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.

Constitution Center

Drawn up by nearly five dozen dele­gates to the Constitutional Convention held in Philadelphia during the swelter­ing summer of 1787, the Constitution of the United States is a system of the nation’s fundamental laws, defining distinct powers for the Congress, the president, and the federal courts. Ratified by the states the following year, the Constitution offers a division of authority known as a system of checks and balances and ensures that none of the branches of government can dominate the others. The Constitution also establishes and limits the authority of the federal government over the states and spells out freedoms and liberties for citizens.

The Constitutional Convention opened on May 25, 1787, when a quo­rum of delegates arrived at the State House, now Independence Hall. The distinguished gathering brought together many of the nation’s most prominent individuals, including George Washington, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and the ailing Benjamin Franklin. When Thomas Jefferson heard who had been appointed, he wrote to John Adams, “It is really an assembly of demi-gods.” Conspicuously absent were Jefferson, in Paris as ambassador to France, and Adams, in London as ambassador to Great Britain. At least one delegate came from each state except Rhode Island. Of the seventy-four appointees, fifty-five attended. Virginia’s Patrick (“Give me liberty, or give me death”) Henry refused to participate, fearing that the convention would concentrate too much power in the central government.

The delegates settled most of the scores of issues quickly, but four prickly questions proved far more difficult to resolve: conflicts over how the citizens were to be represented in Congress; what to do about slavery; the powers of the president and the procedures for election to the office; and the powers and functions of the feder­al courts. After numerous debates and votes settled the details, a committee on style and revision was assigned in early September to put the final results in language to submit to the people for ratification. This committee consisted of Hamil­ton, Madison, Pennsylvania’s Gouverneur Morris, William Samuel Johnson of Con­necticut, and Rufus King of Massachusetts. According to Madison, it was Morris who was largely responsible for the Con­stitution’s language and style. The framers approved the text of the Constitution on September 15, and on September 17 all but three of the remaining delegates signed.

Philadelphia’s newly-opened National Constitution Center (NCC), the world’s first museum dedicated exclusively to the history and impact of the document, is a revolutionary new educational outreach center that features state­-of-the-art multi-media interactive exhibits, sculpture, photographs, film, objects and artifacts, and documents, as well as a theater seating three hundred and fifty visitors. Established in 1988 under the Constitution Heritage Act, the NCC is charged with increasing the public’s awareness and understanding of the Constitution, its history, and its relevance in daily life.

The visitors’ experience begins with a permanent exhibition, The Story of We the People, introduced by a show combining a live actor with multi-media elements that tell the early story of the Constitution. As visitors make their journey through constitutional history, they discover that the Constitution affects nearly every facet of their lives. Through interactive components, visitors learn how the Constitution affects how the government functions. They also are made aware of current constitutional issues. To learn more about Philadelphia’s newest attraction, write: National Constitution Center, 525 Arch St., Philadelphia, PA 19106; telephone (215) 409-6600; or visit the National Constitution Center website. Admission is charged.

 

Harris Cache

For four decades, from 1936 until 1975, Charles “Teenie” Harris (1908-1998) photographed Pittsburgh’s African American community for the Pittsburgh Courier, one of the country’s most influential black newspapers, which at one time published four nation­al editions, as well as issues for African, West Indian, and Filipino readers. The Pittsburgh Courier, which enjoyed its hey­day from 1930 to roughly 1960, turned World War II into a double campaign for many African Americans as it reported the sufferings and accomplishments of black soldiers, while at the same time demanded that the United States end discrimination and racial segregation. Not only did he record personalities and events during a period of momentous change for black Americans, but Harris also captured tens of thousands of ordinary individuals at work and at play, creating a richly detailed visual history of twentieth-century African American life.

Harris, whose career with the Pitts­burgh Courier spanned four decades, from 1936 to 1975, is credited with producing one of the most complete and comprehensive portraits of the urban experience of Black Americans ever created. As a news photographer, Harris often created noteworthy images of politicians, athletes, and entertainers. In President John F. Kennedy Speaking at Mon­essen, Pa. (1961), Harris captured the president surrounded by an audience that packed the narrow streets and spilled out of windows and onto fire escapes of nearby buildings. Made twen­ty years earlier, Duke Ellington Signing Autographs (1940) caught a beaming Ellington thronged by adoring fans. Bill “Bojangles” Robinson Dances with an Unidentified Woman (1939) froze in time a moment of infectious joy as the energetic dancer playfully mugged and capered for the camera.

Harris captured much more than visiting celebrities and news events. The variety of photographs he made records the strength and vitality of an often-overlooked community. For example, Harris’s Intersection of Wylie and Herron Avenues, taken in the heart of the Hill District, Pittsburgh’s most important black neigh­borhood, shows a thriving business district that no longer survives. In The VFW Band, smartly uniformed young musicians line up for a parade, smiling confidently as they cradle their shiny instruments. Four Elderly Women an a Swing at the Lemington House (1947) captures prim­ly dressed women with expressions of calm propriety on a porch swing. Coal Miner, Library, Pa. (1947) depicts a solitary miner before empty railcars at the gaping mouth of a mine, his clothing heavily soiled, and his resolute countenance attesting to years of hard work spent toil­ing in the darkness underground.

