the invitation list to include regional artists working in traditional craft-based media.

Joining institutions across the city of Columbia in marking 1963 as a seminal year in our nation’s progress toward a more perfect union, on September 11, 2013, the University of South Carolina launched a series of events honoring the 50th anniversary of the desegregation of its Columbia campus. This occasion became an opportunity for McKissick to invite artists to reflect on a seminal story of southern life—the civil rights movement--that forever changed the culture of the college campus, the southeast and the nation.

'If You Miss Me at the Back of the Bus' was an invitational juried art exhibition that illustrated how the 1960s civil rights movement reshaped the southern experience—our communities, culture and environment. The show suggested how the African American struggle for civil rights evolved and later paved the way for other historically disenfranchised groups of people to work toward social change. Artworks reflected new “ways of seeing” the movement within the art world and beyond.

Friday, June 7, 2013 to Friday, September 20, 2013

The exhibition Dawn of Freedom used images and objects connected to the life, struggles, triumphs, and cultural heritage of the Sea Island slaves as they made freedom a reality during the Civil War. It examined the foundations of Mitchelville, the lives of its residents, and its legacy. This exhibit also drew on the unique culture of Sea island slaves and the Gullah traditions of those men and women. Folk and fine art combined with historic artifacts and objects recovered on archeological excavations of Mitchelville came together to tell this unique story from the dawn of freedom to the present.

Dawn of Freedom is a collaboration between McKissick Museum, the Public History department, with assistance from the Institute for African American Research at the University of South Carolina and the Mitchelville Preservation Project.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013 to Saturday, June 1, 2013

 Saturday, January 1, 2011 to Saturday, December 6, 2014


Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.