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.

Fancy That!

“Capricious Fancy: Draping and Curtaining, 1790-1930,” an exhibition tracing the history of design sources for draping and curtaining American and European interiors during the span of nearly one hundred and fifty years, will open at the Athenaeum of Philadelphia on Monday, December 6 [1993].

On view will be a selection of rare books, prints, and trade catalogues drawn from the Samuel J. Dornsife Collection of the Victorian Society in America, supplemented by objects and artifacts from the Athenaeum’s extensive holdings. Widely considered the finest private collection of its type in the United States, the Dornsife Collection has been recently acquired by the Athenaeum of Philadelphia.

Samuel J. Dornsife, a native of Williamsport, Lycoming County, began collecting original design sources in the 1930s, and gradually expanded his field of collecting in the 1950s to include London and Paris. Of more than antiquar­ian interest, these rare documents and images were central to his long and success­ful career of researching and providing historically signifi­cant and authentic designs for museums and private clients.

“Capricious Fancy: Draping and Curtaining, 1790-1930,” encompasses document sources ranging from Jacob Cats’ book of emblems, published in Amsterdam in 1655 and illustrating seven­teenth century Dutch bed curtains at the time of North American settlement, to Edward Thorne’s 1929 Decorative Draperies and Upholstery, featuring richly colored plates of suave, urban art deco designs. The exhibi­tion primarily concentrates on the nineteenth century, during which the industrialization of textile manufacturing brought fabrics within the reach of middle class households. Not surprisingly, the list of authors, artisans, and publishers is a virtual “who’s who” of the period, including Rudolph Ackermann, Pierre de La Mesangere, George Smith, Thomas King, Desire Guilmard, Bruce Talbert, and Charles L. Eastlake.

The exhibition will examine the designs of British and European artisans and trace the ways in which they influenced each other and their American counterparts. In several cases, the influence was direct: Philadelphia’s neo­classical architects William Strickland and Thomas Ustick Walter owned, respectively, copies of Jacques-Francois Blondel’s De La Distribution des Maisons de Plaisance (Paris, 1738) and Thomas Hope’s Household Furniture and Interior Decoration (London, 1807), both of which are included in “Capricious Fancy.” In addition, copies of John Claudius Loudon’s Encyclope­dia of Cottage, Farm, and Villa Architecture and Furnishings and Thomas Webster and Mrs. Parkes’ Encyclopedia of Domestic Economy circulated throughout the United States. In other cases, the influence is more subtle: Andrew Jackson Downing “borrowed” ideas from Loudon, a source also used by Louis A. Codey, who published drapery and curtain designs by La Mesangere and King in his popular Godey’s Lady’s Book.

“Capricious Fancy: Draping and Curtaining, 1790-1930,” on view through April 30, 1994, will be accompanied by an illustrated catalogue. Admission is free.

The Athenaeum of Philadel­phia is located on East Washington Square, near Independence National Historical Park in the city’s historic area. Visiting hours are Monday through Friday, 9 A. M. to 5 P. M.

On Saturday, December 4 [1993], the Athenaeum will sponsor a symposium featuring scholars who will discuss the growing availability of textiles in America and the degree to which British and American designs were obtainable and copied.

Upon the exhibition’s closing next spring, a full color reproduction version will be available to travel to historic sites and museums throughout the country. This unusual reproduction version, de­signed to be mounted on walls or panels, is intended for venues – particularly smaller museums and historic house museums – that lack the high security, strict environmental control, and special display cases to accommodate rare books and related ephemera.

Supported by members, the Athenaeum of Philadelphia is a library and museum founded in 1814 to collect and preserve materials “connected with the history and antiquities of America, and the useful arts, and generally to disseminate useful knowledge.” The Athenaeum’s research library, accessible to serious research­ers, is used each year by thousands of graduate students and senior scholars, architects, interior designers, museum curators, historic house administrators, and owners of private historic houses. The Athenaeum’s collection is especially strong in visual documentation for the period between 1800 and 1945.

For additional information regarding the exhibition, symposium, or traveling exhibit, write: Athenaeum of Philadelphia, 219 South Sixth St., Philadelphia, PA 19106-3794; or telephone (215) 925-2688.


