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.

Rembrandt Peale Exhibition to Open in Philadelphia

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, headquartered in Philadelphia, will open a major exhibition on February 22, 1985, detailing the life and work of Rembrandt Peale (1778-1860). The exhibition is the first solo showing of the artist’s work since 1937 and the first to include a scholarly catalog.

Rembrandt Peale was the third of Philadelphia artist Charles Willson Peale’s surviv­ing children. As the son of the well known artist, naturalist and museum pioneer, Rem­brandt Peale was tutored by his father in art and the natural sciences. A member of a large and affectionate family, he internalized its goals of self­-improvement and respon­sibility to society.

He began painting at age thirteen, and by seventeen he was commissioned to paint a portrait of George Wash­ington. Known for the many likenesses he created of the nation’s first president, Peale was extremely pleased to share his birthday, February 22, with Washington. In all, he produced sixty-five replicas of Washington’s life portrait.

During his long career Rembrandt Peale produced por­traits and history paintings, landscapes and fancy pieces. He also became America’s first lithographer of artistic accomplishment and served as a founder of the Penn­sylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and as president of the New York Academy of Fine Arts. Between 1814 and 1820 he built and ran his own museum in Baltimore.

Although he was a zealous patriot, he adored what Europe could offer in terms of artistic achievement. At the beginning of his career he studied briefly with Benjamin West in England. Between 1808 and 1810 he studied in Paris, and in 1828, at the age of fifty, he fulfilled his dream of traveling and studying in Italy. As an American artist he was unusual among his contemporaries in that he con­sidered the Continent – and not England – to be the best training ground. In the course of his travels he came to know the leading European artists – David and Gerard in Paris and Thorwaldsen and Cammucini in Italy.

Influenced by.the historical compositions he had seen in Parisian studios, he tried his hand at large history paint­ings. The most famous of these, The Court of Death painted in 1820, met with limited finan­cial success. Peale subse­quently returned to portrait painting, chiefly to portraits of George Washington.

In his later years, too, he wrote extensively on the theory and practice of art, as well as on artists he had known. He wrote on science, and, fol­lowing the publication of his manual on graphics, he became the first drawing master at Philadelphia’s Central High School.

The society’s exhibition, which continues through June 28, 1985, will establish a firm chronology of Peale’s life and artistic development. The thirty-five paintings in the exhibit will reveal the quality of Peale’s work, as well as represent the stylistic changes in his oeuvre.

Most of the sixty manuscript pieces which belong to the society have been selected to augment the paintings and to reveal Rembrandt Peale’s life, character and experiences in greater depth than can be done by paintings alone. Among the documents will be the 1813 catalog for Charles Willson Peale’s museum in Philadelphia, listing the por­traits that Rembrandt had done in Paris on commission from his father.

Among Peale’s paintings in the society’s permanent collection to be included in the exhibition are the penetrating naturalistic life portrait that the seventeen-year-old artist rendered of the aging George Washington in 1795, the forceful and accomplished por­trait of the artist’s father completed shortly after Rem­brandt Peale’s return from France in 1812, and the portrait of DeWitt Clinton executed in 1823 that launched what the artist termed his “New York style.”

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania is located in center-city Philadelphia. For additional information, write: Historical Society of Pennsyl­vania, 1300 Locust St., Philadel­phia, PA 19107; or telephone (215) 732-6200.

 

American Philosophical Society Restores Headquarters

A former bank building in Philadelphia has been acquired and restored by the American Philosophical Society to house its extensive collec­tions and offices. The society’s holdings include a library of more than 60,000 volumes, a draft of the Declaration of Independence in Thomas Jeffer­son’s hand, more than half the known manuscripts of Benjamin Franklin, the journals of explorers Lewis and Clark, and the letters of Charles Darwin.

Founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1743 “to improve the common stock of knowl­edge,” the American Philosophi­cal Society had at first faltered but was successfully reor­ganized in 1769. Under its third president, Thomas Jefferson, then president of the United States, it had reached the status of a national archive. By the mid-nineteenth century, how­ever, the society lost its national significance as new federal agencies developed their own information resources. The society regained its national prominence in the twentieth century; more than 185 Nobel Prize winners have been counted as members.

Located at 427 Chestnut Street, the historic structure was designed by John Myers Gries and erected in 1885 for the Farmers’ and Mechanics’ Bank. Its most notable feature was a grand banking room which has been refurbished as a conference room. Four eight-foot levels of compact storage vaults, maintained at constant low temperatures and fifty percent humidity, replaced two levels of offices.

