International Museum Day is May 18 – a day to focus on the importance of museums in our busy world. The theme for 2012 is Museums in a Changing World - New challenges, New Inspirations. For this week’s Textile Tuesday, The Charleston Museum – America’s oldest museum – honors Laura Mary Bragg, our director from 1920 – 1931.
This beautiful, embroidered Chinese fabric was given to Miss Bragg in 1927, in appreciation for her sponsorship by Chia Mei and five other Chinese students who arrived in Charleston to study at the Citadel. The fabric given to her is pink silk with delicate embroidery of phoenix and flowers in shades of gray, black and white. The phoenix is a symbol of grace, auspiciousness and good luck and the flower, which may be a lotus, a symbol of determination, creativity and faithfulness. The students may also have given her these two Chinese purses, both given to the Museum from the Estate of Laura Bragg.
The six Chinese students suffered extensive discrimination until they were “adopted” by the forward-thinking Bragg. She accepted them into her home even though they were shunned elsewhere. At that time, many whites in Charleston regarded Chinese as “colored.”
Laura Bragg was indeed a museum pioneer. She was the first woman director of a major American museum. She was instrumental in granting access to the Museum for African Americans in Charleston at a time when society was severely segregated. And she developed the first museum “traveling exhibits,” through her Bragg Boxes. These were small cases with artifacts and information that circulated to schools, both black and white, reaching and educating children that could not visit the Charleston Museum in person.
She started the first free library in Charleston (now the Charleston Public Library System) and was an integral part of the literary community, founding the South Carolina Poetry Society and opening her home for discussions and cultural pursuits. Laura Bragg certainly fits well with this year’s International Museum Day theme – she did indeed face new challenges with new inspirations.
TEXTILE TUESDAYS: Each Tuesday we post a piece from our textile collection. Some items have been on exhibit, some will eventually be shown in our new Historic Textiles Gallery and some may be just too fragile to display. We hope you enjoy our selection each week – do let us know if there’s something in particular you’d like to see on TEXTILE TUESDAY! #TextileTuesday