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.

Centre Furnace

When the Centre County Historical Society launches its year-long bicentennial celebra­tion of the founding in 1791-1792 of Centre Furnace (just east of State College) later this year, it will also be the cap­stone of a historic preservation project that has been more than seven decades in the making. First commemorated by the Pennsylvania Historical Commission (now the Penn­sylvania Historical and Mu­seum Commission) and the Pennsylvania State College (now The Pennsylvania State University) in 1922, Centre County’s first charcoal furnace stack has survived dramatic changes to its environs, in­cluding the dismantling of the entire ironmaking village which surrounded it, the relo­cation of major roadways, and the expansion of a farmers’ high school, established on two hundred acres of donated Centre Furnace land, to a major university.

The bronze keystone­-shaped marker placed at Cen­tre Furnace by the Pennsylvania Historical Commission – and now on exhibit at the nearby Centre Furnace Mansion Museum­ – notes that the stack is part of the Centre Iron Company’s works erected in 1792 by two Revolutionary War officers, John Patton and Samuel Miles . The furnace produced the first iron smelted in the county, which was transported to Pittsburgh by mule.

The Centre Iron Company prompted the rapid spread of the charcoal industry not only in the county, but throughout Central Pennsylvania as well. The region’s rich iron ore de­posits helped propel the re­mote wilderness ironmaking operations to an industry that burgeoned so quickly during the first half of the nineteenth century that more than half of the pig iron smelted in the United States was being pro­duced in Centre, Huntingdon and Cambria counties. The area’s production exceeded that of Germany, Sweden and Russia combined, matched France’s and approached Great Britain’s. The year following the Panic of 1857, Centre Fur­nace went out of blast. Of the fifteen Centre County iron manufacturers during the boom period, only five contin­ued operations until 1890; Curtin Ironworks remained in operation until 1921.

In 1828, Gen. James Irvin purchased Centre Furnace, even though it had been out of blast for eighteen years. By 1842, his brother-in-law, Moses Thompson, became ironmaster and partner. Both Irvin and Thompson were among local leaders who, in 1855, encour­aged the location of a pro­posed agricultural high school in Centre County. This group offered ten thousand dollars – in addition to two hundred acres of Centre Furnace prop­erty donated by the two entrepreneurs – to attract the farmers’ high school to the area. Following a sumptuous dinner given by Mary Irvin Thompson at the Centre Fur­nace Mansion for one hundred prominent Pennsylvania digni­taries, the group’s offer was formally accepted and the occasion is considered by historians as the founding of The Pennsylvania State Uni­versity. (For additional histori­cal background on the founding of the university, see “Watts’ Folly” by Jerry Clouse and Kate Kauffman in the fall 1989 edition of this magazine. Frederick Watts was also in­strumental in establishing the school.)

While the village of Centre Furnace, which predated the settlements of State College and Lemont, was a self­-contained and self-sufficient complex of workers’ houses, a store, church, school and various iron company struc­tures, the historic site has suffered numerous encroach­ments. The remaining stack, now on land owned by The Pennsylvania State University, and the ironmaster’s hand­some mansion, bequeathed in 1975 to the Centre County Historical Society, were en­tered in the prestigious Na­tional Register of Historic Places in 1980.

Since 1984, the historical society has employed grants, fundraising and volunteer efforts to completely restore the Centre Furnace Mansion and grounds to their nine­teenth century character and appearance. The structure now serves as the society’s headquarters, a museum and a center for community and social activities. The ironmas­ter’s mansion is open for guided tours on Sunday, Mon­day, Wednesday and Friday, from 1 to 4 P.M.

The bicentennial program, which will highlight Centre County’s ironmaking industry, includes tours of sites of iron works in the area, talks by directors of historic iron fur­naces and related sites, an exhibition of nineteenth cen­tury iron- and tinware objects and crafts, a meeting devoted to regional foods, and a major presentation on Pennsylvania’s industrial heritage. A special project of the bicentennial celebration will be the publica­tion of a history of Centre County’s Scotia Iron Mines, operated by Pittsburgh indus­trialist Andrew Carnegie on land purchased from Moses Thompson in 1880. The history has been compiled from jour­nals kept by Harry Williams, born in Scotia in 1888, who chronicled local events and activities for twenty-seven years.

On Sunday, May 12, a cele­bration honoring Mary Irvin Thompson, whose family lived at Centre Furnace from 1842 to 1891, will feature a talk by Jeanette Lasansky, director of the Union County Historical Society’s Oral Traditions Pro­gram. Lansansky, author of A Good Start: The Aussteier or Dowry (see “Bookshelf” in the winter 1991 edition for a review of this fascinating volume), will dis­cuss the dowry’s role as both a marriage gift and rite of pas­sage for young men and women. The society’s annual Fourth of July Picnic in the manner of the nineteenth century will include a reading of the Declaration of Indepen­dence.