The society still maintains offices in its original Philosophi­cal Hall which was restored in 1949. For further informa­tion regarding the organiza­tion, its holdings and programs, write: American Philosophical Society, 104 South Fifth St., Philadelphia, PA 19106; or tele­phone (215) 627-0706.

 

“Keystone of the Union” Opens in Harrisburg

Not only is the recently opened permanent exhibit at The State Museum of Pennsyl­vania, “Keystone of the Union,” a beautifully designed and carefully executed show, but it is an important statement on the Commonwealth’s in­volvement in the Civil War. Through the use of artifacts, objects, photographs and paintings, the story of Penn­sylvania’s contributions unfolds. Five major themes describe the roles of the 338,000 Pennsylvanians whose names appear in the Civil War military rolls.

“First Call” deals with the first volunteers to reach Washington upon Pres. Abraham Lincoln’s appeal to the Northern states for volunteers to protect the capital. Among the first units responding were the Logan Guard of Lewis­town, the Ringgold Light Artillery of Reading, the Allen Infantry of Allentown, the National Light Infantry and the Washington Artillerists of Pottsville. In later years, the honor of having been the first to arrive in Washington was highly prized and veterans of the Logan Guard and the Ringgold Light Artillery sometimes bitterly fought for the privilege of marching first in veterans parades.

The second major theme, “Harrisburg, City Behind the Lines,” describes the capital city’s unique position as a transportation center vital to the Union. During the Civil War, camps and fortifications­ – the largest of which was Camp Curtin – were built on both sides of the Susquehanna River. Some skirmishing occurred in the Harrisburg area during the Gettysburg campaign.

Portraying Gen. Robert E. Lee’s 1863 invasion of the North, the climax of the great conflict, is “Decision at Gettys­burg,” centered around the magnificent Peter F. Rothermel canvas depicting Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg. “A Tribute to Valor” showcases the gifts, particularly swords, presented to officers by subordinates or citizens of their hometowns, a common courtesy during the second half of the nine­teenth century. The swords range from very simple pieces to richly embellished speci­mens, some of which cost thousands of dollars. The sword presented to Col. Hugh McNeil of the Pennsylvania Bucktails was designed and created by Tiffany & Co.

The final theme, “Penn­sylvania’s Industrial Strength and the War Economy,” defines the Commonwealth’s strong economic footing which made it the key state in the Union efforts. Vital supplies such as clothing and cannon were manufactured by Pennsylvania’s factories and conveyed by elaborate trans­portation systems.

The State Museum of Pennsylvania is administered by the Pennsylvania His­torical and Museum Commis­sion. Visiting hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 9 A.M. to 5 P.M., and Sunday, noon to 5 P.M. Admission to the museum, including the planetarium, is free. For more information, write: The State Museum of Pennsyl­vania, P.O. Box 1026, Harris­burg, PA 17108-1026; or tele­phone (717) 787-4978.

 

Flags Given to the State Museum

A collection of more than twenty rare colors (flags) has been given to The State Museum of Pennsylvania by the Historical Society of Schuylkill County, Pottsville. The collection includes mostly Civil War colors from the 48th and 96th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantries, the 7th Pennsylvania Cavalry, sev­eral World War I era flags, and a prized color from the Mexican War of 1846. The Mexican War flag is extremely significant because it is thor­oughly documented, thanks to the published proceedings of the 1913 ceremony when the colors were presented to the county historical society.

The color resembles a standard United States flag­ – except that the stripes are orange rather than red. The canton (the top quarter of the flag), which usually con­tains the familiar field of stars is also unusual; instead of rows of stars, it is em­blazoned with the inscription “Presented, by the Ladies of Pottsville.” Surrounding the gilt painted legend is an elab­orately embroidered multi­colored wreath. The wreath is circled by a chain of twenty­-six stars.

The color’s historical signifi­cance is also well documented. It was presented to the Wash­ington Artillerists of Pottsville which, as a company of the First Pennsylvania Regiment, journeyed to Mexico in 1846 and took part in the battles at Vera Cruz and Cerro Gordo. The Pottsville ladies have been identified. Lydia Gilbert collected money for the flag which was pieced together and sewn by Mrs. Harrison Hartz. The wreath was pains­takingly embroidered by Jane Elliott and Jane Loeser. The color was presented to Capt. James Nagle at the Pennsylvania Hall in the county seat before the Artiller­ists departed for Mexico. The militia company responded nearly twenty years later to an urgent call for volunteers to defend the capital in Wash­ington from Confederate attack in April 1861, thus earning it – with four other Pennsylvania volunteer companies – the epithet “First Defenders.”

