Current and Coming features detailed information about current and forthcoming programs, events, exhibits and activities of historical and cultural institutions in Pennsylvania. Originated as “Currents.” Retitled “Current and Coming,” Winter 2003, and then retitled “Out and About,” Fall 2005. Revived as “Current and Coming,” Winter 2013. Ran regularly, Spring 1984 to Spring 2008, and then occasionally, Winter 2013 to Spring 2015.

Brush with Conflict

On September 11, 1777, on and near the banks of the Brandywine River where the Brandywine River Museum now stands, the American army led by General George Washington attempted to halt a larger force of British troops intent on capturing Philadelphia (see “British Images of War at Brandywine and the Tredyffrin Encampment” by Thomas J. McGuire in the fall 2002 edition). By nightfall, the Americans were in retreat, and within two weeks the British occupied the capital. Yet the fierce battle, the deadliest to that date in the Revolution­ary War, metaphorically transformed the terrain, sanctifying the gently rolling farmland with the blood of patriotism.

A Brush with Conflict: The Battle of Brandywine in Art, currently on view at the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, presents images by artists of two centuries who found inspiration in the events, the landscape, and the personalities of the battle. Documents of history, such as informational broadsides, maps, and engravings, are not found in this exhibition; rather, A Brush with Conflict concentrates on images that serve history as an ongoing process, images that reflect diverse aspects of the nation’s cultural character.

Washington and Lafayette at the Battle of Brandywine (after 1815) by John Vander­lyn (1775-1852) epitomizes the grand style of history painting prevalent in Europe at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Just as the nation’s builders found a civic framework in the moral and political ideals of ancient Greece and Rome, those Americans who first recognized the need for a national culture sought foundations in classical art and architecture. They hoped that the style and subject matter of classical art, filtered through European neoclassicism, would provide a lofty, moral imperative appropriate – and nec­essary – for a new nation in need of images to reinforce history, aspirations, and collective myths. Vanderlyn’s figures of George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette, astride horses that evoke the monumentality of classical sculpture, embody a symbolic nobility that transcends the battle as a singular event.

By the late nineteenth century, the genre of grand style history painting had succumbed to American art’s steady progress toward democratization, which is represented by Brandywine Battlefield (1870) by Philadelphia artist William Rus­sell Smith (1812-1896). With transcontinental expansion, the national identity had become inextricably linked to geography, and artists infused landscape paintings with the grandeur and moral symbolism formerly associated with history painting. Smith’s pastoral view of the battlefield ­marred only by a blasted tree, a ruined rail fence, and the barrel of an old can­non-emphasizes the land’s agricultural bounty, symbolic of a distinctly American plenitude that could endure and even mit­igate the scars of war.

Brandywine Battlefield and the grow­ing importance of commemorative events especially appealed to artists who made the region their home during the twenti­eth century. The rich history of the area attracted Howard Pyle (1853-1911) and his stellar student N. C. Wyeth (1882-1945).

A Brush with Conflict: The Battle of Brandywine in Art marks the two hundred and twenty-fifth anniversary of the battle. Visitors to the exhibition will discover that even though American soldiers retreated, successive generations of American artists created paintings that contribute to the country’s complex national identity. The exhibit continues through Sunday, November 24 [2002].

For more information, write: Brandy­wine River Museum, P.O. Box 141, Chadds Ford, PA 19317. There is a fee for admission.


Illustration in History

One hundred years ago, on October 24, 1902, twenty-year-old Newell Convers Wyeth (1882-1945) stepped from a railroad passenger coach in Wilmington, Delaware, hoping to join the Howard Pyle School of Art and embark on a career as an illustrator. At the time Wyeth arrived in Wilmington, Howard Pyle (1853-1911), preeminent illustrator of the day, was seeking a disciple and heir. The effect of his teaching on his young student was both immediate and profound. Pyle emphasized drama and firsthand knowledge of a subject, and Wyeth learned his lessons well.

During their association, Pyle alerted Wyeth to impending advances in color reproduction and publishing, and Wyeth developed and refined his sense of color to meet the demands of industry and the public. Wyeth’s success as a student of Pyle came quickly – less than four months after beginning his study with Pyle, N.C. Wyeth sold a painting of a broncobuster to the Saturday Evening Post for fifty dollars. The painting appeared on the cover of the February 21, 1903, edition of the Saturday Evening Post, one of the most popular weekly magazines of the period, which boasted a paid circulation of more than a half-million.

Approximately seventy-five hundred periodicals were published in the United States between 1885 and 1905. Many failed and others merged with competi­tors, but in 1900 at least fifty-five hundred magazines crowded the market. “Maga­zines, magazines, magazines,” warned an editorial in National Magazine in Novem­ber 1897, “the news-stands are already groaning under the heavy load, and there are still more coming.” This phenomenal rise in publications was due to several factors, among them the emergence of a better-educated middle class experiencing increasing prosperity and leisure time and possessed more disposable income than earlier generations had enjoyed. This growing segment of American society turned to weekly and monthly publica­tions as an important source of informa­tion and entertainment. A century ago, magazines provided what television, radio, motion pictures, and the Internet offer today.

