From the Executive Director features news and reflections on the work of PHMC by its chief administrator.

On Inauguration Day, January 20, 2015, N.C. Wyeth’s 1913 painting The Wreck of the “Covenant” was exhibited at The State Museum of Pennsylvania for the first time in 50 years. In 1965 it had been featured in the museum’s opening show, N.C. Wyeth and the Brandywine Tradition, at the dedication, and now it was being loaned to us again by the Brandywine River Museum for another very special occasion.

This time the painting was part of the Inaugural Exhibit of Pennsylvania Arts, featuring the works of artists ranging from the 18th century to the present. This show was the result of remarkable cooperation and collaboration within the Pennsylvania art and museum communities.

The process of creating an exhibition based on loans from multiple museums is normally slow and complicated. It usually takes at least several years to plan and develop one, and sometimes it can take the better part of a decade. After the paintings have been selected and the loans requested, the real work begins. Lending institutions require security and environmental-condition reports, and a legal loan must be executed. The lending museum completes a condition report on the art, stipulates any special handling or lighting requirements for it, and carefully packs it for shipping. The borrowing museum arranges for shipping, insurance, unpacking, a second condition report, and the eventual hanging of the art in the gallery. At the end of the show the process is reversed. Museums loan and borrow art and artifacts all the time, but it is not a process to be rushed.

The idea of a statewide art exhibit was suggested at the first meeting of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC), the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts (PCA) and the Inaugural Committee in early December. The challenge was that we had only about seven weeks to make it happen.

Our experience should have suggested that there was not enough time, but the staff of PHMC and PCA thought we could do it. We quickly agreed that the exhibit should feature the works of iconic artists from the past and a strong representation of pieces from contemporary artists. We also wanted the works to come from as many different Pennsylvania museums as possible.

PCA took the lead in securing the participation of museums around the state, and PHMC through The State Museum accepted responsibility for the loan paperwork, shipping, insurance and exhibiting of the works. We also had the able assistance of Rob Evans, a gifted artist who served as guest curator for the show.

In the end the exhibit featured 55 works on loan from 45 museums and individuals. It was an unqualified success and provided a unique opportunity to view works by N.C. and Andrew Wyeth, Andy Warhol, Thomas Eakins, Horace Pippin, Charles Demuth, Benjamin West, Cecilia Beaux, Edward Redfield, William Glackens, John Sloan and numerous other Pennsylvania artists in a single gallery.

It was a remarkable show, but what stands out for me is how many people and how many museums stepped up to participate. Everybody we asked said yes. Everybody overlooked the short lead time and did whatever was necessary to make it happen. It is, I believe, a great testament to the creativity and cooperative spirit of the museums and artists of Pennsylvania.

In closing I want to thank all of the participants for setting a new standard for museum collaborations.

James M. Vaughan
Executive Director, PHMC