Currents

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.

Garden Treasures

Located midway between New York and Washington, D.C., in what is known as the historic Brandywine Valley, are some of the finest gardens in the United States, the most famous of which is Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square.

Longwood Gardens, recall­ing the ambience of the grand pleasure gardens of Europe, was the country home of Pierre S. du Pont (1870-1954), industrial genius, engineer and financier. He was the great-great-grandson of French physiocrat Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours (1739-1817) and the great­-grandson of Eleuthere Irenee du Pont (1771-1834). The latter emigrated to the United States from France in 1800 and founded the du Pont chemical company; his descendant Pierre transformed the com­pany into a truly international corporate empire and used his resulting personal fortune to develop and endow his be­loved Longwood property.

Longwood Gardens, open to the public for the last half­-century, is perhaps the great­est of the Brandywine Valley horticultural showplaces, but it is certainly not the only treasure. In fact, the historic valley – long a haven for artists and writers – contains one of the greatest concentrations of country houses, sprawling estates and impeccable gar­dens found anywhere in the country. Created largely by members of the du Pont fam­ily, these country places have influenced the artistic, his­toric, economic, cultural and social heritage of the region for nearly two centuries. As a group, the gardens are repre­sentative of the entire history of American horticulture and garden design. The various gardens include nearly all the major Western traditions of landscape design, with stellar examples of classical, Italian Renaissance, French, English and American styles.

To explore the unique en­clave of gardens, country estates and related museums spanning a ten mile corridor along the Brandywine River from southeastern Pennsylva­nia to Wilmington, Delaware, a major three-day conference will be held from Wednesday through Friday, May 4-6 [1988]. For the conference, the Brandy­wine Valley gardens and estates have banded together in an effort to interpret their horticultural heritage of the past two hundred years, re­cord the region’s contributions to the country at large, and plan for the roles and respon­sibilities of the institutions in the future . Although small­-scale efforts have been made in the past by individual gar­dens to document this signifi­cance, there has been no attempt, until now, to under­stand the issues that have resulted in the area’s world­-class attractions that are vis­ited by more than a million and a half people each year.

The conference, designed to attract horticulturists, land­scape historians and garden designers from throughout the country, will address the con­servation of country estates and preservation of historic landscapes. In addition to presentations by recognized authorities, the conference will feature private tours of many of the gardens dis­cussed during the three day event. A banquet will be held in the conservatories of Long­wood Gardens, followed by a special display of its famous illuminated fountains.

For additional information regarding this event, write: Brandywine Valley Gardens Conference, Longwood Gar­dens, P.O. Box 501, Kennett Square, PA 19348; or tele­phone (215) 388-6741.

 

Pieces of Pittsburgh’s Past

As ground was broken to erect high-rise buildings in Pittsburgh’s historic Golden Triangle area during the early 1980s, a tremendous opportu­nity was created for a team of archaeologists for the Carne­gie Museum of Natural His­tory to literally “dig up” the city’s past. When the excava­tions for the city’s Renaissance II program began, museum archaeologists quickly began to uncover the buried treasure – nearly twenty thou­sand pieces! They established as their primary goal the pres­ervation and interpretation of Pittsburgh’s heritage not found in standard history and reference books.

Archaeologists, aided by corporations and the federal government, recovered impor­tant artifacts from four center­-city sites: beneath the present PPG Place, behind the Stanley Theatre, under the CNG Tower (adjacent to Heinz Hall), and under Fifth Avenue Place (formerly the Jenkins Arcade Building). When a major archaeological find was uncovered by heavy earthmoving equipment, archaeologists moved in quickly, often assisted by en­thusiastic construction crews.

Much of the material was retrieved from forty wells and privies unearthed from sixteen to forty -five feet below the surface. Artifacts were also discovered within remnants of building foundations. Bottles, pottery, spoons, pipes, dolls’ heads, combs, animal bones, seeds, even eggshells, were uncovered. Pieces of fabric and wood were amazingly well preserved because they had been constantly water­logged.

At the end of each day, the archaeologists would take their cache to the laboratories for cleaning, cataloguing and accessioning. Volunteers initi­ated the lengthy catalogue process, followed by archaeo­logical and historical assess­ment of each piece. The artifacts recovered date to as early as 1795, although most are nineteenth century speci­mens. The archaeologists decided to use these artifacts to document the lives of indi­viduals who actually manufac­tured and used these pieces, such as a milliner and dress­maker, potter, druggist, bot­tler, tinner and an upholsterer. Researchers investigated early newspaper and magazine articles, tax schedules, busi­ness records, county deeds and local resources.

