Currents

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.

Rediscovering Thomas Eakins

Born in Philadelphia, artist Thomas Eakins (1844-1916) received his early artistic train­ing at the Pennsylvania Acad­emy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia. He continued his studies at the Ecole des Beaux­-Arts in Paris, France, where drawing from the live nude was the basis for instruction. Eakins returned to Philadel­phia and to the Pennsylvania Academy, where he imple­mented a rigorous curriculum modeled on the traditional French academic system. His methods emphasized the human figure: both his male and female students painted from the live nude, dissected human cadavers, and ana­lyzed photographs of the hu­man form in motion. Thomas Eakins’ insistence on these practices led to his several controversial incidents involv­ing young women students and, eventually, to his dis­missal (see “The Many Faces of Thomas Eakins” by Cheryl Leibold in the spring 1991).

After the artist left the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, he continued teach­ing at other prestigious institu­tions, including the Art Students’ League and the National Academy of Design. He painted many portraits – mostly uncommissioned – of family, friends, physicians, and those few he genuinely respected. Although he never enjoyed widespread acclaim, his work eventually met with greater recognition by critics, as well as the public, towards the end of his life, laying the foundation for the high regard in which he is held today.

To offer greater understand­ing of – and insight into – one of the country’s foremost painters of the nineteenth century, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts has mounted a landmark exhibi­tion, “Thomas Eakins Redis­covered: At Home, At School, At Work,” which continues through April 5, 1992. The exhibition not only explores Eakins’ extraordinary technical skill and frank style of realism, which rank him as one of the nation’s most important art­ists, but traces his develop­ment as an artist and explores his life at home among a small circle of family and friends, as a student and teacher at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and elsewhere, and at work in his studio. “Thomas Eakins Rediscovered” show­cases the Charles Bregler Col­lection of rare Eakins material acquired by the Pennsylvania Academy in 1985 and never before on view to the public.

“Thomas Eakins Rediscov­ered: At Home, At School, At Work,” represents a two-fold “rediscovery”: the return to light of many enlightening and surprising objects hidden for many years, and a fresh en­counter with one of America’s greatest painters. The exhibit includes rare preparatory studies, examples of works-in­-progress, and unique pieces offering glimpses of private moments, juxtaposed with Eakins’ final versions in paint­ing and sculpture to illustrate his artistic process and devel­opment. Of noteworthy inter­est is correspondence dealing with Eakins’ dismissal as direc­tor of the Pennsylvania Acad­emy of the Fine Arts in 1886, never-before-seen photo­graphs of the artist and his family, and the critically ac­claimed portrait of nineteenth century poet laureate and close friend Walt Whitman (1819-1892).

Addressing several broad themes, “Thomas Eakins Re­discovered” features a re­creation of a Victorian period room with wall texts discus­sing middle class life in nine­teenth century America, and the school of the Pennsylvania Academy will conduct life drawing classes in the galleries throughout the duration of the exhibit to highlight contempo­rary art education and demon­strate how – and why – the legacy of Thomas Eakins con­tinues at the institution. The show also examines the histor­ical use of the figure in art education and the Pennsylva­nia Academy’s role in provid­ing art education to women. Activity stations throughout the exhibition offer visitors unusual opportunities to probe artistic principles and techniques.

The sixteen hundred piece Charles Bregler Collection was assembled by a devoted ad­mirer who actually studied with Thomas Eakins in the 1880s. Charles Bregler’s dedi­cation to his teacher was absolute, and after Eakins’ death in 1916, he befriended the artist’s widow, Susan Macdowell Eakins. Together they staunchly defended and pains­takingly preserved Thomas Eakins’ reputation, which throughout his life was often marred by controversy or completely neglected. After Susan Eakins’ death in 1938, Bregler rescued his mentor’s sketchbooks, letters, photo­graphs, studies, and sculpture from the Eakins residence prior to its sale. He seques­tered these materials in his own home, where they re­mained – virtually inaccessi­ble – for fifty years.

“Thomas Eakins Rediscov­ered: At Home, At School, At Work,” serves as a focal point for Philadelphia’s celebration of the bicentennial of the ratifi­cation of the Bill of Rights. As an artist who refused to com­promise his ideals for the sake of convention, Eakins remains a champion of artistic freedom. Dozens of public programs – including exhibitions by muse­ums throughout the city, the­ater productions, conferences, lectures, walking tours, studio classes, gallery talks, and family activities – will comple­ment the Pennsylvania Acad­emy’s exhibition. A major study, Eakins Rediscovered, cataloging more than two hundred paintings by the master and works by his wife and friends, will be published in 1992.