For additional information regarding the bicentennial celebration [1991] of Centre Furnace or the historical society’s ongo­ing programs, write: Centre County Historical Society, 1112 Mayberry Ln., State College, PA 16801; or telephone (814) 238-6080.

 

WPA Exhibit

With the resounding crash of the stock market in October 1929, radically affecting the Lives of millions with the clos­ing of plants and factories, workers in Pennsylvania and throughout the nation suffered a series of economic blows beyond their personal experi­ence, as well as their compre­hension. For decades, the conditions of American work­ers had never been ideal as they faced child labor, long hours of tedious manual toil, few benefits and dangerous tasks – in short, a struggle in economic servitude. The crash simply amplified the workers’ economic destitution by strip­ping them of the ability to afford a mortgage, rent pay­ments, as well as adequate food and clothing. While many workers never had much and had come to accept – if not expect – their poor lot in life, they had been at least able to claim that they could, at least, support their families, no matter how meager that sup­port may seem to following generations.

With the crash, too, came the need to turn to private or public assistance. For many laborers this posed an anathema – the thought of being “on the dole” or relying on relief never before had been a consideration. Faced with little, if any, recourse, they sought state-supported assist­ance or besieged private chari­ties. Between 1929 to 1932, the number of unemployed swelled rapidly and mired the efforts of many local charitable organizations. Workers unable to find either employment or assistance grew desperate; fearing the loss of their homes, they turned to the federal government for help. Pres. Herbert Hoover-justifiably famous for feeding the starv­ing millions in Europe follow­ing World War I – philosophically opposed government-sponsored relief. Instead, he offered optimistic statements, cajoled business­men to voluntarily hold the line on wages and reaffirmed his belief that to survive the Great Depression, business, and not individuals, should receive assistance. As strange as it may seem today, the president ordered government support to feed cattle in the West, but denied assistance for the ranchers who needed food and clothing for their families.

By 1932 President Hoover stubbornly believed that he could defeat the Great Depres­sion, but voters throughout the nation sought change. Oddly enough, they elected the aristocratic (and Demo­cratic) Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a charismatic indi­vidual who admitted early during his administration that many of his ideas might not work and, if they didn’t, he would try other tactics. Per­haps most importantly, FDR appeared cheerful and capa­ble, energetic and optimistic, and he was able to broadcast those qualities to sixteen mil­lion American families-half of the population-during his weekly “fireside chats.” Presi­dent Roosevelt used his popu­lar radio chats not only to discuss economic reforms, but to lambaste the greedy indus­trialists who stole away profits while allowing workers little for their toil.

In Pennsylvania, the plight of workers in all fields was bleak. Both coal miners and farmers had lost ground dur­ing the 1920s, even though prosperity for many seemed to be.the norm. After literally feeding Europe after the World War I, farmers saw their crop prices plummet and remain low throughout the decade. By the opening of the Great De­pression, most farmers had reached a dangerous low and were forced to apply for relief from whichever agency or organization they were able. Coal miners prospered during the war but after its end, mine operators and owners stock­piled anthracite and bitumi­nous. Throughout the twenties miners lost what Little advan­tage they had gained; coal companies ignored collective bargaining contracts and crushed strikes by importing other laborers. Steel workers in the west and textile workers in the east suffered along with the others. Their record­-breaking production levels resulted in great stockpiles of goods, but as owners took great profits and passed on little to the working class, few workers were able to buy the products.

The first one hundred days of FDR’s first administration are often noted for the reform legislation passed by the Con­gress, but while many acts passed during this period, many major programs really did not receive their start until 1935. By 1935, the first flurry of legislation had been passed­ – and some had already been declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. Nev­ertheless, the Great Depres­sion remained: jobs were few and despairing families lost their savings, their insurance and, finally, their homes.

To explore the various pro­grams offered by FDR’s “New Deal” government, The State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg has mounted a major exhibition entitled “Pennsylvania’s New Deal: Jobs, Art and Politics.” The exhibit, which has been two years in the making, examines the various programs offered by the government, which included not only public works projects, but intellectual and artistic endeavors as well. Although the exhibit examines the work of the Public Works Administration, the Civil Works Administration, the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Public Works of Art programs, the principal focus is the Work Projects Adminis­tration (later the Works Pro­gress Administration) or WPA. The WPA made possible the coexistence of construction, day care, nursery school, nu­trition, home nursing care and a wide variety of arts projects.

