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.

Grand Manner

Born in Nescopeck, Luzerne County, Peter Frederick Rothermel (1812-1895) was once one of the most celebrated his­tory painters in the United States (see “Painting for Peer, Patron, and the Public” by Kent Ahrens in the spring 1992 edition of Pennsylvania Heritage). Neglected for decades, he is at last being celebrated in a major exhibition, “Painting in the Grand Manner: The Art of Peter Frederick Rothermel (1812-1895),” on view at the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford through Sunday, November 19 [1995].

One of Philadelphia’s best known artists of the nineteenth century, Rothermel was considered by many dur­ing his life to be the country’s most important history painter. After his death, however, his works became virtu­ally forgotten and his reputation grew obscure. Featuring twenty-eight paint­ings, nearly fifty drawings, and a selection of photographs and engravings, “Painting in the Grand Manner” is the first comprehensive exhibition of the art of Rothermel since his death at the age of eighty-three.

Peter Frederick Rothermel – honored by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission with a state histori­cal marker erected in Nescopeck – remained true to the tradition of grand style history painting longer than any other nineteenth­-century American painter. He built his reputation on such works as De Soto Raising the Cross on the Banks of the Mississippi (1851), The Landing of the Pilgrims (1854), King Lear (1858), Christ Among the Doctors (1861), and Thou Art the Man (1884).

In 1866, Rothermel accepted a com­mission from the General Assembly of Pennsylvania to commemorate the July 1863 Battle of Gettysburg. Pickett’s Charge, one of five paintings created dur­ing the assignment, was first shown in Philadelphia in December 1870. “In the Academy of Music last evening, under the auspices of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts,” wrote one observer, “Rothermel’s Great Picture of the Battle of Gettysburg was unveiled. A master work of art, the large canvas was stretched behind the curtain on the stage, brilliantly lighted up multitudes of gas jets in the flies and wings, stretched in such a way and position as to be dis­tinctly seen from every portion of the house …. ” Pickett’s Charge is on perma­nent exhibit at The State Museum of Pennsylvania, Harrisburg.

Active in Philadelphia’s art circles, Rothermel served as an instructor and director at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the nation’s first art mu­seum and art school, founded in 1805. He also served as president of the Academy’s council of academicians. His death ended a long and prolific career devoted to art, and signified the passing of the genre of grand style historic paint­ing in the United States.

In a history of Philadelphia published in 1884, the authors declared, “No Philadelphia artist is more widely known than Peter F. Rothermel.” While this claim was fully justified at the time, the name of Peter F. Rothermel is hardly fa­miliar today – even though reproductions of his depictions of dramatic historical moments illustrate many twentieth­-century textbooks and journals. His dis­tinctive compositions brim with color and highly expressive figures acting out episodes drawn from a variety of sources, including the Bible, the works of William Shakespeare, and British and American history. Rothermel’s fame declined as the type of art he practiced, history painting, fell out of favor with critics, fellow artists, and collectors attuned to mod­ernism. After a century of neglect, the work of Peter Frederick Rothermel is being examined and appreciated anew through the Brandywine River Museum’s exhibition.

“Painting in the Grand Manner: The Art of Peter Frederick Rothermel (1812-1895)” is accompanied by an illustrated exhibition catalogue.

The Brandywine River Museum is open daily, from 9:30 A. M. to 4:30 P. M. There is an admission charge.

To obtain additional information, write: Brandywine River Museum, P. 0. Box 141, Chadds Ford, PA 19317; or tele­phone (610) 388-2700.

 

Tricks of the Trade

What does it mean to be an apprentice?

The question is but one of many posed by “Tricks of the Trade: Apprenticeships in the Traditional Arts,” opening at the Erie Art Museum on Saturday, October 28 [1995], and continuing through Sunday, December 17 [1995]. Organized by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and the Pennsylvania Heritage Affairs Commission, the exhibi­tion celebrates the tenth anniversary of the Commonwealth’s apprenticeship program by documenting more than one hundred partnerships by artists and arti­sans engaged in a variety of traditional and ethnic art forms funded since 1984.

