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.

Sailors’ Valen­tines

The intricate shell art popu­larly known as “sailors’ valen­tines” has won the hearts of both recipients and collectors since its appearance in the early nineteenth century. Be­ginning in the mid-1830s, sailors began returning from the West Indies with beautiful – and not infre­quently exotic – octagonal hinged boxes containing a geometric configuration of sea shells that enclosed hearts, anchors and similar sentimen­tal and nautical motifs. Many were inscribed with mottoes, such as “A Gift from a friend” and “Home Again,” support­ing a theory that these boxes were intended as gifts for loved ones at home.

The boxes began being collected as examples of folk art during this century, prompting collectors and deal­ers to label them simply as “sailors’ valentines:’ The term stems from the romantic – even if erroneous – belief that they were made by sailors during their idle hours on long voy­ages. While most of the boxes are not marked, those that are reiterate a belief that they were actually made in the Barbados, using mahogany and shells commonly found in the West Indies. Since the mottoes appear in English, historians conjecture that they were made for the English-speaking traveler.

Some of the finest examples of this form of folk art are showcased in an exhibit enti­tled “A Gift from a Friend: Sailors’ Valentines,” on view at the Philadelphia Maritime Museum. The exhibition fea­tures a collection which origi­nated at the Strong Museum in Rochester, New York.

“A Gift from from a Friend: Sailors’ Valentines” continues through April 1990.

The Philadelphia Maritime Museum interprets three cen­turies of the maritime history of Pennsylvania, as well as of New Jersey and Delaware. Through permanent and changing exhibits, special events, “hands on” workshops and educational programs, the museum enlightens the public about the lives of the men and women who lived and worked along the waterways of the Delaware Valley.

Visiting hours are Monday through Saturday, 10 A.M. to 5 P.M., and Sunday, from 1 to 5 P.M. In lieu of an admission charge, a donation of one dollar is suggested.

For more information, write: Philadelphia Maritime Museum, 321 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19106; or telephone (215) 925-5439.

 

Paris 1889

The 1889 Universal Exposi­tion in Paris surpassed all previous world’s fairs in size, diversity, quantity and variety of art and architecture. World’s fairs had been held periodically since the 1851 London Crystal Palace Exhibition, but France’s 1889 fair was by far the most successful. Covering more than two hundred acres along both sides of the Seine River, the extravaganza celebrated the centennial of the French Revolution and drew thirty­-two million visitors during its six month run. Perhaps the most well-known reminder of the Universal Exposition is the Eiffel Tower, especially built for the event.

For artists, world’s fairs were important for exhibiting work before large and varied audiences, for competing against other artists for presti­gious awards and for establish­ing their reputations. In 1889, France was the leading art center of the Western World, and French painting set the standard by which all other styles were measured, charac­terized by an indisputable excellence in draftsmanship, composition and painting. As host of the 1889 Universal Exposition, France demon­strated its status as world leader by exhibiting a century of its celebrated art, including pieces by mentors such as Gustave Boulanger, Jules Le­febvre and William Adolphe Bouguereau.

By the 1880s, more Ameri­can artists than ever before were studying in Europe­ – particularly France – to learn this distinctive French style in the hopes of recapturing art patrons who favored Old Mas­ters and contemporary French paintings rather than native American art. These artists took advantage of readily available education in Paris, resulting in a shift away from a nationalistic American “style” toward an international ideal.

Two juries of American artists – one in New York and one in Paris – selected three hundred and thirty-nine works by one hundred and eighty­-nine artists for exhibition in the American galleries of the 1889 fair. By far the largest showing of American art ever exhibited in Europe to that time, the exhibition signaled the arrival of American art at an international level of excel­lence.

