Charleston Museum, Threads of War

Last week I was finally able to see the new textiles gallery at the Charleston Museum in Charleston, South Carolina.  There were a few weeks left on the opening exhibit, Threads of War, which focused on  clothing and textiles from the American Civil War.  This was totally appropriate, as this is the 150th anniversary of the war, and it started in Charleston.  Visitors to the city hear a lot about the war because it played a huge role in the city’s history.

The Charleston Museum itself has an interesting history.  It is the oldest museum in the US, having been founded in 1773, with displays opened to the public in 1824.  These were the days of collecting “curiosities” and the Charleston Museum had its share.  Through the 19th century the collection of Egyptian artifacts, stuffed birds and pickled snakes grew.

But it was the early years of the 20th century that brought a change in the emphasis of the collection.  The museum began collecting the history of Charleston, and as a result, they now have an amazing collection of Charleston artifacts, including clothing and other textiles.  Today the museum primarily tells the story of the city of Charleston and the surrounding Lowcountry of South  Carolina, both through their historical collection and the older natural science collection.

For years, the textiles were used within the exhibits that tell the history of the city, and as a result, only a very small part of the textiles collection was ever on view.  Starting in the mid 2000s, the museum started doing special exhibits that focused on the clothing collection.  The problem though, was a lack of exhibit space.  I can remember one such exhibit called the Age of Glamour,  in which the exhibit was in the hallways,  divided between two floors, and most of the garments were shown flat against a wall or laid flat.  One of the display areas was flooded with natural light.

With the new textile gallery, all of these problems are now solved.  The space was designed specifically for the display of textiles.  My only complaint is that, like the rest of the museum, the entire display is behind glass.  For most of the objects, you cannot see the back, which in the case of clothing can be very important.  Hopefully there will be times when a garment that is meant to be viewed in the round will come out from behind the glass, and be put on a pedestal on the viewing floor!

One great feature, which for come reason I do not have a photo of , but that you can see here, are the series of viewing drawers.  They were full of accessories and photographs.

A real strength of the textile collection is that these things were for the most part gathered from the community over the years.  In most cases, the museum knows who wore each garment, and in many cases even who made them.  It’s a history lovers dream!

It’s not just the textile hall that is interesting.  There are artifacts on all aspects of Charleston history, including its long history of tourism.



Filed under Museums, Road Trip, Textiles

5 responses to “Charleston Museum, Threads of War

  1. How wonderful to have these glorious pieces displayed so beautifully. I agree with your comment about not being able to see the backs of the costumes which are often just as interesting as the front. I’ve taken a look over at the additional Flickr photos. It’s great to have all that seating area in front of the displays too.


  2. Totally in love with the second dress. Interesting to see the quilts displayed with the dresses too, that has also been done at Bowes Museum, in County Durham here in England, in fact the displays are quite similar except that at Bowes you can walk around 3 sides of the cases.


  3. Pingback: The Charleston Museum – Charleston Couture | The Vintage Traveler

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