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.

Family Affair

Much Like her famous great-grandfather, Elizabeth Duane Gillespie (1821-1901) was a spirited, community-minded Philadel­phian, a tireless champion of causes she believed were in the best interests of fel­low citizens. Her notable ancestor? None other than Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790). As part of the myriad events and exhibits staged in and beyond Philadelphia to mark the three hundredth anniversary of the founding father’s birth, the Atwater Kent Museum of Philadelphia is showing, through Monday, May 1, an exhibition entitled “The Franklin family of Public Service: Elizabeth Duane Gillespie.” Her story reflects the family’s continuing community service through the nineteenth century.

Throughout her life, Elizabeth Duane Gillespie was a no­table figure in Philadelphia. During the Civil War, she played an extremely important role in the Great Central Sanitary Fair, held June 7-29, 1864, in the city’s Logan Square. Three years earlier, in 1861, the Philadelphia branch of the United States Sanitary Commission had begun collecting contributions to purchase and provide basic necessities and medical supplies for Union soldiers. Although the local office raised one hundred and thirty-five thousand dollars in two years, it soon became evident that the war effort demanded even more resources. The success of sanitary fairs in Boston, Cincinnati, and Chicago en­couraged Philadelphians to stage their own event. Local businesses and institutions donated products and services to support the cause, resulting in an eclectic array of goods and curiosities under one roof. Even though the Sanitary Commis­sion asked everyone to support their countrymen, the spectacle was open to only those who could afford the admission fees.

Organizers chose Logan Square because it was large enough to accommodate the main building, which encompassed nearly two hundred thousand square feet. Architects William Strick­land (1788-1854) and Samuel Honeyman Kneass (1806-1855) designed the symmetrical structure with Gothic-style elements. “This great hall,” wrote Charles J. Stille in his Memorial of the Great Central Fair for the U.S. Sanitary Commission Held nt Philadelphia, June 1864, “had all the vastness of the Cathedral’s long drawn aisles and its moral impressiveness as a temple dedicated to the sublime work of charity and mercy.” Many “departments”-among them agricultural machinery exhibits, an art gallery, horticultural specimens-lined the corridors of this “mini-city.” (Despite its official-sounding name, the United States Sanitary Commission was not a government agency, but was made up of citizens; in fact, many members of the U.S. Army opposed its formation, hut civilians successfully lobbied the War Department, which sanctioned its creation on June 9, 1861.)

Gillespie not only threw herself into organizing Philadel­phia’s fair – which raised one million dollars for the care of sick and wounded soldiers from the North – but she also volun­teered in military hospitals. Her greatest achievement, however, was her contributions to the 1876 Centennial International Ex­hibition, officially titled International Exhibition of Art, Manufactures and Products of the Soil and Mine (see 1876 Cen­tennial Craze Sweeps into Philadelphia!” by James McClelland in this edition).

In addition to helping organize the Centennial, Gillespie was the driving force behind the erection of the Women’s Pavilion that featured works of art, inventions, publications, and crafts produced exclusively by women. With her committee of thir­teen Philadelphia “society ladies,” she made sure that women were well represented in the wildly extravagant event. To raise money, Gillespie oversaw a national fundraising effort that in­cluded concerts, recitals, art shows, benefits, bazaars, and “Martha Washington Tea Parties.” One of her lasting contribu­tions to the Centennial International Exhibition was the collection of one thousand recipes from women of the United States which resulted in the publication of the first all-Ameri­can cookbook, The National Cookery Book. An excellent snapshot of culinary America in the nineteenth-century, The National Cookery Book has recently been reprinted, with an introduction by Andrew F. Smith, author, editor, and professor of culinary history at the New School University in New York.

Later in life, Gillespie help establish the Pennsylvania Soci­ety of the Colonial Dames of America in 1891 and, during her presidency of the organization, from 1895 to 1897, she led a campaign that resulted in Philadelphia City Council allotting fifty thousand dollars for Independence Square. She partici­pated in the founding of the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art, now the University of the Arts. And, like her great-grandfather she wrote prolifically, and her autobiography, A Book of Remembrance, details a Lifetime of public service.

“The Franklin Family Legacy of Public Service: Elizabeth Duane Gillespie” remains on exhibit through Monday, May 1. The Atwater Kent Museum of Philadelphia is a not-for-profit educational institution and the city’s history museum, founded in 1938 by industrialist A. Atwater Kent at the behest of Mayor S. Davis Wilson and civic leaders. The museum’s collection, in­cluding stewardship of more than eleven thousand objects of the art and artifact collection of the Historical Society of Penn­sylvania, is accessible through both exhibits and events. The museum is supported, in part, by the Commonwealth through the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) and the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.

To plan a visit to the exhibition, write: Atwater Kent Museum of Philadelphia, 15 South 7th St., Philadelphia, PA 19106; telephone (215) 685-4830; or visit the Atwater Kent Museum of Philadelphia website.

For more information about the year-long celebration of Benjamin Franklin’s birthday, to which the PHMC has pro­vided financial support, write: Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary, 135 South 18th St., Philadelphia, PA 19103; telephone (215) 557-0733.


State College Strums

The banjo – that fa­miliar fretted stringed musical instrument with a narrow neck and hollow circular body with a stretched diaphragm of velum upon which the bridge rests – is one of the most frequently seen icons in Ameri­can art. Although historians, curators, and researchers have amply documented the evolution of the banjo, its depiction in paintings, drawings, prints, sculpture, and decorative arts has escaped scholarly investigation. Just unveiled by the Palmer Museum of Art, University Park, “Pic­turing the Banjo” is the first exhibition to highlight the instrument’s symbolism in American art from the eighteenth century through the present.