The Schuylkill County colors will be preserved in the Commonwealth’s extensive flag collection. The Common­wealth’s collection features two American Revolutionary War colors, one from the War of 1812, five dating to the Mexican War period, and nearly four hundred used dur­ing the Civil War. The hold­ings include colors used during the Spanish-American War and those presented by the federal government following the two World Wars. Approximately 750 pieces – flags, standards, guidons and mili­tary accoutrements used by Pennsylvania’s troops­ – comprise the collection.

During the past ten years the pre-Civil War colors have been netted and preserved by the Pennsylvania His­torical and Museum Commis­sion. The state legislature is currently embarking on an ambitious project, during which the Civil War flags displayed in the rotunda of the State Capitol building will be restored and preserved. Contributions are being sought to assist the program. The State Museum is also seeking sponsorship for the conservation of its flags. Individuals, organizations or businesses interested in “adopting” a color and sup­porting its conservation are urged to write: Bruce Bazelon, Registrar, The State Museum of Pennsylvania, P.O. Box 1026, Harrisburg, PA 17108-1026; or telephone (717) 783-9935.

 

“Christmas … An Ethnic Experience”

The State Museum will once again host “Christmas … An Ethnic Experience,” a delightful holiday exhibit fea­turing a forest of unusually decorated trees and demon­strations of ethnic traditions and folk customs. Representa­tives of twenty-five ethnic communities will gather in the museum’s magnificent Memorial Hall on Saturday, December 8, to decorate the trees, combining Old World traditions with contemporary practices. The program is co-sponsored by the Pennsyl­vania Historical and Museum Commission and the Governor’s Heritage Affairs Commission.

The exhibition opens to the public on Sunday, Decem­ber 9. The decorated trees will remain on display through January 12, 1985, a reminder that many Pennsylvanians belong to the Eastern Orthodox Church and celebrate Christ­mas on January 7, 1985. Demonstrations of seasonal and holiday traditions are scheduled for Sunday, Decem­ber 23 [1984], and Sunday, January 6, 1985. The demonstrations bring folk customs which are normally practiced in homes and churches to a broader audience in the museum set­ting. This year’s series includes Pennsylvania German “bel­snicking,” a traditional Ukrain­ian St. Nicholas play, and folk customs and arts of His­panic, Hungarian, Irish, Serbian and Welsh commu­nities.

The trees will be decorated with handmade items reflecting time-honored ethnic tradi­tions. Although the ethnic com­munities originating in the Mediterranean region and from Asia did not use trees in their original observances, they have adopted the custom since their arrival in the United States.

For more information regarding “Christmas … An Ethnic Experience” and the demonstrations, write: Gover­nor’s Heritage Affairs Com­mission, 309 Forum Bldg., Harrisburg, PA 17120; or tele­phone (717) 783-8625. The exhibit and demonstrations are open to the public free of admission charge.

 

From Brandywine: “Visions of Sugar Plums”

This Christmas at the Brandywine River Museum is very special: it will be the first celebrated in the institu­tion’s new $3.5 million wing. To honor the occasion, the holi­day exhibition, “Visions of Sugar Plums,” highlights some of America’s best-loved illus­trations created for children by Howard Pyle, his students and their contemporaries. The show, continuing through January 6, 1985, also includes the works of more recent illustrators such as Dr. Seuss and Walt Disney. Illustrations depict real and imaginary events of a child’s world – from scenes of daily life to the realm of fantasy, peopled by fairies, pirates, knights, dragons, talking animals and Santa Claus.

“Visions of Sugar Plums” includes old favorites by Jessie Wilcox Smith and N.C. Wyeth, as well as several illus­trations from a recent gift that have never before been publicly exhibited. These include Daniel Carter Beard’s exotic Russian winter wonder­land, A Moonlight Ride, and F.S. Church’s enchanting Brother Rabbit and the Little Girl. The illustrated world of fairies is represented by Bertha Corson Day’s Fairy Godmother and Elenore Plaisted Abbott’s painting Snow Queen created for Hans Christian Anderson’s Fairy Tales. Depictions of favor­ite nursery rhymes are Max­field Parrish’s Humpty-Dumpty and Little Jack Horner. The days of knights can be seen through the eyes of Louis Rhead and Willy Pogany. Santa Claus is depicted by Everett Shinn in his winsome illustra­tion for Clement Moore’s classic poem, “The Night Before Christmas.” Other illustrators being shown are A.B. Frost, Peter Newell and Palmer Cox.

In addition to “Visions of Sugar Plums,” the museum is offering its popular seasonal exhibit, “A Brandywine Christmas,” through January 6, 1985.

