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.

Both Sides Now

A decade in the making, Harrisburg’s newly opened National Civil War Museum boasts nearly thirty thousand square feet of exhibition space. Situated high atop a knoll in a city park, with a commanding view of the capital city below, the museum – described by the re­gion’s press as “a world-class museum for a world-class collection” – is the first museum to portray both sides of America’s greatest tragedy in equally balanced, humanistic presentations. Museum galleries address issues and causes of the Civil War in immersive, experiential exhibits and in the traditional display of artifacts to depict the roles and sacrifices of both Union and Confederate soldiers.

The City of Harrisburg acquired thousands of Civil War era artifacts, objects, and documents – at a cost of more than seventeen million dollars – not to glorify war, but to chronicle the saga of the common soldiers, the women, the African Americans, and the newly-arrived immigrants who suffered and endured, and who fought and gave their lives during the conflict. Key among the museum’s features are exhibits that focus on slavery as a root issue that helped cause the Civil War, an important aspect that museum officials believe has been largely neglected by other institutions. The issue of slavery is characterized by the museum as the darkest mark upon and deepest wound of American history, but it is presented factually, without casting blame or rendering judgment. Poignant and memorable, this exhibit is intended to emphasize the tragedy of slavery and its dehumanizing effects. Observers will become emotionally involved in this discussion of the dilemma in which Americans were unable to reach a satisfactory resolution – or peaceful compromise.

The museum’s audio-visual programs facilitate an association with the American people who struggled through this tragic period. Visitors meet a cast of composite characters from all across the country and from all walks of life in a gallery exhibit appropriately entitled “We the people.” By stepping into the shoes of those who walked before, visitors are given an unusual experience and a haunting eyewitness account of the events that led to the Civil War and its grisly impact on hundreds of thousands of lives.

Located atop the highest point in the city’s ninety-two acre Reservoir Park, the National Civil War Museum received more than sixteen million dollars from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for construction of the structure. Of the building’s sixty-five thousand square feet, nearly thirty thousand have been dedicated to exhibition space. At any given time, ten percent of the museum’s extensive collection is on view; by regularly rotating objects and artifacts, museum curators hope to keep displays fresh and intriguing.

The collection includes broadsides, weapons, medical equipment, clothing, sheet music, posters, desks, photographs, saddlebags, binoculars, flags, maps, prints, uniforms, documents, diaries, and letters. Of special note are the sash and kepi (hat) worn by General George Pickett during the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, General Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson’s gauntlet, General Robert E. Lee’s personal pocket Bible and his last battle map, General J.E.B. Stuart’s saber, and General George McClellan’s saddle.

In addition to promoting the preservation of material culture and sources of information directly relevant to the understanding of the Civil War, the museum also explores the history, to about 1920, of various service organizations relating to the conflict, including the Grand Army of the Republic, United Confederate Veter­ans, and the Daughters of the Confederacy.

For more information, write: National Civil War Museum, Post Office Box 1861, Harrisburg, PA 17105-1861 telephone (717) 260-1861; or visit the National Civil War Museum website. There is a fee for admission.


Past Presence

Featuring daguerreotypes by Matthew B. Brady (1823-1896) and the partnership of Albert Sands Southworth (1811-1894) and Josiah Johnson Hawes (1808-1901) – among the finest art daguerreotypists in the nineteenth century – “His­tory Past, History Present: The Daguerreotype Por­trait in America,” on view at the Palmer Museum of Art in State College, explores both the aesthetic qualities of these early photographic images and their cultural and social significance in nineteenth-century America.

The daguerreotype, the world’s first photographic process, was announced in 1839. Named for the French inventor of the process, Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre (1787-1851), it is a medium relying on a silver-coated copper plate that is sensitized and exposed in the camera and developed over mercury vapor. The resulting image is formed at the molecular level and, consequently, is characterized by subtle detail, clarity of definition, and a gradation of tones that is unlike anything seen in photography today. The process, which required great care, concluded by “fixing” the image; the plate was immersed in a solution of sodium thiosulfate of salt and then toned with gold chloride.

Exposure time for the earliest da­guerreotypes ranged from three to fifteen minutes, making the process nearly impractical for portraiture. Modifications to the sensitization process, coupled with the improvement of photographic lenses, reduced the exposure time to less than one minute. Although they are unique images, daguerreotypes could be copied by re­daguerreotyping the original.

Not long after its introduction, Ameri­cans quickly capitalized on the new invention, which they heralded as being capable of capturing a “truthful likeness.” Daguerreotypists in major cities invited celebrities and political figures to their studios in hopes of obtaining a portrait for display in their windows and reception areas. They encouraged the public to visit their galleries, which were like museums, in the hope that they would desire to be photographed as well. By 1850, more than seventy daguerreotype studios were in operation in New York City alone. But by the end of the decade, the da­guerreotype’s popularity declined when the am­brotype, a faster and less expensive photographic process became available.

Matthew Brady is best known for the photographs he made of the Civil War be­tween 1860 and 1865, but in the 1840s and 1850s he was the leading portrait photographer in New York City and the most famous American photographer of his time. By 1844 he had opened his first studio in New York and in 1856, he established a studio in Washington, D.C., to better photograph the nation’s leaders and foreign digni­taries. At the peak of his success as a portrait photographer, he turned his attention to the Civil War, which he planned to document on a grand scale by organizing a corps of photographers to follow the troops in the field. Brady did not personally shoot many of the Civil War images attributed to him; he served more as a project manager, spending his time supervising the traveling photographers, preserving their negatives, and buying others from private photographers freshly returned from the battlefield so that his collection would be as comprehensive as possible. In 1862, he shocked America by displaying photographs of casualties in a showing he called “The Dead of Anti­etam.” After the Civil War, the public’s appetite for war scenes faded, which ultimately forced Brady into bankruptcy. He died penniless in 1896.

