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.

Ben’s Big Birthday Bash

To mark the three hundredth anniversary of Benjamin’s Franklin’s birth on January 17, 2006, the Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary, a private, non-profit alliance, is spearheading a year-long observance dedicated to educating the public about the senior states­man’s enduring legacy and inspiring renewed appreciation for the values he embodied. Projects and programs undertaken by the Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary-to which the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) provided funding-form the official national celebration to honor America’s first founding father to reach three hundred.

Born in Boston, Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), the son of Abiah and Josiah Franklin, a candle and soap maker, rose in fame and influence to become a world leader whose contributions continue to exert an inexorable impact on global politics, medicine, literature, science, and the arts.

“Benjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better World,” at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia through April 30, 2006, is a landmark exhibition comprised of six sections that address various aspects of his life and legacies. “Character Mat­ters,” the introductory segment of the exhibition, presents the young Franklin in the Boston of his youth. Franklin was profoundly affected by his upbringing in early eighteenth-century Boston, where he was steeped in Puritan traditions and teachings, and where he received his training as a printer. The second section, “B. Franklin, Printer,” covers the years during which Franklin made his fortune as Philadelphia’s premier printer. Arriving in Philadelphia in 1723, he steadily expanded his network of personal and professional acquaintances, advanced his publishing business, and became wealthy by the age of forty-five. He also diligently pursued the cause of self-improvement. “B. Franklin, Printer,” includes his original printing equipment, juxtaposed with hands-on activities and media experiences. The stories of Franklin’s family – wife Deborah (Read) and children Francis, Sarah, and William-unfamiliar to many, are also recounted in part two.

“Civic Visions” relates the story of Franklin’s intimate involvement with the creation of several key philanthropic, educational, and civic institutions. From self-improvement, Franklin turned his attention to improving the community around him, including the University of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Hospital, and the Philadelphia Free Library. Having made money sufficient enough for him to retire from active business at the age of forty-two, Franklin devoted the next part of his life to intellectual pursuits, discussed in “The Search for Useful Knowledge.” At the center of his search for knowledge was the American Philosophical Society, organized with like-­minded friends in 1743. “The Search for Useful Knowledge” showcases an array of scientific instruments used by Franklin and the most famous scientists – known as philosophers – of his day. This section encourages visitors to investigate the scientific problems that intrigued Franklin.

“The World Stage” opens with Franklin’s political career in colonial Pennsylvania, proceeds to his years in England, and concludes with his sojourn in France, from which he finally de­parted in 1785, five years before his death at the age of eighty-four. This segment covers the period during which Franklin’s interests – literature, science, politics, diplomacy, and his fascination with the material world – came together at a critical time in modern history. Franklin returned to Philadel­phia as an elder statesman and embraced as a hero. At the age of seventy-nine he reentered the political scene and became president of the Supreme Executive Council and served in the Constitutional Convention. At the very end of his life, he championed a new cause: the abolition of slavery.

The exhibition’s final section, “Do You See Yourself in Franklin?,” showcases his autobiography, with original versions of early translations, the earliest known portrait of Franklin, and images created during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Through an unusual visual presentation, museum-goers are given a reflective experience, culminating in the final and lasting image of the entire exhibition.

Following its run in Philadelphia, “Benjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better World” will travel to the Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis (June 8 through November 4, 2006), the Hous­ton Museum of Natural Science, Texas (October 11, 2006, through January 21, 2007), the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Colorado, (March 2 through May 28, 2007), the Atlanta History Center, Georgia (June 28 through September 23, 2007), and the Musee des Arts et Metiers, Paris, France (November 1, 2007, through February 28, 2008). For the traveling exhibit, the PHMC is lending a late-eighteenth-century creamware bowl, from the collections of The State Museum of Pennsylvania, decorated with a likeness of Franklin.

The Philadelphia-area celebration, “Ben Franklin 300 Philadelphia,” encompasses a variety of exhibits, events, lectures, performances, tours, symposium, concerts, and activities
organized by a host of historical organizations, cultural institutions, and popular visitor attractions through 2006.

For information about “Benjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better World,” and the hundreds of events and activities scheduled through 2006, write: Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary, 135 South 18th St., Philadelphia, PA 19103; telephone (215) 557-0733.


Clash of Empires

As little as two decades before the signing of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia in 1776, the idea that the American colonies would unite and revolt against Great Britain would have been called preposterous. Ties between Great Britain and its colonies were strong. Trade flourished. Political connections ran deep. Social and fraternal associations thrived. Intellectual collaboration flowered. Literary and artistic alliances burgeoned. Even George Washington, a young, twenty-two-year-old Virginia soldier, wanted nothing more than to become a British military officer. But the French and Indian War of 1754-1763 changed everything.

