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.

Quilting Time

Lancaster County is associated with many things, among them the “Pennsylvania Dutch,” barn raising, the horse and buggy, Amish and Mennonite farmsteads, shoo fly pie, and, of course, quilts. Quilts made in Lancaster County reflect the diversity of cultures and way of life in the region called – because of its verdant beauty and highly productive agricultural acreage – the “Garden Spot of Pennsylvania.” The flowering of distinctive styles in the county has resulted in a body of bed coverings recognized and prized through­out the world by museums, collectors, and art historians.

First carved out of Chester County in 1729, Lancaster County was reduced to its present size in 1820. Because of its location, it became home to a diverse population of successful farmers and prosperous artisans whose families flourished and sank deep roots. Lancaster County quilts were made by at least three distinctive groups, dominated by the Pennsylvania Germans, the largest segment. The Pennsylvania Germans include the familiar Anabaptist sects, such as the Mennonites, Church of the Brethren, and Amish. Other Pennsylvania Germans – among them Lutherans, Moravians, and Catholics – are included in this group of German-speaking people who migrated to Lancaster County in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Small but significant groups of quilts were produced by the second group, the Scots-Irish Presbyterians, who settled in the southern and northwestern parts of the county, and by the third group, the English Quakers, who populated the county’s southeastern borders adjacent to Chester County and Maryland.

These groups were drawn to the area because of the excellent conditions for farming: moderate climate, highly productive soil, good water supply, and easy access to major population centers and markets. Because of their relative affluence and the availability of fertile land, extended families flourished and strong community ties developed. Within this context, the possession of a large quantity of material goods became the norm and sign of status. Textiles, in these cultural groups, made up a significant portion of valued household furnishings, as reflected in wills, inventories, and surviving family belongings. Those manufactured in the home – particularly quilts – became important objects that often reaffirmed ties among family, friends, and community. Many were made for specific individuals or special occasions, such as marriage, the birth of a child, the departure of a minister leaving for mission work, or a drive to raise money for an organization.

Most of the earliest quilts found in this section of southeastern Pennsylvania were produced by the non-German population. English settlers were making and using many more quilts in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries than were the Germanic households. Unlike the English, Pennsylvania Germans did not bring the quiltmaking tradition with them from Europe. Most households relied primarily on hand-woven coverlets through the mid-nineteenth century, at which time Pennsylvania German women learned the craft of quiltmaking from their English neighbors and enthusiastically embraced it as part of their culture.

To examine these quiltmaking traditions, the Heritage Center Museum of Lancaster County recently unveiled an exhibition featuring a selection of fifty examples highlighting the rich history and broad range of styles of quilts made in the area. “Lancaster County Quilting Traditions” incorporates quilts and related objects and artifacts, among them photographs, quilting tools, and textile arts, borrowed almost exclusively from private lenders. Most of the quilts included in the exhibit are still owned by descendants of original makers or owners. They have been selected to not only show construction and quilting techniques but also the cultural diversity of the quilting tradition among the local Scots-Irish, Quaker, Mennonite, and Amish communities. Because of their fragility, the selected examples are being shown in two cycles.

The exhibition is accompanied by a lavishly illustrated catalogue, Quilting Traditions: Pieces from the Past, by textile scholar and guest curator Patricia T. Herr. The book contains more than two hundred color illustrations.

“Lancaster County Quilting Traditions” is on view through Sunday, December 31 [2000].

 

School Days

Among the earliest schools for girls in western Pennsylvania when it was opened in 1817 by a Pittsburgh pastor, the Harmony Seminary for Young Ladies educated children of privileged families in the region. The school was established by the Reverend Jacob Schnee, pastor of Pittsburgh’s Smithfield Lutheran and Reformed Church.

A formal education was rarely available to young American women before the mid-nineteenth century. Many believed academics were too taxing and unnecessary for girls whose lives would be devoted to homemaking and child rearing. In Pennsylvania, universal education was not required until 1895.

Schnee visited Harmony, located thirty miles north of Pittsburgh, in Butler County, in 1814 to study the Harmony Society, a Christian commune of German immigrants, led by George Rapp (1757-1847), that had settled the community ten years earlier. Early in 1815, the Har­monists moved to southwestern Indiana, and Schnee offered their leaders one hundred thousand dollars for the village of Harmony and nearly seven thousand surrounding acres, but lacked financing to complete the purchase. Not long afterward Abraham Ziegler, a Lehigh County blacksmith, purchased the property, to which he and fellow Mennonites relocated. (Six hundred members of the Harmony Society returned to Pennsylvania in 1824 to establish their third and final settlement, a tract of three thousand acres on the Ohio River, west of Pittsburgh. The christened their complex Oekonomie, Greek for “divine economy,” which is today’s Old Economy Village at Ambridge, Beaver County, one of the more than two dozen historic sites and museums along the Pennsylvania Trail of History administered by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.)

In January 1817, the Reverend Schnee agreed to pay sixty-four thousand dollars for Harmony and five hundred acres, and established the Harmony Seminary for Young Ladies. Prominent male residents of Beaver, Butler, Erie, Meadville, Pitts­burgh, Uniontown, Washington, and Zelienople served as trustees. Schnee also organized a bank to help fund the pur­chase and the school.

