Bookshelf

Bookshelf provides descriptions and notices of recent publications on Pennsylvania subjects.

Philadel­phians and the China Trade, 1784-1844

by Jean Gordon Lee
Uni­versity of Pennsylvania Press, 1984 (232 pages, cloth, $45.00)

Two hundred years ago, the first American ship sailed for China and returned laden with tea, exotic spices and a sampling of the splen­did arts of the Far East. This lavishly illustrated catalogue, featuring an essay by Philip Chadwick Foster Smith, describes more than three hundred objects commis­sioned by Philadelphians – not only the highly prized Chi­nese porcelains and silks, but also a rich assortment of furniture, games, carvings and paintings. Local merchants looked to China as an inex­pensive producer of well-made, Western-style goods. While made to American specifica­tions, these objects remain in essence Chinese in the mode and skill of their manufac­ture, in the materials used, and often in the use of traditional decorative motifs. Pub­lished in conjunction with a landmark exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art by the same title, Philadel­phians and the China Trade clearly illustrates that decorative arts made expressly for Philadelphians are among the finest Chinese objects pro­duced for export to America. The examples further show that Chinese craftsmanship and Philadelphia taste combined to greatly influence the fash­ionable households of the city, the most important Ameri­can port during the early years of the trade. What makes the book fascinating is that the author, through extensive, if not exhaustive, research has been able to establish a con­nection between each object and a particular Philadelphian, presenting a cross-section of those actively involved in the trade – those who cap­tained the ships, sailed to and lived in China, invested in the voyages, or simply ordered or purchased Chinese arts and objects. Philadelphians and the China Trade is much more than an exhibition cata­logue; it is a survey of the tastes of early Philadelphia.

 

Maintaining the Right Fellowship

by John L. Ruth
Herald Press, 1984 (616 pages, cloth, $24.95)

A fascinating account of three centuries in the life of Mennonites in southeastern Pennsylvania, Maintaining the Right Fellowship offers a story-like profile of the spirit­ual – and until the twentieth century, largely ethnic­ – family that became two present­-day congregations: the “East­ern District” and the “Fran­conia” Mennonite conferences. While each conference is part of larger groupings across North America, their local, overlapping community is the oldest surviving Mennonite fellowship in the New World. The original settlement was largely contained in the triangle north of Philadelphia bounded by the Delaware, Lehigh and Schuylkill rivers. Several maps and nearly ninety photographs, many drawn from private collections and family archives, help to strengthen the “visual” sense of this new account. Throughout the entire book, the author has successfully endeavored to con­vey what was actually said, done and written through the use of letters, hymns, diaries and folk traditions so that readers may make their own interpretations. Maintaining the Right Fellowship yields a unique perspective on the years spanning 1648 to 1947 through narrative chronicles and interpretive history.

 

Wilkes-Barre Archi­tecture, 1860-1960­

by Vito J. Sgromo and Michael Lewis
Wyoming Valley Historical and Geological Society, 1983 (71 pages, paper, $6.95)

The dynamic evolution of a century of architecture in Wilkes-Barre, and its reflection of changing social and eco­nomic trends, as well as indi­vidual styles, are the focus of this well-documented and illustrated study. A central location between two metro­politan centers – New York and Philadelphia – placed this northeastern community under the direct influence of a series of gifted architects and designers from both cities. Both text and supporting architectural examples demon­strate the distinctive stylistic imprints of these talented individuals in the commer­cial, civic and domestic struc­tures which emerged in the anthracite region community between 1860 and 1960. But as the authors suggest and as the illustrations reveal, the unique flavor of Wilkes­-Barre’s architecture often went far beyond the personali­ties of its creators. Its growth and character were indelibly – and constantly – molded by the fortunes of an anthra­cite-based economy and a heterogeneous ethnic popula­tion replete with cherished cultural and religious institu­tions. Wilkes-Barre Archi­tecture is an interesting survey of one city’s evolving facade.