Arts Feature

Come for the Barbecue, Stay for the Show

State Museum Hosts Fall Festival, Opens New Exhibition

By Eva Moore
Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Lion Skull

Drive into the parking lot of the South Carolina State Museum, and you’ll see a massive construction zone blocking off the usual entrance. Walk inside the museum — by heading to a parking garage around to the left — and you might see another work site inside.

Rest assured that the State Museum is open for business both outside and in. On Saturday, the museum hosts its annual outdoor Fall Festival from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The festival will be held along the Columbia Canal near the new Coble Plaza. Among the highlights: barbecue of all three South Carolina varieties (mustard, tomato and vinegar); bluegrass from Florence-based Slug’s Revenge; a children’s tent; and an array of traditional folk artists and craftspeople.

Meanwhile, inside, the museum opens its latest exhibition, This Just In: Recent Acquisitions.

Last Friday, art curator Paul Matheny stood at the entrance of what would become the exhibition, putty knife in hand, spackle all over the walls and boxes strewn throughout the floor. Much like the disarray outside the building, though — the result of which will be a long-awaited planetarium and 4-D theater slated to open next year — the mess on the walls and floor has a purpose. In addition to blockbusters like its current King Tut show and its permanent exhibits on science, history and other topics, the State Museum is always acquiring new objects — and occasionally organizes them into a show.

“It’s been awhile since we’ve done a recent acquisitions exhibition,” Matheny says. “We always incorporate newly acquired works, artifacts and specimens into our shows as they’re developed, but we haven’t done a show just on what’s come in the last few years.”

All four of the museum’s disciplines — cultural history; art; natural history; and science and technology — will be represented in This Just In. The exhibition includes 19th- and 20th-century earthenware; 21st-century hand-blown glass; paintings; photos; fossils; a Civil War-era fiddle and even bygone consumer products. Among them: an 1890 biscuit maker, a 1951 black-and-white TV, a 1961 Sunbeam Mixmaster.

There’s also a 1965 voting machine donated by Richland County. (Insert 2012 election joke here.)

Matheny is excited about the exhibition — particularly the art, as the museum’s Lipscomb Gallery is closed due to the renovations. A few of the works come from a show of South Carolina abstract artists that closed last year.

“There is quite a bit of artwork in the show, and we are very fortunate to have had that work donated to the museum over the last three years,” Matheny says.

Most of what the State Museum owns is not on view to the public; as with most museums, it’s in storage. So part of the idea behind This Just In is to educate the public to that reality and to the process by which items are acquired. Overall, the museum’s collection has more than 100,000 artifacts. This Just In will showcase about 500 of them, most of which were acquired between 2011 and 2013.

The museum has an acquisition budget, but it’s a small one. Often, objects come from word of mouth — someone gets in touch with a curator about making a donation, or a curator hears about a collector and gets in touch. Curators inspect the objects for authenticity and condition and look to acquire objects that fill gaps in the museum’s holdings.

“The [text] panels go into what we acquired and how we acquired it,” says history curator JoAnn Zeise, “so people can also get that part of the story — how this happens, sort of the behind-the-scenes.”

Construction zone or not, the show goes on. 

The S.C. State Museum is at 301 Gervais St. Festival admission is free. General museum admission is $7 for adults, $6 for seniors and $5 for children. Visit for more information.

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