The French and Indian War proved to be an epic struggle, with Great Britain, France, and dozens of Native American nations fighting bitterly for control of North America. Each side saw the control of the confluence of the Allegheny, Mononga­hela, and Ohio Rivers at Pittsburgh as the strategic key to victory. The outcome of the war forever changed the settlement of North America.

The French and Indian War was actually the last of four major colonial wars between the British, the French, and their Indian allies, following the conflicts known as King William’s War (1689-1697), Queen Anne’s War (1702-1714), and King George’s War (1744-1748). These wars, fought more as secondary theaters to European conflicts, resulted in little territorial change. Unlike the three previous conflicts, the French and Indian War began on North American soil and then spread to Europe where Great Britain and France continued fighting. Britain officially declared war on France in 1756, marking the beginning of the Seven Years’ War in Europe. Native Americans fought for both sides, but primarily alongside the French. (One of the opening engagements of the war, the Battle of Fort Necessity, also known as the Battle of the Great Meadows, fought in southwestern Pennsylvania, marked the first – and only – instance of George Washington surrendering in battle.) The war, officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Paris on February 10, 1763, resulted in France’s loss of its possessions in North America, except for several islands in the Caribbean and two small islands off the coast of Newfoundland. The British acquired Canada while Spain gained Louisiana in compensation for its loss of Florida to the British.

The decisive result of the French and Indian War put an end to the wars waged by the French and Native Americans, but it also created conditions that led to the American Revolution. British colonists no longer needed British protection from the French and resented the taxes imposed on them to pay for their native country’s military commitments, as well as limitation on colonial settlements ordered by Britain’s Royal Proclamation of 1763 in territories formerly owned by the French.

Just several miles from where the war broke out, the Senator John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center recently unveiled the largest French and Indian War exhibition in the world, “Clash of Empires: The British, French and Indian War, 1754-1763.” The center created the exhibit in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., and the Canadian Museum of Civilization, Gatineau, Quebec, and its affiliate, the Canadian War Museum, Ottawa, Ontario.

“‘Clash of Empires’ is the definitive exhibition on the French and Indian War,” explains Andy Masich, president and CEO of the Senator John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center. “The exhibit reaches back through the mists of time to bring a crucially important but little known period in history to life as never before. Appropriately, the exhibit is premiering in Pittsburgh as the region celebrates the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of this first global war.”

Showcasing nearly three hundred artifacts, objects, and works of art, and featuring videos and file-like recreations of the individuals who made history in western Pennsylvania, “Clash of Empires: The British, French and Indian War, 1754-1763,” places museum-goers in the midst of the tumultuous conflict. A variety of innovative features not only reveals the historic events that comprised the war, but also provides a remarkably realistic sense of the people and the way of life during the period.

Among the exhibition’s rare and unique objects – many of which have returned to western Pennsylvania for the first time in two and a half centuries – are the Treaty of Fort Necessity, the document of surrender signed by George Washington of the Virginia Regiment after the resounding defeat of his forces in July 1754; a knife and fork from Washington’s mess kit; burned remains of wagons Benjamin Franklin secured for the expedition of General Edward Braddock – the largest army in America to that time – which had been nearly annihilated by a small army made up mostly of Native Americans; one of the Celeron plates buried by the French to claim the territory; an array of ornate British and French swords, guns, and cannons; and American Indian tomahawks, knives, and clubs. Museum visitors will also see an assortment on intricately carved powder horns; beautifully detailed Native American leggings, bags, and moccasins; General Braddock’s plan for the attack of Fort Duquesne (found on the battlefield by French soldiers after they defeated the British); and British and French medals and commemorative pieces.

One of the most compelling features of “Clash of Empires” is a series of nine evocative models representing the war’s most fascinating characters. Created by sculptor Gerry Embleton, the figures put a three-dimensional, human face on individuals from the distant past. The models include a distraught George Washington; African American provincial soldier and powder horn maker John Bush; and Seneca leader Tanaghrisson, practicing the sophisticated diplomacy that Native Americans had used for years to keep the European threat at bay.

Bringing new light to French and Indian War history is a selection of more than thirty paintings, several of them masterpieces of the period, including General Johnson Saving a Wounded French Officer from the Tomahawk of a North American Indian and American Indian and His Family by Benjamin West and Sir Jeffrey Amherst by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Dioramas put the wilderness Landscape of the mid-eighteenth century into context for museum-goers, and video presentations include several newly produced documentaries, as well as scenes from the PBS series, The War That Made America, filmed largely on location in western Pennsylvania, which is scheduled to air in early 2006.

“Clash of Empires: The British, French and Indian War, 1754-1763,” continues furough April 15, 2006. Following its premiere in Pittsburgh, the exhibit will travel to the Canadian War Museum, where it will be on view from May 18 to November 12, 2006 and then to the Smithsonian Institution in winter 2007.

