Ruggieri Exhibit: A Commemorative Portrait

News presents briefs about current and forthcoming programs, events, exhibits and activities of historical and cultural institutions in Pennsylvania.

It’s as though Nick Ruggieri has compiled a family album for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, then passed it around for the state’s citizens to see and admire.

Ruggieri, a widely acclaimed veteran artist, has executed the most comprehensive art collection ever assembled on Pennsylvania. It took four years of travel, work and research.

He has painted – in oil, acrylic and watercolor – represen­tative scenes from each of the sixty-seven counties in the state, added paintings of the state bird, flower and tree, plus a montage in a map-like outline of the state, and called it “Pennsylvania: A Commemorative Portrait.”

Ruggieri, art director of the Harrisburg Patriot-News Company, has provided an eternal picture of his home state. Governor Milton J. Shapp saw the show at a private preview, proclaimed it “overwhelming,” then proclaimed the day of the public opening of the exhibit as “Nick Ruggieri Day.”

The exhibit opened September 21 [1975] at the William Penn Memorial Museum in Harrisburg, and was viewed by 6,000 persons, the largest crowd, according to museum officials, to attend an opening of any event at the museum.

After November 30 [1975], the entire collection traveled throughout the state during the remainder of 1975 and will travel during all of 1976 as well. It will be displayed and carried in a custom-made van with folding panels on which the paintings will be hung.

The show, originally designated as a Bicentennial project, is subsidized by the Patriot-News Company, and is to visit state colleges and universities, shopping centers and high schools across the Commonwealth.

On July 4, 1976, the show, appropriately, will be at Valley Forge. The next day it is to be taken to Hershey for display at the National Governors’ Conference, which Penn­sylvania will host.

Ruggieri, a fellow of the Royal Society for the Encour­agement of the Arts in London, was commissioned to do the show four years ago by Patriot-News publisher John H. Baum.

Those who have seen it marvel at the diversity of the works and at the fact that a single artist alone is responsible for the complete exhibit. Ruggieri, a grandfather, has had several one-man shows in the past and is regarded by many as one of, if not the finest, living artist in Pennsylvania.

Mrs. Ferne Smith Hetrick, chairman of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, said the exhibit was “the finest art exhibition” ever to hang in the state museum.

Ruggieri, a resident of New Cumberland in suburban Harrisburg where he lives with his wife, Rose, is not un­familiar with success or acclaim. He admits gladly, however, that the Bicentennial show is the high point of his career.

The more than 100 paintings he executed on Pennsylvania include historic sites such as Independence Hall, the Gettys­burg Battlefield, Daniel Boone Homestead at Baumstown, the Ephrata Cloisters, Drake’s Oil Well at Titusville, and the birthplace of the state’s only President, James Buchanan, in Mercersburg.

But Ruggieri also portrays the beauty of the state, and he captures it without question. There are moving scenes like Amish farmers plowing fields, old coal towns in the state’s bituminous belt and older Victorian homes, which in too many Pennsylvania cities are becoming nothing but a vague memory.

Of the eighty paintings in the Patriot Collection, none are for sale. Publisher Baum has not yet decided what will be done with the works after the tour.

But a book has been published, bearing the same name as the art show. It carries all of the paintings illustrated in ex­cellent color. Complete with an introduction and historical information on each county, the text is a keepsake of history and art.


John M. Baer is a writer and Pennsylvania journalist who recently served as a fellow of the American Political Science Association in Washington, D.C.