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.

Steel Poetry

Inspired by the various aspects of the steel industry in Bethlehem, Mildred T. Johnstone (1900-1988) created unusual canvas embroideries in the late 1940s and early 1950s. As the wife of Bethlehem Steel Corporation executive William H. Johnstone, she had the singular honor of being the first woman to tour the compa­ny’s steel mills. Although the mills have grown silent, Johnstone’s tapestries evoke their awesome power. Far from being realistic, literal renderings, her tapestries are vividly colored, modern, abstract, and highly textural interpretations that use steel making as a metaphor for life in the second half of the twentieth history.

Johnstone received her artistic training from a variety of sources. During World War II, she studied painting at the Barnes Foundation in Merion. She enjoyed painting, but realized her busy lifestyle did not lend itself to the medium. With her sec­ond husband, William H. Johnstone, in charge of financial and legal affairs for the company, the couple traveled extensively throughout the country and abroad on business. In the 1930s and early 1940s, Johnstone had created small needlework embroideries, including monogrammed towels, ecclesiastical items, and a wall hanging based on a Pennsylvania German motif. Although these projects kept her busy during her travels, they did not satisfy her aesthetic curiosity.

The turning point in Johnstone’s artistic career occurred in 1948 when her husband invited her to tour the sprawling steel works. While visiting the plant, she felt a flash of inspiration and envisioned herself as Alice in Wonderland, shrinking smaller and smaller against the backdrop of the cavernous structures. On subse­quent visits, she recorded the details of life in the mill with photographs. When asked which elements of steelmaking affected her most, she replied, “That is difficult to say. What you call the elements are something to be felt, not itemized. Perhaps one will be a giant hook silhouetted against the sky; another a hot metal car. Or I may stop and photograph the web-like tracery of a catwalk atop a blast furnace.”

Her next step was to find a collabora­tor who could translate her ideas .into visual form. In 1948, she began taking art classes with sculptor George Rickey at Muhlenberg College in Allentown. Rick­ey’s involvement with Johnstone’s early work was mainly as an advisor, and her first formal artistic collaboration occurred with Chilean muralist and painter Pablo A. Burchard, whom she met in South America in 1949. Together they worked on four needlepoints – Little Town of Bethlehem, Alice in a Wonderland of Steel, Little Man, What Now?, and Industrial Doll House – which became known as her “steel series.” John­stone was working on a fifth tapestry based on a design by Burchard, Bud­dha in the Blast Furnace, when she sought technical advice from Joseph Cantieni, who was teaching an art class at Muhlenberg College. Cantieni solved the problem by simplifying the design. From that moment on, Johnstone and Cantieni worked together.

In 1951, Muhlenberg College closed its art department and Cantieni suddenly found himself unemployed. At Johnstone’s request, her husband found him a position as artist-in-residence for the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, which he held until he retired, and which allowed him to continue to work with John­stone. They completed one of their first projects, a tapestry entitled Elec­tric Arc Furnace, in 1952. That year she also completed Pink Nude in a Black Ingot, her most personal response to the steel industry to that time. French surrealist writer Anaïs Nin was so moved by Pink Nude in a Black Ingot that she mentioned it in her diary in summer 1956. “I went to see the tapes­tries and they were rich in color,” Nin wrote. “They had the beauty of primitive paintings, a primitive looking for the first time at the machines and men at work. It was an extraordinary transposition turning into decorative abstract motifs all the various aspects of steel making.” In addition to Anaïs Nin, Mil­dred Johnstone counted artists, writers, and dancers among her friends and acquaintances, including fiber artist Lenore Tawney and furniture designer George Nakashima. During her far-flung travels with her husband, she met artists Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, and Françoise Gilot, and fashion photograph­er Willy Maywald.

Among her later tapestries are Land­scape of Steel (1957), her largest and most ambitious, which she worked on intermittently for the remainder of her life but never did finish, and The Peaceable King­dom (1960), in which she depicted Bethle­hem Steel Corporation executives seated at a table, recalling Christ and the apos­tles at the Last Supper. In the 1970s, she stitched a series of calligraphic needle­points in Japanese characters, for which she collaborated with the Reverend Eido Shimano Roshi, now abbot of the Zen Studies Society in New York. To the end, Joseph Cantieni remained a close friend and collaborator as well.

Poetry in a Steel Mill: Tapestries by Mil­dred T. Johnstone, an exhibition featuring twenty remarkable canvas embroideries from the needle of the artist, will open at the Allentown Art Museum on Sunday, January 5, 2003. Johnstone’s interests in theater, dance, and Zen Buddhism are the lenses through which she examined the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, and these interests are synthesized in her embroi­deries. The museum holds ten needle­point tapestries from Johnstone’s steel series, eight of which were given by the artist and her husband in 1976. The museum also owns nearly two dozen drawings by Joseph Cantieni and a fur­nishing fabric, Shipyards, designed by Cantieni for the steel company.

