Bookshelf

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

Renfrew Park

by Daniel W. Arthur and Ronald R. Keiper
Daniel W. Arthur, 1987 (160 pages, paper, $21.00)

Renfrew Park is a documen­tation of a one hundred and seven acre historic park and farm near Waynesboro in three parts: a natural history of its flora and fauna, a photo­graphic documentation of the farmstead and its structures and a section describing its historical and architectural significance. The Renfrew Museum and Park – named in memory of two little girls, Sarah and Jane Renfrew, mas­sacred by Indians – features an outstanding collection of American household furnish­ings made before 1830, includ­ing significant eighteenth century Philadelphia furniture, and nineteenth century pottery crafted in the Shenan­doah Valley. Basically a Pennsylvania-German farm­stead, Renfrew Museum and Park illustrates an early nine­teenth century agrarian way of life. In addition to discussing the furnishings of this historic property, however, this book offers a naturalist’s view, dis­cussing the evolving landscape of the Cumberland Valley, the diversity of habitat in a nineteenth century farm setting and the wildlife and wildflo­wers of the immediate area. In the segment dealing with the park structures, Renfrew Park offers analysis of the Antietam community’s early years, the Royer House, smoke house, spring house, tannery, barn and related dependencies. The text is complemented by the Daniel W. Arthur’s moody­ – and at times, haunting – black and white depictions of the property throughout the changing seasons, yielding a magical introduction to the farmstead. Renfrew Park con­cludes with several maps, historical accounts of the In­dian massacre and inventory lists culled from nineteenth century owners’ wills.

 

… Better than riches

by Ralph E. West, Jr., and John W. Burkhart, editors
William Penn Charter School, 1989 (257 pages, cloth, $30.00)

Institutions and individuals contribute year by year to the burgeoning plethora of com­memorative books and publi­cations, many of which are excellent sources of local his­torical data and many of which offer a regional perspective. …better than riches, released to celebrate the three hundredth anniversary of the founding of Philadelphia’s venerable Wil­liam Penn Charter School, as well as the tercentenary of Quaker education in Pennsyl­vania, goes far beyond serving its locality. Eminently read­able, this book provides in­sight about the inner workings of the institution which has captured a number of “firsts”: the world’s first Quaker school; the first corporation chartered by the Common­wealth; the first school system to accommodate both affluent and poor students; and the publisher of the nation’s first student newspaper. Essays by nearly two dozen contributing authors discuss Quakerism at Penn Charter, the beginnings and growth through three centuries, the campuses which served the institution, head­masters and overseers, ath­letics and the Penn Charter community. The William Penn Charter School – an indepen­dent college preparatory school based on Quaker phi­losophy and tradition – continues to operate under the guidance of a group of overse­ers, the first of whom were appointed by William Penn as a self-perpetuating corpora­tion. …better than riches helps the reader clearly understand not only the original mission of this important institution, but, too, the three centuries of evolving education which have molded generations of stu­dents and scholars. (For an overview of Quaker education in Pennsylvania, see “What Love Can Do: William Penn’s Holy Experiment in Educa­tion” by William C. Kashatus III in the spring 1989 edition of Pennsylvania Heritage.) The essayists portray the character of their beloved institution gracefully, but do not allow their affection to overshadow the significance of the William Penn Charter School and the role it has played in the history of the nation’s education. The book’s title begs the question that the school has answered­ – and provided – for three centu­ries: “Good instruction is …”

 

Craft and Community: Traditional Arts in Contemporary Society

by Shalom D. Staub, editor
Balch Institute for Ethnic Stud­ies and the Pennsylvania Heri­tage Affairs Commission, 1988 (140 pages, paper, $12.00)

Published to accompany a major exhibition touring Penn­sylvania through spring 1991, Craft and Community is a handsomely illustrated cata­logue that provides an ethno­graphic approach to folk art – one which appreciates material objects in the social context of the lives of the craftsworkers and artisans and their customers. The catalogue – as does the exhibition – draws upon ethno­graphic perspectives not only to present an intimate “in­sider’s view,” but to explain the Commonwealth’s cultural diversity that reflects the coun­tries and customs of genera­tions of immigrants and Americans. Various essays devoted to the themes of gen­erations, skills, creating a sense of community, regional traditions, values and beliefs, ritual experience and continuity and change are examined through the experiences of stone carvers, musical instru­ment makers, quilters, a black­smith and hickory furniture makers. Each essay is con­cluded with notes and a bibli­ography. Craft and Community, the result of several years of exhaustive field work in exam­ining the rich traditions of Pennsylvania’s craftsworkers, serves as a fine introduction to the great heritage of many cultures in an ever-evolving society. The book is well illus­trated with photographs of the objects and artifacts but, most interestingly, with the individ­uals at work as well.

