Bookshelf

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

Pieced by Mother: Symposium Papers

by Jean­nette Lasansky, editor
Oral Traditions Project, 1988 (120 pages, paper, $19.95)

The twelfth in the Union County Historical Society’s national award-winning series on Pennsylvania crafts, Pieced by Mother features twelve thought-provoking essays, complemented with both color and black and white illustra­tions, which showcases Penn­sylvania quilts within their social, technical and cultural contexts. The papers brim with the excitement of bringing quilt owners, dealers, makers, collectors, curators and re­searchers together for a major three day symposium con­ducted by the historical socie­ty’s Oral Traditions Project. Most of the papers are pre­sented in the order in which they were originally given: the different ethnic groups (Anglo-Saxon, Quaker, Penn­sylvania German and Hmong) and their traditions; the issue of “plain” versus “fancy” quilt­making; the evolution of quilt types, such as pieced, friend­ship, album and crazy; and the Colonial Revival Movement, which spanned from 1864 to 1976. The book addresses – as did the symposium – the sources of pattern names, the proper care and conservation of quilts and recent documen­tation efforts. Essays include “Quaker Quilts and Their Makers” by Patricia Herr; “Early Pennsylvania German Traditions: Beds, Bedding, Bedsteads and Sleep” by Alan G. Keyser; “Template Quilt Construction and its Off­shoots: From Godey’s Lady’s Book to Mountain Mist” by Virginia Gunn; “The Role and Look of Fundraising Quilts, 1860-1920” by Dorothy Cozart; and “What’s in a Name? Quilt Patterns from 1830 to the Present” by Barbara Brackman. In addition to illustrations, Pieced by Mother includes a bibliography for each essay, as well as a general index to the entire collection.

 

Penn’s Prom­ise: Still Life Painting in Penn­sylvania, 1795-1930

by Paul A. Chew, editor
Westmore­land Museum of Art, 1988 (112 pages, paper, $18.95)

Published to coincide with a major exhibition showcasing the Commonwealth’s exciting tradition of still life painting, this catalogue is a celebration of the works of prominent Pennsylvania artists – George Luks, Cecilia Beaux, John Francis Henry, Martin Johnson Heade, Albert F. King, John Frederick Peto and, of course, Philadelphia’s prolific Peale family – but it also includes the work of painters not readily recognizable outside their region. The title of both the exhibit and publication directly relates to William Penn who, upon his inaugural visit to his province, encountered a pano­rama of bountiful valleys and expansive meadows, indeed truly a great promise. The artists discussed in Penn’s Promise have recorded some of the beauty and bounty which the founder saw. The year 1795 was chosen to document the Columbianum, an exposition in Philadelphia which marked the first public display of art in America, and which was spe­cifically organized to further the cause of the fine arts in the United States. This survey of still life painting closes with the year 1930, about the time the appeal of the avant-garde of non-figurative and abstract expressionism entered the mainstream of American art, causing thematic consider­ation to lose much of its mean­ing. One hundred and sixteen pieces by fifty-six artists make up this cornucopia of visual delights, including heady compositions of fruit and game, extravagant florals and clever trompe l’oeil. Penn’s Prom­ise will be of special interest to students of Pennsylvania’s regional painters, whose biog­raphies conclude the study.

 

Quakers and the American Family

by Barry Levy
Oxford University Press, 1988 (340 pages, cloth, $24.95)

Americans possess an un­usually strong family ideology, believing that self-sufficient nuclear households must serve as the foundation of a republi­can society. In this history, the author traces this contempo­rary view of family life back several centuries to the Quak­ers, arguing that they brou§ht a new vision of family and social life to America – one that contrasted sharply with the harsh, rigid world of New England’s Puritans. The Quak­ers emphasized affection, friendship and hospitality, and stressed the importance of women in the home, as well as the significance of self­-disciplined, non-coercive childrearing. Quakers and the American Family explains why and how the sect has such a profound cultural impact, and why more so in Pennsylvania and the New World than in England; and what the Quak­ers’ experience with their own family system reveals about American family ideology. To expand this study, the author recounts the story of a large group of Quaker farmers, from their development of a new family and communal life in England in the 1650s to their emigration and experience in southeastern Pennsylvania between 1681 and 1790. The book is simultaneously a trans­-Atlantic community study of the migration and transplanta­tion of ordinary British peoples; the saga of the formation and development of a major Anglo-American faith; and an exploration of the origins of American family ideology.

