Charleston’s architecture, gardens, and history always draw visitors, but for lovers of antiques, there’s no better week of the year to be here. Wednesday, the twelfth annual Charleston Art and Antiques Forum opened—four and a half days of lectures, tours, discussions, and visits to private collections—and Thursday evening brought the festive preview party for the Charleston International Antiques Show, a gathering of some of the best dealers in the country.
It was almost impossible to choose which of the three tours to take on the Art and Antiques Forum’s opening day—a behind-the scenes peek at the holdings of the Gibbes Museum of Art (where most of the events are held), led by the museum’s vivacious new director Angela Mack; Ralph Harvard’s walking tour of the city’s earliest surviving houses; or the one I opted for—Daniel Ackermann’s insightful tour of the magnificent Greek revival building of the Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim synagogue. In the eighteenth century Charleston had the largest and wealthiest Jewish community in America, and the synagogue is the oldest in continual use in this country. It was built in 1841 to replace the original building, which had burned three years earlier, and Ackermann provided fascinating background about it and Charleston’s important role in the evolution of Judaism in the Unites States.
Moderated by the irrepressible Tom Savage, director of Museum Affairs at Winterthur and former curator and director of museums for the Historic Charleston Foundation from 1981 to 1998, the Forum’s other highlights so far have included James Hervey-Bathurst’s delightful description of the restoration and redecoration of Eastnor Castle on the Welsh border, where his family has lived for more than two centuries; and landscape architect Chip Callaway’s entertaining account of some of his trials creating historically appropriate gardens (including the dissatisfied lady who insisted he had to come back and fix what he’d done for her so that it would look more like the garden in the slides he was showing her-which were in fact of her garden). On a more sober note, but equally impressive, were the deeply researched explorations of the Gothic revival style in America and of the silver trade in colonial Charleston.
After a short rest, it was time to head for the preview party for the antiques show, sponsored by the Historic Charleston Foundation. The show, held at 40 East Bay Street overlooking the harbor, features some thirty dealers from around the country, offering an amazing range of choice objects. Some, like Sumpter Priddy III Antiques and the Charleston Renaissance Gallery, focus on exceptional southern pieces, but this is truly an international show, with Mary Helen McCoy’s French furniture, Peter Pap’s oriental rugs, and Janice Paull’s English and Chinese ceramics to name a few. The party was not just a treat for the eyes—strolling violinists filled the air with music, the scent of flowers was everywhere, and the fried oysters were to die for.
Images from above: Exterior view of the Gibbes Museum of Art; courtesy of Gibbes Museum of Art, photo by Julia Lynn Photography. Exterior view of Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim synagogue; photo by Jack Alterman. Charleston Art and Antiques Forum moderator Tom Savage, and promotional brochure for Eastnor Castle; courtesy of Gibbes Museum of Art, photos by Charleston Picture Company. Overall view of Charleston Renaissance Gallery booth, courtesy of Charleston Renaissance Gallery.