For information about the exhibition and related programs, write: Senator John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center, 1212 Smallman St., Pittsburgh, PA 15222; telephone (412) 454- 6000; or visit the Senator John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center.


A Modern Master

One of the greatest designers of the twentieth century, Eva Zeisel revolutionized ceramic design by bringing her own original brand of modernism to America’s middle-class homes with lines of dinnerware for major manufacturers, including the Castleton China Company, located in New Castle in western Pennsylvania.

Born Eva Amalia Stricker in Budapest, Hun­gary, in 1906, she entered the Royal Academy of Fine Arts at the age of seventeen, intending to become a painter. Her mother, however, persuaded her to learn a trade with which she could earn a livelihood and the young student apprenticed herself to a traditional potter. Although the work of an apprentice in many trades could be difficult and often unpleasant, Zeisel persisted and graduated to the status of journeyman potter. Just one year later, while working as a designer at the Kispester Factory in Budapest, she exhibited work at the Philadelphia Sesquicentennial Exposition of 1926, which won an honorable mention award.

Zeisel’s desire to hone her skills was equaled only by her desire to travel and widen her experience. She moved to Berlin and on to factories in Hamburg and throughout Europe. In 1932, she spent a holiday in Russia to experience, firsthand, the country’s new artistic and social movements. Her experience served her well; she was offered a position assisting in the modernization of the ceramic industry, in which her creativity and dynamism shone. As art director of the china and glass industry of the Russian Republic, she traveled throughout Russia to understand and coordinate the efforts to create a central manufactory that would make products £or ordinary citizens.

In 1936, Zeisel was caught up in one of the Stalinist purges, accused of plotting to assassinate Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin. She was imprisoned for sixteen months, mostly in solitary confinement, and subjected to interrogation, deprivation, torture, and early forms of brainwashing. One day, she was unexpectedly led out of her cell to what she feared would be her execution. Instead, she was put on a train to Austria with only the clothes on her back. The reason for her release is as mysterious as the reason for her imprisonment. In Vienna, on the day in 1938 that the Nazis moved into Austria, she boarded the last train to cross the Swiss border and made her way to England where she and Hans Zeisel, a sociologist and attorney whom she had met seven years earlier in Berlin, were married. Later that year the couple migrated to the United States.

In 1939, Zeisel began teaching at New York’s Pratt Institute, a position she held until 1953. She also began designing gift­ware and china, and set up an innovative apprenticeship program for her students that included work on a major commission in 1942 from Sears, Roebuck and Company for a line of dinnerware, “Stratoware.” Her exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in 1946, “Modern China by Eva Zeisel,” was cosponsored by the Castleton China Company. After her MoMA show, Zeisel began working for a number of well known pottery, porcelain, and stoneware manufacturers. Her most important commissions included the “Town and Country” line for the Red Wing Potteries, Red Wing, Minnesota, and several Hallcraft lines for the Hall China Company, East Liverpool, Ohio, including “Tomorrow’s Classic” and “Classic Century;” which in the 1950s were among the best-selling dinnerware patterns in the United States.

Zeisel’s constant eye toward practical innovation caused her to change her designs to reflect the needs of different eras. During the post-World War II period, when women had less time to cook and became fond of one-dish meals, she designed elegant casserole dishes that could be moved easily from oven to table. As entertaining grew more casual, she designed colorful and bold stoneware, such as “Town and Country,” that could be mixed and matched. Admirers, collectors, and museum curators describe her work as playful, expressive, and beautiful. “To me, beauty depends on one single person looking at something” Zeisel explains, adding “and [who] feels joy in looking at it because it pleases him without second thoughts, irrespective of whether it is useful, whether it is art, or whether it is in good taste. It is the most democratic definition possible: a person high or low, cultured or not, young or old, and of whatever group, can enjoy beauty.”

So enduring is Eva Zeisel’s concept of beauty that the Met­ropolitan Museum of Art is offering reproductions of her “Town and County” line, and home furnishings retailer Crate and Barrel has reissued her “Classic Century” line, originally introduced in 1952. However, Zeisel – who turns one hundred in 2006 – is still designing.

The Erie Art Museum recently opened “Eva Zeisel,” a retrospective exhibition that is, says museum director John Vanco, “comprehensive, spanning seventy years, and encompasses many examples of the designer’s non-ceramic works as well, including glass and furniture. The museum is using the exhibition as a ‘laboratory’ for education programs and activities. At its conclusion here, ‘Eva Zeisel’ will travel to other museums, accompanied by an extensive complement of educational programming.”

“Eva Zeisel” continues at the Erie Art Museum through July 8, 2007.

To obtain more information, write: Erie Art Museum, 411 State St., Erie, PA 16501; telephone (814) 459-5477; or visit Erie Art Museum website, Admission.