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

Thomas Eakins

edited by John Wilmerding
Smithsonian Institution Press, 1994 (212 pages, cloth, $49.95)

“Frank,” “brutal,” “raw,” “uncompro­mising,” “diabolically realistic,” and “manly” were terms once used to describe the work of Philadelphian Thomas Eakins (1844-1916), one of the greatest American painters of the nineteenth cen­tury (see “And who is Eakins?” by David Pacchioli in the fall 1989 issue and “The Many Faces of Thomas Eakins” by Cheryl Leibold in the spring 1991 issue of Pennsylvania Heritage). A consummate realist, Eakins created a penetrating image of American life and character. Yet during his turbulent career, he was honored, misunderstood, and chastised. Educated at Philadelphia’s egalitarian Central High School, Eakins later traveled to Paris to study with the French master Jean-Leon Gerome at the Ecole des Beaux Arts. Although his approach to drawing and painting was shaped by leading modern French and Spanish artists, Eakins was frustrated with the limitations of the European style of classicism. He wanted to forge a new style of realism using American themes. “If America is to produce great painters … their first desire should be to remain in America to peer deeper into the heart of American life,” he advised. His portraits of individuals who achieved great success reflected Eakins’ interest in vigorous American traits. He painted likenesses of prominent physicians, lawyers, musicians, and sportsmen in his native city who possessed creative spirit, technical expertise, authority, or accomplishment. Nonetheless, during his lifetime, Eakins’ artistic reputation suffered from his uncompromising attitude towards convention in art, teaching, and society. He declined to follow popular tastes and ignored trends of the art market. His unrelenting and acute observations revealed truths that viewers often found difficult to accept. Several paintings, depicting bloodied surgeons and mastectomies, were rejected by a public which found them too realistic or indelicate for “the ladies.” The artist’s teaching methods were also considered to be too liberal (and liberating) and he was discharged by the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts for employing live nudes to illustrate human anatomy. Thomas Eakins was appreciated by fellow artists, as well as by art critics of his day. Simply entitled Thomas Eakins, this lavishly illustrated book presents the most current body of knowledge about the quixotic artist. In a series of thoughtful essays, thirty scholars probe Eakins’ tumultuous career, explore the psychology behind his paintings, examine the many controversies which surrounded him, and analyze individual paintings or groups of paintings. While focusing in detail on Eakins’ most important paintings, the book also discusses the considerable impact of photography on his work and reproduces – for the first time – a series of recently discovered photographs made by the artist. Thomas Eakins features more than sixty color illustrations.


Gardens of Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley

by William M. Klein Jr.
Temple University Press, 1995 (327 pages, cloth, $29.95)

Once mostly rolling hills and gently sloping valleys covered with hardwood forests in the seventeenth century, contemporary Philadelphia and the surrounding Delaware Valley now claim the largest concentration of many of the finest public and private gardens in the world. Gardens of Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley – lustrously illustrated by noted garden photographer Derek Fell­ – explores the broader attitudes and behaviors toward nature that have influenced this development-from colonial era farms and gardens planted for survival to the art of suburban gardens, to nature conservatories and public parks. The author’s eloquent and knowledgeable narratives include finely detailed portraits of forty-three gardens, many of which are internationally renowned: the Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania, Longwood Gardens, Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve, Fairmount Park, and Bartram’s Garden (see “Like Father, Like Son: The Extraordinary Bartrams” by L. Wilbur Zimmerman in the summer 1995 edition). While considering a particular garden’s historical and social influences, the author discusses the philosophy of each garden, its creator’s goals (and even personality), and the garden’s interaction with the surrounding environment, including period and contemporary architecture. Gardens of Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley is made up of seven chapters, “Colonial and Federal Farms and Gardens,” “The Collector’s Garden: Recreating Eden,” “A Tradition of Agriculture: From Seeds to Societies,” “The Garden as Art,” “America’s First Family of Horticulture,” “From Private Gardens to Public Parks,” and “The Garden as Preserve.” Given the author’s eloquence and the photographer’s striking illustrations, this book will become a perennial reference guide for readers whose interest in gardening is, even at best, purely casual.


The Executive, Library and Museum Building

by Keri Casey
Pennsylvania State Capitol Preservation Committee, 1994 (82 pages, paper, $5.00)

Last year marked the centennial of the completion of the Executive, Library and Museum Building (now known as the Capitol Annex Building), which holds the distinction of being the oldest building in Harrisburg’s Capitol Complex. The handsome Italian Renaissance-style edifice predates the present-day Capitol by more than a decade. Now housing the legislative support staff of the House of Representatives and the offices of the Capitol Preservation Committee, the building provided, at various times, quarters for the Commonwealth’s executive offices, the State Library, and exhibition space for the State Museum. The building has witnessed many changes in occupancy through the years with surprisingly little alteration to its architecture. Although the passing of the years has taken its toll on this historic building, its original grandeur and elegance is evidenced by even the smallest of decorative details. The Executive, Library and Museum Building offers an intriguing “behind the scenes” glimpse at the workings of state government and at the individuals responsible for the cre­ation and design of the building, especially Governor Robert E. Pattison (1850-1904), who demanded erection of such a structure in his biennial message to the state legislature in January 1893, and architect John Torrey Windrim (1866-1934) of Philadelphia, characterized as “prominent among the most progressive and reliable architects of the city,” to whom fell the monumental task of planning the building. The book traces the history of the building, its many uses, and its seemingly ever changing roster of tenants. However, this book will particularly appeal to admirers of architecture and students of interior decoration because it contains numerous period illustrations, such as photographs, drawings, plans, and elevations, as well as depictions of ornamental details.


Susquehanna, River of Dreams

by Susan Q. Stranahan
The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993 (322 pages, cloth, $25.95)

Susquehanna, River of Dreams, tells the sweeping story of one of America’s great rivers, ranging in time from the river’s ge­ologic origins to modern threats to its delicate ecosystem, threats such as human settlements, industrial development and pollution. It is also a story describing recent efforts to save the river and its “drowned estuary,” the Chesapeake Bay. This fascinating book presents a unique natural history of the vast Susquehanna watershed and a compelling look at environmental issues of national significance. The author’s vivid accounts of her experiences on the Susquehanna Rivers – including interviews with the colorful and engaging individuals she met along its shores – capture the river’s continuing ability “to fire .the imagination, to stir the senses, to inspire dreams.” The longest non-navigable river in North America, the Susquehanna River was never an important avenue of commerce, but the struggle over who would profit from the region’s wealth of coal, timber, and farmland influenced the political landscape of the young United States for more than a century. Susquehanna, River of Dreams, describes how canal builders, loggers, miners, and industrialists nearly destroyed the source of their wealth, in addition to chronicling the river’s frequent retaliation with historic, rampaging floods. Today, the Susquehanna River is a study in contrasts: dean and healthy again along much of its length, in several places still so polluted that nothing can survive. New threats from urbanization, modern agriculture, and nuclear power make the future uncertain. Nevertheless, the author finds reasons for optimism in the many people who cherish the river, proudly celebrate its remarkable comeback, and work for its permanent protection. She describes their efforts to control development, restore the river’s shad and other wildlife, and change attitudes. “Every day along the river,” the author writes, “the ranks of those with great hopes for the Susquehanna are growing. And the dreams they dream for this majestic river are no longer selfish ones.” And so, readers will discover that Susquehanna, River of Dreams, is perfectly titled.