To share the result of the intensive research, an exhibit entitled “Pieces of the Past: Archaeology in Pittsburgh” is open to the public through the month of June [1988] at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. The exhibit shows how archae­ologists actually work in the urban setting, and interprets many of the found artifacts and objects by relating them to the seven little-known entre­preneurs. “Pieces of the Past” opens with a reconstruction of a well and an explanation of urban archaeology, while an audio-visual gallery presents an overview of the city ‘s his­tory and discusses why so much of Pittsburgh’s past has been preserved. Dramatic graphics illustrate the major periods of Pittsburgh’s history, supplemented by additional objects from the museum’s collections.

For more information re­garding “Pieces of the Past: Archaeology in Pittsburgh,” write: Carnegie Museum of Natural History, 4400 Forbes Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15213; or telephone (412) 622-3289 or 622-3328.

 

American Frontier Life

In the years preceding the Civil War, during the west­ward expansion, the frontier became a common subject for many American artists. Epic tales and important historic events of the day were often portray ed, but just as impor­tant were the everyday occurrences of life on the rugged frontier. The lives and experi­ences of trappers, frontiers­men and Indians were depicted by nineteenth cen­tury artists, as well by as the adventurous stories of the romantic West.

Sixty works depicting the American West prior to the Civil War are on view at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia through April 22 [1988]. Paintings and prints by nine prominent frontier artists, George Caleb Bingham, George Catlin, Charles Deas, Seth Eastman, Arthur Jacob Miller, William Ranney, John Mix Stanley, Arthur F. Tait and Charles Wimar, are featured in the exhibit entitled” American Frontier Life: Early Western Paintings and Prints.”

The artists included in this show were particularly quali­fied to portray the subjects of the West, having firsthand experience of life on the fron­tier. Each arrived on the fron­tier early enough to witness people, places and events that had disappeared by midcen­tury. Although not strictly documentary painters, each valued authenticity and took care to include accurate detail in his works, giving these paintings a lasting historical significance.

In painting, as in folklore and literature, the art gener­ated by the American frontier was, above all, narrative; it aimed at telling some of the exciting stories that caught the imaginations of American during a romantic age. The most vivid of western stories were those of a conflict be­tween Indians and whites. The conflict is often painted in a climactic moment, as in Charles Wimar’s elaborately staged battle scene The Attack on an Emigrant Train, or in The Death Struggle by Charles Deas. Even in such moments of conflict, the Indian is usu­ally painted with respect, as a worthy adversary.

Many paintings, such as Seth Eastman’s Ballplay of the Sioux on the St. Peters River in Winter, feature Indian domestic life, strongly reaffirming the Indian’s appeal in the earlier nineteenth century imagina­tion. The earliest painters of the Plains Indians, such as George Catlin, wanted to record as much as they could of a people and a way of life already visibly vanishing. But in scenes such as those of Indians playing cards or checkers – a subject taken up by John Mix Stanley, Deas and Eastman – the painters found counterparts for the genre scenes of white pioneer life, creating some of the finest studies of custom and charac­ter.

After the Civil War, the nation’s aesthetics changed considerably, and this mode of Western painting fell into critical disfavor. Grandiose landscape paintings sup­planted genre scenes; in popu­lar culture the noble savage lost his nobility as the final conquest of the Plains Indians became more difficult and bitter. In their best works, however, the earlier painters of the frontier celebrated the life of a young nation – a nation crude, perhaps, but vigorous, egalitarian, democratic, still with an aura of freshness and innocence.

“American Frontier Life: Early Western Paintings and Prints,” accompanied by a lengthy illustrated catalogue, was organized by the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cody, Wyoming, and the Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas. The Pennsylvania Acad­emy exhibit is the only East Coast showing.

For additional information, write: Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Broad and Cherry Sts., Philadelphia, PA 19102; or telephone (215) 972-7642 or 972-7638. Admission is charged.

 

Childhood Furniture

During the past three cen­turies, adults have dramati­cally changed the way they think about children and childhood. These changes in attitude have been reflected most poignantly by the num­ber and types of objects and furnishings made specifically for children.