The Brandywine River Museum, located on U.S. 1 in Chadds Ford, is open daily, from 9:30 A.M. to 4:30 P.M. Admission is $2 for adults; $1 for children, students and senior citizens. Children under six are admitted free. Guided tours for both adult and school groups are available by reservation. Further infor­mation is available by writing: Brandywine River Museum, P.O. Box 141, Chadds Ford, PA 19317; or by telephoning (215) 388-7601.

 

Victorian Christmas Week at Wheatland

Wheatland, the handsome mansion of James Buchanan near Lancaster, offers the visi­tor a unique glimpse into the life of an American presi­dent at the middle of the nineteenth century. The re­stored building, a fine example of Federal style architecture, was originally built for William Jenkins, a wealthy lawyer and banker, in 1828. James Buchanan purchased the 22-acre estate in 1848 while serving as secretary of state in Pres. James Polk’s adminis­tration. In 1856, Wheatland became the seat of the Demo­cratic contender’s successful presidential campaign and was visited by numerous political personages of the era. At the close of his term as presi­dent in 1861, Buchanan retired to Wheatland where he died seven years later. The historic structure has been carefully restored to capture the splendor of Buchanan’s residency between 1848 and 1868.

For five special days­ – December 5 through 9 [1984] – visitors will see Wheatland as it may have been enjoyed by Buchanan, his family and countless friends. The mansion will be decked with boughs of holly, mistletoe and fresh greens; pilasters and door­ways will be swagged with gar­lands of natural white pine and Laurel. A Victorian era style Christmas tree will be laden with old-fashioned handmade cornucopias, sugar toys, gilded eggs bearing candy and nuts, lace fans, bellflowers and gifts.

Luscious Victorian period confections will abound. Small and large cakes – including pound, sponge, fruit, lady and Dundee – will be lavishly ornamented, as will splendid sweetmeat cone trees made of candies, nuts and dried fruits. Typical Christ­mas selections will be played on the parlor grand piano given by Buchanan to his niece, Harriet Lane, who served as his First Lady during his presidency. The piano has been recently restored.

Tours will be given by cos­tumed guides. Following each tour, visitors will be served refreshments in Buchanan’s ele­gant Empire style dining room. A gift shop on the premises features handcrafted Christmas ornaments and gifts.

“Victorian Christmas Week at Wheatland” will be held Wednesday through Friday, December 5 through 7 [1984], from 3 to 8 P.M.; Saturday, from 1 to 6 P.M.; and Sunday, 1 to 8 P.M. Regular admission rates will be in effect and in­clude post-tour refreshments.

Wheatland is located on route 23, one and a half miles west of Lancaster. More in­formation is available by writing: Wheatland, 1120 Marietta Ave., Lancaster, PA 17603; or by telephoning (717) 392-8721. The historic house-museum will be closed to the public from December 10 [1984] through March 31, 1985.

 

Graeme Park Decorated for the Holidays

An exhibit of authentic eighteenth century holiday decorations will open Wednes­day, December 5 [1984], at the Keith House, Graeme Park, in Horsham. The house was built by Sir William Keith, Provincial Governor of Penn­sylvania in 1721-1722, and remains an outstanding example of early eighteenth century architecture. Originally, Gover­nor Keith called the property “Fountain Low” and used it to distill alcoholic beverages. The name was changed to Graeme Park after it was pur­chased in 1739 by Dr. Thomas Graeme as a country estate. It was given to the Common­wealth in 1958.

This year’s holiday decora­tions have been carefully planned to authentically inter­pret the types of decorations which would have festooned the residence between 1722 and 1790. Research has been collected and studied at the Henry Francis du Pont Winter­thur Museum, Colonial Williamsburg and Olde Con­cord. Eighteenth century houses were decorated for the holidays with natural mate­rials and special foods. Sweets and fruits were used as ornaments, and the Keith House will be decorated with tempt­ing treats, including Naples biscuits, croque en bouch, jumbles and spiced nuts.

Fruits were often employed as holiday decorations dur­ing the eighteenth century, especially in affluent house­holds such as Graeme Park. If fresh fruits were unavailable, edible imitations fashioned of marzipan were acceptable substitutions. The Keith House’s decorations will feature marzipan, candied fruits and fruit pyramids.

The special holiday deco- rations exhibit will continue through December 23 [1984].

Graeme Park is open Wednesday through Saturday, 9 A.M. to 5 P.M., and Sunday, noon to 5 P.M. The historic house-museum is located one half mile west of route 611 on County Line Road. Admission is $1.50 for adults, $1 for senior citizens, $.50 for youths. Children are admitted free. Telephone (215) 343-0965 for additional information or group tour reservations.