Electric lighting, developed in the 1880s and common in urban areas by 1900, made reading after dark easier for a large portion of the population. Other technological advances, such as the high­-speed power-driven cylinder printing press and the change from cotton rag paper to newsprint, an inexpensive paper made from wood pulp, reduced the costs of printing, enabling publishers to produce widely available periodicals priced between five and twenty-five cents an issue. By 1880, the United States Postal Service established bulk rate mailing subsidies, and in 1902 the newly instituted rural free delivery system enabled farm families living in remote areas to receive the same periodi­cals purchased by urbanites at countless newsstands.

Innovations in photography and printing allowed publish­ers to include more pictures in their magazines. Between 1880 and 1930, artwork became one of a publication’s distinguishing features and an highly important competitive component industry. The public clamored for more illustrations of even better quality. Widespread use of half-tone methods of repro­duction in the dosing decades of the enabled editors and publishers to meet their readers’ seemingly insatiable appetite. In 1908, the Beck Engraving Company of Philadelphia produced the first set of four-color plates for wet print­ ing, a milestone in commercial color reproduction, and legions of illustrators began to think in color. For the first time, the cost effectiveness of quality reproduc­tion made mass advertising lucrative. Many artists who provided illustrations for articles, essays, and editorials began creating vignettes designed to sell tooth powders, breakfast cereals, heath restora­tives and cure-alls, hair tonics, tobacco, and horseless carriages.

N.C. Wyeth Arrives in Wilmington, cur­rently on view at the Brandywine River Museum, celebrates the beginning of the artist’s legendary career that spanned five decades and left a legacy of popular images that continue to fascinate genera­tions of readers and art enthusiasts. The exhibition highlights the combination of commercial and social issues and tech­nological innovations, which made the early years of the twentieth century a fortuitous time for a young man of Wyeth’s particular talent and aspirations to enter the field of illustration.

A large section of N.C. Wyeth Arrives in Wilmington is devoted to a selection of paintings the artist executed for maga­zines prior to 1911, the works that earned him the commission to illustrate Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Although his paintings are favorites of museum visitors today, in the early twentieth century his reputation rested almost entirely on reproductions of his images. The reproductions, frequently printed in black and white on poor qual­ity paper at a fraction of the size of the originals, are shown with the actual paintings. Visitors can understand why Wyeth, like many of his contemporaries, was often disappointed in the published images and believed they unfairly repre­sented his work. Nevertheless, the power of his paintings defied poor reproduction. The exhibition concludes with a collage of Wyeth’s published images, which gives visitors a sense of the vitality and versatility that the young artist brought to his work in the early years of his career.

In addition to showcasing works by Wyeth, the exhibition includes pieces by the great illustrators of the day, such as Edwin Austin Abbey, Frederic Reming­ton and, of course, Pyle. These images, which provided inspiration and chal­lenge to aspiring illustrators, are present­ed as Wyeth would have seen them, as reproductions in the pages of the various periodicals.

N.C. Wyeth Arrives in Wilmington remains on exhibit through Sunday, November 24 [2002].

To obtain additional information, write: Brandywine River Museum, P.O. Box 141, Chadds Ford, PA 19317; tele­phone (610) 388-2700; or visit the Brandywine River Museum website. There is an admission fee.


All Aboard!

Trains!, a collaborative exhibit mount­ed by the Reading Public Museum and the Reading Society of Model Engineers, on view at the museum through April 13, 2003, offers a look at mechanical engineering of a bygone era – on a diminutive scale. Trains! focuses on the history and science of model railroading and the role that trains, primarily steam locomotives, played in the history of Reading and surrounding Berks County until the mid-1950s. Many models featured in the exhibit are replicas of vintage engines and cars, built from original blueprints by local train enthusiasts. Highlights range in size from the smallest commercial train models up to one-eighth scale. On loan from the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia is a model of a Reading Railroad Compa­ny G-1 passenger steam locomotive built in the company’s shops in Reading by apprentices in 1939.

Trains! includes numerous artifacts, objects, photographs, blueprints, and works of art by regional artists. An inter­active computer station offers visitors an opportunity to create simulated 3-D loco­motives and scenery. A video entitled Pennsylvania Railroad, an original production examining the railroad as a giant of industry and transportation and its impact on the grieving nation in the late nineteenth century. The museum will also present various special programs, including lec­tures and entertainment geared to educate children, throughout the run of Trains!

Opened in 1929, the Reading Public Museum was the brainchild of Levi W. Mengel, a teacher and collector, who personally acquired many important collections for the institution, beginning with nearly two thousand artifacts and objects obtained at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. The museum’s extensive fine art collection contains works by Benjamin West, Edwin Austin Abbey, Julius Bloch, Isabel Bishop, Harriett Whitney Frismuth, Rosa Bonheur, Ben Austrian, Mary Cassatt, John Singer Sargent, N.C. Wyeth, Frederic Edwin Church, Peggy Bacon, George Bellows, Walter Emerson Baum, and Edgar Degas. Its natural history col­lection encompasses hundreds of thou­sands of specimens, and more than thirty thousand objects and artifacts make up its anthropological and historical holdings. The museum, which also administers a planetarium, is situated in a park-like set­ting with walks, ponds, and sculpture.

For more information, write: Reading Public Museum, 500 Museum Rd., Read­ing, PA 19611-1425; telephone (610) 371- 5850; or visit the Reading Public Museum website. An admission is charged.