Harris loved making pictures, and his images not only illustrated articles for the Pittsburgh Courier, but they also illu­minated Pittsburgh’s African American community about which even Pitts­burghers knew very little. With camera in hand, he roved through alleys, churches, factories, nightclubs, schools, and ballparks, documenting black Pitts­burghers with his well-crafted photographs. His photographs create a historically and sociologically accurate record of the city spanning a remarkable forty years, which included the period just before, during, and following the civil rights movement.

As a photojournalist, freelancer, and portrait photographer, Harris produced nearly one hundred thousand images. Pittsburgh’s Mayor David L. Lawrence nicknamed him “One Shot” because while other photographers were taking multiple pictures of him, Harris snapped only one shot. During public events, Lawrence deferred to Harris, waiting for him to take his one shot.

Until recently, Harris’s news (or “street”) photographs were considered to be little more than ephemera. Self­-taught – he quit school in the eighth grade – Harris, who could not read well, signed an agreement in 1986 with a local photography dealer, virtually giving away his entire archive of more than eighty thousand images for a mere three thousand dollars. Shortly before his death in 1998, Harris hired attorney Cyn­thia Kernick to force the unscrupulous businessman to return the photographs. Kernick, who made a deathbed promise to Harris that she would recover his life’s work, eventually succeeded by winning a federal lawsuit and returned the pic­tures to the Harris family. The photogra­pher’s archive, described by museum curators as “an incomparable record of historic events and daily life in Pitts­burgh’s African American community,” was acquired by the Carnegie Museum of Art in 2001. The images, in negative format, have also been characterized as compelling, eloquent, and fascinating.

Continuing through Sunday, Novem­ber 16 [2003], Documenting Our Past: The Teenie Harris Archive Project at the Carnegie Museum of Art presents three hundred prints drawn from the largest single col­lection of photographic images of any black community in the world. Aug­mented by thirty-five hundred photo­copied images, the exhibition offers a glimpse of the social, cultural, and eco­nomic life of Pittsburgh’s black residents during a tumultuous period of the twen­tieth century.

For more information, write Carnegie Museum of Art, 4400 Forbes Ave., Pitts­burgh, PA 15213-4080; telephone (412) 622-3131; or visit the Carnegie Museum of Art website. There is a charge for admission.

 

A Stitch in Time

The Flag of the United States, popularly called the American flag, consists of thirteen horizontal stripes, seven red alternating with six white, symbolizing the thirteen colonies that originally constituted the United States of America. The canton, or rectangular blue field, containing fifty white stars in the upper corner near the staff, represents the forty-six states and the commonwealths of Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Virginia, and Kentucky. Because of its stars, stripes, and colors, the American flag is frequently called the “Star-Spangled Banner,” “Stars and Stripes,” “the Red, White, and Blue,” and “Old Glory.”

To meet the growing need for a flag symbolic of its cause, the Continental Congress appointed, in late 1775, a special committee consisting of Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Benjamin Har­rison of Virginia, and Thomas Lynch of South Carolina, who conferred with George Washington and other revolution­ary leaders. On June 14, 1777, Congress passed a resolution for the appearance of a flag, but official announcement was not made until September 3 of that year. When this flag was first flown has not been determined and intensive historical research has failed to establish a factual foundation for the traditional story that Elizabeth Griscom (1752-1836) – better known as Betsy Ross – made the first flag at the behest of Washington, Robert Mor­ris, and George Ross who had secretly met with her.

Because Congress had made no rule for the arrangement of the flag’s stars, they were displayed in different ways, of which the most usual arrangement was in a circle. Occasionally the circle was made to consist of twelve stars, with the thirteenth star forming the center of the circle. As new states joined the Union, they demanded representation in the flag’s stars and stripes. In 1795, Congress voted to increase to fifteen the number of stars and stripes, but legislation enacted in 1818 reestab­lished the number of stripes at thirteen and instituted the policy, “that on the admission of every new state into the Union, one star be added to the union of the flag.” The fiftieth star was added in 1960 when Hawaii was admitted to the Union.

On view through Sunday, January 4, 2004, at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts is Our Flag, an exhibition that explores visual interpretations of patrio­tism and liberty in works drawn from the institution’s permanent collection. In addi­tion to chronicling the evolving symbolism of the flag, the exhibition traces changes in its design with Michele Felice Corne’s The Landing of the Pilgrims (1807), which depicts the Grand Union flag first flown in 1776, at Charlestown, Massa­chusetts. Known at first as the Continental flag and the Congress colors, this flag bore the cross of Saint Andrew and the cross of Saint George, bor­rowed from the British Union Jack. It may have been designed by Francis Hopkinson, of New Jersey, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. George Washington at Princeton (1779) depicts a flag emblazoned with a cir­cle of thirteen stars on a blue field, adopted by the Continental Congress in 1777.

Our Flag also includes George Washing­ton (The Lansdowne Portrait) (1796) by Gilbert Stuart, Militia Training (1841) by James Clenney, Union Soldiers at Camp (1863) by William Trost Richards, Fort Fis­cher (1870) by Xanthus Smith, Treat ’em Rough (1918) by Paulette van Roekens, Rhapsody in Steel (1939) by Francis Criss, West Chester Court House (1940) by Horace Pippin, Fourth of July (1944) by Constance Richardson, and Brother James (1968) by James Brantley.

Special tours and public programs, including workshops and lectures, accom­pany the exhibition.

For more information, write: Pennsyl­vania Academy of the Fine Arts, 118 North Broad St., Philadelphia, PA 19102; telephone (215) 972-7600; or visit the Pennsyl­vania Academy of the Fine Arts website. Admission is charged.