Founded in 1805, the Penn­sylvania Academy of the Fine Arts is the oldest art school and museum in the country.

For additional information regarding “Thomas Eakins Rediscovered” and related public programs, write: Penn­sylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Broad and Cherry Sts., Philadelphia, PA 19102; or telephone (215) 972-7642. There is a charge for admis­sion.

 

Just for Nice

Nearly three hundred carv­ings made to amuse … enter­tain … and simply delight viewers are on exhibit at the Historical Society of Berks County in Reading through Saturday, September 21 [1991].

“Just for Nice: The Carving and Whittling Magic of South­eastern Pennsylvania” offers visitors an unusual opportu­nity to explore the Pennsylva­nia German traditions of woodcarvers and whittlers of southeastern Pennsylvania. The exhibition showcases many rare and unique objects that have never before been publicly displayed. The works of thirty documented wood­carvers – ranging in size from miniature birds (measuring two inches or less) to a sixteen foot diorama – include birds, animals, people, “bird trees,” hunting scenes, cigar store figures, canes and walking sticks, and companion pieces, such as antique butter prints and bag stamps. “Just for Nice” is the largest exhibition of regional carvings in the United States to date.

Objects featured in the exhibition, all carved in south­eastern Pennsylvania, span from the early nineteenth century through the late 1980s. All of the carvers represented are deceased and, except for very few, were not formally trained. Folk art specialists have long recognized south­eastern Pennsylvania as the center of a folk art sculpture tradition by craftsmen who possessed innate ability to create a distinctive work of art by taking a household knife to a block of wood. Art historians have also cited the carvers’ love for form, color, and de­sign as integral and important components of both their work and recreation. Carvers represented run the gamut from anonymous jail prisoners to the grandfather of famous contemporary singer Daryl Hall (of the popular duo, Hall and Oates).

Lenders to the exhibition include the Hershey Museum of American Life, Hershey, Landis Valley Museum, Lan­caster, and the Schwenkfelder Library, Pennsburg, Pennsyl­vania; the Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum, Wilmington, Delaware; and the Museum of American Folk Art, New York. The exhibition was coordinated by Richard S. Machmer of Hamburg, Berks County, a well known re­searcher and collector, as well as a carver.

“Just for Nice: The Carving and Whittling Magic of South­eastern Pennsylvania” is ac­companied by a lavishly illustrated exhibition catalogue by the same title. Made possi­ble through a grant by Sothe­by’s, the Manhattan auction house, the book has been widely acclaimed as the defini­tive guide to the folk art sculp­ture of the Commonwealth’s southeastern counties. Just for Nice includes a reference sec­tion, biographical sketches of carvers, descriptive notes, and full color photographs of ob­jects on view.

For more information, write: Historical Society of Berks County, 940 Centre Ave., Reading, PA 19601; or tele­phone (215) 375-4375 or 562-2012.

 

Telling Tales

Through April 19, 1992, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia is giving new meaning to the old adage, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” A landmark exhibition, “Telling Tales: Nineteenth Century Narrative Painting from the Collection of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts,” offers fifty different stories told through fifty intriguing works of paint­ing and sculpture. Drawn from one of the most comprehen­sive collections found in any museum devoted to American art, “Telling Tales” illustrates the richness and depth of the institution’s extensive holdings of historical, literary, and genre pieces.

During the nineteenth century, American artists drew inspiration from traditional sources, such as the Bible, Shakespeare, classical antiq­uity, and European history. Narrative art was venerated for both its instructional and aes­thetic content. Pictures that told stories were expected to shape the character and refine the intellect of those who saw them. These works, often large in scale, attracted tremendous crowds; for example, Benjamin West’s dramatic – and huge – Death on the Pale Horse was in such great demand that the directors of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts mortgaged their building to purchase it in 1836.

Traditional literary sources and historical events provided subject matter for European artists educated at the Royal Academy in London, who deemed narrative art far supe­rior to portraiture, landscapes and still lifes. The first seg­ment of “Telling Tales” consists of thirteen paintings reflecting this European belief, including Dennis A. Volozon’s Homer Reciting His Poems in the City of Argos (1811), King Solomon and the Iron Worker (1863) by Chris­tian Schussele, and Charles R. Leslie’s The Murder of Rutland by Lord Clifford (1815).

