Executive Director’s Message

From the Executive Director features news and reflections on the work of PHMC by its chief administrator.

This past spring, Gov. Robert P. Casey presented awards for excellence in the arts to dancer Judith Jamison, in the humanities to Sonia Sanchez, and in the sciences to Ruth Patrick, a pioneer in the study of water pollution. The recognition program was conceived to recognize the unique and diverse ways in which Pennsylvanians have contributed to the human understanding of the world in which we live. The entire awards day was devoted to reflection and appreciation of the many contributions these talented and creative individ­uals have so generously shared with us. The Pennsyl­vania Historical and Museum Commission served as a co­sponsor for the event, which included a symposium of national educators at the Fo­rum, a presentation ceremony at the State Capitol and a re­ception at The State Museum.

To celebrate the occasion, the Commission developed a special exhibit entitled “Three Centuries of Achievement: The Arts, Humanities and Sciences in Pennsylvania.” (The exhibit, traveling to the historic sites and museums administered by the Commonwealth, will be on view at Drake Well Museum, Titusville, through October 2 [1988]; at the Pennsylvania Anthracite Heritage Museum, Scranton, from October 10 [1988] through De­cember 4 [1988]; and at Washington Crossing Historic Park, Bucks County, from December 9 [1988] through February 5, 1989.) After I finished touring the exhibit, I found myself looking across The State Museum’s grand Memorial Hall to the ornamental gates flanking the monumental statue of our founder William Penn. The gates, designed by sculptor Charles Rudy of Ottsville in 1964, are capped by portrayals of Penn’s momentous confer­ences with the Native Ameri­cans. Decorating the gates are depictions of distinguished Pennsylvanians, including Penn’s second wife, Hannah Callowhill; Albert Gallatin, diplomat and treasurer of the United States; David Wilmot, abolitionist and statesman; Thaddeus Stevens, educa­tional leader; Rebecca Gratz, social worker and philanthro­pist; Gifford Pinchot, conser­vationist and governor; Benjamin Rush, physician and Revolutionary War leader; Charles Willson Peale, artist and naturalist; Joseph Pries­tley, scientist; and Benjamin Latrobe, architect and engineer.

The similarities between this distinguished group and those cited by Governor Ca­sey’s awards were striking. Although several represented on the ornamental gates had pursued political careers, the contributions of all in the arts, sciences and humanities were just as meaningful and signifi­cant.

The differences between this group and the 1988 awards winners were impor­tant as well. Only two of the ten individuals gracing the gates were women and none were black; all three 1988 win­ners were women and two were black. This contrast is not accidental but, instead, reflects the dramatic changes that have taken place in the past quarter­-century. Our notions of histori­cal significance and the role of the individual in history con­tinues to evolve. We have become more capable of look­ing past military and political leaders to grasp the powerful influences of artists and scholars in our civic life.

Only ninety feet separated the ornamental gates and the exhibit honoring this year’s awards winners, but that short distance symbolized for me a landmark intellectual and spiritual journey that we have made in such a short period of time.

Brent D. Glass
Executive Director