The process of apprenticeship is an ancient one of teaching and learning. Apprenticeships nurture and reinforce skills and knowledge that are of particu­lar importance to members of cultural groups. Within the larger context of cul­tural conservation, apprenticeships help society understand local traditions and preserve the meanings of these traditions in the face of great changes in civiliza­tion. Apprenticeships differ from lessons in a classroom because of the close rela­tionship that grows between the master and the apprentice. Masters and appren­tices usually work together for many years, forming a partnership and often becoming friends. Mentors and students also learn from each other by sharing ideas and developing new “tricks of the trade,” hence the title of this exhibition.

An apprenticeship involves more than the teaching of technical skills. Masters believe it is equally important to teach ap­prentices how the art or craft is integrated into their lives and culture. For masters, an apprenticeship is an opportunity to pass on stories about their own lives and experiences; for apprentices, it is a chance to learn more about their heritage and its traditions and customs. Arts and crafts perpetuated by the Pennsylvania Apprenticeships in the Traditional Arts program include African American tap dancing, Cambodian musical instrument making, Mennonite quilting, traditional Khmer folk dancing, Trinidadian steel drum making, Hmong metalsmithing, Pennsylvania German broom making, Ukrainian embroidering and weaving, Appalachian banjo playing, and Rumanian spinning, among others.

“Tricks of the Trade: Apprenticeships in the Traditional Arts” features pho­tographs of project participants – both masters and apprentices – involved in their specific art or craft, accompanied by narrative text and objects and artifacts. The exhibit honors traditional artists from throughout Pennsylvania and celebrates the diversity of the Commonwealth’s cul­tures. It will feature several performances by participants.

Museum visiting hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 11 A. M. to 5 P. M.; Sunday, 1 to 5 P. M. Admission is charged.

For more information about “Tricks of the Trade,” write: Erie Art Museum, 411 State St., Erie, PA 16501; or telephone (814) 459-5477.

 

Making a Case

Just as the invention of printing in the fifteenth century transformed the way texts were reproduced, the Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth century changed the way books were bound. Between 1830 and 1900, bookbinding evolved from a hand craft to a com­pletely mechanized process as new machines were invented.

Books covered with doth began to appear on the shelves of booksellers’ shops about 1830. Cloth bindings were made possible by technological improvements which took place in the late 1820s and early 1830s: the development of a new way to treat cloth so that it was usable as a binding material; the adaptation of the case binding technique which allowed bindings to be manufactured in assembly line fashion; and improved machinery to decorate the cloth. From 1830 to the close of the nineteenth century, cloth case binding evolved in design and technique from modest, cloth-covered books with paper labels, to elaborately embellished bindings designed by professional artists and produced with increasingly compli­cated machines. Nineteenth-century publishers’ cloth case bindings were forerunners of today’s commercially bound books.

“Making a Case for Cloth: Publishers’ Cloth Case Bindings, 1830-1900,” currently on view at the Library Company of Philadelphia, chronicles the revolutionary story of the development of the hard bound, cloth case book. Nearly one hun­dred stunning examples drawn from the Library Company’s collections illustrate the stylistic and technological evolution of the cloth case binding. These examples prove that the new cloth-covered bind­ings were more than just inexpensive substitutes for costly books bound in leather. Binders almost immediately real­ized the infinite possibilities of the new materials, and this exhibition traces the changing styles of cloth binding, from the earliest experimental gold stamping of the 1830s to the elaborately decorated bindings of the mid-nineteenth century and, finally, to the paper book jacket of 1900, which signaled the end of deco­rated cloth binding and the beginning of the modern machine-made book of the twentieth century. “Making a Case for Cloth” also reveals how styles not only changed with new technologies and ma­terials, but also with changing tastes and fashions in the architecture and the deco­rative arts.

“Making a Case for Cloth: Publishers’ Cloth Case Book Bindings, 1830-1900,” will continue through Friday, December 22 [1995].

The Library Company’s gallery hours are Monday through Friday, 9 A. M. to 4:45 P. M. Admission is free.

Additional information is available by writing: The Library Company of Philadelphia, 1314 Locust St., Philadelphia, PA 19107-5698; or by tele­phoning (215) 546-3181.

 

More Modotti!

