What Got Printed

December Issue 2002
by Tom Starland

Our Holiday Appeal

For the last few years, I've made a pitch for readers of this paper to buy art for the holidays. Most likely, that gift of art, in whatever form, will last longer than most gifts you can give. And, the cost can range from giving someone a membership to an art museum, paying for someone to take an art class, buying an art book, purchasing an original piece of pottery, a fine art print, a small painting or all the way to giving them a large painting, sculpture, or even better, making a donation and having the new wing of an art museum named after someone. Now that's a gift that can last.

If you don't know where to find such gifts, try flipping through the pages of this paper and looking at the ads of our supporters for a start. Show them your thanks for bringing you this paper each month - for free, unless you're a subscriber, but you're only paying for the free paper to be mailed to you. There's an idea, you can give someone a subscription to "Carolina Arts. You can also find gift ideas at many of the arts councils, art museums, arts centers, and commercial galleries listed in the back of the paper. And, don't forget the website - even more opportunities can be found there that are not in our printed version of the paper.

Each year I also have to remind readers that it's OK to buy themselves a gift of art. Who out there doesn't deserve something special for themselves - especially after this year - all those political ads you endured? Perhaps your person didn't win their election. Perhaps buying art - supporting the arts - might just make your person's victorious opponent angry. Perhaps it won't, but think how happy you'll be buying yourself some art anyway.

All I know is since my wife and I started giving works of art as gifts, these items seem to be still found in the homes of the recipients - who knows where those other gifts went before we learned the power of art.

There was a time when I would get that new sweater or pair of gloves - every year. But, once people started giving me works of art, I began to look forward to those unwrapping events. And, somehow the packages are always a different shape and size - some where you would have never guessed what was in them.

So, take my advice. Buy art or an art related gift. It doesn't matter what the cost is - as long as you can afford it. You know, some of us go overboard - I recently heard a friend say he was thinking of getting a second mortgage on his house to buy a painting he saw at a recent exhibit. I think he was joking, but you never know. But, you know what you can afford.

Also, I want you to remember, that by purchasing art you may keep an artist from having to move back home. You may keep an art organization from having to mail you one more appeal for a donation. In some cases, you may even keep your own son or daughter, whom you put through eight years of art school, from moving back home. Or you could be helping a certain arts newspaper to keep publishing by supporting its supporters. Who knows? Just do it - it can't hurt.

Commentary Redux

Last month I tried to give a warning to a gallery owner who was trying to make his gallery seem older than it is. The warning didn't work. So, here is what I said, the response and what I said again.

Printing It Doesn't Make it So

Not too long ago I saw an advertisement for a Charleston gallery in a local magazine. I'd like to say I was shocked at what I saw, but I was only amazed and disgusted. The ad was at a minimum, implying a length of operation that did not exist.

Charleston is big on having established institutions long before anywhere else in the US, but most of those boasts are true. I'm used to seeing advertisements which boast of one thing or another - best gallery, largest selection, most unique, most popular, etc. These are all subjective claims - claims that are hard to prove one way or another. But, when you imply or say that your gallery has been an institution for 30 years, when it has at best been physically open less than five years - that's trying to pull the wool over people's eyes who don't know any better. All I can make of it is that the gallery's owner is trying to establish in people's minds that the gallery has been open longer than it has in a city that is known for long histories. Many people think that the longer a business has been operating - the better it is. It just seems logical - how long you've been in business equals how good you are at it. But I know many institutions that have been in business for 50-100 years and they still can't get it right. Just think of government institutions.

The average person tends to believe that what they read in print must be true. Sad as that is, it's true. I don't believe everything I see in print. And, you can't imagine how that sits with me - a person who is in the printed word business.

The art biz is already plagued with some people's misuse of words and implied claims. Some of them that come to mind are: collectable, limited edition, print, archival, museum quality, and acid-free. The words are used to imply certain meanings that may not represent the product being offered.

Here's a real whopper. "This highly collectable, limited edition print, is being offered with museum quality framing using acid-free archival matting." What does this statement mean ?

Well, it could be exactly what it says and it could mean it's a reproduction print from a 10,000 copy edition, with framing that cost more than the print, which is attached to the matting with Scotch tape.

The words used are all there to justify a higher price tag on the finished product. They are catch phrases which the public only knows as meaning good things, but what do people really know about these implied meanings?

