Curator's Choice tells the stories behind prized objects and artifacts from the collections of historical organizations and cultural institutions in Pennsylvania.

The Athenaeum of Philadelphia acquires thousands of architectural drawings and hundreds of rare books and trade catalogues each year. Recent acquisitions include drawings from Charles Barry’s Italianate Travellers’ Club in London, reputedly a source for architect John Notman’s design of the Athenaeum; high-style Victorian period designs by Philadelphia architects Edward Collins (1821-1902) and Charles Autenrieth (1828-1906); and works by William L. Price (1861-1916), who founded an important arts and crafts utopian community at Rose Valley in Delaware County.

Of interest to many Pennsylvanians, as well as students of architecture, are works by and for Joseph M. Huston (1861-1916), the controversial Philadelphia architect who designed the State Capitol – and who ultimately served a jail term for defrauding the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. In 1901, Huston won the competition for the design of the State Capitol, sparking bitterness among fellow architects of the Philadel­phia Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, which had forbidden its members to participate. Unfortunately for Huston, this was only the beginning of the scandal, which tainted both the competition and its product, his design.

Huston was charged with conspiracy to defraud the Commonwealth by accepting bribes for work on the building and by charging state government more than was proper for contracts required to complete the project. He was convicted on April 29, 1910, forced to pay a fine of five hundred dollars and costs, and imprisoned at Eastern State Penitentiary on June 1, 1911, “for not less than six months and not more than two years.” Huston served six months and twenty days but was paroled on December 20, 1911, after which he returned to his architectural practice. Not surprisingly, his following was ruined by the criminal charges.

In spite his unethical conduct, Joseph M. Huston did create a twentieth-century masterpiece that awes visitors to this day with its opulence. Constructed and furnished at a cost of thirteen million dollars, the State Capitol recalls the grandeur of centuries-old Renaissance-style public buildings in Europe.

To portray his glorious brainchild, Huston engaged F. Huston Hawley (1850-1936) who rendered an architectural drawing entitled Capitol Building for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (circa 1904). Hawley, who is believed to have produced more than eleven thousand drawings during his half-century career, depicted hotels, churches, office buildings, libraries, apartment houses, bridges, residences, and clubhouses. An important part of his work consisted of competition drawings. Not only was he commissioned by architects to prepare presentation drawings, he was also engaged to create elevations to promote the building or to assist in seeking construction financing. Drawings of completed structures were often used as illustration art by the architect’s clients.

The vision of Joseph M. Huston was brilliantly portrayed by F. Hughson Hawley with Capitol Building for the Com­monwealth of Pennsylvania, which typifies the artist’s superb draftsmanship, unerring eye for detail, keen sense of scale, and dedication to precision. In his day Hawley was hailed as “one of the pioneer delineators of this country,” praise which, has stood the daunting test of time.

For more information about the hold­ings of the Athenaeum, write: Athenaeum of Philadelphia, 219 South Sixth St., Philadelphia, PA 19106-3794; telephone (215) 925-2688; or visit the Athenaeum of Philadelphia website.