The American art was housed in the fair’s Palace of Fine Arts with French and European art. By agreement among the American artists, their paintings were divided into two galleries: one featur­ing artists working and study­ing in Europe, or the expatriates; and the other showcasing works by painters living in America, or the state­side artists. Among the expa­triates represented were Frederick Bridgman, Alexan­der Harrison, John Singer Sargent, Julius Stewart, Edwin Lord Weeks and James A. McNeill Whistler. The state­side artists included William Merritt Chase, Thomas Eakins (see “And who is Eakins?” by David Pacchioli in the fall 1989 issue of this magazine), George Inness, Eastman John­son, Thomas Worthington Whittredge and Alexander H. Wyant.

Some American critics suggested that the stateside gallery truly represented American art; in reality, both the stateside artists and the expatriates had been strongly guided by contemporary French painting. Thematic, more than stylistic, differences set the two exhibition halls apart. While the expatriates depicted French subjects and landscapes, the stateside art­ists painted American themes, such as Civil War scenes, American landscapes and genre pieces portraying Blacks of Native Americans.

Stylistically, both groups of artists had assimilated French techniques. In addition to those who studied abroad, the stateside artists had access to the French style through re­productions in art books, trav­eling exhibits and paintings acquired by American collec­tors and museums. Many American artists who had studied in Europe returned to the United States to teach at art schools, including the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, New York’s Stu­dents Art League and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. These teachers inevitably passed on the French academic methods to their students.

Paintings exhibited at the 1889 Universal Exposition in Paris – especially those awarded medals – brought great pres­tige and renown to their crea­tors. Seven paintings were purchased by the French gov­ernment for national muse­ums, while many were acquired by major American museums and private collec­tors, such as Andrew Carnegie and Potter Palmer. Some works, after having achieved recognition in 1889, were later displayed at subsequent expo­sitions and world’s fairs.

The Paris fair helped ad­vance the careers of talented painters, but on a grander scale it proved that American artists had mastered the French style.

To examine the “coming of age” of American art in the international arena, a major exhibition entitled “Paris 1889: American Artists at the Uni­versal Exposition” will open at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, on Saturday, February 2, 1990. The exhibit, organized by the Academy to observe the bicen­tennial of the French Revolu­tion, will explore the intimate connections between Ameri­can and French artists, reveal­ing the extent to which French painting styles and ideals shaped the direction of Ameri­can art in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. On view will be ninety works by American artists and thir­teen by their French mentors.

“Paris 1889: American Art­ists at the Universal Exposi­tion” will feature pieces by American artists who are well known and others who have fallen into obscurity. Paintings by William Merritt Chase, Theodore Robinson and Thomas Worthington Whit­tredge, whose reputations have endured, will be hung with paintings by artists once highly regarded but little known today, including Ke­nyon Cox, William Dannat, George Hitchcock and Eugene Vail. Also featured will be pieces by some of the most influential French artist­-teachers of the period, such as Jean-Leon Gerome, Lefebvre and Bouguereau. Many works have been rediscovered and especially restored for this landmark exhibition, and paintings not on view for many years will be borrowed from both public and private collections throughout the United States, France and England. To provide a cultural overview of the 1889 fair, pho­tographs, maps, letters and ephemera will be included in the exhibit.

“Paris 1889,” which made its debut at the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Virginia, will continue at the Academy through Sunday, April 15 [1990]. The traveling exhibit will conclude at the Memphis Brooks Mu­seum of Art in Tennessee with a third and final showing from May through July [1990]. The exhibi­tion is accompanied by a heav­ily illustrated catalogue.

For additional information regarding “Paris 1889: Ameri­can Artists at the Universal Exposition,” write: Pennsylva­nia Academy of the Fine Arts, Broad and Cherry Sts., Phila­delphia, PA 19102; or tele­phone (215) 972-7600 or 972-7642. There is a charge for admission.

 

Clocks and Clockmakers

An exhibit of clocks by Susquehanna River Valley makers is on view at the Watch and Clock Museum in Colum­bia, Lancaster County, through Saturday, January 6, 1990.