It's my opinion that the public doesn't know any of the proper meanings of any of these words and beyond that, doesn't understand that materials that are of a certain quality can be compromised by their misuse. Like using Scotch tape or masking tape to attach a print on to acid-free matting means nothing as the tape has acid in it and most likely the print is not archival to begin with so the whole process doesn't add any life to the project. It just adds cost to the project. In some instances the seller will offer a 'certificate of authenticity" of the product's quality and value. To some people a printed certificate means everything - it's like a diploma. Which gets us back to the printed word thing - if it's printed it must be true.

My advice to the public is: buyer beware and buyer be educated. And, I guess, reader beware and reader be educated. I hope people question what I say - check it out for themselves. If I have my facts right and you learn what I say is true - all the better.

So what about this gallery that has implied that it has been an institution for 30 years?

Well I'm sure everyone would like to know the name and I'm sure some will figure out who I'm referring to, but I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt that this implied statement was a mistake - until it happens again. If it happens again - it's no longer a mistake.

Now, if I was to play this game I could claim that "Carolina Arts has been publishing for 15 years. It wouldn't be true. Shoestring Publishing has been publishing an arts newspaper for 15 years, but under three different mastheads - "Charleston Arts, South Carolina Arts and Carolina Arts. Each time we take on another name the clock starts over again. "Carolina Arts is only 5 years old or 5 and 11/12ths old as children would say. It seems we all want to be older than we are until we get old. But in some instances age is good. Age is supposed to make you wiser, more experienced, more worldly - in some cases. But, in the highly competitive world of selling art, especially during the current economy - some people are looking for an edge over their competitors - even at the expense of manufacturing it.

It's not really a big deal, but it's not fair to the other galleries who have earned their age the old fashioned way by being there day after day - not just in print, but in reality. Frankly, having a gallery one year or even just two is a big accomplishment.

A Response

November 9, 2002 - To the editor:

And if you do not have your facts right and promote any untruth which is detrimental to the gallery or persons you come so very close to slandering, if only by the bitterness of your words, then for whom is it "all the better?" Your readers would surely be better served by more positive reporting. Are you attempting to gain an edge over your competitors, even at the expense of manufacturing it? Or is it simply true that you are somehow limited, in that as you state, your "personal range is anything within a day's drive."

Robert M. Hicklin Jr. began dealing in art which relates to the American South, and that's a bigger place than Charleston, in May of 1972. The words, which apparently so offended you, were "Since its inception 30 years ago, the Charleston Renaissance Gallery has been something of an institution for fine art relating to the American South." ("Renaissance Revival: An Enduring Legacy, special supplement to "Charleston Magazine, October 2002) Though the name has changed several times through the years, to include its most recent incarnation as The Charleston Renaissance Gallery, the legal entity Robert M. Hicklin Jr., Inc. remains on the sign, the letter head, the web site and continues as the umbrella company under which the gallery operates. The company did relocate to Charleston, just under five years ago, and proudly acknowledges that in the history of our firm as recounted on our web site, the address for which is printed right along with the offending words. Anyone with investigative ability would see that.

By my tally we have now been in business for over 30 years and that, according to Webster's, contributes at least in part to our being considered an "institution."

There is no attempt at chicanery; inception implies beginning and there is no mistake in claiming that. The acumen acquired through my years in this business I so love and am so very willing to defend give me the experience and, if worldliness is necessarily a part of it, then worldliness - your word, to bring the best in Charleston Renaissance material to the attention of those who revere it, within the context of the larger world of Southern art. Age is good and age has made this correspondent wiser. All I have "manufactured," however, is the continuity of presence in an ever-changing world. I have changed to survive but it is still me. You would be wise to claim the years served under other mastheads, but apparently you wish to hide from it.

There is a gallery in Charleston advertising that it has been in business since 1963 but, alas, they changed their name only recently. I can only assume you do not share my sentiments but bravo for them. They found a name, as did I, which they believe is more suited to their business as it has grown and changed. It is the spirit within those four walls that gives it continuity in changing times even if the name is not the same. I hope they proudly keep their date of inception before the public.

There are numerous other examples of good people with wide experience and positive attitudes who are contributing today to making Charleston a wonderful destination for the arts. If they have, at least in part, reinvented themselves for the benefit of their businesses and this community then why would anyone make it an issue? Applaud them!

Sadly, there will always be those who feel threatened by change and work only to proffer the status quo.

