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.

Railroading with Rau

The Pennsylvania Railroad Company (PRR) was not yet a half-century old when it commissioned William H. Rau (1855-1920) to tackle the enormous task of photographically documenting its extensive rail lines. So extraordinarily successful was the Pennsy that by the time Rau commenced his work in 1891, the railroad was the largest corporation in the country and claimed more than twenty-eight hundred miles of routes east of Pittsburgh. Touted as “the standard railroad of the world,” the PRR linked metropolitan New York and Philadelphia and such industrial cities of the Midwest as Chica­go and St. Louis.

Rau had already established his reputation as one of Philadelphia’s preeminent photographers by traveling to exotic locales to make photographs – he had circumnavigated the globe before his twenty-first birthday! At the age of thirty-six, he was hired as the PRR’s official photographer by Colonel Francis Barks­dale, head of the advertising department. Advertising photography was then in its infancy, but Barksdale believed it offered an excellent means of increasing passenger traffic by showing sedentary Americans (and Europeans as well) the marvelous sights that awaited them along “the greatest highway to the West.”

Using a mammoth view camera, Rau produced a spectacular series of images for the railroad’s promotional use (see “‘The Greatest Highway to the West’: Photographer William H. Rau Documents the Pennsylvania Railroad” by John C. Van Horne, Fall 1996). Because he was engaged primarily to promote passenger travel, Rau’s images display a harmony between the railroad and the natural and industrial landscape through which it passed, suggesting a peaceful coexistence between the natural and built environments. His views were carefully composed to show the railroad in its most favorable light and technology in equilibrium with nature. What is most striking about Rau’s railroad images is that few of his photographs actually show a working train. Generally, the railroad is represented through its infrastructure such as bridges, terminals, sem­aphores, tracks, yards, water tanks, and stations; the hulking, belching, roaring, and threatening steam locomotive rarely disturbs the bucolic scene.

The significance of Rau’s magnificent photographs owes much to their large size; the photographer made the albumen prints by direct contact and exposure of the eighteen-by-twenty-two-inch glass negatives rather than by enlargement from smaller negatives. The result of this pioneering technique a collection of four hundred and sixty-three photographs of remarkable depth, character, and detail.

Rau’s photographs were exhibited at the Pennsylvania Railroad’s pavilion at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, shown in hotel lobbies and department stores, and reproduced in various PRR publications. Rau not only photographed railroad and railroad-related scenes, but also towns and cities, ferries, rivers, islands, canals, factories, tobacco fields, natural wonders, inclined planes, residences, and hotels, mostly in Pennsylvania but also in New York, New Jersey, and Maryland.

Traveling the Pennsylvania Railroad: The Photographs of William H. Rau is a major exhibition mounted by the Library Company of Philadelphia, which showcases Rau’s striking, oversized albumen photographs created specifically for the railroad. Continuing through Friday, September 20, the exhibition gives this body of work the study and recognition it deserves. The exhibition features highlights of Rau’s PRR photographs, which are owned by American Premier Underwriters, Inc., the successor firm to the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, and placed on deposit at the Library Company.

The introductory section of Traveling the Pennsylvania Railroad provides background material about William H. Rau and his photographic career, including portraits of him and his family, writings from his various foreign photographic expeditions, and examples from the Library Company’s holdings of Rau’s other work. A smaller exhibit featuring other railroad resources and materials at the Library Company accompanies Trav­eling the Pennsylvania Railroad.

In conjunction with Traveling the Pennsylvania Railroad: The Photographs of William H. Rau, the Library Company will present several public programs, among them slide shows, lectures, and gallery talks. A companion volume, edited by John C. Van Home, the librarian of the Library Company of Philadelphia, has been recently published by the University of Pennsylvania Press in cooperation with the Library Company. The book, which shares its title with the name of the exhibition, includes essays by noted scholars and reproduces nearly one hundred of Rau’s images as full-page illustrations.

For more information about this and other exhibitions, write: Library Compa­ny of Philadelphia, 1314 Locust St., Philadelphia, PA 19107-5698; telephone (215) 546-3181; or visit the Library Compa­ny of Philadelphia website. Admission is free.


History Makers

The Heritage Center Museum of Lancaster County’s two major exhibitions for the 2002 season are Made in Lancaster and Identifying the Makers: Signed, Stamped, Stenciled, Labeled, and Attributed Furniture Made in Lancaster County. Both will continue through the end of the year.