World’s Fair Furnishings

Wharton Esherick (1887- 1970), a native of Philadelphia, studied painting at the old Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Arts and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA). In 1913, he moved to an old stone farm­house near Paoli, where he began to paint the rural surroundings. Seven years later, he began carving decorative frames for his paintings. This carving led first to the making of wood­cuts, and later sculpture, the medium in which he was best able to express his artistic concepts. Eventually his work placed him in the vanguard of modern American sculptors.

Esherick also began to make his own furniture. Many who visited his studio intending to purchase a painting bought instead a chair or table, or commissioned him to create entire rooms or design interiors. He is best known for his sculptural furniture and furnishings, for which he has been acclaimed as “the dean of American craftsmen.” His work has been featured at several world’s fairs, including New York, Brussels, and Milan, in addition to being the subject of exhibitions in museums and galleries throughout the world. Esherick is represented by objects in the permanent collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Whitney Museum, Metropoli­tan Museum of Art, and the Smithsonian Institution.

Wharton Esherick’s studio is set high on a wooded hillside overlooking the Great Valley and surrounded by the trees that were both his inspiration and his source of raw material. His studio is actually one of his monumen­tal achievements; he dedicated four decades to building, enlarging, and altering it. No detail escaped his attention. Esherick carved the doors, forged the hinges, shaped the copper sinks, sculpted the andirons, and hand-crafted the light switches and fixtures, door latches, stairs, kitchen cabinets and counters, even a set of coat pegs caricaturing the workmen who had helped him.

Upon his death in May 1970, Esherick’s heirs and friends decided to keep his studio and collection intact and make the site accessible to the public as the Wharton Esherick Museum. The structure, its contents, and the grounds have been preserved much as they were when Esherick lived and worked in what served him as home and showroom. Today, more than two hundred pieces of the artist’s work-paintings, prints, woodcuts, sculpture, furniture, utensils, and ceramics – remain on exhibit. The objects chronicle the artist’s progression from organic forms, through the sharp prismatic angles of cubism, to the swirling, lyrical forms for which he is best remembered. Also on view are models for commissioned interiors and submissions for sculpture competitions.

A special exhibition recently mounted by the studio, “A Pennsylvania Hill House: Wharton Esherick’ s World’s Fair Room, 1940,” showcases the distinctive furniture and furnishings made specifically for the New York World’s Fair. The room, which has been re-created for this exhibit, features a unique table and chair set that has not been publicly displayed for fifty years.

The New York World’s Fair of 1939-1940 prophesied “The World of Tomorrow,” and many corporations touted the mechanical and electronic wonders of the future. To accompany the numerous displays of these futuristic marvels, fair organizers – in an attempt to show how society would actually live in the future – developed a pavilion entitled “America at Home,” and commissioned sixteen prominent architects and designers to create its rooms. One of those commissioned was the socially prominent architect George Howe, who had only a few years earlier persuaded the conservative board of directors of the Philadelphia Savings Fund Society to use William Lecase’s modern design for its new skyscraper office space – a building which set the standard for urban architecture for nearly fifty years. For the “America at Horne” commission, Howe turned to Esherick, ultimately designing a space around the furnishings the craftsman had readily available at his studio. The room was simply christened “A Pennsylvania Hill House.”

How was this room received by fair-goers accus­tomed to faux antique furnishings and bedazzled by the “modernistic” chrome and plastic “furniture of tomor­row”? An enthusiastic Elizabeth McRae Boykin, writing for the Philadelphia Bulletin of June 4, 1940, was impressed by the beauty of its informality.

This hill house bases its decoration – if the word doesn’t sound too formal here – on local woods which are used for walls, furniture, and the rather astonishing staircase made of rough hewn oak without an outside rail. The furniture has a modern feeling though it’s not belligerent about it. The chairs are hand-made of hickory with leather drum-heads for seats. A curved upholstered bench has storage drawers below. The walls are paneled with random width boards of cherry, lighting fixtures are carved of wood. Wide windows and a mirrored wall give an open, spacious effect and prove that mirror isn’t necessarily so formal. “A Pennsylvania Hill House” … reminds us … that Pennsylvania has a pioneer tradition that translates well into a modern idiom.