The Philadelphia Museum of Art has mounted the first comprehensive exhibi­tion of the photography of Tina Modotti (1896-1942), called “the best-known unknown photographer of the twentieth century.” Modotti’s unconventional and independent spirit, her legendary beauty, and her liaisons with well-known artists and revolutionaries resulted in much being written about her life. Her impor­tant and original aesthetic has been obscured by the fascination with the de­tails of her personal history, coupled with the fact that nearly all of her sig­nificant work was produced outside the artistic centers of both Europe and the United States. Simply entitled “Tina Modotti: Photographs,” the ex­hibit redresses such misplaced attention by showcasing more than one hundred vintage prints and six modern images, nearly half of which have rarely or never been displayed or published. The exhibit is the result of six years of finding and selecting works from more than fifty private and public collections in the United States, Mexico, Canada, Germany, England, the Netherlands, and Australia.

It is not surprising that Tina Modotti’s life was the stuff of tabloids in her own time and continues to intrigue biographers today. She was born in northern Italy to a poor and radically inclined family. At the age of fourteen, she was forced to leave school and work in a silk factory. Her father, who had immigrated to the United States, sent for Modotti when she was sixteen years old. Her meteoric rise from seamstress to beloved star of the Italian theater in San Francisco opened a new life for Modotti and led to a propitious marriage to a visionary painter and poet, Robo de Richey. The couple moved to Los Angeles, where she acted in silent films while moving in a circle of bohemian writers and artists, in­cluding photographer Edward Weston, eventually becoming his model and lover.

Following the death of her husband, Modotti and Weston moved in 1923 to Mexico and opened a photography stu­dio. They made an agreement that Weston would teach her photography, taking her on as a studio assistant, while she, flu­ently speaking Spanish, would run the household and the business. Modotti adopted the “straight” aesthetic of her mentor, while creating her own modernist vision much affected by the enormous so­cial changes taking place in Mexico.

It was in Mexico that Modotti became politically active and increasingly tried to fuse her aesthetic interests with her so­cial concerns. This fusion was fostered by her friendships with politically moti­vated vanguard artists of the Mexican mural movement, including Diego Rivera, and among the Estridentistas, the proponents of the Mexican interpretation of Futurism. Modotti was keenly aware of the modernist movements abroad, and she brought Weston’s lessons of formal­ism to bear on the socially pertinent, modernist photography emanating from Russia and Germany.

The artistic sensibility that produced Modotti’s delicate flower pictures and sensitive portraits now created powerful images of Mexican workers, dignified portrayals of women of the matriarchal society of the Tehuantepec Isthmus, and vivid “revolutionary icons.” Several of her photographs which appeared interna­tionally in both art journals and in left wing periodicals, such as El Machete (Mexico), New Masses (United States), and Arbeiter Illustrierte Zeitung (Germany), are included in this exhibition.

Modotti’s increasing commitment to the Communist Party, together with highly publicized associations with revo­lutionary leaders (one of whom was assassinated in her presence), prompted the Mexican government to place her under constant surveillance. Realizing she might be forced to flee Mexico at any moment, Modotti hastily organized a show of her work. “I feel that if I leave the country,” she wrote to Weston, “I al­most owe it to the country to show, not so much what I have done here, but es­pecially what can be done.” The show of her photographs in December 1929 “caught and expressed the social unrest of the Mexico of today,” wrote critic and editor Frances Toor in Mexican Folkways.

Tina Modotti was deported in 1930 as a suspected conspirator in a plot to as­sassinate Mexico’s president. She lived briefly in Berlin and moved to Moscow, giving up photography entirely in order to work full-time for the party. She was finally able to return to Mexico in 1942, shortly after which she died.

“Tina Modotti: Photographs,” which coincides with the centennial of the pho­tographer’s birth, includes portraits of fellow artists, images of Mexican work­ers and peasants, still lifes, street scenes, photographs of folk objects and mari­onettes, documentary views of works created by Mexican muralists (enabling them to attract international attention), and a few photographs made in Germany, which were among the last works she produced. The exhibition is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue.

“Tina Modotti: Photographs” will continue through Sunday, November 26 [1995]. The exhibition will then travel to the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas (from December 17, 1995, through February 26, 1996), and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (from March 28 through June 2, 1996).

For more details, write: Philadelphia Museum of Art, P. O. Box 7646, Philadelphia, PA 19101-7646; or telephone (215) 684-7860. Admission is charged.