The geographical area cov­ered by “Clocks of the Susque­hanna Valley, 1750-1910,” includes the counties border­ing the Susquehanna River from Lycoming County in the north to the Maryland border in the south. Among the ob­jects on display are eighteenth century tall case clocks, nine­teenth century shelf clocks, pocket watches and early twentieth century electric clocks. The exhibit also fea­tures photographs and draw­ings of timepieces in period settings, and frakturs incorpo­rating dock motifs. An inter­esting piece, seldom seen outside of museum collections, is a large antique Black Forest organ-dock. Purchased in the mid-nineteenth century by a Selinsgrove, Snyder County, family, the clock served as entertainment at a roadside inn. It is equipped with nine wooden automata which move with the music created by eighty-two organ pipes.

“Clocks of the Susque­hanna Valley, 1750-1910,” fea­tures items made by several obscure clockmakers in the Commonwealth’s northern counties. The exhibit, orga­nized by the Packwood House Museum in Lewisburg, is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue.

Also on view is the muse­um’s fantastic Engle Clock, a recent acquisition which has been placed on permanent exhibit. Standing eleven feet tall and nine feet wide, the clock is the first of what was called “monumental clocks.” Its creator, Dr. Stephen D. Engle of Hazleton, Luzerne County, labored for more than two decades before completing his masterpiece in 1877. The clock toured the country and fascinated a curious public. It is one of only six American monumental docks known to exist today.

The Watch and Clock Mu­seum is administered by the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, which counts a membership of thirty­-five thousand enthusiasts. Visiting hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 9 A.M. to 4 P.M. Admission is charged; group rates are available.

For additional information, write: Watch and Clock Mu­seum, National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, 514 Poplar St., Columbia, PA 17512-2124; or telephone (717) 684-8261.

 

Philadelphia Found

To ring in the last decade of this century, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania has recently opened a major exhi­bition, “Visions and reVisions: Finding Philadelphia’s Past,” showcasing selected artifacts and objects drawn from the institution’s outstanding col­lection of more than fifteen million manuscripts, rare books, historical images, fine and decorative arts, photo­graphs and documents.

The focus of “Visions and reVisions” is twofold: it presents the rich history of Philadelphia, early America’s most heterogeneous city, from the arrival of the Quakers in the 1680s to the opening dec­ades of the twentieth century; and it educates the public about the history of collecting and how that activity has evolved and how, through that process, it has affected socie­ty’s understanding and appre­ciation of the past. Humanities themes woven through the exhibit include freedom of conscience and the limits of dissent; the competing claims of the individual and the com­munity; defining and main­taining democratic institutions; and the reform impulse in American life.

Laid out chronologically, “Visions and re Visions” fea­tures a prologue, seven period­-based sections and an epilogue. Benjamin Franklin’s bifocals serve as a symbol throughout the exhibit, en­couraging visitors to “re­-envision” the making and the collection of the American past. A unique video interac­tive display allows visitors to view Philadelphia during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries while seated in an interpretive area replicating a trolley car.

“Visions and re Visions: Finding Philadelphia” is the first exhibition of such magni­tude in the Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s one hundred and sixty-five year history. More than four hundred and fifty pieces occupy two adjoin­ing galleries; the objects on display will change through­out the life of the exhibit be­cause of conservation considerations. Among the rarities on public view are the Wampum Belt presented to William Penn by the Lenni Lenape Indians in 1682; Cha­rles Willson Peale’s magnifi­cent portrait of Benjamin Franklin (depicting the eye­glasses the subject invented); an eighteenth century doll, one of the earliest in the coun­try; and James Wilson’s first draft of the U.S. Constitution, one of the society’s most prized possessions. The ex­hibit also features a portrait of Indian chief Tishcohan by Gustavus Hesselius; copies of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense and John Dickinson’s The Patriotic American Farmer; John Paul Jones’s telescope; a mas­sive desk which once belonged to George Washington; and a monumental oil painting de­picting Philadelphia’s Market Street Bridge, the first span over the Schuylkill River. Other items on view include pieces of presentation silver, ceramics, lithographs and drawings, furniture, models, military goods and utensils, broadsides, and souvenirs.