“A Pennsylvania Hill House: Wharton Esherick’s World’s Fair Room, 1940,” will remain on view through Sunday, October 17 [1993].

Visiting hours are Tuesday through Friday, 10 A. M. to 4 P. M; Saturday, 10 A. M. to 5 P. M.; and Sunday, 1 to 5 P. M. There is a charge for admission, and reservations are required.

Additional in.formation is available by writing: Wharton Esherick Museum, P. O. Box 595, Paoli, PA 19301; or by telephoning (215) 644-5822.


Paper Works

Opening Friday, October 8 [1993], at the Allentown Museum of Art is an exhibition entitled “Joan Snyder: Works with Paper,” linking the artist’s paintings to her graphics and drawings. The exhibition will examine Snyder’s use of paper as a material incorporated within a painted surface and her work on paper as a support for her prints and drawings. More than fifteen paintings and forty-five prints and drawings will demon­strate the ways in which she uses the relationship of materials to the content to communicate meaning.

Joan Snyder has helped effect a return to content in painting – a content based not so much on representation as on feeling. A generation removed from abstract impressionism, Snyder’s impassioned style of painting and its critical success chal­lenged the seeming impassivity of the minimal and conceptual art movements of the 1970s. Today, as then, Snyder is committed to painting as a vehicle for the expression of ideas and emotions, from the poetical to the overtly political. She achieves this through her heavily impastoed canvases, which often incorporate unorthodox materials, such as pieces of fabric, barbed wire, plastic grapes, or drawings made by children. Frequently the success of her painted works depends upon the connotative meaning of these found materials and their juxtaposition on the canvas.

Born in Highland Park, New Jersey, in 1940, Joan Snyder lived in Martins Creek, Monroe County, for ten years, where she produced some of her most significant works, including Resurrection in 1977. An eight-part panel painting, Resurrection was acquired by the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. The subject of this painting is the life and death of a woman believed by the artist to have at one time lived on her Pennsylvania farm.

Snyder’s appreciation of paper as a material is first and best understood through its actual application in, and on, her paintings. “Joan Snyder: Works with Paper” will examine the artist’s use of paper as an applied element in such paintings as God Bless the Child (1980), which includes children’s drawings; Loves Deep Grapes (1984), which includes an original woodcut and the block from which it was printed; and Resurrection, which incorporates newspaper headlines and articles regard­ing acts of violence collected by Snyder, her sister, and her mother. In these creations, Snyder’s use of paper­ – whether a found item or an original work made expressly for the final painting – is distinguished graphically and texturally from the painted components of the canvas. It is frequently the paper, not the paint, that introduces the structure or subject matter of the finished work.

Joan Snyder’s use of paper for expressive ends is extended in her graphic work, in which her choice of medium­ – etching, woodcut, and monotype – is perfectly married to the subject and tone of her print. For instance, the painting Resurrection was followed in 1978 by an etching with aquatint of the same name and subject matter. The artist’s working proofs for this print, as well as the final version, will be featured in the exhibition, offering viewers a rare opportunity to study a successful transla­tion of a painting into its graphic equivalent.

Etching was the printing medium that first invited Snyder’s gestural and sponta­neous style. Its ability to record the freely drawn line, the degree of pressure applied in making the line, and the medium’s inherent tonality agree with Snyder’s preference for materials that are immedi­ate, expressive, and tactile. This preference also explains Snyder’s success with the woodcut image, evinced in such works as Dancing in the Dark (1982-1984), Mommy Why? (1983-1984), Things Have Tears and We Know Suffering (1984), and For the Children (1988), which will be on view. Snyder’s exploitation of the medium’s graphic power and directness to deliver pithy, frequently political (and certainly personal) messages suggests an affinity with German expressionist prints, an influence acknowledged by the artist.

Joan Snyder’s more lyrical side is expressed in a recent series of monotypes which take as their subject the landscape and female nudes well known to viewers familiar with her painted works. To create these monotypes, she painted directly on plates in oils and then transferred the images to handmade paper. While Snyder controls the paints as they are laid down, the final results are w1known to the artist until the print is removed from the press. In the transfer from plate to paper, shapes and colors merge under pressure, forming a fluid, almost sculptural surface – a printed effect that equals the expressive tonality of Snyder’s best paintings.