“Pennsylvania’s New Deal: Jobs, Art and Politics” show­cases a wide variety of WPA programs, such as the Federal Music Project, the Museum Extension Service, the Federal Writers’ Project (also known as “Federal One”), the Federal Theatre Project, the Index of American Design and the Historic Records Survey. Even smaller, lesser known pro­grams, such as the Sewing Project, are examined; for example, in Pennsylvania alone, nineteen thousand women sewed articles of cloth­ing and bedding for poor fami­lies, totaling more than one million pieces during each year of the project!

On view are hundreds of WPA and WPA-related objects and artifacts, including fine and decorative arts, photo­graphs, drawings, etchings, period room settings, posters, clothing and memorabilia and ephemera. “Pennsylvania’s New Deal” is also accompa­nied by video programs and taped interviews. John Carna­han served as guest curator.

“Pennsylvania’s New Deal: Jobs, Art and Politics” will remain on view through the month of April [1991].

For additional information, write: The State Museum of Pennsylvania, P.O. Box 1026, Harrisburg, PA 17108-1026; or telephone (717) 783-9882.

 

Dear Mili

In December 1983, the discovery of a previously un­known tale by the great nine­teenth century storyteller Wilhelm Grimm made head­lines throughout the world. It caught the attention of, among others, the noted contemporary artist and illustrator Maurice Sendak.

Maurice Sendak had long been interested in Grimm’s tales, illustrating The Juniper Tree and other Tales from Grimm and King Grisly-Beard, both in 1973, and drawing inspiration from Grimm for Outside Over There in 1981. Who better to illustrate this new-found tale? The exhibition entitled “Dear Mili: Drawings and Watercolors by Maurice Sendak,” mounted by the Rosenbach Museum and Library, Philadel­phia, illustrates the fruitful result of combining the imagi­nations of the masters Grimm and Sendak.

The tale was in the form of a letter written by Wilhelm Grimm to a little girl named Mili in 1816. Dear Mili, pub­lished in 1988, recounts the story of a widow who sends her only daughter into the woods to escape an approach­ing war. The girl finds shelter in the forest with an old man for what she thinks is three days, but is in reality thirty years before she returns home to her mother. Many see the story as speaking to the ability of children to survive adversity. To Sendak, it “has to do with a particular aspect of childhood, which is the in­credible, touching loyalty and courage of children, even in the face of demonic forces.”

Dear Mili: Drawings and Watercolors by Maurice Sen­dak” includes some prelimi­nary pencil drawings and all of the artist’s finished watercolors for illustrations. Through these images, visitors can see Sendak actually altering the appearance and characteriza­tion of the child and her mother as they become more clearly focused in his eyes. The background scenes, always a delight to his attentive audi­ence, also show how Sendak refined his vision through the process. In his first drawing of the scene of the child in the safety of her woodland para­dise, Sendak depicts his favor­ite composer, Mozart, strolling by. Later, he changed the back­ground after examining a pho­tograph of the children of Izieu, France, the victims of atrocities during World War II. In Sendak’s final watercolor, these children now appear in paradise – with Mozart leading them in song!

Literary experts and scholars have been unable to determine the identity of “Mili” or why Grimm wrote this story for her. However, the themes of this story – the hor­rors of war, the pain of separa­tion and the courage of a young girl alone in the world­ – transcend individual biogra­phy. Grimm and Sendak together have created a story which resonates in the imagi­nation and addresses universal concerns.

“Dear Mili: Drawings and Watercolors by Maurice Sen­dak” is on view through Sun­day, April 28 [1991]. Visiting hours at the Rosenbach Museum and Library are Tuesday through Sunday, 11 A.M. to 4 P.M. Admission is charged.

To obtain additional infor­mation, write: Rosenbach Museum and Library, 2010 Delancey Pl., Philadelphia, PA 19103; or telephone (215) 732-1600.

 

A Tanner Celebration

Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937) was the foremost African-American artist at the turn-of-the-century. Born in Pittsburgh, he was raised in Philadelphia in a household described by a contemporary as “the center of the black intellectual community.” His father, the Rev. Benjamin Tucker Tanner, was a distin­guished figure in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, of which he became bishop in 1888.