The objects and artifacts displayed in the exhibit are rich and varied, and they are used to interpret various facets of both state and national history. Objects once belong­ing to William Penn – his Bible, razor, snuff box and portraiture used to contrast the found­er’s “holy vision” of life in the New World with the reality of the wilderness society he established. His Bible and snuff box serve to personalize Penn, bringing another dimen­sion to a display of his writ­ings on law, government and morality. Civil War artifacts illustrate Philadelphia’s sharply divided loyalties; on view are a diary of a Philadel­phian whose family had southern sympathies and a pro-South newspaper, and muskets captured with John Brown at Harpers Ferry.

“Visions and re Visions” will be highlighted by numerous public programs, including lectures, workshops, films and guided gallery tours. The exhibit is accompanied by a liberally illustrated catalogue.

Because of its spectacular assemblage of extraordinary artifacts and objects, the ex­hibit will remain on view through the 1990s. The show also inaugurates an admission charge. Additional informa­tion regarding the exhibit is available by writing: Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1300 Locust St., Philadelphia, PA 19107; or by telephoning (215) 732-6200 or 732-6201.

Located in center-city Phila­delphia, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania is an indepen­dent, nonprofit institution which employs it collections to encourage a broader under­standing of the cultural heritage of Philadelphia, the Commonwealth and the United States. Its library, mu­seum, archives and collec­tions, as well as its diverse educational programs, serve genealogists, historians, cura­tors, researchers, educators, students and the general pub­lic.

 

The Wright Collection

Charlotte Dorrance Wright was a prominent Pennsylva­nian and a collector of paint­ings and drawings. In her home, the Philadelphian gath­ered a large and varied group of paintings spanning from about 1850 to the mid­-twentieth century. Her inter­ests centered on the realistic landscape and still life painters of mid-nineteenth century France; the great artists of the impressionist and post­impressionist periods; and the impressionist-influenced rep­resentational artists of the early twentieth century. Her collection reflects her love of informal, intimate subjects of the impressionist school, par­ticularly landscapes, flowers, horses, the hunt, and studies of women and children. When she died in 1977, Wright be­queathed her collection to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, of which she was both trustee and benefactor for many years.

The earliest works in the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Charlotte Dorrance Wright Collection are a number of moody atmospheric scenes by artists of the Barbizon school, who painted sober, direct depictions of nature, such as Oxen and Cart (1862) by Charles-Francois Daubigny (1817-1878). A French land­scape painter, Daubigny de­picted rivers, beaches and canals, most of which are notable for their uncrowded clarity of composition.

The realistic orientation of much avant-garde art of the period is represented by a remarkable group of flower paintings by Henri Fantin-Latour (1836-1904). Best known for his luxurious flower pieces, Fantin-Latour, a painter as well as a lithographer, was a tradi­tionalist known for his precise, detailed style. Wright acquired several stunning works by the artist, including Roses of Dijon (1882), Carnations (1878), White Roses (1875), Roses in a Fluted Vase (1889) and Roses and Asters in a Glass (1877).

Impressionism’s early dawn – with its bright outdoor atmosphere – is characterized by Wright’s acquisition of Poppies in a Field (1875) by Mary Cassatt (1844-1926), an Ameri­can painter who worked chiefly in Paris and in the circle of the impressionists, and Spring in Bougival (circa 1873) by Alfred Sisley (1839-1899), who devoted himself almost entirely to landscapes. The later impressionistic period, when the relationships among the intimate circle of artists grew strained because of dif­ferences in approach and orga­nization, is evidenced by Quai Napoleon, Rouen (1883) by Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) and Sisley’s The Banks of the Loing (1885). Pissarro was the only artist who exhibited at all eight impressionist exhibi­tions.

