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.

Hello, History!

The former Chautauqua Lake Ice Company warehouse in Pittsburgh’s historic Strip District will come to life on Sunday, April 28 [1996], when it officially opens to the public as the Senator John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center. Renovated by the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania, which has been protecting, preserving, and interpreting the history of the region since 1879, the one hundred and sixty thousand square foot building will house fifty thousand square feet of gallery space for changing exhibits devoted to area history, a research center, library and archives, an orientation theater, classroom spaces for educational programs, and a discovery room for children. The painstakingly rehabilitated seven-story building, erected in 1898, is near the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

The main exhibition of the Senator John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center, “Points in Time: Building a Life in Western Pennsylvania, 1750-Today,” will offer visitors an opportunity to journey through time in western Pennsylvania from the days of the first settlers to the present day. A brief video presentation will introduce two and a half centuries of regional history, while interactive exhibits will feature thousands of artifacts and objects that chronicle home and family life, industrial development, transportation history, the roles of education and religion, immigration and ethnicity, and the emergence of civic, political, and social organizations.

“Points in Time” will also feature re­constructions of three houses, each of which serves as a centerpiece of an exhibition segment. An early settler’s log house that once stood in Cecil Township explores the region’s transition from a frontier in the eighteenth century to a well-established and ordered society in 1820. A circa 1910 immigrant worker’s courtyard dwelling interprets the intensity of the industrial age and its impact on a steelworker’s family between 1875 and 1920. A post-World War II suburban ranch house highlights the rise of what curators characterize as the automobile culture and the baby boom. Throughout this gallery, interpreters will portray historical figures to bring to life the people who settled, built, and sustained Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania.

Several temporary exhibits will address specific themes and subjects significant in western Pennsylvania’s history and heritage. “Afloat on the Ohio, 1894,” showcases more than forty rare photographs made by Reuben Gold Thwaites during a trip on the Monongahela and Ohio Rivers in spring 1894. “From Paesi to Pittsburgh” chronicles the lives of Italian-American immigrants beginning with their arrival in Allegheny County and discusses their work, home and community life, religions, and rites of passage. “To Live and Be Well” examines the rich tradition of health care and social services offered by the local Jewish community. A multi-media interactive exhibit of musical and cultural traditions from 1820 to 1950, “Pittsburgh Rhythms,” addresses the contributions of composer Stephen C. Foster (1826-1864), the early years of the Pittsburgh Symphony, the birth of radio, and the lives and careers of numerous jazz luminaries, including Billy Eckstine, Errol Garner, and Billy Strayhorn. The exhibits will remain on view through the year.

In addition to permanent and changing exhibitions, the Senator John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center features a Children’s Discovery Hall for “hands-on” experiences, a museum shop and cafe, and the Great Hall in which is displayed a restored 1949 trolley, a Conestoga wagon, and a massive city fire bell cast to commemorate the Great Fire of 1845.

The Senator John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center will be open daily. There is an admission charge, except for members of the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania. Group rates are available.

To obtain additional information, including visiting hours and schedules of special activities and events, write: Senator John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center, 1212 Smallman St., Pittsburgh, PA 15222; or telephone (412) 454-6000.


Image of Peace

There it stood, its branches stretching out over the banks of the placid Delaware River, to many a venerable, living reminder of the storied past. For years, local residents looked to it with great pride as the site of founder William Penn’s meeting with Native American leaders in the 1680s to discuss peace. No one knows, however, when – or if ever – this conference occurred. No one has discovered a document or located an eyewitness account to validate the event, yet the traditional account was handed down from generation to generation. There may be no tangible proof that Penn met with the Native Americans beneath this tree, but when the towering Treaty Elm was felled by a storm in 1810, merchant Thomas Cope did record the incident in his diary.

In a squall of wind last night, the venera­ble & large Elm free at Kensington, under which it is said Wm. Penn held his first treaty with the Aborigines, was blown down. It has been on the decline for some years, previously to which it was a princely tree, its branches extending sixty feet from the trunk on every side, forming a shade impenetrable to the sun.

