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.

Presidential China

Selections from an extraordinary gift to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Robert L. McNeil Jr. Collection of American Presidential China, are on view in an ongoing exhibit at the museum. The collection of more than four hundred and fifty pieces designed for, and used by, presidents from George Washington to Ronald Reagan provides a material record of the history of the United States from its beginnings in the late eighteenth century.From the pomp and circumstance of an official state dinner presented on James Monroe’s gilt-edged French porcelain service, to quiet, intimate family dinner served on the understated Wedgwood creamware brought from the Georgetown home of John F. Kennedy when he took office, the collection offers a unique glimpse at life inside America’s “First Residence” and the evolution of the tastes, styles, and aspirations of the emerging republic and its citizens. The exhibit highlights fifty objects – on public view for the time in twenty-five years – recently donated by the Philadelphia pharmaceutical innovator, communtiy leader, and philanthropist.

The Robert L. McNeil Jr. Collection is particularly strong in China representing the early presidential ministrations, most notably numerous objects that belonged to George Washington (1732-1799), the nation’s first president, from 1787 to 1797. Washington furnished the first President’s House (as it was then called) with his own personal china, which had been purchased from the Count de Moustier, the French minister forced to leave New York for Paris at the outbreak of the French Revolution. The collection includes four pieces of white and gold Sevres porcelain that Washington bought from de Moustier, as well as examples of Chinese export porcelain in the blue and white style that he used and later at the presidential residences in New York and Philadelphia.

Following the War of 1812, when the President’s was reconstructed after British troops set it afire, James Monroe (1758-1831), fifth president, from 1817 to 1825, ordered what is the earliest surviving official government purchase of china, examples of 1 which are in the Robert L. McNeil Jr. Collection. Of the state services represented in the collection, the set commissioned by Rutherford B. Hayes (1822-1893), whose term spanned from 1877 to 1881, is especially distinctive. Designed by America artist and illustrator Theodore R. Davis (1840-1894) and manufactured by Haviland & Company, of Limoges, France, it is exuberantly decorated with depictions of American flora and fauna. Davis’ lively designs are a colorful blending of form and function that includes representations of crab, shad, smelt, Spanish mackerel (for soup and fish plates); wild turkey and buffalo (on dinner plates); and a whimsical set of ice cream plates made to resemble snow shoes. Best known as a Civil War artist, Davis drew on his extensive knowledge of native flowers, animals, and birds he had gained during years of travel throughout the country on assignment for Harper’s Weekly.

It wasn’t until the twentieth century that the first American-made porcelain state service was purchased. Woodrow Wilson, the nation’s twenty-eighth president, in office from 1913 to 1921, ordered a set of seventeen hundred pieces in 1918 designed by Dulin and Martin Company of Washington, D.C., and manufactured by Lenox, Inc., of Trenton, New Jersey. Not every president had commissioned new china while in office,and patterns of previous administrations were frequently reused, even mixed and matched, demonstrating that personal taste is bipartisan, crossing political party lines. The pattern purchased by President Wilson was reordered during the administrations of Presidents Warren G.Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, and William J. Clinton, making it the most frequently reordered tableware in the history of the White House.

First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy’s favorite china was the service commissioned by Republican Benjamin H. Harrison (1833-1901), who occupied the White House from 1889 to 1893, and she often used the china of the administrations of Presidents Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower for large dinners. First Lady Barbara Bush, wife of the nation’s forty-first president, George H.W. Bush, used the Lyndon B. Johnson china, which highlights dozens of different American wildflowers according to the wishes of Lady Bird Johnson, who collaborated with designers of Tiffany & Co.

The Johnson service, manufactured in 1968 by Castleton China in New Castle, Lawrence County, a subsidiary of Shenango Pottery Company, was the gift of an anonymous donor. Each dessert plate is decorated with one of the state flowers of the fifty states and the District of Columbia. Each state was approached through its department of archives and history to provide an image of the flower which it decided to be representative. Pennsylvania selected the mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia), which had been designated the state flower on May 5, 1933, during the second administration of Governor Gifford Pinchot. Members of the state legislature, as well as First Lady Cornelia Bryce Pinchot, prevailed over the governor who favored the azalea as the official state flower. Castleton China had provided ten dozen service plates for First Lady Mamie Doud Eisenhower in 1955 to supplement the service purchased during Truman’s term.

