Bookshelf provides descriptions and notices of recent publications on Pennsylvania subjects.

The Red Rose Girls: An Uncommon Story of Art and Love

By Alice A. Carter
Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2000 (216 pages, cloth, $39.95)

Highly successful and immensely unconventional Philadelphia artists Jessie Wilcox Smith (1863-1935), Eliza­beth Shippen Green (1871-1954), and Violet Oakley (1874-1961) captivated early twentieth-century society with their brilliant careers and uncommon lifestyle. At a time when female sexuality and intimate relationships between women were still little understood or publicly acknowledged, these three women formed an intense bond and made a pact to live together forever. Nicknamed “The Red Rose Girls” by famous American illustrator Howard Pyle (1853-1911), the three lived and worked together in a picturesque former inn in Villanova on suburban Philadelphia’s Main Line. Joined by their friend Henrietta Cozens (1859-1940), the women used their initials and adopted an acronymic surname, calling themselves the “Cogs family” – C for Cozens, O for Oakley, G for Green, S for Smith. At a time when women were prohibited from taking life-drawing classes at most art schools and generally received inferior art education, Smith, Green, and Oakley – who attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and met as Pyle’s students at Drexel Institute – were encouraged in their pursuits and celebrated for their talents. The women enjoyed public recognition and success, and enriched their professional lives with a fluid exchange of ideas. Jessie Wilcox Smith and Elizabeth Shippen Green were prolific illustrators, collaborating on children’s books and garnering lucrative assignments for periodicals such as Scribner’s, Collier’s Illustrated Weekly, Woman’s Home Companion, Saturday Evening Post, and Harper’s Magazine. Violet Oakley was a painter and muralist of international reputation whose work graces the State Capitol in Harrisburg (see “Violet Oakley, Lady Mural Painter” by Patricia Likos, Fall 1988). Behind these women was Cozens, who tended the gardens, cooked, knitted, and kept the household running smoothly. (In 1906, they were evicted from the Red Rose Inn and they moved to Hill Farm in Mt. Airy, which they christened “Cogslea.”) It was an idyllic, romantic life – until Green left the fold in 1911 to marry Huger Elliott, a breach from which the tightly intertwined group never fully recovered. Revealing a household of intimate friendship, mutual inspiration, shared ideas, and love, The Red Rose Girls unfolds against a backdrop of the emerging women’s rights movement and is an unforgettable story of three extraordinary artists who achieved success on their own terms and by their own measures. Although they lived well into the twentieth century, the Red Rose Girls did not embrace changes taking place in the art world or in society. The realist school, in its heyday in America during the years when the Red Rose Girls flourished, celebrated American life as it was and scoffed at the idealized images of earlier nineteenth-century painting. Although realism was more palatable to the Red Rose Girls than the emerging avant-garde modernism, the trio’s hallmark romanticism, around which they had fabricated their lives, was clearly what realists opposed. Conversely, since they clung tightly to a nineteenth-century aesthetic of sentiment, they never understood the twentieth century’s preoccupation with stream of consciousness or abstraction. This powerfully moving and complex saga is told sensitively but not sentimentally by the author, a fourth-generation Philadelphia artist, who grew up hearing stories about her legendary subjects. The Red Rose Girls: An Uncommon Story of Art and Love is illustrated by nearly two hundred photographs and reproductions of works of art, of which sixty are in color.


Wendell August Forge: Seventy-Five Years of Artistry in Metal

By Bonita J. Campbell
Dragonflyer Press, 1999 (192 pages, cloth, $34.95)

In western Pennsylvania, about sixty-five miles east of the Ohio border, the Wendell August Forge was established in 1923 by a prosperous coal broker (who gave the company his name) because he could not find two door latches to match the others he had had installed in the commodious house he was building. He asked Ottone “Tony” Pisoni, a local blacksmith to reproduce the latches and, so pleased with the result, offered to set Pisoni up in a shop to produce hand-wrought iron articles. The Wen­dell August Forge, located in Brockway, Jefferson County, began producing ornamental ironwork, including lighting fixtures and bridge lamps, as well as architectural elements for buildings and structures in Pittsburgh, Oil City, Clarion, and Saint Marys. When the stock market crashed in 1929, Wendell August lost nearly everything – except his forge. In the ensuing years, motivated in part by the effects of the Great Depression, the country’s metalworkers, accustomed to working in brass, iron, pewter, and bronze, turned to more affordable materials, such as aluminum. The Aluminum Company of America – known worldwide as Alcoa – was in the midst of building its Aluminum Research Laboratories on a hill overlooking New Kensington, east of Pittsburgh, and commissioned the forge to create elaborate aluminum gates for the stone wall surrounding the center. After a period of intensive experimentation, Wendell August Forge successfully handcrafted the gates for Alcoa, launching both a prosperous business and an industry in hand­wrought aluminum. Today, hundreds of thousand of homes across the United States more than likely have pieces manufactured by the Wendell August Forge, including table lamps, serving trays, bonbon bowls, vases, punch cups, platters, ashtrays, ladles, cigarette boxes, pitchers, and assorted giftware, much of which was purchased as wedding and anniversary gifts. Wendell August Forge: Seventy-Five Years of Artistry in Metal is an introduction to not only the history of this company and the hand-forged aluminum industry it created, but also the enormous range of table items and household articles it produced or inspired. The author has interviewed current and former forge workers to present a first-person history of a Pennsylvania company whose handcrafted pieces found a place in nearly every American home during the twentieth century. Wendell August Forge contains photographs of major architectural and sculptural commissions, as well as the everyday wares for which it has become well known.