The following day hordes of curious spectators and souvenir seekers whisked away pieces of the tree, many of which were eventually fashioned into a wide array of prized mementos, including boxes, cups, bowls, walking sticks, even chairs. With the tree went the last vestige of the purported treaty meeting, survived only by the tradition of peace and friendship. The site of the tree, in Philadelphia’s Penn Treaty Park, is marked by a monument.

Forty years before the tree toppled, Pennsylvania born artist Benjamin West (see “A Pennsylvania Yankee in King George’s Court” by David M. Glixon in the summer 1993 edition), then working in London, immortalized the event in his monumental painting William Penn’s Treaty with the Indians when he founded the Province of Pennsylvania in North America, 1681. Commissioned by one of the founder’s sons, Thomas Penn, to depict the meeting, West completed his master­piece in 1771, almost immediately after which copies were made and circulated throughout Europe and North America. During the following two centuries, the depiction of this legendary Great Treaty at Shackamaxon evolved from a singular work of art to an American icon.

It was more than two decades ago that noted Philadelphia art collectors Meyer P. and Vivian O. Potamkin saw in the image of William Penn’s Treaty with the Indians when he founded the Province of Pennsylvania in North America, 1681, a symbol of peace. “One day, during the period of intense concern over the Vietnam War, I was viewing a painting by Edward Hicks entitled Penn’s Treaty,” Vivian O. Potamkin explained. “I suddenly realized that this nineteenth-century folk artist’s interest in the Treaty legend, and his many versions of the subject, were a significant indication of man’s desire for peace. Knowing the painting had been inspired by an eighteenth-century print after Benjamin West’s famous painting of 1771, I wondered how many artists and artisans were inspired by the same subject. … ”

The idea of this gesture of friendship between vastly different cultures immediately captivated the Potamkins who began to search in earnest for the image in various media. Extending far beyond the traditional scope of their fine art collection, they gathered prints, paintings, textiles, ceramics and porcelains, medals, and ephemera which portray the meeting of Penn and the Native Americans. Their recent gift of more than one hundred and twenty objects, artifacts, and works of art to The State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg (see “Executive Director’s Message” in the fall 1995 issue) serves as the core of an exhibition, “An Image of Peace: The Penn Treaty Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Meyer P. Potamkin,” opening Sunday, April 14 [1996].

Before they began collecting the images of the treaty meeting, the Potamkins had already acquired a painting of the event by Bucks County folk artist and Quaker minister Edward Hicks (1780-1849), perhaps best known for his dozens of well-known interpretations of “The Peaceable Kingdom.” Hicks’s painting, succinctly entitled Penn’s Treaty, opens the exhibition and helps launch the story of the couple’s interest in this image. Throughout the exhibition, visitors are encouraged to look at the image as more than an illustration – albeit conjectural – of a historical event. The picture of a meeting between the founder and the earliest inhabitants of Pennsylvania has been used through the years as a symbol of colonization, honesty, local pride, mutual respect, and, sadly, as a grim reminder of the injustices committed by Americans, particularly to one another. To the Potamkins, the image recalls the gentle challenge offered by Penn three centuries ago: “to live a kind, just and peaceable life … that we may always live together as friends and neighbors.”

To explore the relationship between William Penn and the Native Americans, curators have supplemented the pieces collected by Meyer and Vivian Potamkin with objects and artifacts drawn from the extensive holdings of The State Museum. The exhibition features paintings, etchings, engravings, broadsides, furniture, books, ceramics, advertisements, and toys and games.

Segments of “An Image of Peace: The Penn Treaty Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Meyer P. Potamkin” discuss the proliferation and popularity of the treaty meeting image since the early nineteenth century and its continual use in anniversary celebrations and commemorations in the Commonwealth. A video of a recent interview with the Potamkins concludes the exhibit.

“An Image of Peace: The Penn Treaty Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Meyer P. Potamkin” will remain on view through Sunday, October 20 [1996]. The State Museum, located at Third and North Streets, is open Tuesday through Saturday, 9 A.M. to 5 P.M.; and Sunday, Noon to 5 P.M. Admission is free.