Throughout the seven­teenth and most of the eight­eenth centuries, little was understood of childhood, particularly when compared to today’s knowledge. Children’s limitations were ill understood and childhood behavior was considered base, something to overcome quickly and quietly. The sooner a child stopped crawling and crying, the sooner it shed animal-like qualities unbecoming of ma­ture humans. Children were prodded into the adult world at an early age to work in shops, on farms and as ser­vants.

Because childhood was a relatively brief period without much attention or luxury, furniture made exclusively for children was scant. Standing and walking stools were de­vices which prevented chil­dren from crawling, forcing them to use only their legs instead of all four limbs. Cra­dles, a seemingly universal household furnishing, held tightly swaddled infants firmly in place and out of harm’s way. Their rocking motion was believed to simulate the move­ment of the mother’s womb. Few children had highchairs, the early examples of which lacked a tray, protective bar and footrest. Only the chil­dren of wealthy families en­joyed the luxury of their very own side chair or tea table considerably scaled down from the adult models.

Late in the eighteenth, and even more so during the nine­teenth centuries, adult thought about childhood underwent major change. Children were then seen as “blank slates,” pure and inno­cent creatures whose charac­ters could be controlled and molded by wise parents. Childhood, their parents be­lieved, was a special time for moral, educational and physi­cal development. Play and recreation were considered healthy. With their special needs, children required spe­cial objects and old forms were abandoned in favor of new, improved modes.

By the 1830s, the primitive walking and standing stools became obsolete. Cradles, it was believed, were unhealthy and, although they continued to be available into the twenti­eth century, were largely re­placed by cribs and bassinets. These new cribs and bassinets permitted the circulation of air and did not rock, then consid­ered to damage the brain. Many older children, instead of sleeping with parents, sib­lings or servants, enjoyed beds of their own. The ad­vances in technology and mass production encouraged by the Industrial Revolution made children’s furniture affordable for families of mod­est means.

To chronicle the origins and development of furniture made solely for children, an exhibit entitled “Children, Childhood and Furniture, 1700-1900,” will open at The State Museum of Pennsylva­nia, Harrisburg, on Friday, May 20 [1988]. On view will be American and Pennsylvania furniture spanning the eight­eenth, nineteenth and twenti­eth centuries, including a late eighteenth century ladder-back chair, a mahogany side chair crafted in the Delaware Valley about 1760-1775, a grained and stenciled mid­-nineteenth century rocker, a miniature dry sink, a signed and dated 1873 walnut swing­ing cradle, a turn-of-the­-century piano, a folding youth bed, and an Adirondacks-style rocking chair of assorted woods and vines. The exhibit will continue through spring 1989.

The State Museum of Penn­sylvania is located at Third and North streets in center­-city Harrisburg, just north of the State Capitol. Visiting hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 9 A.M. to 5 P.M.; Sunday, Noon to 5 P.M. Ad­mission is free. The facility also features a planetarium, permanent exhibits, a mu­seum cafe and gift shops.

For additional information, write: The State Museum, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, P. O. Box 1026, Harrisburg, PA 17108-1026; or telephone (717) 787-4979.

 

Ohio Odyssey

Eight thousand years before the birth of Christ, the first settlers were attracted to the meandering Ohio River by the abundant food and convenient transportation which the wa­terway provided. These assets inevitably drew generations of inhabitants to the area. They were the cause of many battles and much bloodshed. They encouraged the development of new industries and great commerce. But the earliest settlers had no knowledge of the tradition they were estab­lishing. They did not realize that they were paving the way for advanced Native American cultures, European explorers, colonial settlers and immi­grant workers.

An exhibit depicting the rich history of the waterway, “Ohio River Odyssey,” is on view at the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh, through July 24 [1988]. Originally organized by the Huntingdon (West Virginia) Museum of Art, the exhibit features an exciting array of objects, fine and decorative arts, documents and artifacts loaned by more than fifty institutions and organizations. Through the exhibit, the visi­tor participates in a steamboat journey through time, from Pittsburgh through the valley, exploring themes and subjects common to the cities, towns and villages along the Ohio River.

A series of paintings illus­trates both the natural beauty of the river in its unspoiled state and the many uses it offers. Landscapes, drawings and portraits convey impres­sions of nineteenth century life along the broad river, while historic and contempo­rary photographs depict indi­viduals whose lives were shaped by it. Vivid photo­graphs of captains, dock work­ers and towboat runners capture the excitement of the river, and accompanying artifacts – flintlock rifles, a pilot’s wheel, powder horns and models of tall ships, steamers and racing boats – provide three-dimensional illustrations of river culture.