 

Before Penn: Swedish Colonists in the Land of the Lenape

by Zoriana E. Siokalo
American Swedish Historical Museum, 1988 (52 pages, paper, $10.00)

This catalogue accompanies the first permanent exhibition devoted to the new Sweden Colony (in what is now gener­ally called the Delaware Valley), and serves to com­memorate the three hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the arrival of the Swedes in Amer­ica. Both the museum installa­tion and the catalogue essays interpret the Swedish colonial experience in the Delaware Valley prior to the arrival of Pennsylvania founder William Penn. Interpretive emphasis is placed on the social, political and economic history of the Swedes in the area, their rela­tionships with contemporary Dutch, English and Native Americans, and their influence on the subsequent settlement and development of the valley. The introductory essay by Clarissa Solmssen and Vito Trimarco provides a historic tour d’horizon of political, social and economic factors in seven­teenth century Sweden and during the formation of the colony in the New World. The main essay, also the title of the catalogue, by Zoriana E. Siokalo exhaustively interprets the structural and artifactual elements that comprise the exhibition. Selected illustra­tions which appear in Before Penn are effective; they include maps, seventeenth and eight­eenth century documents, portraits, artifacts and objects, tapestries and early town views. Before Penn delicately combines illustrations of the exhibition’s objects and textual information. The catalogue concludes with a chronology and extensive bibliography.

 

The Annual Exhibition Record of the Pennsylvania Acad­emy of the Fine Arts, 1807-1870

by Peter Hastings Falk, editor
Sound View Press, 1988 (486 pages, cloth, $89.00)

The first of a three volume series documenting the com­plete exhibition records of the nation’s oldest art museum, this book identifies more than twenty-five thousand works of art shown at Philadelphia’s landmark Pennsylvania Acad­emy of the Fine Arts between 1807 and 1870. This volume is a revised and enlarged edition of Anna Wells Rutledge’s Cumula­tive Record of Exhibition Cata­logues, 1807-1870, originally published in 1955, but which has been out of print for many years. New research especially for this book uncovered five important exhibition cata­logues (1833, 1858, 1864, 1865, 1870) omitted from the original edition; their inclusion contrib­utes more than one thousand entries to Rutledge’s original study. Founded in 1805, the Academy counted among its teachers and students some of the most gifted artists in the world (see “The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts: An Ideal and a Symbol” by Jeanette M. Toohey in the spring 1988 edition of Pennsyl­vania Heritage). Its annual exhibitions – and special shows such as “American Artists at Home and in Europe” held in 1881-often provided an artist’s first opportunity to be seen by the American public. Exem­plary works were purchased for the museum’s collection and then remained on view. The Academy’s exhibition history is an integral part of the history of art in nineteenth century America, and many scholars and enthusiasts will welcome The Annual Exhibition Record of the Pennsylvania Acad­emy of the Fine Arts because of its easy-to-use format, particu­larly its indexes by artist, owner and subject. Students of Pennsylvania’s art history will find the book helpful since many works of art were identi­fied by a geographical loca­tion, such as Perry’s Victory in Lake Erie (1814) by William Strickland; Parnell’s Knoll on Conococheague Creek, Franklin Co., Pa. (1847), Pennsylvania Canal near Harrisburg (1856) and Catawissa Railway Viaduct (1859) by William Thompson Russell Smith; and Saw-mill near Bethlehem (1854) and Vale of Wyoming (1869) by Edmund Darch Lewis.

 

Becoming Benjamin Franklin

by Ormond Seavey
The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1988 (266 pages, cloth $24.95)

The first book to explore Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiog­raphy systematically in relation to the life history from which it was drawn, Becoming Benjamin Franklin considers the Autobi­ography in terms of eighteenth century conventions of autobi­ographical writing and En­lightenment conceptions of the self. The author emphasizes the cultural and historical importance of Franklin as a writer. Unlike most historians’ treatments of Franklin, this study sees his activity as au­thor of his own life history as central to his importance, thus locating Franklin’s life in the history of self-consciousness of the eighteenth century. Unlike conventional approaches to biography, this study sets apart the Autobiography and its provenance for special focus. However, like a biography, this is also a study of Franklin’s personality as it developed from his birth in Boston to his death. His own self­-understanding has posed a similar challenge to the stu­dents of his life; the greatest impediment to biographies of the patriot-statesman is that he took care of charting the terri­tory first. He was intensely aware of his own identity all his life, and this book takes a more comprehensive view of his writings as manifestations of a developing self. Becoming Benjamin Franklin describes Franklin’s sense of personal and national identity as it appears in his Autobiography and as it evolved. No Ameri­can of the eighteenth century was more alert to psychologi­cal complexities than Franklin, and no one was better equipped to describe them, but the author of this study identifies many of the discrep­ancies in Franklin’s memoirs and offers plausible explana­tions. This book is not a biog­raphy in the conventional sense, nor is it purely a literary study; instead, it attempts to answer the many questions about Benjamin Franklin’s life, the ways he saw it and the manner in which he presented it for posterity.