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

One of the things I love best about being executive director of the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission is sharing our commonwealth’s history with other Pennsylvanians.

Although this letter is appearing in the winter issue of Pennsylvania Heritage, I am writing it on one of the hottest days of 2018. Earlier today, I had just come out of a series of meetings related to agency work when I came upon a group of four middle schoolers in the hall of The State Museum. I asked how their visit had been, and they said they were sorry they had come on a day when the museum was closed. Staff had let them into the building to use the restrooms and the drinking fountain.

I asked them what they were most excited about seeing in the museum. The first instantly said, “Space . . . the planetarium where you can see all the stars.” The second chimed in, “The giant William Penn.” And the third said he wanted to see the animals. I asked if they could come back, and they said this was their second-to-last day of summer camp. Truly impressed that the museum is an exciting part of these kids’ lives, I leaned in and said conspiratorially, “Okay, let’s go!” Being responsible kids, one of them ran off to find their chaperone, and soon Miss Trish appeared.

We visited the “giant William Penn,” and I told them the story of the sculptress who created this spiritual portrayal of Pennsylvania’s founder (see “Reimagining William Penn: Janet de Coux and the Creation of a Pennsylvania Icon,” Summer 2015). Then we looked to the mural above, Vincent Maragliotti’s Vision of William Penn, and I told them the story of the immigrant painter who created the masterpiece in his studio above Grand Central Terminal in New York. Together we talked about the history of Pennsylvania and how that painting tells the story.

I then had intended to return to my work, but still having 10 minutes before my next meeting and registering the longing of the group to see the animals, we scurried up to the third floor to look at the recently restored Mammal Hall. We talked about which animals are extinct in Pennsylvania and which ones are still here, observing how the dioramas reflect our state’s history (see “Windows on Pennsylvania’s Natural Places: Restoring Mammal Hall at The State Museum,” Summer 2018).

Reluctantly, I returned my enthusiastic audience to the ground floor, as they needed to get home and I had work to attend to. I think they were truly grateful for what they thought was an extraordinary experience. But to me, the chance to share our history with young Pennsylvanians who own it and who will find our way in the future was even more extraordinary. As Miss Trish said, “When you wake up in the morning, you never know what will happen today.”

Andrea W. Lowery
Executive Director, PHMC