The transportation of peo­ple and goods by boat spurred the intensive development of industry along the river. The Ohio’s only manufacturing giant, Pittsburgh, exemplifies how industry was actually stimulated. The tributaries were used to transport raw materials; the Ohio River was used to distribute the products such as glass and, later, steel. The growth of these industries provided jobs which encour­aged settlement along the river’s edge.

The booming transportation businesses spawned great employment opportunities for the influx of eager new set­tlers. Steamboats, tugs and barges offered such diverse jobs as steamboat captains and tug­boat cooks. On land, crews of dock workers, shipping line offi­cials and builders and operators of the elaborate lock system supported the water traffic.

The Ohio River Valley was the site of the famous battles of European countries trying to expand their colonial em­pires. Pittsburgh, at the mouth of the river and lying at the base of the Allegheny Mountains, became the “Gate­way to the West.” Overcoming the mountains, pioneers could readily travel westward from Pittsburgh by boat, and con­trol of this strategic point became increasingly important to nations bitterly vying for dominance in the New World (see “Into the Valley of Death” by Iola B. Parker in the winter 1988 edition of this magazine).

La Belle Riviere, as the French called it, provided recreation for those inhabit­ants living nearby. Its beauty, reflected by its current appel­lation, meaning “fair to look upon” for the Wyandot Indi­ans of the sweeping valley, has been enjoyed by travelers and pleasure-seekers for centuries. During the nineteenth cen­tury, for instance, showboats traveled the route, bringing high-spirited Victorian era melodramas and orchestras to the small towns bordering the river.

Perhaps most importantly, “Ohio River Odyssey” docu­ments and interprets the ways in which the river affected the significant developments in American history.

Additional information regarding visiting hours and group tours is available by writing: Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania, 4338 Bigelow Blvd., Pittsburgh, PA 15213; or by telephoning (412) 681-5533.

 

Legacies of Genius

In an unprecedented joint venture, the sixteen member libraries of the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries will present more than two hun­dred and fifty of their greatest treasures of rare books, manu­scripts and art during a special exhibition opening April 18 [1988]. The exhibition, entitled “Lega­cies of Genius,” will be on view in the adjoining galleries of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and the Library Company of Philadelphia, Thirteenth and Locust streets, Philadelphia. The exhibit continues through September 25 [1988].

Supported by corporate and foundation funding, “Legacies of Genius” showcases trea­sures selected from Philadel­phia’s special collections libraries for their intellectual and aesthetic significance. The items range from a thousand year old manuscript of the Haggadah (service of Pass­over) to John Von Neumann’s original typescript of the first stored computer program. A jewel-like illuminated manu­script Psalter of the thirteenth century vies with the colorful miniatures in an exotic Persian epic dating to the sixteenth century. Books printed before Christopher Columbus discov­ered America – and the 1493 published announcement of that momentous event! – will share the spotlight with Charles Dickens’s Pickwick Papers and Edgar Allen Poe’s Murders in the Rue Morgue.

Many first editions will be shown, including the famous Shakespeare Folio of 1623, Paradise Lost, Robinson Crusoe, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Alice in Wonderland, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, and James Joyce’s Ulysses. “Legacies of Genius” will also feature important documents of American his­tory, such as a dramatic letter written by George Washington as he prepared to cross the Delaware in 1776; the original journals of explorers Lewis and Clark, recording their landmark expedition to the Pacific Ocean; a detailed 1852 manuscript journal of the Underground Railroad; and Pres. Ulysses S. Grant’s tele­gram draft announcing Gen­eral Lee’s surrender in 1865. Natural history will be repre­sented by John James Audu­bon’s famous elephant folio Birds of America, published in 1827, and Charles Darwin’s letter in 1859 announcing his Origin of Species.

To showcase the art and architectural treasures con­tained in Philadelphia’s special collections, the exhibit will include architectural plans for the U.S. Capitol by Philadel­phia architect Thomas Ustick Walter, a photograph of poet Walt Whitman by Thomas Eakins, and an annotated catalogue for the 1913 New York Armory Show, which opened the doors to modern art in the United States.

The books, manuscripts and artworks have been grouped into topical catego­ries, such as exploration, chil­dren, literature, women’s history, religion and Black history.

