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.

Soul Soldiers

The Senator John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center recently unveiled the most comprehensive exhibition ever to explore the issues of the Vietnam War from an African American perspective. “Soul Soldiers: African Americans and the Vietnam Era” tells the story of the Vietnam War’s impact on African American life and culture by examining both the war and the civil rights movement.

“The Vietnam War provoked one of the deepest cultural divides in our nation’s history,” says Andy Masich, president and CEO of the center. “’Soul Soldiers’ addresses the parallel issues of fighting a war in Vietnam and struggling for civil rights in America by examining the effects of this era in the battlefield and on the home front.”

The exhibition explores a number of important topics, such as the impact of the war on civil rights and Black Power, both in the United States and abroad; the effects of the draft on African American life; the role women played in the Vietnam War; and the impact of veterans’ organizations after the war. Nearly sixty thousand American soldiers were killed, died of wounds, or declared dead after having been listed as missing in action.

African Americans have fought in every war in the nation’s history, from the French and Indian War to the current conflict in the Middle East. Although research helps to reveal the soldiers and others who served during those campaigns, very little analysis and discussion have centered on the cultural impact of the Vietnam War on African American life. “Soul Soldiers” showcases nearly two hundred objects and artifacts, including a number of significant items from veterans: rucksacks, uniforms, and dog tags; articles on the experiences of African American soldiers that originally appeared in Time and Ebony magazines and the Pittsburgh Courier, once the country’s most widely circulated black newspaper; nurses’ uniforms and photographs; armed forces recruitment posters and related propaganda materials; and soldiers’ diaries and letters to family and friends at home.

A multimedia exhibition, “Soul Soldiers” shows how the Vietnam War played a critical role in African American popular culture by helping to shape the musical genres of soul, jazz, rock, and gospel in the 1960s and 1970s. A number of audio stops throughout the exhibition include such Black Power anthems as “Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud)” released in 1969 by James Brown and “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye, released in 1971.

An original documentary that includes original film footage taken by soldiers in Vietnam between 1969 and 1971 is being shown in the exhibit’s “Hootch Theatre,” supplemented by excerpts from WQED-TV’s documentary entitled “In Country: A Vietnam Story.” More than a dozen photographs by Wallace Terry, former Vietnam correspondent for Time and author of Bloods: An Oral History of the Vietnam War by Black Veterans are also on display.

“Soul Soldiers: African Americans and the Vietnam Era” continues through October 2007. The exhibition is accompanied by a book of narratives, essays, poetry, and photographs that further discuss issues of race, gender, activism, and the perspective of the war by veterans. Contributors to the book will share their work and insights during a symposium at the center on Friday and Saturday, April 27–28.

For more information about the exhibition or symposium, 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 website. Admission.


Realism and Response

Powered by the urban art centers of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was home to two of the most prominent American art schools of the early twentieth century, Carnegie Mellon University (known from 1900 to 1912 as Carnegie Technical Schools and from 1912 to 1967 as the Carnegie Institute of Technology) and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

Western Pennsylvania artists concerned with a myriad of contemporary issues, characterized by art historians as social realists, found the aesthetic and environmental
dangers of the modern industrial landscape of Pittsburgh to be a prime subject for their gritty depictions of booming capitalism. Aaron Harry Gorson depicted the all-consuming gray, smoggy steel mills along the Monongahela River, while Christian Walter portrayed a working-class neighborhood against a backdrop of belching smokestacks. Walter’s Pittsburgh (1937) and Clarence Carter’s Study for the Barnesville Post Office Mural (1935) were sponsored by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a federal program that provided socially productive work for artists during this dismal, economically challenging era.

Two former students of Philadelphia’s Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA), Henry Ossawa Tanner and Mary Cassatt, became famous after expatriating to France, where they were directly influenced by European impressionism and realism. Erie’s most influential twentieth-century painters, George Ericson (known as Eugene Iverd) and his student Joseph Plavcan, also studied at the Pennsylvania Academy. Other important artists trained at the Academy who came to the forefront of the realism movement in the United States included members of The Eight, a group of artists who united to counter the conservative principals taught at the National Academy of Design. Collectively derided as the Ashcan School, these artists championed art that captured urban realism as opposed to the more conservative historical and allegorical subjects still prominent in the opening decades of the twentieth century.

Currently on view at the Erie Art Museum is “Artists of the Commonwealth: Realism and Its Response in Pennsylvania Painting, 1900–1950,” an exhibition featuring portraiture, industrial scenes, streetscapes, and landscapes. Works of art follow the long arc of realism, the dominant style in the Keystone State during the first half of the twentieth century. The paintings do not reflect a homogeneous style, but illustrate the progression of artists in Pennsylvania from traditional academic training to a modern notion of social realism enlivened by the influences of avant-garde European movements, ranging from impressionism to cubist abstraction. The exhibition clearly illustrates the social and historical contexts in which the artists lived and worked.