The largest – and most significant portion – of the collection assembled by Char­lotte Dorrance Wright contains celebrated impressionist works by world renowned artists, such as Cassatt’s Woman with a Pearl Necklace in a Loge (1879). Other paintings include Mlle Isabelle Lemonnier (circa 1877- 1879) by Edouard Manet (1832-1883), whose style was based on the Old Masters hung by the Louvre; Girl in a Red Ruff (1884) by Pierre-Auguste Re­noir (1841-1919), perhaps the best loved of the impressionist because his subjects – children, flowers, beautiful scenes and women – appeal instantly to the viewer; and Antibes: Morn­ing (1888) by Claude Monet (1840-1926), regarded as the archetypal impressionist whose devotion to this new movement never wavered throughout his lifetime.

Charlotte Dorrance Wright collected important works by some of the greatest artists of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Her collection in­cludes cap d’Antibes (1893) by Eugene Louis Boudin (1824-1898), Morning on the Estuary at Ville d’Avray (1870) by Jean­-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796-1875), Moss Roses in a Basket (1886) by Paul Gaugin (1848-1903), The Carriage (circa 1880) by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901), The Ancestral Prop­erty of Gabrielle d’Estrees (1913) by Maurice Utrillo (1883-1955), and Bouquet of Flowers (1885) by Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890).

An entirely different facet of Wright’s personality as a collector is evidenced by the works of Sir Alfred Munnings (1867-1959), the most success­ful painter of horses and the hunt of his time. An avid equestrian, Wright was a friend of Munnings and in­cluded many of his paintings in her collection. Munnings­ – whose manner was derived by the international impressionis­tic style of Monet, Pissarro and Sisley – continued the tradition established by the revolution­ary painters some thirty years earlier. His paintings are more popular with lovers of horses than admirers of paintings. The Charlotte Dorrance Wright Collection features a number of turn-of-the-century pieces by Munnings: Hop Pickers in Hampshire, Welsh Ponies, Hunt­ing on Zennor Hill, Nobby Gray, The Meet, Going Out, Racing for the Kill, Homeward Bound, Huntsman and Pekingese.

Dame Laura Knight (1877-1970), an English painter best known for her vibrant scenes of circus life and the ballet, which achieved great popular­ity during the height of her fame, is represented in the collection by The Knap Strop­pers. In the first half of this century, she was one of the most highly regarded British artists and became the first woman elected to the presti­gious Royal Academy. During World War II, she was an offi­cial war artist and was later sent to make portraits of the War Criminal Trials in Nurem­berg.

Forty-five world class paint­ings from Wright’s collection remain on view through Wednesday, December 27 [1990], at The State Museum of Pennsyl­vania, Harrisburg, in an ex­hibit entitled “The Charlotte Dorrance Wright Collection from the Philadelphia Mu­seum of Art.” Sponsored by the Friends of The State Mu­seum, the exhibition features masterpieces of impressionism and post-impressionism ac­quired by Wright and now part of the collection of more than five hundred thousand works of art owned by the Philadel­phia Museum of Art.

Special hours have been set for “The Charlotte Dorrance Wright Collection from the Philadelphia Museum of Art.” Visiting hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10 A.M. to 4 P.M.; Sunday, Noon to 4 P.M. There is an admission fee.

“The Charlotte Dorrance Wright Collection” is accompanied by an illustrated cata­logue.

Additional information may be obtained by writing: The State Museum of Pennsylva­nia, P.O. Box 1026, Harrisburg, PA 17108-1026; or by telephon­ing (717) 787-4978 or 783-9882.

 

Rosenbach Redux

On view through Sunday, January 28, 1990, at the Rosen­bach Museum and Library, Philadelphia, an exhibit enti­tled “Rosenbach redux: Fur­ther book adventures in England and Ireland” recounts the lively saga of the esca­pades of noted bookseller A.S.W. Rosenbach (see “The Man Who Bought Alice in Wonderland” by Linda Kowall in the winter 1988 edition of Pennsylvania Heritage) and his friend, Sir Shane Leslie, a socially well-connected Irish man of letters, as the pair embarks on a grand book hunt through the countryside of England and Ireland.