American artists of the nineteenth century used the same subject matter and a style similar to their European counterparts. While European audiences were familiar with many of the scenes depicted, American viewers were not. About the middle of the cen­tury, American artists began concentrating on more familiar domestic subjects, helping to forge a national identity. The second phase of the exhibition consists of vignettes culled from American history and contemporary life, among them Thomas Birch’s Perry’s Victory on Lake Erie (1814), The Young Merchants (1842) by William Page, and William B. T. Trego’s Battery of Light Artillery en Route (1882). Other artists represented are Michele Corne, James Hamilton, George H. Comegys, William Sidney Mount, James G. Clon­ney, and Pennsylvanian Peter F. Rothermel.

The burgeoning Industrial Revolution of the second half of the nineteenth century afforded Americans both the wealth and leisure time for international travel or what has become known as the “Grand Tour.” Art patrons frequented the annual exhibi­tions of the Paris Salons, where idealized versions of European life and history predominated. American painters submitting to these annual exhibitions turned out paintings loosely related to European themes, but drawn heavily from their own imagi­nations. These artists created fantasy worlds filled with elaborate costumes and opu­lent architectural settings, encouraging viewers to invent stories based on their own reactions to the images. In­cluded in this third and final section of “Telling Tales: Nineteenth Century Narrative Painting from the Collection of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts” are such Gilded Age fantasies as The Favorite Falcon (1879) by Thomas Hovenden, Julian Story’s Marie Charlotte Corday (1889), Dying Brigand (1855) by Edward Harrison May, Jr., and William Merrit Chase’s “Keying Up” – The Court Jester (1875), in addi­tion to works by Daniel Ridgway Knight, Anna Eliza­beth Klumpe, and Edward Lord Weeks.

A catalogue written by Pennsylvania Academy curator and exhibition organizer Su­san Danly accompanies the show. “Telling Tales” will be circulated nationally beginning in January 1993.

The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, established in 1805, collects and exhibits the work of American artists. The museum is located in center­0city Philadelphia at 118 North Broad Street, two blocks from City Hall. There is an admis­sion charge.

For additional information on visiting hours and group tours, write: Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Broad and Cherry Sts., Phila­delphia, PA 19102; or tele­phone (215) 972-7600 or 972-7642.

 

A Victorian Childhood

Following the end of the Civil War, middle class Victo­rian families became indul­gent, allowing children the opportunity to play, while at the same time making sure they were taught skills they would need later as adults. Young girls, particularly, were encouraged to amuse themsel­ves with dolls, baby carriages, miniature sewing machines, child-sized kitchen imple­ments, and toys that would prepare them for their adult roles as wives, mothers, and homemakers. Until the mid­-nineteenth century, only adult dolls were available, but the French invention of a “baby” doll permitted girls to imagine that they were, indeed, taking care of their own children. Young boys were encouraged to play more vigorous and imaginative games with build­ing blocks, toy soldiers, and trains.

Toys of the early nineteenth century were usually made of wood, but the rapid – and intense – growth of industrial­ization following the Civil War spurred manufacturers to construct toys and games with a wide variety of materials, including paper and card­board, and metals such as cast iron and tinplate. The use of color lithography in the dos­ing decades of the nineteenth century gave toymakers the opportunity to make a wide array of games by combining paper and metal. Litho­graphed games and toys were extremely popular with Ger­man manufacturers, which sold one-thud of their toys to the seemingly insatiable Amer­ican market.

To examine the toys of children during the last cen­tury, Pennypacker Mills, a Montgomery County historic house museum, has mounted an exhibition entitled simply, and appropriately, “A Victo­rian Childhood.” The exhibi­tion of toys, games, clothing, and related objects associated with childhood years illus­trates how Victorian period children both played and lived. On view are an authen­tic Civil War era doll carriage, doll house furnishings, and clothing worn by the children of former Gov. and Mrs. Sam­uel W. Pennypacker, owners of the handsome mansion.

“A Victorian Childhood” will continue through Sunday, November 30 [1991].

The Pennypacker family lived at Pennypacker Mills from 1900 to 1916. The house has been extensively restored and period rooms interpret the family’s lifestyle at the turn-of­-the-century through original furniture and fine and decora­tive arts.

Pennypacker Mills, located at Route 73 and Haldeman Road, Schwenksville, is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 A.M. to 4 P.M., and Sun­day, from 1 to 4 P. M. Admission is free, but donations are welcome.

To obtain additional infor­mation regarding “A Victorian Childhood” and changing exhibits, write: Pennypacker Mills, 5 Haldeman Rd., Schwenksville, PA 19473; or telephone (215) 287-9349.