The artist’s drawings fall into two categories: finished works in watercolor or mixed­-media, and those executed as preliminary studies for her paintings. Her finished drawings are similar to her paintings; it is evident that in these she has worked an idea to closure, engaging paper as she does a canvas. In contrast, her preliminary drawings for paintings are skeletal, sche­matic renderings of ideas in which words frequently stand in the place of colors, objects, and emotions. With a graphic economy unusual for Snyder, these studies communicate the artist’s excitement and sense of urgency as a new idea unfolds first on paper and later on canvas.

“Joan Snyder: Works with Paper” will remain on view through January 2, 1994. The exhibition will be accompanied by a catalogue.

The Allentown Museum of Art is located in center-city Allentown on Fifth Street, between Hamilton and Linden streets. Visiting hours are Tues­day through Saturday, 10 A. M. to 5 P. M.; and Sunday, 1 to 5 P. M. Admission is charged.

Additional information is available by writing: Allentown Art Museum, P. O. Box 388, Allentown, PA 18105-0388; or by telephoning (215) 432-4333.


A Visual Heritage

The beauty of Bucks County has been admired and celebrated by generations of artists who lived and worked in the area since the opening of the twentieth century. The works of these artists are being presented – for the first time in history – in a comprehensive exhibition developed by the James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown.

“Visual Heritage of Bucks County,” a newly installed exhibition based on the museum’s permanent collec­tion, consists of the most complete collection of regional Bucks County art ever pre­sented to the public. The exhibition showcases more than forty works by primitive painters, limners, American impressionists, New Hope modernists, and abstract impressionists.

Opening with a circa 1837 canvas by primitive painter Edward Hicks (1780-1849), best known for his charming versions of the Peaceable Kingdom, “Visual Heritage of Bucks County” provides an in-depth survey of work by the county’s most prontinent artists of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (see “You Can Go Home Again: An Interview with James A. Michener” by Michael J. O’Malley III in the winter 1993 issue). The exhibition explores the beginning of the artists colony at New Hope, when William Langston Lathrop (1859-1938) purchased Phillips Mill, and drew younger artists to the area. Several examples of works by members of the Pennsylvania School of Landscape Painting are also represented in the exhibit.

Paintings by noted south­eastern Pennsylvania artists Edward Willis Redfield (1869- 1965), Robert Spencer (1879-1953), John Fulton Folinsbee (1892-1972), Daniel Garber (1880-1958), Rae Sloan Bredin (1881-1933), Charles Rosen (1878-1950), Walter Emerson Baum (1884-1956), and Fern I. Coppedge (1883-1951) are included, as are works by regional modernists Louis Stone (b. 1907) and precisionist painter Charles Sheeler (1883-1965).

Opposite New Hope, across the Delaware River, Lambertville, New Jersey, became an important haven in later years for several noted artists. The most famous artists were Lee Gatch (1902- 1968) and his wife Elsie Driggs (1898-1992). The two painters, whose work is featured in “Visual Heritage,” were among the best known modernists of the Bucks County region.

“Visual Heritage of Bucks County” will remain on view as a permanent installation.

Visiting hours are Tuesday through Friday, 10 A. M. to 4:30 P. M.; and Saturday and Sunday, 10 A. M. to 5 P. M. There is a charge for admission. Group tours are also available.

To obtain additional information, write: James A. Michener Art Museum, 138 South Pine St., Doylestown, PA 18901-4626; or telephone (215) 340-9800.


A Walk on the Wild Side

A landmark exhibition entitled “A Walk on the Wild Side: The Wissahickon Creek, 1800-1940,” will open to the public on Monday, October 18 [1993], at the Library Company of Philadelphia. Bringing together – for the first time – the visual and textual work of artists and writers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries who captured the landscape and life along the waterway, the exhibit probes the industrial heritage and social history of the Wissahickon Creek and its environs. “A Walk on the Wild Side: The Wissahickon Creek, 1800-1940,” also pays tribute to an area that has played an integral and important role in the lives of generations of Philadelphians (see “A Walk on the Wild Side: Philadelphia’s Wissahickon Creek” by Susan Oyama in the fall 1993 issue).