Millennium Philadelphia: The Last 100 Years

By the Staff of The Philadelphia Inquirer
Camino Books, 1999 (270 pages, cloth, $29.95)

They’re all here – the people, the places, the events in the Delaware Valley during the last century, and they’re showcased in this marvelous collection of more than four hundred historic photographs that the authors call “a family album of the Philadelphia century.” To many outsiders, Philadelphia is defined by its celebrities: the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Grace Kelly, Bill Cosby, Ben Franklin, Philly cheesesteaks, Rocky, Frank Rizzo, the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Philadelphians know it as a city of rowhouses spilling out people on warm summer evenings; of boathouses from which sculls glide swiftly into the Schuylkill River; and of banking and investment houses that financed the American Revolution and, a century later, the Industrial Revolution. Philadelphia is even more, though. It’s a city of distinct neighborhoods of strong ethnic flavors and, as the book points out, where “only the ethnic origins have changed.” In the last century, Philadelphia has undergone dramatic changes: its skylines, its waterfront, its people, and its industries. The city was once called a “lunch bucket town,” with factories and taverns in nearly every neighborhood. Philadelphia workers made Stetson hats, Baldwin locomotives, Navy ships, Atwater Kent radios, Brill streetcars, and Disston saws, and this book depicts this muscular epoch in all its power. In a country that’s been inundated with millennium souvenirs, Millennium Philadelphia: The Last 100 Years is a genuine keepsake because it recalls both the best and worst of times, the famous and not-so-famous, and the good and bad of one of the most vibrant cities in the world. In every sense of the word, Millennium Philadelphia is a scrapbook, a memory book that brings into focus an entire century through the eyes of photographers and newspaper writers.


Witness to the Fifties: The Pittsburgh Photographic Library, 1950-1953

By Constance B. Schulz and Steven W. Plattner, editors
University of Pittsburgh Press, 1999 (186 pages, cloth, $39.50)

As Pittsburgh is embarking on what many are calling Renaissance III, its third major effort to rehabilitate and rebuild Pennsylvania’s second largest city, this new book celebrates the accomplishments of Renaissance 1. The movement was spear­headed by an influential and powerful planning board (later named the Allegheny Conference on Community Development) that consisted of leaders of Pittsburgh civic organizations, cultural institutions, and private businesses. These same individuals who made decisions affecting the city’s fate also conceived the idea for the Pittsburgh Photographic Library (PPL). Realizing that Pittsburgh possessed the potential to emerge as a case study on the ways in which a great city could be reborn, these leaders wanted to capture the dramatic changes on film for posterity. The resulting photographs are at one level a reflection of the reality of what Pittsburgh had been and what it was becoming in the years from 1950 to 1954; on another level, they are the combined results of the multiple perceptions of what Pittsburgh’s past meant, and what its future ought to be. Those perceptions differed significantly among the.individuals and organizations who engineered the creation of the PPL, controlled its financial resources, organized its operations on a day-to-day basis, and went out into the streets, neighborhoods, and construction zones to take the photographs. The planners hired Roy Stryker, director of the Farm Security Administration’s documentary photography project, to oversee the Pittsburgh Photographic Library. With backing from the University of Pittsburgh, the Mellon Educational and Charita­ble Trust, the Howard Heinz Endowment, and the Edgar Kauffman Charitable Trust, among others, the PPL was created. Stryker acquired laboratory and office space from the University of Pittsburgh and hired a hodgepodge of photographers, some of whom were young and inexperienced, some of whom were seasoned and well known. These photographers set out to record different aspects of the city in flux: the iron and steel industries, the plight of the urban poor, the massive effort to connect Pittsburgh with the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and other evidence of the enormous physical changes the city was undergoing. The PPL’s unforgettable black-and-white photographs reveal a union of opposites – the paired wonderment of a downtown businessman with the easy grace of a shirtless construction worker balancing high above the city streets, and the anonymity and isolation of planned housing with the belief in expansion and renewal.