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.

Abraham Lincoln’s Journey to Greatness

More than five hundred objects, artifacts, documents, and photographs have been assembled for a landmark exhibit newly opened at the Lehigh Valley Heritage Museum in Allentown. Abraham Lincoln’s Journey to Greatness explores the Keystone State’s impact on the sixteenth president’s life, political career, and rise to power. Lincoln’s great-great-grandfather Mordecai Lincoln and his son John (the president’s great-grandfather) once called Berks County home. Pennsylvania’s delegates to the 1860 Republican National Convention in Chicago shifted their votes to Lincoln, giving him the support necessary to win the party’s nomination.

Even though Pennsylvania helped nominate Lincoln for the presidency, he had never given a speech in the Keystone State prior to 1860. In early 1848 Congressman Lincoln served as an Illinois delegate to the Whig National Convention in Philadelphia supporting the nomination of General Zachary Taylor, but there is no record of him giving a speech. After the convention Lincoln is known to have given a series of speeches in Delaware and Massachusetts.

Lincoln declined requests to speak in the Commonwealth in 1860 when it might have helped his nascent presidential candidacy. After ten speeches in New England he wrote, “I shall be so far worn down, and also will be carried far beyond my allotted time, that an immediate return home will be a necessity with me. At this very sitting I am declining invitations to go to Philadelphia, Reading and Pittsburgh in Pa.” His refusals might have been caused by the fact that Pennsylvania had its own candidate for the Republican nomination, the powerful and influential Simon Cameron. A former Democrat, Cameron courted newspaper correspondents and publishers, relied on the support of old political allies, held interest in newspaper publishing, banking, and manufacturing, and enjoyed the backing of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company which reputedly controlled state politics. His tremendous power, observed a biographer, was relatively simple: “Here was a man who would make more personal exertions to oblige his ‘friends’ than perhaps any man who occupied a seat in the Senate of the United States.”

Lincoln’s ability to work with Cameron and Governor Andrew Gregg Curtin and their factions in 1860 was illustrative of his political dexterity, although his finesse was severely tested by the divisiveness of both Cameron’s and Curtin’s followers who engaged in explosive combat against one another. The presidential campaign in Pennsylvania was marred by scandal, deceit, and manipulation, all of which affected Lincoln and his rise to the presidency. It pitted statesmen against statesmen. The discussion of cabinet secretaries selected by Lincoln erupted in a firestorm that appeared insurmountable. But Lincoln persevered.

On his way to the White House the president-elect stopped in Pittsburgh on February 14-15, 1861, where he spoke on the problems in the South, the question of a tariff, the shoring up of industry and manufacturing in the country, and the financial condition of the nation’s treasury. During his inaugural journey he also visited Philadelphia for two days, February 21–22, and addressed similar topics. On the morning of February 22 he and his entourage traveled to Harrisburg where he spoke at a downtown hotel, addressed the General Assembly of Pennsylvania, attended a dinner, and continued on to Washington, D.C., passing through Baltimore, Maryland, but making no appearance.

In addition to its contributions to Lincoln’s election, Pennsylvania also assisted him by providing men after he issued a request for seventy-five thousand volunteers following the Confederate assault on Fort Sumter in South Carolina’s Charleston Harbor in April 1861. Pennsylvanians again responded to his call for fifty thousand troops in 1862. Following setbacks suffered by the Union in 1862, among them the loss of sixteen thousand soldiers during the Peninsula Campaign in southeastern Virginia between June 25 and July 1, Governor Curtin convened a meeting of thirteen governors from Northern and border states in Altoona, Blair County. The meeting, known later as the Loyal War Governors’ Conference, or more simply as the Altoona Conference, was held on September 24-25. Curtin had hoped to reconcile participants’ differences so that they could unify and unequivocally support Lincoln. During the meeting the governors drafted an address for adoption by those in attendance. They “pledged their most loyal and cordial support” to the president and expressed their “heartfelt gratitude” for his Emancipation Proclamation. They also urged Lincoln to create “a force of 100,000 reserve troops” and replace George B. McClellan as commander of the Union forces, a recommendation he carried out six weeks later. The Loyal War Governors’ Conference buttressed Lincoln’s decision to end slavery, solidified Northern unity, and boosted the morale of the Union army.