 

The Commonwealth in Arms

by John B. B. Trussell
Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1987 (50 pages, paper, $3.95)

Subtitled A Guide to the Military Sites and Museums in Pennsylvania, the book is a handy visitors’ guide to the significant attractions through­out the Commonwealth which document and interpret its military heritage – from the French and Indian War to the nation’s most recent conflicts. These sites and museums are arranged chronologically ac­cording to the war to which they primarily relate. Each grouping is preceded by a succinct overview of the events treated, and the information concerning individual sites and museums includes discus­sion of topics, exhibits, availa­ble research resources, the administering agency, visiting hours, admission fees, and special observances that cus­tomarily take place. Albeit brief, The Commonwealth in Arms is a testimony to Penn­sylvania’s proud military his­tory, treating both the locations and the people. It serves to demonstrate that, although founded on princi­ples on non-violence, Pennsyl­vania has rendered service in all of the country’s wars and was the scene of some of the most decisive events in Ameri­can history. In addition to describing many of these fa­mous sites and museums­ – Fort Necessity, Brandywine Battlefield, Valley Forge Na­tional Historical Park, the United States Brig Niagara, the Pennsylvania Military Mu­seum and Gettysburg National Military Park – the book also features lesser known, but equally significant, attractions, such as the Cruiser Olympia, the Army-Navy Museum and the Museum of the First Troop, Philadelphia City Cav­alry. (In fact, this regimental museum chronicles the First City Troop’s unbroken record of continuous service dating to 1774!) For those planning to visit any military attraction in Pennsylvania, The Common­wealth in Arms is prerequisite reading.

 

Philadelphia: Then and Now

by Kenneth Finkel
Dover Publications, Inc., 1988 (122 pages, paper, $10.00)

Sixty vintage photographs of Philadelphia, each con­trasted by striking contempo­rary photographs of the same site by Susan Oyama, make up this arresting catalogue, which accompanies an exhibition of the same title on view at the Library Company of Philadel­phia through March 17, 1989. Ranging from the mid­0nineteenth to the mid­0twentieth centuries, Philadelphia: Then and Now contains depictions of a variety of familiar (and not so familiar) city subjects: historic sites and buildings, churches, hospitals, residences, businesses, parks, streets and special events such as the legendary Mummers’ Parade. Several methods of photography are represented, including albumen and plati­num prints, stereographs and lantern slides, which not only illustrate the many dramatic changes in the art of photogra­phy, but, too, the development of the city during the past century. The author’s engaging preface helps set the stage for a work of this magnitude, noting not only the limitations faced by nineteenth century photographers working with cumbersome, unreliable equip­ment and processes, but also the logistical problems en­countered today in photo­graphing city sites amidst busy streets and intersections, mammoth buildings and equipment malfunction. Most importantly, the book ad­dresses the issue of a city caught between a valuable past and a promising future. The images were not necessar­ily selected to flatter Philadel­phia, but to explore the way in which the city has dealt with the past. Philadelphia, it seems, is alternately jealous and proud of what it once was, and because of this perplexing state of mind, Philadelphians are as far away as ever from resolving this conflict between then and now. This book should help both resident and visitor to reconcile this dispar­ity or, at the very least, fully appreciate the dilemma that careful reading of the sensi­tively written text reveals.

 

A Man Who Loved the Stars

by John A. Brashear
University of Pittsburgh Press, 1988 (190 pages, paper, $9.95)

First published in 1924, this is the charming autobiography of a simple millwright whose mechanical genius led him to international renown. By day, John A. Brashear labored in the iron mills of Pittsburgh. At night, however, after the smoke and fire ceased to darken the city’s sky, he climbed the towering piles of pig iron out on the banks of the Allegheny River and gazed at the heavens. He began building and working with telescopes as an avocation and, in the course of his efforts, while still a millwright, he became expert in the grinding of mirrors, lenses and related astronomical apparatus. His technological innovations were hailed – and put to use – by astronomers throughout America and Europe. Al­though he was largely oblivi­ous to the significance of the basic science which was eluci­dated by measurements with his instruments, he had a profound effect on the devel­opment of physics and astron­omy. Brashear’s technological achievements revolutionized the grinding of optical lenses, and his perfectionism in grind­ing glass to a better tolerance than others could were of enormous value to optical spectroscopy – the study of the wavelength (color) distribution of the light emitted or ab­sorbed by a material. The story of how his hobby grew into his profession is told by the au­thor with great modesty, offer­ing fascinating glimpses of Pittsburgh, particularly its social and industrial life, in during the late nineteenth century. He attracted the friendship and financial sup­port of the great astronomer Samuel P. Langley; of the railroad magnate William Thaw; of the industrialist Henry Clay Frick; and of the philanthropist Andrew Carne­gie, who gave him twenty thousand dollars for the con­struction of the Allegheny Observatory. Brashear’s autobiography – which origi­nally appeared four years after his death – is written in a breezy, enigmatic and engag­ing style, providing the reader with an agreeable and almost effortless tour of Pittsburgh.