All of the treasures featured in “Legacies of Genius” will be included in the fully illustrated catalogue that will accompany the exhibition. A number of special programs will be con­ducted by member libraries of the consortium during the exhibit’s five-month-long run.

Members of the Philadel­phia Area Consortium of Spe­cial Libraries are the Academy of Natural Sciences, American Philosophical Society, Annen­berg Research Institute (for­merly Dropsie College), Athenaeum of Philadelphia, Bryn Mawr College Library, College of Physicians of Phila­delphia, Free Library of Phila­delphia, Haverford College Library, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Library Com­pany of Philadelphia, Presby­terian Historical Society, Rosenbach Museum and Li­brary, St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Swarthmore Col­lege libraries, Temple Univer­sity Libraries and University of Pennsylvania Libraries.

Additional information regarding “Legacies of Ge­nius” may be obtained by writing: Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collec­tions Libraries, 1314 Locust St., Philadelphia, PA 19107; or by telephoning (215) 546-5588.

 

Color, Class and Style

Very few individuals are aware of the existence as much as a century and a half ago of a Black upper middle class. For example, among the “free people of color” who lived in Philadelphia prior to the Civil War were a number of pros­perous, enterprising and well­-educated Blacks. Many were active in abolitionist, charita­ble, professional and cultural organizations.

One organization typical of the types which flourished during the nineteenth century was the “Treble Clef,” an ac­complished amateur classical string orchestra. Its members included men and women who were owners of success­ful businesses in custom up­holstery, catering and undertaking. It also included a woman physician, an electrical engineer and a mechanical engineer employed by the Philadelphia Electric Com­pany. A photograph of the orchestra in formal attire, with instruments, taken in 1902, reflects the members, substan­tial economic, cultural and social position.

Utilizing a remarkable group of photographs, paint­ings, documents and crafts, the history and art of Philadel­phia’s Black “gentry” – a group rarely studied in museum exhibitions or books – will be explored in an exhibition opening Monday, April 4 [1988], at the Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies, Philadelphia. Entitled “Philadelphia Afro-Americans: Color, Class and Style, 1840-1940,” the exhibit will be on view at the center-city mu­seum through Saturday, July 9 [1988].

Few studies in the past have identified significant photo­graphic portraits and works of art produced for a culturally sophisticated Afro-American audience. In presenting such works in “”Philadelphia Afro­-Americans,” the Balch Insti­tute will begin to fill a gap in research in Black arts and culture, as well as on the his­tory of photographs. The images will include daguerreo­types, tintypes, ambrotypes, calotypes, gelatin dry plates, albumen prints and cartes-de­-visite.

“Philadelphia Afro­Americans” will inaugurate an ongoing program through which photographers will be researched and, where possi­ble, identified, while their artistic techniques will be explored. In addition, painted portraits, crafts, textiles and similar objects will be studied, providing visual variety to the presentation.

The Balch Institute is open Monday through Saturday, 10 A.M. to 4 P.M. Admission is free, and special group tours are available.

For additional information regarding “Philadelphia Afro­Americans: Color, Class and Style, 1840-1940,” or other museum programs, write: Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies, 18 South Seventh St., Philadelphia, PA 19106; or telephone (215) 925-8090.

 

Quilters Heritage Celebration

An important three day Quilters Heritage Celebration will be held in Lancaster from Thursday through Saturday, April 7-9 [1988]. The event features exhibits of antique and con­temporary quilts, including examples made by Amish and Mennonite quilters, and lec­tures, workshops and a special merchants mall.

Lectures, presented by distinguished speakers from throughout the country, will deal with identifying and dating old quilts (to which participants are invited to bring items for examination and study); a discussion and “hands on” experiment of the “Charm Quilt,” a popular – if not ubiquitous – item during the 1930s; and an in-depth look at the Esprit Collection of Amish Quilts, collected and curated by the San Francisco clothing corporation. Other lectures include a discussion of the characteristics and traits of Lancaster County quilts; the unique patterns of Amish quilts which reflect their makers’ lives and lifestyles; and a glimpse at the quilts made by the Amish of Ohio and Indiana as compared to those made in Pennsylvania.

Workshops feature an intro­duction and use of colors, design sources, the use of stencil designs, fabrics, tradi­tional motifs, pattern drafting, garment embellishment, ap­plique, stitching and template making.

For additional registration information, write: Pennsylva­nia Dutch Convention and Visitors Bureau, 501 Green­field Rd., Lancaster, PA 17601; or telephone (717) 299-8901.