“Rosenbach redux” offers an unusual, even intimate, glimpse of rare manuscripts and books purchased by the Philadelphia dealer in 1928 and 1929 from four grand country house libraries of the marquess of Dufferin and Ava, the earl of Caledon, the duke of Westminster and Philip Evelyn Shirley.

Rosenbach and Leslie initi­ated their most famous book hunt in April 1928, beginning with the Helen’s Tower library of the marquess of Dufferin and Ava at Clandeboye in Ireland. The marquess’ grand­mother, Helen Sheridan, was a famous beauty who inspired devotion in a wide circle of literary friends and admirers, and in her son, who built the library for her. At Clandboye, Rosenbach purchased books and manuscripts by Robert Browning, Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde and Alfred, Lord Tennyson – all given by the authors themselves to adorn the library of Helen’s Tower.

After tea that same after­noon, Rosenbach and Leslie visited the earl of Caledon, whose ancestor had acquired the library of Bishop Thomas Percy. At a sheer glance, Ro­senbach recognized several extremely rare Shakespeare items – including a First Folio and the 1609 Sonnets – and quickly plucked them from the shelves. The cost of his trip to Ireland was financed by the immediate sale, via telegraph, of three of these volumes to Shakespeare collector Henry C. Folger.

The ambitious bibliophiles traveled the next day on their whirlwind tour to the library of antiquarian Evelyn Philip Shirley at Lough Fea. Negotia­tions were difficult, but follow­ing several months of discussion after Rosenbach’s return to Philadelphia, he was able to purchase spectacular German and French illumi­nated manuscripts. Rosenbach was particularly taken by a fourteenth century psalter with historiated initials­ – which he promptly added to his personal collection. During his 1928 tour through the libraries of Sir Leslie’s neigh­bors, the Philadelphia book dealer spent $48,872. Within one month, he sold seven of the forty-nine items for $79,350!

During the following year, the duke of Westminster de­cided to dispose of part of his library at Eaton Hall in Chesh­ire. The duke selected two shelves of books – four hun­dred and two titles in all – to sell. Rosenbach’s reputation as a book dealer willing to pay high prices was by this time well known, and a deal be­tween the two men was made in private. Of the cache of rarities acquired by Rosen bach was the extremely rare The most noble and famous travels of Marcus Paulus (1579), the first account in English of Marco Polo’s travels.

As the great country houses of England’s landed gentry and nobility ceased to be the center of their communities and villages, the functions of the libraries – to educate and entertain – became less impor­tant, and their holdings moved on to different homes and different uses. It was through the private negotiations of Rosenbach, aided by sympa­thetic scouts such as Sir Shane Leslie, that many significant books and manuscripts were obtained by both public and private collections in America. Were it not for A.S.W. Rosen­bach, these items, which have been instrumental in establish­ing scholarly resources for research on this side of the Atlantic, would not likely be accessible to the public to this day.

“Rosenbach redux: Further book adventures in England and Ireland” showcases the holdings of the Rosenbach Museum and Library, as well as more than thirty-five books and manuscripts acquired by the book dealer during these private treaty purchases, which have been reassembled especially for this exhibition. Among the treasures on view are: The Quaker turn’d Jew (1675), lent by Yale University; The mysteryes of nature and art (1634) by John Bate, on loan from the New York Public Library; A notable discovery of coosenage (1592) by Robert Greene, lent by the Folger Shakespeare Library; and Homer’s Seven bookes of the Iliades (1598), lent by Princeton University. The exhibition also features photographs of Ro­senbach, Leslie and the distin­guished collectors and their magnificent libraries.

Following its run in Phila­delphia, “Rosenbach redux” will be exhibited at the Folger Shakespeare Library from Monday, February 26, through April 23, 1990. A catalogue accompanies the exhibit.