Poetry in a Steel Mill: Tapestries by Mil­dred T. Johnstone, accompanied by an illustrated catalogue, will continue through Sunday, March 16, 2003.

For more information, write: Allentown Art Museum, P.O. Box 388, Allen­town, PA 18105-0388; telephone (610) 432-4333; or visit the Allen­town Art Museum website. Admission is charged.

 

Palmer’s Panorama

Little did Jean Y. and Alvin L. Snowiss realize when they purchased, in 1976, their first painting, a Hudson River School landscape by Philadelphia artist Robert Street (1796-1865), how comprehensive their collection would become. Now, nearly thirty years later, it’s not only the inclusion of such names as Winslow Homer, Thomas Eakins, Geor­gia O’Keefe, Charles Demuth, John Sin­gleton Copley, Marsden Hartley, Albert Bierstadt, William Harnett, Childe Has­sam, Charles Willson Peale, John Sloan, Arthur Dove, and John Marin that mark theirs as a premier collection. The Snowiss collection contains works by lesser-known painters that are as stylistically and thematically accomplished as those included in the litany of works by the more canonical artists. The Snowisses appear to be most interested in works of art as culturally illuminating narratives, or those that “ten good stories.” These paintings are sophisticated monuments of art history, but they also represent identifiable American themes and are immediately accessible to all. Even the briefest of conversations with the collectors confirm what the art suggests, namely that they have thoroughly researched each of the pieces and “enjoy a meaningful cultural dialogue with them.”

Collectors and staunch advocates of American art, Jean Y. and Alvin L. Snowiss, longtime residents of Lock Haven, Clinton County, have shown parts of their collection throughout the United States and Europe. They made their most significant contributions to the Pennsylvania State University’s Palmer Museum of Art, located on the University Park campus in Centre County. They were honored in 1994, 1998, and again in 2002 for their contributions of time, effort, and money to the university and its museum. Among the donations of works of art to the Palmer Museum of Art is a significant piece by Edward Hopper.

The inaugural exhibition in the Palmer Museum of Art’s recently unveiled William Hull Gallery, An Endless Panora­ma of Beauty: Selections from the Jean and Alvin Snowiss Collection of American Art, showcases more than fifty works, including one of Homer’s most prized later watercolors depicting Prout’s Neck, Maine; a signature portrait by Copley just before he moved to England; and one of the finest oil studies Eakins ever produced. With particular strengths in still life, genre, and landscape painting, the Snowiss collection is as intellectually rich as it is graphically sumptuous.

An Endless Panorama of Beauty cele­brates not only the expansion of the museum’s exhibition space and its ongo­ing efforts to augment its collection of American art, but also honors the long­time support of the Snowisses. The exhi­bition, accompanied by a full-color catalogue, will remain on view through Fri­day, May 16, 2003.

For more information, write: Palmer Museum of Art, Pennsylvania State Uni­versity, Curtin Road, University Park, PA 16802-2507; telephone (814) 865-7672; or visit the Palmer Museum of Art website. Admission is free.

 

Art Spectacular

A panopticon is a space in which a viewer can literally “see it all” by simply turning around. Panopticon: An Art Spec­tacular, an exhibit on view in the Heinz Galleries of the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, is conceived in a traditional nineteenth-century design. The exhibition presents five hundred works of art drawn from the museum’s vast holdings, includ­ing paintings, sculpture, decorative arts, and works on paper.

From the sixteenth through the nine­teenth centuries, most European and American art galleries were packed from floor to celling and wall-to-wall with paintings, bronze and marble statuary, curiosities, ancient artifacts, and virtuoso furniture. Galleries displayed the power and wealth of their owners, served as a visual encyclopedia of art, and stimulated the imaginations and intellects of artists and visitors alike. Panopticon: An Art Spec­tacular, a survey of Pittsburgh’s art treasures, extends this tradition into the twen­ty-first century.

Panopticon: An Art Spectacular showcas­es a large portion of the museum’s permanent collection while several exhibition spaces and halls are being renovated. The pieces on display have been completely reorganized – paintings are arranged by time and place of origin, furnishings by type, and sculpture by theme. This approach invites today’s museum­goers to reconsider the Carnegie Museum’s collecting history, including its policies and practices. Unconventional by today’s standards, Panopticon‘s design offers new visual and intellectual experiences. Audio tours, activity tracks, and a booklet are provided to encourage different ways of looking at art.

Panopticon: An Art Spec­tacular continues through Saturday, August 23, 2003. To obtain additional infor­mation, write: Carnegie Museum of Art, 4400 Forbes Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15213-0480; telephone (412) 622-3131; or visit the Carnegie Museum of Art website. There is a charge for admission.