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.

Peale Power

The story of two generations of Philadelphia’s Peale family of artists and naturalists is one of the most captivating chapters in American history. Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827) and his chil­dren Raphaelle (1774-1825), Rembrandt (1778-1860), Rubens (1784-1865), and Titian Ramsey (1799-1860), Charles Willson’s brother James (1749-1831) and James’s children, Anna Claypoole (1791-1878), Margaretta (1795-1882), Maria (1787-1866), and Sarah Miriam (1800-1885) and Charles and James’s nephew, Charles Peale Polk (1767-1822), have been called “the most talented family raised in Revolutionary America.” The careers of these remarkably long-Lived individuals spanned more than a century, and their art includes distinctive portraits, inviting landscapes, and sumptuous still lifes.

In addition to creating thousands of works of art, the Peales were explorers, inventors, writers, lecturers, educators, and founders of art and educational in­stitutions. They worked as artists to earn their livelihoods, but they were moti­vated by a profound belief in the social value of art, and by their understanding that their art and institutions contributed to the improvement of fellow citizens and the elevation of the national character.

“The Peale Family: Creation of a Legacy, 1770-1870,” a monumental exhibi­tion of nearly two hundred pieces, has been organized by the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Opening on Saturday, November 2 [1996], the exhibition will include portraits, ranging from glimpses of inti­mate family moments to iconic depictions of Revolutionary War heroes, including George Washington; historical narratives, including scenes from the American Revolution; landscapes; publications and artifacts; and the lavish still lifes that were made an important art form by the Peales in the early nineteenth century.

From 1776, at the age of thirty-five, until his death at eighty-six, Charles Willson Peale lived mainly in Philadelphia, having been drawn from his native Maryland by the port city’s preeminence in population, trade, and culture. An ardent patriot, he fought with Washington’s army in New Jersey at Trenton and Princeton. His energetic personality and inquiring mind perfectly embodied the republican spirit of the new nation, and after the founding of the United States, he launched a period of public activity and creativity during which he worked to establish and im­prove the organizations which supported American art, science, and intellectual pursuits. Peale was a promi­nent figure in the thriving city that for a time was the nation’s capital and for decades afterwards a cultural and finan­cial center of the country – a dynamic community in which democracy, capital­ism, and individualism were rapidly becoming dominant traits of the larger culture. He conceived the portraits that he painted during these years as serving the cause of history. His portraits of military heroes, legislators, diplomats and statesmen, writers, and philosophers, many of whom were his friends, were designed to tell the story of America’s valiant fight for independence and the efforts to establish a new nation.

In 1794, Charles Willson Peale “re­tired” from portraiture, leaving it to his brother James and his sons Raphaelle and Rembrandt, to pursue his interest in natural sciences, and to develop the Philadelphia Museum, the first museum in America, which he had established in 1784, and which has been called his most important contribution to American cul­ture. He envisioned his museum to be a “world in miniature,” illustrating the chain of life on earth, and the organiza­tion of the universe from its simple forms of animal and plant life to its high­est form – mankind. Popular, democratic, open, and inclusive, this uniquely “new” American style of museum created by Peale was further developed by rus sons in their management of museums in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New York. The Peales pioneered the marriage of professional curatorial practice with mass appeal, which fruitfully synthe­sized the wealth of new scientific discovery and popular culture for public education. The museum experience, in turn, influenced the Peales’ own art, pro­viding the artists with subjects for portraits, narrative paintings, and scien­tific illustration, and inspiring them to depict “the fruits of nature” in tempting still lifes of fruits and vegetables they had introduced in America.

Underlying “The Peale Family: Creation of a Legacy, 1770-1870,” are three broad themes: the idea of the family in America to the mid-nineteenth century; the influence of changing political and so­cial ideology on artistic production; and the uses and functions of art in America from the eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth century. Within the context of these issues, the richly productive lives and achieve­ments of the entire family stand out even more dearly as an enduring legacy for art and life in America.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is the first venue for “The Peale Family: Creation of a Legacy, 1770-1870,” which will travel to San Francisco and Washington, D.C. The exhibition will re­main on view in Philadelphia through Sunday, January 5, 1997.

For more information, write: Philadelphia Museum of Art, Box 7646, Philadelphia, PA 19101-7646; or telephone (215) 763-8100. Admission is charged.

 

Cloister Uncovered

What do sharpened masons’ trowels, miniature picks, camel’s hair brushes, dental tools, and state-of-the-art remote sensing methods – such as ground-pene­trating radar and terrain conductivity – have in common? At Ephrata Cloister in Lancaster County these tools are being used to examine this unusual communal society’s past from an entirely new perspective (see “Pushing William Penn’s ‘Holy Experiment’ to its Limits: Ephrata Cloister” by John Bradley in the fall 1996 issue).

The Ephrata Cloister Archaeology Project is designed to discover and mark the location of historic-period structures, to better understand the distinctive ways of life of community members, and to re­examine site histories and interpretations. The project also explores the nature of communal societies, analyzes the ways physical space was organized to maintain social and political control, and studies relationships between individual and group identities. Structured as an archae­ological field school for college students and augmented by volunteer assistance, the project is sponsored by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, The State Museum of Pennsylvania, Elizabethtown College, and Ephrata Cloister.