Henry Ossawa Tanner discovered his vocation at a young age and persuaded his parents to send him to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where he studied under Thomas Eakins (see “And who is Eakins?” by David Pacchioli in the fall 1989 edi­tion of this magazine). His paintings of the 1880s are rela­tively scarce and varied in subject matter, including both seascapes and animal studies, with the earliest expressed ambitions of the young artist: first to be a great marine painter, and then “an Ameri­can Landseer,” in reference to the famous nineteenth century animal painter. Eakins’ insis­tence on drawing and painting directly from life, which in­cluded excursions to the zoo, no doubt fueled Tanner’s inter­est in depicting animals, which recurred in composi­tions he created throughout his lifetime.

Although encouraged in his chosen career by his parents, Tanner believed he could “not fight prejudice and paint at the same time,” and so sailed for France in 1891, where he was to remain for the rest of his life. He enrolled at the presti­gious Academie Julian in Paris, where he continued the severe discipline of analytical obser­vation by painting and draw­ing from professional models, and spent his summers in Brittany, which gave him expe­rience in plein air sketching. In the early 1890s, Tanner’s brushwork became looser and his handling of light and color much bolder, certainly the results of his exposure to mod­ern French artists; despite their influence, however, Tan­ner’s vision and style remained dear.

In 1893, Henry Ossawa Tanner returned to the United States with the intention of concentrating on subjects that would present African­Americans in a sympathetic light. In October 1893, The Banjo Lesson – now among his most celebrated paintings­ – made its debut in Philadelphia to great critical acclaim. Per­haps inspired by Tanner’s earlier visit to the mountains of North Carolina, the painting depicts a sparsely furnished interior in which a gray-haired man patiently teaches a young boy how to hold and strum an old instrument. Two years later he completed a French variation on the theme of teaching with The Young Sabot Maker, and his career took a decidedly new direction.

Tanner began to exhibit at the annual Paris Salon in 1894 and was soon winning coveted awards and selling paintings to eager collectors, museums and galleries. While he painted several genre scenes set in the countryside of Brit­tany, he turned increasingly to religious subjects. He pro­foundly believed that such themes must be treated in the same manner as other sub­jects, and that “color and de­sign should be carefully thought out as if the subject had only these qualities.” The exhibition features several depictions of the Flight into Egypt, which Tanner portrayed more than fifteen times. Critics have suggested that Tanner’s fascination with this particular theme of persecution and the search for freedom and a bet­ter way of life may be linked to his perception of the plight of contemporary African­-Americans.

In 1897, Henry Ossawa Tanner made his first of several extended sojourns to the Near East, visiting Egypt and Pales­tine, which inspired him to paint both local scenes and more Biblical subjects in their original settings. His first major painting following his inaugural travels was the Annunciation of 1898, purchased the following year by the Phil­adelphia Museum of Art. This choice of subject places Tanner within the French tradition, but his realist approach in presenting young Jewish women in simple Near Eastern garb, with no halo or other apparent sign of divinity, struck a new and individual note with the art community. In the large canvas, the artist introduces the textiles, ce­ramics and white-washed, stone-floored architecture that would recur in later composi­tions. While his later work includes landscapes, portraits and scenes of the battlefront during World War I, Tanner remained renowned for the human dignity and contempla­tive spirit with which he en­dowed his religious pictures. During an interview for The New York Times in 1924, he remarked that, “My effort has been not only to put the Bibli­cal incident in the original setting but at the same time to give the human touch which makes the whole world kin and which ever remains the same.”

To recognize the artist’s various artistic legacies, the Philadelphia Museum of Art has mounted a major retro­spective exhibition devoted exclusively to the life and career of Henry Ossawa Tan­ner. Aptly (and succinctly) entitled “Henry Ossawa Tan­ner,” the exhibit features more than ninety paintings and fifteen drawings which illus­trate his entire career, from his early student days to his award-winning works shown at the Paris Salon. In addition to works by Tanner, the exhibi­tion also features photographs made by Tanner and memora­bilia, ephemera and photo­graphs relating to his life and his work.

“Henry Ossawa Tanner,” accompanied by a heavily illustrated catalogue, will be on view through Sunday, April 14 [1991].

For additional information, write: Philadelphia Museum of Art, Parkway at Twenty-Sixth St. , Philadelphia, PA 19101; or telephone (215) 763-8100. There is a charge for admission.

 

The Wright Stuff

A comprehensive exhibition of Frank Lloyd Wright’s deco­rative designs, the first major showing of the architect’s work ever in Philadelphia, has been mounted by the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Entitled “Frank Lloyd Wright: Preserving an Architectural Heritage,” the exhibition con­sists of more than seventy decorative works including furniture, art glass windows, textiles and drawings; it con­tinues through Sunday, April 14 [1991].