The centerpiece of “History Past, His­tory Present: The Daguerreotype Portrait in America” is a rare signed portrait of Mexican War hero Colonel James Duncan (1811-1849) by Brady. The Mexican War – and not the Civil War, as many believe – was the first conflict fully documented in prints and photographs. Some of these early depictions of the war and of American presidents and statesmen, including James K. Polk and Zachary Taylor, demonstrate the ways in which, as early as the 1840s, visual documents were used politically to sway public opinion. The exhibit is the first to bring together Brady’s signed daguerreotype with other examples signed directly on the plate by the photographer’s studio. The Palmer Museum of Art acquired the likeness in 1997.

Albert Sands Southworth and Josiah Johnson Hawes, who formed the Boston partnership of Southworth and Hawes, are widely considered to be the first great masters of photography in the United States. The photographers, whose partnership lasted from 1843 to 1862, were technical and creative innovators who sought recognition as artists. They produced their masterpieces using the daguerreotype process.

Southworth was moderately wealthy and had attended Phillips Academy in An­dover, Massachusetts. Hawes was an apprentice carpenter and amateur painter. Both decided to become daguerreotypists when, in 1840, they independently viewed the first daguerreotype brought to the United States. They learned the process from Daguerre’s U.S. agent and in 1841 opened a portrait studio together in Boston. Unlike most daguerreotypists of the mid-nineteenth century – many of whom were more often consumed by the quantity of their sales rather than concerned with the quality of their work – Southworth and Hawes avoided contrived poses and painted backdrops. Instead, they gave each customer personal attention, making spontaneous portraits that revealed the personality of the sitter. Their quality likenesses attracted many prominent Americans of the day to their studio, among them Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, Harriett Beecher Stowe, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Susan B. Anthony, Charles Sumner, and Jenny Lind. Southworth and Hawes also made daguerreotypes of landscapes, cityscapes, and scenes such as hospital operating rooms that were not ac­cepted as proper subjects of photography.

In 1849, Southworth went to California in a futile attempt to find gold. When he returned to Boston, his failing health prevented him from working actively. In 1861, he ended his partnership with Hawes, who continued to photograph for forty more years, until his demise.

“History Past, History Present: The Da­guerreotype Portrait in America” engages museum visitors on several levels. Viewers will learn the differences between da­guerreotypes and modern photographs and will have an opportunity to see a da­guerrean studio. The exhibit features a study area in which questions raised by the subject will be brought into the present time. For example, the visitor is encouraged to consider the changing nature of fame and its relationship to image making; how visual culture is shaped by the historical moment and, conversely, how it structures social interaction; and why certain objects are elevated to the status of cultural artifact while others are ignored.

“History Past, History Present: The Da­guerreotype in America” remains on view through Sunday, May 20 [2001].

For additional information, write: Palmer Museum of Art, The Pennsylvania State University, Curtin Road, University Park, PA 16802-25071; or telephone (814) 865-7672. Admission is free.


Remember Me

The manner in which people grieve reflects a great deal about how they view life, and an exhibition entitled “Remem­ber Me: Mourning in the Nineteenth Century,” opening at the Chester County Historical Society on Saturday, April 28, will interpret the transitions over time and across cultures in one of the most re­markable centuries of American mourning ritual.

In nineteenth-century America, a death represented both personal loss and a drawing together of the community. Friends and neighbors in the early decades of the century helped the mourning family by preparing the body and assisting with the burial. As the century progressed, funeral ceremonies, particularly in urban areas, grew increasingly elaborate with undertakers playing a greater role. Caskets, horse-drawn hearses, and black bows or wreaths hung on front doors reinforced the public display of sorrow. Following the late nineteenth-century rules of etiquette, women especially could express their loss by wearing black clothing and accessories, such as veils, hats, and gloves. During this era, places of burial evolved from isolated graveyards to rural cemeteries designed for quiet family recreation, such as Sunday afternoon strolls.

Rules of etiquette were not always practical, affordable, or desirable in rural Chester County, where prevailing customs were as varied as the families that lived there. Some residents, including Quakers, did not wear mourning clothing or conduct public funerals. Others provided wakes (or viewings) and funeral feasts. Regardless of the type of ritual or service, the deceased was immortalized in many types of memorials, including samplers, bookmarks, handkerchiefs, memorial cards edged in black, and privately-printed biographies. Posthumous portraits were also made for display in the home. Mourning art objects, such as schoolgirl samplers, were intended as gifts for the bereaved, as well as a way of showing that one possessed good taste and proper manners.

Mourning in the twentieth century changed significantly. Society no longer encourages prolonged public grieving, and Americans have become observers of burials rather than participants. “Remember Me: Mourning in the Nineteenth Century” will explore the evolution in society’s customs of grief-sharing with a wide variety of memorials. The exhibit will also provide visitors with the opportunity to share their own thoughts and remembrances.

“Remember Me: Mourning in the Nineteenth Century” will continue through Saturday, November 24 [2001].

To obtain additional information, write: Chester County Historical Society, 225 North High St., West Chester, PA 19380; telephone (610) 692-4800; or visit the Chester County Historical Society website. There is an admission charge.