Prior to the 1990 installation of mod­ern fire detection and suppression systems in surviving eighteenth-century buildings and structures, archaeological testing was conducted to determine if de­posits below the ground surface were present within construction areas. So many artifacts, foundation remnants, and refuse deposits dating to all periods of the property’s history were uncovered that the need for a comprehensive archaeolog­ical investigation was clearly evident.

Plans for such a long-term project were developed, and investigation was begun in 1993. At the onset of the pro­gram, students and excavation team members undertook a survey of the en­tire twenty-five acre historic site using nondestructive remote sensing methods. With the assistance of a geophysicist, maps showing subsurface disturbances and locations likely to yield evidence of early buildings were prepared and used as the basis for the excavation plan, max­imizing research efforts. During the past three years, thirty students and seventy volunteers have unearthed more than eighty-four thousand artifacts and three foundations. More than two dozen com­munal-period vessels, including bowls, storage crocks, pitchers, and chamber wares, have been unearthed and recon­structed. A rare eighteenth-century glass trumpet, measuring three feet in length, was discovered and restored during the 1995 excavations. Current investigations are focusing on the remains of a large building which may be the Kedar, Ephrata Cloister’s first communal build­ing, erected in 1735.

Traditionally, interpretation of Ephrata Cloister has been based solely on documentary accounts. Although rich in detail about the activities of the German Pietists who inhabited the Cloister, these records often reflect the prejudices of their compilers and authors and emphasize community ideals, which several historians have mistakenly adopted without qualifications in their portrayals of communal life. Archaeology, on the other hand, probes the unintentional record of human be­havior. Fragments of everyday refuse, discarded by site inhabitants with no conscious intent to influence how future generations would interpret their ac­tions, are offering a more realistic view of actual society activities. Discoveries of butchered animal bones in below-ground deposits, for example, indicate that the sect’s rules requiring a strict vegetarian diet were not always observed, espe­cially after charismatic founder Conrad Beissel’s death in 1768. The recovery of personaUy inscribed ceramics from the sites of dormitories further raises ques­tions about private possessions in a communal society which held private property to be sinful.

Utilizing an interdisciplinary approach incorporating renewed documentary analysis, oral history, geophysics, and ar­chaeology, a far more honest and realistic understanding of this popular historic site is emerging. The exciting process of discovery, evaluation and, importantly, reevaluation will be repeated many times during the next several years as a lost community is continually studied and reinterpreted for the benefit of the thousands of visitors who visit Ephrata Cloister each year.

For additional information about these investigations and the accompany­ing reports, write: Ephrata Cloister Archaeology Project, The State Museum of Pennsylvania, P. O. Box 1026, Harrisburg, PA 17108-1026; or telephone (717) 783-2887.

 

Otto Kuhler

Otto Kuhler (1894-1976) was not only an accomplished painter but also a mas­ter etcher who documented scenes of industry in Pittsburgh and New York City. Born in Germany into a family who had for generations operated an iron works in the industrial valley of the Ruhr River, Kuhler felt at home upon his arrival in Pittsburgh in 1923. His knowl­edge of and love for industrial machinery gave him subject matter that would occupy his career as an artist for more than a half century.

In his work, Kuhler reveals the drama and power of machinery in an age of in­dustry during the early twentieth century. In a statement accompanying a portfolio of five etchings, The Making of the Iron Horse, completed in 1930, Kuhler revealed his love of machines. “As a child I built my own toys, mostly loco­motives. Later I studied them. I would run away from home to hang around railroad crossings and watch the big transcontinental trains go by. More than once I missed supper and got spanked for it.” The young Kuhler was also given a copy of the Baldwin Locomotive Works catalogue. Later, he was “a railroad man” during World War I, and after the war he – in his own words – “turned artist.” Most of his paintings and prints contain locomotives.

The Making of the Iron Horse includes The Boilermakers, Monster and Midgets (depicting the “monster” locomotive being built by “little human ants”), The Monster Grows, The First Breath (in which steam and smoke begin to rise from the engine’s smoke stack), and The First Step (portraying its debut from the factory). In describing The First Step, Kuhler re­veals his intensely emotional attachment to a machine, much in the way a parent feels toward a child. “And when new and shiny and awkwardly proud, they blink out into daylight for the first time through the great open door, when they dare their careful first step and walk out under their own man-made and man­-controlled power, then a new, powerful servant to mankind is born.”

A dozen works by Otto Kuhler are on extended exhibition at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg to complement the museum’s landmark exhibition, “Valley of Work: Scenes of Industry.” Highlighted in this new ex­hibit is a recent museum acquisition, The Old Duff-Norton Plant, a painting created by the artist about 1925. The painting was given to the museum by Marguerite D. Dougherty in memory of her husband, Ralph E. Dougherty Jr., who commis­sioned the painting. Dougherty owned the plant, located on Pittsburgh’s North Side, which was once known as the Allegheny Drop Forge. It closed in 1989.

“Valley of Work: Scenes of Industry,” mounted in an adjacent gallery, features three prints by Kuhler, The Valley of Work (circa 1923), The Furnace (circa 1924), and George Westinghouse Bridge (circa 1934), in addition to a watercolor entitled Pittsburgh (whose date remains unknown).

For more information about “Otto Kuhler (1894-1976)” or museum pro­grams and activities, write: Westmoreland Museum of American Art, 221 North Main St., Greensburg, PA 15601-1898; or telephone (412) 837-1500. Admission is free.