I would think that someone who has the industry and dedication to the arts in the geographic region he covers would also have the wisdom, experience and worldliness to see the positive change brought to Charleston and the world of art in the larger South by those who now call Charleston home. I do not advertise in your paper, hum, nor read it. Your circulation is a mystery to me but I do know that many disapproving people brought your words to my attention.

Your readers do not have to "figure out who you're referring to," it's me. I hereby state again that my company has been in business for 30 years, and that's not a mistake. The story is told at (www.fineartsouth.com).

Rob Hicklin - President

My Response

Well, I guess the cat is out of the bag now. Again, I'm not surprised at the response given to my objection to Mr. Hicklin's claim that his relatively new gallery has not been an institution for 30 years - anywhere. Under his thinking, since he has been in business for 30 years - that translates into his relatively new gallery in Charleston being in business for 30 years. I guess the formula would be: inception of business = years any entity under it has been in business.

Under that way of thinking our parent company (PSMG, Inc.) has been in existence since 1983, so Carolina Arts is 19 years old. Only problem, if only in my mind, for 15 years we were operating a custom photo finishing business. We only started doing an arts newspaper since 1987. But, then again, I did publish my first newspaper, the Glass Onion, a tribute to John Lennon, back in 1968. Under Mr. Hicklin's thinking, I should be able to say Carolina Arts is 34 years old. After all, the "inception" of me publishing a newspaper started way back then.

The use of the word "inception" here brings up an image of a young boy in school looking at a girl and saying to himself - "One day I'll marry the girl and we'll have six children". Is that when the family started?

Someone is going to have to explain this statement to me before I get its meaning: "All I have 'manufactured,' however, is the continuity of presence in an ever-changing world." That statement goes right over my head.

I'm also not surprised that Mr. Hicklin in his response has pointed to another gallery, which most people do recognize as an institution in Charleston, as an example of how his gallery is as old as he claims because its name has changed several times since its beginning in 1963. The difference being - the gallery has existed since 1963.

Most who have been in Charleston more than a few years know it as Carolina Prints. Its official name today is Carolina Galleries. A year ago it was Carolina Fine Paintings & Prints. Before that, it was called Carolina Prints and before that Carolina Prints and Frames, but everyone still calls it Carolina Prints and probably always will - because it's thought of as an institution in Charleston.

Mr. Hicklin missed the point of my whole complaint - it's not about changing a name of a gallery - it's about how many years you have had a gallery.

Robert M. Hicklin, Jr. may have started dealing in art in 1972, but when I checked with the SC Secretary of State, I found that Robert M. Hicklin, Jr. Inc. didn't exist before 1976 and there was no phone number listed for any art business under his or any of his incorporated entities until 1981 in Spartanburg, SC. I looked through the official Yellow Pages of the Spartanburg, SC, phone books under the heading, "Art Galleries, Dealers & Consultants," starting with 1973. Perhaps something was listed somewhere else, but nothing was in the white pages either. So, where his business or gallery was before 1981 - who knows. It wasn't listed for the general public.

Either way, being an art dealer, working out of an office or your home, is not the same as operating as a gallery. Excuse me for not using Mr. Hicklin's website as the sole source of information on his history. Public records and phone books can tell you a lot about history too.

Perhaps I'm splitting hairs, but I just can't accept someone being able to claim to the public that since his business has been in operation 30 years (if it has) that his gallery has too. And, I don't know if you can proclaim yourself an institution - don't others have to do that?

But, making claims is no problem for Mr. Hicklin. Like he does in his response, I also urge you to check out his website at (www.fineartsouth.com), but don't use it as your only source of information. It is there where you'll see his latest claim: "Incorporating the Elizabeth O'Neill Verner Gallery, since 1936, the oldest gallery in the South."

Does this mean that the Elizabeth O'Neill Verner Gallery now exists at The Charleston Renaissance Gallery or under the banner of Robert M. Hicklin Jr., Inc.? Does it mean that now the "inception" of The Charleston Renaissance Gallery can date back to 1936, under the "inception" rule? Or, does it mean Mr. Hicklin bought the remaining inventory of originals of Verner's from her grandson when he closed the family business?

It's obvious that Mr. Hicklin and I use words differently and have different meanings for words, but he didn't convince me that I was wrong - that's up to you.

Now, I've given his business enough free publicity for someone who doesn't even read my paper. Next year, I'll take the suggestion of someone commenting on the whole affair - I'll find better things to talk about. Have a happy holiday and New Year!

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