Made in Lancaster focuses on two hundred years of craftsmanship in the city and its environs. From an eighteenth-century furniture maker to a twenty-first century Mennonite buggy builder, the exhibition highlights the diversity and traditions of local artisans. Made in Lancaster brings together a tremendously broad range of artifacts and objects. Areas in the exhibit galleries concentrate on specific local businesses and trades, including the Bachman family of furniture makers, Mennonite seamstress Anna Weber, Demuth’s Tobacco Shop, Rohrer’s Liquors, A. B Rote, a manufacturer of decorative iron work, and a contemporary buggy shop located in northern Lancaster County.

Identifying the Makers: Signed, Stamped, Stenciled, Labeled, and Attributed Furniture Made in Lancaster County examines a selection of fifteen pieces of furniture made in the area. The exhibit contains pieces marked by or attributed to local furniture makers active in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The exhibit also addresses makers and their shop practices. Guest curator for Identifying the Makers is John J. Snyder Jr., of Washing­ton Boro, scholar, author, and noted collector. Snyder has made a number of important discoveries about decorative arts made or used in Pennsylvania.

The Heritage Center of Lancaster County is located on Penn Square in downtown Lancaster. Admission to both exhibits is free. To obtain more information, write: Heritage Center of Lancaster County, 13 West King St., Lan­caster, PA 17603-3813; telephone (717) 299-6440.


Prisoners of Age

Prisoners of Age, the critically acclaimed exhibit created by photogra­pher Ron Levine and designer Michael Wou, which made its debut at the former Federal Penitentiary on Alcatraz Island, is now on view at the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. Located in the San Francisco Bay, “the Rock,” once home to George “Machine Gun” Kelly, Al Capone, and Robert F. Stroud, the “Birdman of Alcatraz,” is one of the most popular visitors’ attractions in the Golden Gate National Recreational Area. Long off-limits to the public, the former maximum-security prison is now administered by the National Park Service.

Accompanied by written excerpts of conversations with guards and inmates, Levine’s striking photographs tell the stories of elderly men living behind bars rather than in retirement homes or communities designed specifically for senior citizens. The photographer visited six North American correctional facilities between 1996 and 2001, capturing the complexity of a subject many take for granted-or choose to ignore completely.

The inmates are often in wheelchairs, on crutches, or tethered to intravenous drips. “My prison is becoming an old folks home,” observed Warden Burl Cain at the Angola State Penitentiary in Louisiana. In Alabama, the reality for Walker Smith, incarcerated at the Hamilton Correctional Facility for the Aged and Infirmed, is grim. “Most of what he possesses he wears around his neck,” a corrections officer remarked, referring to a simple military dog-tag chain that Smith treasures. “Everything else belongs to the state of Alabama.”

Not all of the subjects in Prisoners of Age command sympathy; many have committed indisputably heinous crimes. Nevertheless, as these inmates grow old, they have begun to overwhelm traditional facilities. A handful of penitentiaries in the United States now house these geriatric prisoners, including Louisiana’s maximum-security penitentiary, which is known simply as the Angola Farm. In 1995 – for the first time ever – more inmates died in Angola than were paroled.

Correctional facilities have emerged to cope with the graying of America’s prison population, the inevitable result of tough legislation and mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes. More than two million Americans are currently incarcerated behind bars. Approximately thirty-five percent of these inmates are edging far past middle age and toward what would be considered retirement years among the general public.

Prisoners of Age features twenty-five haunting portraits produced as four-by­-eight-foot prints, as well as forty twenty-by-twenty-inch prints. The exhibition is installed at Eastern State Penitentiary’s Cell Block Two. The cellblock is nearly one hundred and seventy-five years old, and the corridor has a twenty-foot barrel vaulted ceiling and eight skylights. It held female inmates for much of the prison’s history, but also housed its geriatric inmates-the “old timers” – during the final decades of active use.

Designed by architect John Haviland (1792-1852), Eastern State Penitentiary opened in 1829 and closed in 1971 (see “‘Punishment, Peni­tence and Reform’: Eastern State Penitentiary and the Controversy Over Solitary Confinement” by William C. Kashatus, Winter 1999). Covering eleven acres, the prison, designated a National Historic Landmark, was erected at a cost of nearly eight hundred thousand dollars, making it the most expensive building in the United States at the time. It opened as a penology museum in 1994.

Prisoners of Age continues through Sunday, November 10 [2002]. The exhibition is accompanied by a companion book of the same title.

For additional information, write: Eastern State Peniten­tiary, 2124 Fairmount Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19130-2603; telephone (215) 236-5111; or visit the Eastern State Peniten­tiary website. Admission is charged.