Aesthetics, rather than politics, characterize the idealized rural landscapes by the Pennsylvania impressionists, such as Daniel Garber and Robert Spencer, whose studios in New Hope, Bucks County, offered a tranquil respite from urban chaos. “Artists of the Commonwealth” includes public art created by muralist Violet Oakley and works from “the golden age of illustration,” epitomized by N.C. Wyeth and Maxfield Parrish.

Organized by the Westmoreland Museum of American Art, Greensburg, in collaboration with the Erie Art Museum and the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art, headquartered in Loretto, “Artists of the Commonwealth: Realism and Its Response in Pennsylvania Painting, 1900–1950,” continues through Sunday, April 8.

Additional information is available by writing: Erie Art Museum, 411 State St., Erie, PA 16501; by telephoning (814) 459-5477; or by visiting the Erie Art Museum website. Admission.



For generations, Pennsylvania and the steel industry have been practically synonymous. Founded by financier J.P. Morgan and jurist Elbert H. Gary in 1901, the United States Steel Corporation, headquartered in Pittsburgh, was at one time the largest steel producer and the largest corporation in the world. In its first year of operation, the firm controlled two-thirds of steel production. Three years later, Charles M. Schwab, who had recently withdrawn from U.S. Steel, formed, with Joseph Wharton, the Bethlehem Steel Corporation in Bethlehem, the second largest steel producer in the United States. During its heyday, the steel industry in Pennsylvania employed hundreds of thousands of workers, many of whom immigrated to America after having been lured by the promise of prosperity. Steel built — and dominated — many communities in the Keystone State during the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Pennsylvania’s mills produced steel that built the Empire State Building, the gates of the Panama Canal, and armaments that won two world wars.

Donald J. Giles, photographer for The State Museum of Pennsylvania (whose images regularly grace the pages of Pennsylvania Heritage), visited both abandoned and active steel mills and related facilities in 2005 and 2006. His images are showcased in a breathtaking exhibit, “Steel: Made in Pennsylvania,” currently on view at The State Museum of Pennsylvania, Harrisburg. Giles’s photographs document one moment in the history of one of the country’s most historic and influential industries.

A native of Cumberland, Maryland, Giles moved to central Pennsylvania in 1990. He worked for Carl Socolow, an accomplished Harrisburg area photographer awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for 2006. Giles worked for the Pennsylvania Rural Electrification Association, headquartered in Harrisburg, shooting photographs for both articles and covers of its monthly newsmagazine, Penn Lines, read by four hundred thousand consumers of electric cooperatives in the Commonwealth. Since joining the staff of The State Museum in 1995, Giles’s photographs have appeared in numerous brochures, pamphlets, and guidebooks produced by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, as well as in the agency’s annual reports and on its Web site. Although he estimates he takes approximately ten thousand photographs each year of activities and events at the PHMC’s historic sites and museums, as well as the Pennsylvania State Archives, it’s his large-format work for museum exhibitions of which he is most proud.

For a 2004–2005 exhibit at The State Museum, “Out in Front: Smarty Jones and Horse Racing in Pennsylvania,” Giles visited the plucky thoroughbred in southeastern Pennsylvania and provided museum visitors with behind-the-scenes photographs of the beloved media darling, described by many as “the little colt that could.” He met Pat and the late Roy Chapman, Smarty’s owners, who lent a number of important objects to The State Museum for “Out in Front,” including the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes trophies.

“Work on the steel exhibit was vastly different than photographing Smarty Jones,” Giles says. “’Steel’ gave me the opportunity to work alone, to focus on buildings and the machinery and equipment inside. The active operations were impressive — loud, smoky, and chaotic, but I saw an unusual beauty in the closed and abandoned plants and mills. They weren’t oppressive or depressing. To me, they offered exciting forms, shapes, even colors, which infuse my work. I feel privileged to have photographed them at this particular time — I’ve captured them for museum visitors who would never have the opportunity to visit them.” He visited sites in Ambridge, Bethlehem, Homestead, Koppel, Steelton, and Rankin.

Several of Giles’s steel images will air in June 2007 in The States: Pennsylvania, broadcast by The History Channel.

“Steel: Made in Pennsylvania,” produced by The State Museum in cooperation with the National Museum of Industrial History and the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area, continues through Sunday, April 29. The exhibit will travel to the Payne Galley of Moravian College, in Bethlehem, and to the Bost Building, in Homestead, headquarters of the Rivers of Steel. After these venues, “Steel: Made in Pennsylvania” will be available to historical organizations, cultural institutions, and museums. For information on booking the exhibit, individuals should telephone Robert Weible, director of public history at The State Museum, at (717) 783-9867.

To obtain information about visiting “Steel; Made in Pennsylvania,” write: The State Museum of Pennsylvania, 300 North St., Harrisburg, PA 17120–0024; telephone (717) 787-4980; or visit the State Museum of Pennsylvania website. Free.