“Pennsylvania played critical roles in sending Lincoln to the White House,” says Joseph Garrera, executive director of the Lehigh Valley Heritage Museum, “as well as supporting him during the difficulties and challenges he faced during his administration. Pennsylvanians, including Curtin and Cameron, participated in his campaign and cabinet, Cameron as Secretary of War, and Curtin as staunch advocate and the Commonwealth’s ‘War Governor.’ The intent of Abraham Lincoln’s Journey to Greatness is to educate the public about the deep associations between the president and Pennsylvania. This aspect is often overlooked and the museum explains how and why they occurred. Few might realize that Lincoln relied on Curtin as one of his most trusted advisors – in fact, the governor visited the president at least three times in April, once in May, and again in September 1861. They discussed troops, money, and political support.”

More than three thousand square feet of exhibit space chronicles the epic saga of Lincoln’s presidency. More than fifty pieces of Lincoln statuary, some dating to as early as 1860, are on view, including John Rogers’ esteemed Council of War (1868) depicting the president, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, and General Ulysses S. Grant. Significant artifacts featured in Abraham Lincoln’s Journey to Greatness are a cane carved from the gallows from which Lincoln assassination co-conspirators were hanged; extremely rare original photographs made during his administration; casts molded from the president’s hands and once owned by the original sculptor Leonard Wells Volk; relics and souvenirs of the assassination, such as a piece of silver bullion fringe that adorned his railroad funeral car in 1865; and a selection of historic newspapers, including the New York Herald and Frank G. Leslie’s Weekly.

Abraham Lincoln’s Journey to Greatness continues through June 30.

The Lehigh Valley Heritage Museum, one of several historic sites and museums administered by the Lehigh County Historical Society, is a teaching institution that attracts diverse audiences. Its collections include thirty thousand three-dimensional objects, three million documents, and more than seventy-five historical and vintage images.

To plan a visit, write: Lehigh Valley Heritage Museum, 432 West Walnut St., Allentown, PA 18102; telephone (610) 435-1074; or visit the Lehigh Valley Heritage Museum website.


Modern Women at PAFA: From Cassatt to O’Keefe

Philadelphia’s venerable Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) is presenting Modern Women at PAFA: From Cassatt to O’Keefe featuring the work of more than twenty female artists that explore the themes of motherhood and beauty, the natural landscape, self-portraiture, women in their community, female illustrators, and modern women in motion. Continuing through September 1, the exhibit includes works of art by Mary Cassatt, Susan Macdowell Eakins, Cecelia Beaux, Violet Oakley, Bessie Potter Vonnoh, Emily Clayton Bishop, Elizabeth Sparhawk-Jones, Hilda Belcher, Sara Carles, and Georgia O’Keefe. “I predict an hour when the term ‘Women in Art’ will be as strange sounding a topic as the title ‘Men in Art’ would be now,” Beaux declared in 1915. Learn more by visiting the PAFA website.


Aaronel deRoy Gruber: Art(ist) in Motion

Aaronel deRoy Gruber, a prominent Pittsburgh artist, turned to sculpting in the early 1960s at the urging of fellow artist David Smith. On view at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art, Greensburg, through June 1, Aaronel deRoy Gruber: Art(ist) in Motion highlights the artist’s sculpture exploration, from welded steel and formed aluminum to shaping Plexiglass into colorful vacuum-formed works that are both illuminated and motorized. Gruber embarked on her career of more than six decades working in two dimensions on canvas that quickly evolved into three-dimensional shaped canvases. It was a natural evolution for the artist whose inquisitive nature led her to continually adapt her medium and working method from painting to sculpture and from photography to video. While this exhibit focuses on Gruber’s foray into sculpture, it includes examples of her painting, photography, and video. Art(ist) in Motion continues through Sunday, June 2. Visit the Westmoreland Museum of American Art website for more information.


Remembering the Battle of Gettysburg: The Civil War Art of Mort Kunstler

Commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3), the Reading Public Museum will open an exhibition entitled Remembering the Battle of Gettysburg: The Civil War Art of Mort Kunstler on Saturday, April 27. A popular historical artist, Kunstler began his series of Civil War-related depictions in the early 1980s following a commission he was given by CBS to create a piece for the television miniseries The Blue and the Gray. The work, The High Water Mark, noted for its meticulous accuracy, was unveiled on July 2, 1988, at the Gettysburg National Military Park in observance of the 225th anniversary of the battle. Nearly thirty sketches, paintings, and etchings by Kunstler will be featured in Remembering the Battle of Gettysburg, which runs through July 28. For information and visiting hours, consult the Reading Public Museum website.