To obtain additional information, write: The State Museum of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, P. O. Box 1026, Harrisburg, PA 17108-1026; or telephone (717) 787-4979.


Baum Struck

Walter Emerson Baum (1884-1956) was born in the small Bucks County village of Sellersville, about twenty-five miles north of Philadelphia – and its venerable Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, which would play a pivotal role in his life and work.

He grew up in southeastern Pennsylvania’s rich farmland, punctuated by gently sweeping valleys and rolling hills, where sleepy crossroads of old country lanes were lined by eighteenth-century fieldstone houses, Victorian era storefronts, and handsome brick churches. It was this portrait of Pennsylvania that he would commit to canvas for posterity.

Despite the changes bombarding suburban Philadelphia and its satellite villages and boroughs in the opening decades of the twentieth century, Sellersville’s growth remained slow, allowing it to retain its charming, rural character. Although not encouraged in his artistic leanings, Baum regularly traveled to Philadelphia to visit museums and the Pennsylvania Academy, where he encountered contemporary art and works by William T. Trego (1859-1909), noted for his large historical canvases of military campaigns. A student of Thomas Eakins and Thomas Anschutz at the Pennsylvania Academy, Trego studied in Paris and returned to the United States, moving to North Wales in Bucks County, about fifteen miles south of Sellersville. Baum and his wife Flora probably met Trego in 1903, and both of them studied under him for six years.

Baum, who attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts from October 1905 through May 1906 had arrived with a mature vision of his work. Exhibiting first in 1910 with a winter scene rendered in watercolor (and priced at thirty dollars), he steadily submitted works in watercolor and in oil for shows organized by alumni to promote public awareness and sales of their pieces. He received his first major award in 1918, a bronze medal at Philadelphia’s American Artists exhibition.

To support his wife and their four children, Baum took several part-time jobs, including a position as reporter with the Sellersville Herald. By 1921, he had been promoted to editor and continued to write for the newspaper until 1942. Active in several community organizations, he occasionally helped in his family’s barbershop, and began to teach art classes in his home, at the local high school, and on the top floor of a vacant cigar factory. When time permitted, he would drive far into the countryside, exploring picturesque villages in Bucks, Berks, Montgomery, and Lehigh Counties until he found one of visual interest and began to paint it. One of his favorite locations to depict was Point Pleasant near New Hope.

A large oil on board, measuring thirty­-two by forty inches, Sunlight and Shadow (1925) captured the coveted Jenny Sesnan Gold Medal for landscape at the Pennsylvania Academy’s annual oil painting exhibition of 1925. This critical acclaim marked a turning point in his career. The following year he moved his Saturday art classes to Allentown to a space (and with supplies) provided by the community’s school district. Flora Baum handled the secretarial and business duties.

The artist augmented his editorial career (and income) by writing an art review column in the Saturday edition of the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, which enabled him to visit shows and galleries in the city. His contacts may have provided the opportunity to sell his work through the Curtis Publishing Company of Philadelphia, which published his first cover on the January 1931 edition of Country Gentleman, a popular monthly agriculture magazine. He was given his first solo exhibition two years later at Philadelphia’s McClees Gallery, in which he showed thirty-eight works. Meanwhile, in Allentown, Baum began the Circulating Picture Club and the Allentown Art Gallery, forerunner of the present-day Allentown Art Museum.

Although landscape remained his favorite subject matter throughout the forties, Baum gradually began to turn to street scenes of Allentown and the Manayunk section of Philadelphia. His evolving style revealed a distinctive re­gionalist influence in its simple forms, smooth brush strokes, and refined surface texture. He continued to exhibit in Philadelphia and branched out to New York, where he garnered awards from the conservative juries of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the National Academy of Design. He directed the Allentown Art Museum and the Baum School of Art until his death in 1956.

Fifty-five outstanding examples of the artist’s landscape painting, in both watercolor and oil, are currently showcased in a landmark exhibit mounted – ­quite fittingly – by the Allentown Art Museum. “Sunlight and Shadow: The Art of Walter E. Baum” traces the career of an artist whose impressionist style, teaching, and writing played a vital role in the Keystone State’s artistic heritage.