 

Showing Scrimshaw

Exquisitely crafted exam­ples of nineteenth century scrimshaw by American whaleman are on exhibit at the Philadelphia Maritime Mu­seum through Sunday, De­cember 1 [1991]. “The Whaleman’s Art: Scrimshaw from the Col­lections of H. Richard Dietrich, Jr., and the Dietrich American Foundation” features nearly one hundred works drawn from the extensive holdings of whaling artifacts and related objects of the well known Dietrich collections.

Introducing nineteenth century whaling through paintings, prints, story panels, and excerpts from books and diaries, the exhibition notes that by the 1850s, New Eng­land was the base for more than seven hundred whaling ships. During the “Golden Age of Whaling” – between 1825 and 1865 – the industry employed more than twenty thousand individuals each year. The focus of “The Whale­man’s Art” is not the eco­nomics of the industry, but the distinctive art form and the delicate art work created by whalemen using practical implements to carve whale teeth and whalebone, walrus tusks, wood, and other materi­als that came into their posses­sion during the course of their long voyages.

The most impressive aspect of the exhibit is the wide vari­ety of materials and themes used by the carvers. In fact, much of the scrimshaw had practical applications on board ship; the men carved tools for sail repair, blocks for tackle, dividers for navigation, and fids for splicing lines. How­ ever, most of the scrimshaw had utilitarian domestic uses or featured art work on domes­tic themes. The contrast be­tween these delicate works illustrates a longing for home and the difficult day-to-day life at sea.

“The Whaleman’s Art: Scrimshaw from the Collec­tions of H. Richard Dietrich, Jr., and the Dietrich American Foundation” showcases out­standing examples of scrim­shaw made for use in the home, such as a miniature doll’s bed, a pair of candle­holders, a child’s set of domi­noes, a ditty box for holding sewing implements, a spool holder, knitting needles, clothespins, a jagging wheel (for cutting pies and other kitchen chores), a serving fork, a rolling pin, and a sugar scoop. The most popular en­deavor of the day, not surpris­ingly, was the creation of a portrait of a woman – either real or imaginary – on a whale’s tooth. Whalemen often copied portraits of women found in popular nine­teenth century illustrated periodicals. Examples in the exhibit show women in a drawing room, frequently with children.

Thoughts of home were expressed in patriotic or civic images, such as portraits of George and Martha Washington, and depictions of the American eagle and harbors of major port cities. Whalemen, however, were not immune to the adventure and beauty of the scenes they encountered during their voyages. En­graved whales’ teeth illustrate the arduous task of hunting whales and record the exotic inhabitants, flora, and fauna of foreign lands. Others are em­blazoned with detailed draw­ings of whaling vessels; one of the ship portraits included in “The Whaleman’s Art” was inspired by a voyage of the Susan of Nantucket. Created by the talented Frederick Myrick, these teeth are highly sought by collectors because of their artistic merit and, partic­ularly, because unlike most scrimshaw, they are signed and dated.

American novelist Herman Melville (1819-1891), who im­mortalized nineteenth century whaling in Moby Dick, was amazed by the diversity of scrimshaw. “Throughout the Pacific, and also in Nantucket, and New Bedford, and Sag Harbor,” he wrote, “you will come across lively sketches of whales and whaling-scenes, graven by the fishermen them­selves on Sperm Whale teeth …. Some of them have little boxes of dentistical­-looking implements, specially intended for the skrimshan­dering business. But, in gen­eral, they toil with their jack-knives alone; and, with that almost omnipotent tool of the sailor, they will turn you out anything you please, in the way of a mariner’s fancy.”

Additional information regarding “The Whaleman’s Art: Scrimshaw from the Col­lections of H. Richard Dietrich, Jr., and the Dietrich American Foundation” is available by writing: Philadelphia Maritime Museum, 321 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19106; or by telephoning (215) 925-5439. Admission is charged.

 

An American Impressionist

Inspired by scenic details from the coast of Maine and villages in England, the moun­tains and the mining towns of the American West, the wooded copses of eastern Pennsylvania and England, and the French countryside, Walter Elmer Schofield’s work possesses a universal appeal. Born in Philadelphia in 1867, Schofield studied at the Penn­sylvania Academy of the fine Arts from 1889 to 1892, and entered the Academie Julian in Paris in 1892. He is best known as one of several American impressionist painters of the New Hope School, whose work is experiencing a period of rediscovery and significant critical reevaluation. He lived and worked primarily in the Philadelphia area, although his later life was spent be­tween Chebeague Island, Maine, and his home in Corn­wall, England.

