Editor's note: The Halsey Gallery, College of Charleston provided source material to Resource Library Magazine for the following article or essay. If you have questions or comments regarding the source material, please contact the Halsey Gallery, College of Charleston directly through either this phone number or web address:


Oft Unseen: Art from the Lodge and Other Secret Societies


The William Halsey Gallery at the College of Charleston's School of the Arts will host an exhibition entitled Oft Unseen: Art from the Lodge and Other Secret Societies, opening February 20th and continuing through March 20th, 2004. This exhibition presents the Webb Collection of art, artifacts and ephemera from the Freemasons and other secret fraternal organizations including The Odd Fellows, Knights of Pythias, Knights Templar, Order of Red Men and many others. The Charleston Scottish Rite Center has provided additional materials featured in the show.

On Friday February 20th at 4PM there will be two lectures in Room 309 of the Simons Center for the Arts. The first lecture, "The International Lodge: Fraternal Societies at the Center and Periphery of Empire from 1750 - 1900," will be delivered by Dr. Frank J. Karpiel, Visiting Asst. Professor, Department of History, College of Charleston. Immediately following this will be Illustrious Brother McDonald "Don" Burbidge's talk, "The Masonic History of Charleston." Burbidge is a thirty-third degree Mason. There will be an opening reception from 5-7 PM in the gallery. Bruce Webb, collector, will conduct a gallery talk focusing on the history and significance of these objects at 6 PM.

While not all of these organizations consider themselves truly secret societies they can all be considered societies with secrets. This exhibition offers a rare glimpse into the visual components of these mysterious and commonly misunderstood organizations. Freemasonry has often been described as, "A system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated with symbols." Masonic symbols and influence have extended far beyond the walls of the physical "Lodge" and continue to permeate numerous aspects of our collective material culture and social landscape.

By the turn-of-the-20th century there were over 300 different fraternal organizations in America with six million members. Most, if not all of these, were formed on, or in reaction to, the Masonic model. Their interpretations and adaptations of the older Masonic rituals varied greatly from the subdued to wildly fanciful. Many of these societies no longer exist. However, much of their stunning material history remains. Bruce Webb, of Waxahachie, Texas, has been collecting these items for the last fifteen years. In that time he has amassed a collection of immense diversity and historical significance. Items from his collection form the core of the exhibition. Supplementary artifacts have been provided by the Charleston Scottish Rite Center. Charleston was the birthplace of American Scottish Rite Freemasonry which celebrated their biennial in 2001.

Among the art and objects on display are elaborate painted backdrops, banners, models, ritual ephemera, decorative woodwork, intricate theatrical regalia, masks, and detailed charts, most dating from the late nineteenth to the early twentieth centuries. The exhibition provides a historical background of the Masons and other fraternal societies, explores how the objects were used in the rituals of the lodge, and illuminates the complex meanings of the symbolism embedded within.


The website for The Halsey Gallery indicates that the Gallery "... was named for artist William Halsey, a Charleston native whose works were shown at the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, to list a few. Halsey was the first person to teach a studio art course at the College of Charleston. He taught here for 20 years. Upon his retirement in 1984, the faculty voted to name the art gallery after him to honor his contribution to the arts in Charleston."

The Halsey Gallery is located within the Simons Center for the Arts, 54 St. Philip Street, between Calhoun and George at 54 ST. Philip Street, Charleston, South Carolina 29424. For hours and admission fees please see the Gallery's website.

Editor's Note: As of 2015 The Gallery is named The Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art - College of Charleston

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