The natural beauty of the Wissahickon Creek attracted artists, writers, and pleasure seekers throughout the nineteenth century, despite the unchecked industrialization along its banks. The exhibition will showcase significant images selected from the extensive collections of the Library Company of Philadel­phia, in addition to featuring rare pieces loaned by a number of prestigious institu­tions, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the Atwater Kent Museum, and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Works of art in “A Walk on the Wild Side” will include William Trost Richards’ Wissahickon, which was awarded a bronze medal at the Centennial Exhibition held in Philadelphia in 1876; Stone Bridge Over the Wissahickon (1800), a rare gouache on paper by George Beck; and an oil painting each by Philadel­phia artists James Peale, Thomas Moran, and Carl Philipp Weber. Other high­lights will include photographs by John G. Bullock and John Moran; Joshua Shaw’s Picturesque Views of American Scenery, issued in 1820 by Mathew Carey and Son, containing the earliest published view of the Wissahickon Creek; and The Opal (1844), containing Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, “Morning on the Wissahiccon.” The creek is a recurring theme in the literary works of George Lippard, who was widely read during the nineteenth century.

Historically, the Wissallickon Creek was the source of power for fifty-four mills, half of them situated within Philadelphia city limits. A paper mill established by William Rittenhouse and William Bradford, which stood on the Monoshone Creek, later known as Paper Mill Run, a small tributary of the Wissahickon Creek, was the first in the British North American colonies. In addition to paper mills, the creek provided power for grist and lumber mills, as well as for mills that produced textiles, dyes, and linseed and flax oil.

The preservation of the Wissahickon Valley, as most know it today, resulted from Philadelphia’s need to pre­serve the purity of its drinking water. In 1855, a city ordi­nance was passed which “devoted and dedicated to public use, as a park, the Lemon Hill estate, to be known by the name of Fairmount Park.” Additional land acquisitions and gifts of estates along the Schuylkill River followed. The Fairmount Park Commission was established in 1867 to maintain the park, and the Wissahickon Creek and its banks were added to the park two years later. Not long afterwards, all potential water polluters, including the mills and most of the road houses, were demolished. In 1964, the Wissahickon Valley was designated a Registered National Natural Landmark. The valley continues to play a significant role in the lives of many Philadelphians – it is a place to find solitude, enjoy nature, and engage in recre­ational activities such as hiking, fishing, and biking.

“A Walk on the Wild Side: The Wissahickon Creek, 1800-1940,” will remain on view through March 18, 1994. Visiting hours at the Library Company of Philadelphia are Monday through Friday, 9 A. M. to 4:45 P. M. Admission is free.

A series of lunch-time lectures will accompany “A Walk on the Wild Side.” Linda Ferber, chief curator and curator of American paintings and sculpture for the Brooklyn Museum, will present a talk entitled “Vistas of Beauty: Artists and the Wissahickon” on Thursday, October 28 [1993]. This lecture will focus on painter William Trost Richards and his relationship to American and Philadelphia landscape artists. On Monday, February 7, 1994, Sioux Baldwin, a naturalist for the Andorra Natural Area, will examine the history and folklore of the Wissahickon Creek. She helped develop a nature center along the creek and is the author of a film about the area’s ecology, The Valley Green, produced in 1981. Industrial archaeologist Jane Mork Gibson will discuss the industrial history of the valley on Thursday, February 17, 1994. The lectures will be held at the Library Company.

A special weekend on-site lecture scheduled for Satur­day, November 6, will feature Robert Gutowski, curator for interpretation and consulting horticulturist of the University of Pennsylvania’s Morris Arboretum. The speaker will guide participants around a nineteenth century mill and the grounds of the nineteenth century estate of John Morris to discuss land use along the Wissahickon Creek. This program will begin at the Morris Arboretum.

All lectures are free and open to the public; however, reserva­tions must be made in advance.

For more information about the exhibit or to register for the lectures, write: Library Company of Philadelphia, 1314 Locust St., Philadelphia, PA 19107-5698; or telephone (215) 546-3181.