Walter Elmer Schofield’s early influences came from Robert Henri and Adolf Bouguereau. His style during the late 1890s was “tonalist,” an impressionistic style in muted, nearly monochromatic, earthtones with soft, misty outlines. In 1901, the artist settled in England and began painting landscapes with a broader view and lighter pal­ette. His exposure to the en plein air (“painting outdoors”) style of the English and French artists led to his completion of numerous canvases of a single location, all the while explor­ing the changing light and effects of the seasons.

By 1915, Schofield was ranked with Edward Willis Redfield and Gardner Symons as the most famous masters of the Pennsylvania School. Although he was a great trav­eler, he seemed to have been mainly influenced by Ameri­can artists. Among the artists in his circle of friends were Henri, John Sloan, William Glackens, Everett Shinn, and George Luks, all of whom later became members of the so­-called “Ash Can School” for their portrayals of lower and middle class urban life. Con­sidered vulgar by critics, their rebellion against established art traditions produced paint­ings which were vehemently despised by detractors because they were not in accord with prevailing tastes in art. Scho­field’s focus, however, was almost entirely on landscapes, and even his paintings of buildings are basically devoid of human life and forms. Al­though he, too, disliked the “artiness” of painters such as James McNeill Whistler, Scho­field found satisfaction in creating what he considered portraits of nature. In the 1930s, he spent much of his time in California, Arizonia, and New Mexico teaching and painting scenes of the Ameri­can West.

The James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown is showing, through Sunday, November 3 [1991], an exhibition entitled “An American Impres­sionist: Walter Elmer Scho­field;’ which showcases a broad selection of Pennsylva­nia landscapes, seascapes, Western views, and English country gardens. The exhibi­tion highlights twenty-two works selected from the per­manent collection of the Philip and Muriel Berman Museum of Art at Ursinus College, Collegeville, and twelve works loaned by private collectors.

Additional information regarding “An American Im­pressionist” is available by writing: James A. Michener Art Museum, 138 South Pine St., Doylestown, PA 18901-4626; or by telephoning (215) 340-9807 or (215) 340-9800. There is a charge for admission.

 

Pretty Deadly

No one who eagerly awaits the season’s first strawberry­-rhubarb pie would ever feel threatened by the familiar pinkish-hued vegetable. Yet rhubarb is only one of many plants found throughout Pennsylvania that are poison­ous in some form to humans. In the case of rhubarb, the foliage is poisonous and, de­pending on variables such as an individual’s physical size and the amount ingested, can be deadly. Only the stems – cooked and sweetened – are used in one of the nation’s favorite desserts.

“Pretty Deadly: Poisonous Plants of Forest, Field, and Garden,” on view in the new Natural History Gallery at The Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh, explores poisonous and dangerous plants and fungi through the exhibition of illustrations and pressed and live specimens. The exhibition is presented jointly by the The Carnegie Museum of Natural History and the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation at Carnegie Mellon University, where curators have selected more than fifty works of art and botanical illustrations from the institute’s extensive collec­tions spanning the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The Phipps Conservatory in Schenley Park is also highlighting the danger of poison­ous plants in conjunction with “Pretty Deadly: Poisonous Plants of Forest, Field, and Garden.”

The exhibition focuses on three types of plants: those commonly found in wood­lands, gardens, and homes. The sections of each plant that are dangerous or poisonous are identified, and the exhibit explains harmful effects, rang­ing from minor skin irritations to serious illness or even death. Throughout the exhibi­tion, a central “bouquet” of poisonous plants will be changed periodically. “Pretty Deadly” also explores the centuries-old connection be­tween botany and pharmacology.

Educational programs to be held in conjunction with the exhibition will include classes for children and adults, tours, and a related display in the museum’s Discovery Room. A brochure describing some of the more common poisonous plants is available, in addition to information distributed by the Pittsburgh Poison Center, which has mounted a display featuring publications on plant poisons and identification guides. “Pretty Deadly: Poisonous Plants of Forest, Field, and Garden,” will continue through Sunday, October 20 [1991].

The exhibition is the second installation in the museum’s extensively renovated Natural History Gallery, devoted to changing and temporary shows. The gallery, with state­-of-the-art climate control and enhanced security measures, allows the museum to stage traveling exhibitions of rare and fragile materials on loan from other natural history institutions, as well as facili­tates the safe display of trea­sures from the museum’s own holdings.

Additional information is available by writing: The Carnegie Museum of Natural History, 4400 Forbes Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15213; or by telephoning (412) 622-3131 or 622-3328. There is an admis­sion charge.