“Sunlight and Shadow: The Art of Walter E. Baum,” which is accompanied by a copiously illustrated monograph by Martha Hutson-Saxton, guest curator for this exhibition, will continue through Sunday, June 16 [1996].

The Allentown Art Museum is open Wednesday through Saturday, 11 A.M. to 5 P.M.; and Sunday from Noon to 5 P.M. Admission is charged.

For more information, write: Allentown Art Museum, 31 North Fifth St., Allentown, PA 18105; or telephone (610) 432-4333.


Sailing Away

Nearly every school student recognizes the immortal words “Don’t Give Up the Ship” as those emblazoning a flag flown high above the U.S. Brig Niagara by Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry during his legendary struggle with the British during the Battle of Lake Erie on September 10, 1813 (see “The Battle of Lake Erie: A Victory for Commodore Perry” by James E. Valle in the fall 1988 edition and “Sail On, O Ship of State: An Interview with Capt. Walter Rybka of the U.S. Brig Niagara” by Diane B. Reed in the summer 1993 issue). Students of history also know well Perry’s official report to General William Henry Harrison upon his victory: “We have met the enemy and they are ours …. ”

For the one hundred and seventy-fifth anniversary in 1988 of Perry’s stirring naval victory, the Niagara was completely dismantled and reconstructed using, where possible, original timbers recovered during reconstructions in 1913 and 1931. Unlike the original 1813 brig and the earlier twentieth-century re-creations, the present reconstruction used properly seasoned and treated wood to reduce the rate of decay. The new vessel, commissioned on August 18, 1990, serves as the Commonwealth’s official flagship – and an inspiring traveling goodwill ambassador. Since her reconstruction, the Niagara has sailed during the summer months on the Great Lakes and the eastern seaboard of Canada and the United States. When not on extended cruises, she is berthed at her home port of Erie and open to the public as an outstanding example of a nineteenth-century warship.

Following a routine annual inspection, minor hull repairs, and painting this spring, the Niagara will be rigged for a tour of selected ports in the United States and Canada this summer. She will make day sails on the Delaware River in order for the crew to make final adjustments to her rigging, and will be open to the public at Penn’s Landing in Philadelphia during the last weekend of April and the first three weekends in May [1996].

During her sixth sailing season [1996], the Niagara is scheduled to visit Baltimore (May 25-27), Washington, D.C. (June 1-2), Norfolk (June 8-9), New York (June 15-16), and Newport, Rhode Island (June 22-23), before returning to Philadelphia for an Independence Day celebration (July 4-7). She will then visit Boston (July 12-15) before sailing home to Erie by way of Nova Scotia and the St. Lawrence River and Seaway. In Canada, the flag­ship will make ports of call at Lunenberg (July 24-25), Quebec (August 10-11), Montreal (August 14-15), and Toronto (August 24-25). She will return to Erie on Friday, August 30.

The U.S. Brig Niagara sails as a living history project designed to educate the public about the War of 1812 and the operation of traditional sailing ships. A professional crew provides “hands-on” training in traditional seamanship for up to two dozen volunteer crew members. The sailing project is made possible by “Pennsylvania PartnerShip Niagara,” organized by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) and the Flagship Niagara League. Up-to-date information about the flagship’s summer sailing schedule may be obtained by writing: U.S. Brig Niagara, 164 East Front St., Erie, PA 16507; or by telephoning (814) 871-4596; TDD (800) 654-5984.

For Pennsylvania residents unable to visit the Flagship Niagara during her East Coast tour this summer – and who want to support the ship’s mission – a license plate depicting the brig during the heat of battle is now available. The license plate features a detail of artist Julian O. Davidson’s heroic 1885 oil painting The Battle of Lake Erie. A portion of the cost of each commemorative license plate funds educational and sailing programs offered by the vessel. Applications are available at historic sites and museums administered by the PHMC, Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board stores, and various Commonwealth facilities, or by telephoning the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation at (717) 772-3051 or the PHMC at (717) 783-9932. The cost of the license plate is thirty-five dollars.