 

State Museum Mounts Sports Figure Show

A major exhibition entitled “The Sports Figure” is on view at The State Museum of Pennsylvania, Third and North Streets in Harrisburg, featuring the works of two outstanding Pennsylvania sculptors. The show, which runs through October 13, 1985, showcases sculptures by internationally acclaimed artist Dr. Robert Tait McKenzie (1867-1938) and Joe Brown, a former student of McKenzie’s who is still working.

Born in Canada, Robert Tait McKenzie studied at McGill University and interned at the University Hospital in Montreal. Upon graduation, he was appointed instructor in anatomy and later developed an active medical practice specializing in orthopedic surgery. He achieved fame early in his career for his treatment of scoliosis (lateral curvature of the spine). He lectured at Harvard and began sketch- ing in watercolor. McKenzie’s first sculpture, The Sprinter, was followed by The Athlete, considered one of his finest works which garnered great critical acclaim when exhibited in England in 1903. Castings of both pieces are included in the permanent collections of the State Museum.

R. Tait McKenzie was appointed head of the University of Pennsylvania’s physical education department in 1905, a position he held until his retirement in 1930. He was an active sculptor and he used the bronze medium to illustrate the athlete’s body in motion. McKenzie gained an international following and designed special medallions for the Penn Relays and the 1912 Olympic Games. His famous works include The Onslaught, The Competitor, The Relay and The Joy of Effort.

Philadelphia native Joe Brown began his artistic career as an assistant to McKenzie. His life’s work has been dedicated to continuing and extending the efforts and influence of his mentor. During the last fifty years, Joe Brown has become the world’s premier sculptor of sports figures. He designed football’s prestigious Maxwell Award, forerunner of the Heisman Trophy. His monumental football and baseball sculptures grace the grounds of Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. He is an active member of Philadelphia’s City Art Commission.

Recognized for his ability to capture the attitude of the athlete in action, Joe Brown became increasingly popular with both art collectors and sports enthusiasts. His popularity took him to Princeton University where he taught until his retirement. He has executed portrayals of some of America’s best loved and admired contemporary sports personalities.

“The Sports Figure” exhibition is located in the first floor loggia of the State Museum. Several special events and activities will be held in conjunction with the show and additional information regarding these programs is available by writing: Donald A. Winer, Curator of Fine Arts, The State Museum of Pennsylvania, P.O. Box 1026, Harrisburg, PA 17108-1026; or by telephoning (717) 783-9904.

 

Christmas at Hope Lodge

“Christmas at Hope Lodge, 1750-1950” is now on view at the Montgomery County historic house-museum through December 16 [1984]. This year’s exhibit is co-sponsored by the Old York Road Garden Club and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission to portray the evolution of the celebration of Christmas during two centuries. The continuing history display features a series of period room settings ranging from the stark simplicity of Christmas Day in a Quaker household to the grandeur of a holiday feast in the Federal era dining room. The Empire style bedroom contains familiar decorations which actually originated in the mid-nineteenth century.

Visitors are able to trace the origin and evolution of the Christmas tree in America. The customary tree was introduced in this country by Pennsylvania Germans and an example of an early tree is displayed in the summer kitchen. During the nineteenth century, the Christmas tree grew in both size and popularity; a large tree typical of the Victorian period, and decorated with handmade ornaments, greets visitors in the main hall of Hope Lodge. A tree ornamented with manufactured glass and metal decorations from the first half of the twentieth century concludes the exhibition.

Several special events are scheduled in conjunction with “Christmas at Hope Lodge, 1750-1950.” On Saturday and Sunday, December 8-9 [1984], a demonstration of open hearth cooking will show how the eighteenth century desserts and foodstuffs would originally have been prepared. Candlelight tours will be offered on December 14 and 15 [1984], from 7 to 9 P.M., so that visitors may experience what Christmas might have been like in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Admission for the candlelight tour is $2.50 for adults, $1.50 for senior citizens, $1.00 for youths; children under six are admitted free.

Additional information regarding the exhibit and visiting hours may be obtained by writing: Hope Lodge, 553 Bethlehem Pike, Fort Washington, PA 19034; or by telephoning (215) 646-1595.

 

Statewide Historic Preservation Trust Formed

In less than one year the newly established Pennsylvania Trust for Historic Preservation, created to bring public awareness to crucial issues and activities, has grown to become one of the largest preservation membership organizations in the nation. For more information, write: Pennsylvania Trust for Historic Preservation, P.O. Box 992, Harrisburg, PA 17108.