McNeil began White House china with the purchase, in 1960, of a Chinese export plate from George Washington’s famous Cincinnati service, which bears the emblem of the Society of Cincinnati, the oldest military hereditary organization in the United States. He subsequently acquired numerous pieces and considerable knowledge about the presidential porcelain services and the history of their design, manufacture, and usage. The most recent piece in the is a red and gold-boardered plate designed for a breakfast at the White House in 1984 during the administration of Ronald Reagan to honor the living First Ladies, whose signatures appear on the reverse of each. The Barra by McNeil in 1963, has supported conservation, preservation, and interpretation in this field, including the publication of Margaret Klapthor’s Official White House China, 1789 to the Present in 1975 and again in 1999.

For more information, write: Philadelphia Museum of Art,P.0 Box 7646, Philadelphia, PA 19101-7646; telephone (215) 763-8100 or 684-7500; or visit the Philadelphia Museum of Art website. Admission.


Wearing Propaganda

“Wearing Propaganda: Textiles on the Home Front in Japan, Britain, and the United States, 1931-1945,” is the first major exhibition devoted to textiles with wartime imagery produced in Japan, Great Britain, and the United States during the Asia-Pacific War and World War II. The exhibition, on view at the Allentown Art Museum through Sunday,January 7,2007, provides an unusual opportunity for museum-goers to consider this under-recognized but visually exciting genre, noteworthy not only for its design value, but also as a reflection of popular culture. The graphically arresting and dramatic textiles are a revelation in terms of design and its relation to the culture of war. Disturbing, humorous, innocuously beautiful, and painfully confrontational, they reflect the tastes, fashions, and culture of the period and reveal how wartime propaganda infiltrates even the most personal of objects.

The exhibition examines twentieth-century textile design as a reflection of everyday life and culture, an assessment that leads to a review of the production of textiles with war-time propaganda imagery. “Wearing Propaganda” provides an in-depth examination of the most prevalent themes and motifs in propaganda textile designs: modernity, empire, militarism, patriotism, sacrifice, heroes, leaders, slogans, songs, alliances, and victory.

The designs of some textiles are overtly patriotic, nationalistic, and militaristic, others less so, but all reflect support of their country’s commitment to the military goals of the time. The exhibit includes a full range of examples, from mass-produced pieces to unique, one-of-a-kind items, from starkly elegant designs to light-hearted, cartoon-like images to blatant caricature. Much like wartime posters and placards, these textiles were morale builders, encouraging citizens to participate fully in the “total war” effort on the home front. Unlike posters and placards, however, they were market-driven, designed to appeal to civilians and produced by private industry.

“Wearing Propaganda: Textiles on the Home Front in Japan, Britain, and the United States, 1931-1945” graphically illustrates the similarities and differences in the wearable propaganda from three culturally disparate countries. The majority of British and American examples, many bearing home-front slogans, were made into women’s clothing and accessories and worn prominently as dresses, blouses, and scarves. The propaganda textiles in Japan, with their potent military imagery, were worn primarily by men and young boys. Designs of propaganda textiles used in garments for Japanese women and girls were less overtly militaristic.

Approximately one hundred and thirty pieces in “Wearing Propaganda” illustrate how civilian textile design helped promote wartime agendas. Featured are clothing and accessories, textile samples, preliminary designs, posters, and photographs drawn from public and private collections throughout the United States and Britain, and from private collections in Japan. Many of the objects, especially those from Japan, have never before been documented, exhibited, or photographed. Nearly two dozen British and American examples represent the Allentown Art Museum. Organized by New York’s Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design, and Culture, the exhibition is accompanied by an extensively illustrated catalogue published by Yale University Press.

To learn more, write Allentown Art Museum, 31 North Fifth St., Allentown, PA 18101; telephone (610) 432-4333; or visit the Allentown Art Museum website. Admission.