During the period of economic decline, which followed the War of 1812, Schnee’s bank failed, in May 1818, and Ziegler repossessed the property. Schnee’s persona I property in Harmony, including his animals, was sold to satisfy his debts, and he left his Pittsburgh church. Others kept the Harmony Seminary for Young Ladies open, but closed it by the mid-1820s.

A permanent exhibit tracing the history of the Harmony Seminary for Young Ladies has been recently installed by Historic Harmony in its museum, which, incidentally, had housed the school. The exhibit features objects, artifacts, documents, and ephemera, including banknotes issued by the Harmony institute Bank and original newspaper accounts of Schnee’s bankruptcy and financial affairs.

Historic Harmony provides visitors with an insight into the early years of community life, and the sturdy, simple brick dwellings laid out according to the original town plan merit attention. The village tells the story of a small group of German pietists who built a flourishing community in western Pennsylvania’s wilderness within a span of ten years. Harmony proved to be one of the country’s most successful utopian communities, and was famous for its wines, whiskey, and woolens. Karl J. R. Arndt, well-known historian of the Harmonists, believed that “George Rapp’s Harmony Society was the socio-economic showplace of America in the first half of the nineteenth century.” According to E. Gordon Alderfer, who wrote the preface to John Duss’s 1943 memoir, The Harmonists: A Personal History, the Harmony Society is “one of the truest American illustrations of the meaning of ‘Commu­nity.'”

The Harmony Museum, at 218 Mercer Street, on the diamond in Harmony Na­tional Historic Landmark District, is open Tuesday through Sunday, from 1 to 4 P.M. Appointments are recommended for Sat­urday tours. There is an admission charge.

For more information, write: Historic Harmony, P.O. Box 524, Harmony, PA 16037-0524; or telephone (724) 452-7341 or toll-free 1-888-821-4822.

 

Thanks to the NEA

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) launched its Museum Purchase Plan in 1971, during the administration of President Richard M. Nixon, to assist living American artists and place contemporary works of art in the nation’s museums. During a fourteen-year period, the NEA awarded six hundred and ninety-seven grants totaling more than eight million dollars to museums throughout the United States for the purchase of fifty-five hundred original works.

Between 1974 and 1988, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) in Philadelphia acquired nineteen pieces through the NEA’s Museum Purchase Plan. Of these pieces, several have become core components of PAFA’s collection of twentieth-century work, including Jacob Lawrence’s Dream Series #5: The Library (1967), acquired in 1987; Raymond Saun­ders’ Jack Johnson (1971), acquired in 1974; George Segal’s Girl Against a Post (1973), acquired in 1974; Robert Moth­erwell’s Black in Hiding (1976), acquired in 1978; Janet Fish’s Yellow Goblets (1976), acquired in 1978; and Sidney Goodman’s Nude on a Red Table (1977-1980), acquired in 1980.

The acquisition program made it possible for institutions to obtain works of art for their permanent collections that they otherwise could not afford. With the appreciation of prices of artworks, the pieces would be even more out of reach for many museums in the nation. The NEA program not only enabled museums to add exciting paintings and sculptures to their holdings, but it also supported artistic creativity and originality. After a five-year-period of inactivity, from 1982 through 1987, the Museum Purchase Plan was terminated in 1990, the victim of cutbacks in the NEA’s budget.

To coincide with Philadelphia’s hosting of the Republican National Convention this summer, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts is showing “Thanks to the NEA: Selections from the Permanent Collection,” an exhibit highlighting all the paintings purchased for its collection of American art with funds provided by the National Endowment for the Arts. The exhibition will continue through Sunday, September 3 [2000].

In conjunction with “Thanks to the NEA” and the meet­ing of the Republican National Convention, the Pennsylvania Academy has also installed an exhibit entitled “A Celebration of the Republic.” The exhibition showcases a selection of paintings, graphics, and sculptures drawn from PAFA’s permanent collection and the Union League of Philadelphia to examine American artists’ varied responses to the Civil War, as well as the city’s important role in the Union victory. Artists represented in “A Celebration of the Republic,” which continues through Sunday, September 10 [2000], include John Sartain, Augustus Saint­-Gaudens, Randolph Rogers, and Peter Frederick Rothermel (see “Painting for Peer, Patron, and the Public” by Kent Ahrens, Spring 1992).

“Thanks to the NEA: Selections from the Permanent Collection” and “A Cele­bration of the Republic,” which explore the changing identity, composition, and role of the Republican Party at various points in its history, complement PAFA’S two major summer offerings, “Andy Warhol, Social Observer,” on exhibit through Thursday, September 21, and
“Robert Gwathmey, Master Painter,” showing through Sunday, August 13. Taken as a group, the four installations address the complex, shifting relationships between American art and politics from the nineteenth century to the present day.

To obtain additional information, write: Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 118 North Broad St., Philadelphia, PA 19102; telephone (215) 972-7600; or visit the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts website. There is a charge for admission.