In addition to surveying the designs of Wright’s sixty-year career, the exhibition explores the complex issue of preserv­ing Wright’s objects outside the buildings for which he designed them.

Frank Lloyd Wright, con­sidered by many to be Ameri­ca’s greatest architect, was born in Wisconsin in 1867. His mother, determined to make him into the greatest architect in the world, taught him early on how to draw with geomet­ric shapes and grid forms. Wright studied civil engineer­ing for two years at the Univer­sity of Wisconsin before going to Chicago to work with the pioneering modern architect Louis Sullivan. Seven years later, in 1893, he organized his own firm.

Throughout his career, Wright’s designs expressed his philosophy of “organic archi­tecture,” in which a building, its contents and its natural setting worked together as a harmonious unit. He ex­plained that “it is quite impos­sible to consider the building as one thing, its furnishings another and its setting and environment still another. The Spirit in which these buildings are conceived sees all these together at work as one thing.”

On view in “Frank Lloyd Wright: Preserving an Archi­tectural Heritage” are furni­ture, textiles, wall sconces, gates, windows and other elements that Wright consid­ered integral to his architec­tural projects. All the objects are drawn from the Domino’s Center for Architecture and Design, Ann Arbor, Michigan, the most comprehensive pri­vate collection of Wright’s decorative designs in the world. Among the important pieces on view are a dining table and eight side chairs from the Joseph W. Husser House, Chicago (circa 1899); leaded-glass windows from the Avery Coonley Playhouse, Riverside, Illinois (circa 1912); Usonian-style tables and chairs; a Prairie-style chest of drawers (circa 1903); and a side table from Fallingwater, Bear Run, Pennsylvania (circa 1936). More than seventy examples of Wright’s work are on display.

“Frank Lloyd Wright: Pre­serving an Architectural Heri­tage” addresses questions concerning the preservation of Wright’s works. Unlike paint­ing or sculpture, architecture serves a functional purpose, and many of Wright’s build­ings have been adapted for contemporary needs while several have been razed. Al­though some of Wright’s furni­ture and decorative elements have been acquired by muse­ums and private collectors, original owners have occasion­ally taken favorite pieces from their residences when they moved. Through wall texts and a special videotape, the exhibition explores how Wright’s designs have been – and can be – preserved for contempo­rary audiences.

The exhibition is accompa­nied by an illustrated cata­logue by guest curator David A. Hanks.

For more information, write: Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Broad and Cherry Sts., Philadelphia, PA 19102; or telephone (215) 972-7600.

 

Easy Access

To improve access to impor­tant holdings of rare books, manuscripts, archival hold­ings, photographs, maps, prints and drawings of the sixteen institutions comprising the Philadelphia Area Consor­tium of Special Collections Libraries, a landmark project entitled “Initiative for the 1990s” has been created.

Planned as a five year pro­ject, “Initiative for the 1990s” will eventually result in the addition of more than two hundred and fifty thousand computerized holdings in greater Philadelphia area li­braries and archives to the electronic cataloging networks – the On-Line Com­puter Library Center (OCLC) and Research Libraries Infor­mation Network (RLIN)­ – which currently link thousand’s of libraries around the world.

The project will not only provide a significant opportu­nity to increase awareness of, and easy access to, the riches of Philadelphia libraries, but it will also serve as a model for inter-institutional cooperation which other cities may wish to replicate. “Initiative for the 1990s” will allow participating libraries and the international community of scholars and students to view the libraries’ holdings as part of one re­search entity located in Philadelphia.

The Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collec­tions Libraries was founded in 1985 to ensure that the area’s extraordinary library collec­tions continue to be preserved, supported, appreciated and, above all, utilized. In 1988, the Consortium mounted a collab­orative landmark exhibition, “Legacies of Genius: A Cele­bration of Philadelphia Li­braries,” featuring treasures from participating member libraries.

Consortium libraries partici­pating in “Initiative for the 1990s” collectively hold more than two and a half million printed volumes, fifty million manuscripts and twenty mil­lion historical photographs, prints, maps, drawings and works of art. Member institu­tions include: the Academy of Natural Sciences, American Philosophical Society, Annen­berg Research Institute, Athe­naeum of Philadelphia, College of Physicians of Phila­delphia, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Library Com­pany of Philadelphia, Presby­terian Historical Association, Rosenbach Museum and Li­brary, Ryan Memorial Library of St. Charles Borromeo Semi­nary and the rare books and special collections depart­ments of Bryn Mawr College Library, Free Library of Phila­delphia, Haverford College Library, Swarthmore College Libraries, Temple University Libraries and the University of Pennsylvania Libraries.