From the stringed gourd instrument brought by African slaves to the nineteenth-century minstrel show to independent filmmaker Spike Lee’s Bamboozled, the banjo and its evolution illuminates several national sagas and histories, including racial typing, minstrelsy, and the rise and fall of vaudeville. The banjo has inspired an eclectic array of artists, who have seen it as a Janus-faced cultural monument, capable of denot­ing such themes as simplicity, ridicule, nostalgia, and authenticity.

“Picturing the Banjo,” featuring more than seventy works of art loaned by forty institutions, includes pieces by Mary Cas­satt, Charles Demuth, Thomas Eakins, William Sidney Mount, and Thomas Hart Benton. Also on exhibit are equally impor­tant works by lesser-known practitioners, among them Helen Corson, Clare Rojas, Frances Benjamin Johnston, Thomas Hope, and William Henry Snyder. Also on view is a selection of musical instruments, including several presentation banjos which were meant to be displayed but not played.

The Palmer Museum of Art will sponsor special programs during the run of “Picturing the Banjo.” On Tuesday, May 4, Cecelia Tichi, professor of English at Vanderbilt University, will present a lecture entitled “Music, Machines, and the Modern Banjo Aesthetic.” “A Change of Key: The Banjo During the Civil War and Reconstruction” will be presented by John David, Smith College professor of art on Tuesday, April 11. Music history lecturer, theater critic, and host of the nationally syndicated public radio show “Fascinatin’ Rhythm,” Michael Lasser, will discuss, on Wednesday, April 19, “Ringing de Banjo: Popular Music and the Minstrel Show.” Leo Mazow, cu­rator of American art for the Palmer Museum, v.rill discuss the genre and the exhibition with a gallery talk on Friday, May 12.

“Picturing the Banjo” will remain on view through Sunday, June 25. The exhibition will travel to New England, where it will be on view at the Boston Athenaeum from Wednesday, July 26, through Saturday, October 21. To complement the ex­hibit, a book with the same title has been published by the Penn State Press in association with the Palmer Museum of Art.

For more information, write: Palmer Museum of Art, Penn­sylvania State University, Curtin Rd., University Park, PA 16802-2507; telephone (814) 865-7672; or visit the Palmer Museum of Art website.


Keith Comes Home

Born in the Berks County seat of Reading on May 4, 1958, son of Allen and Joan Haring, Keith Haring was raised in nearby Kutztown, located in a predominantly Pennsylvania German farming region. Upon graduation from high school, he enrolled in the Ivy School of Professional Art, a commercial arts school. Haring realized he had little interest in becoming a commercial graphic artist and after two semesters dropped out. While in Pittsburgh, he continued to study and work on his own and in 1978 was given a solo exhibition by the Pitts­burgh Arts and Crafts Center.

Later in 1978, at the age of twenty, Haring moved to New York and enrolled in the School of Visual Arts but eventually dropped out. He discovered a thriving alternative art commu­nity emerging outside of New York’s gallery circles and museum circles, in the downtown streets, the subways, and spaces in clubs and former dance halls. He befriended fellow artists Kenny Scharf and Jean-Michel Basquiat, as well as musicians, perfor­mance artists, and graffiti writers that comprised the burgeoning art commu­nity. Haring was swept up in the energy and spirit of the scene and began to or­ganize and participate in exhibitions and perfor­mances at Club 57, in the basement of the Holy Cross Polish National Church at 57 Saint Mark’s Place, and other nontraditional venues.

In addition to being impressed by the creativity, innovation, and energy of his contemporaries, Haring was also inspired by the work of Jean Dubuffet, Pierre Alechinsky, William Bur­roughs, and Brion Gysin. He embraced artist Robert Henri’s manifesto, The Art Spirit, which asserted the fundamental inde­pendence of the artist. With these influences, Haring was able to propel his own youthful impulses toward a singular type of graphic expression based on the primacy of the line. Also drawn to the public and participatory nature of Christo’s work, in particular Running Fence, and by fellow Pennsylvania native Andy Warhol’s unique fusion of art and life, he was determined to devote his career to creating a truly pub­lic art.

While a student at the School of Visual Arts, Har­ing experimented with performance, video, installation, and collage, but maintained a strong commitment to drawing. In 1980, he found a highly effective medium that allowed him to communicate with the wider audience he desired, when he noticed unused advertising panels covered with matte black paper in a subway station. He began to draw on these blank paper panels throughout New York’s subway system and between 1980 and 1985 he pro­duced hundreds of these public drawings in rapid, rhythmic lines, sometimes creating as many as forty in one day. The seamless flow of images – his bark­ing dog, flying saucer, and radiant baby – became familiar to commuters who often stopped to engage the artist when they encountered him at work. The subway became, as Haring said, his “laboratory” for working out his ideas and experimenting with his simple lines.

Haring ultimately achieved international recognition and participated in numerous group and solo exhibitions. His first solo exhibition in New York, mounted by the Tony Shafrazi Gallery in 1982, was immensely popular and critically ac­claimed. He also completed a number of public projects in the early eighties, including animation for a billboard in Times Square, designs for theaters and clubs, developing watch de­signs, and creating murals throughout the world. By 1986, he had opened the Pop Shop, a store in SoHo selling toys, tee­shirts, posters, magnets, and buttons bearing his images.

Throughout his career, the artist devoted much of his time to public works, many of which carried social messages. He cre­ated more than fifty of these public works of art between 1982 and 1989 in dozens of cities throughout the world. His famous 1986 mural Crack is Wack has become a landmark along New York’s FDR Drive. Haring’s far-flung projects included a mural for the one hundredth anniversary, in 1986, for the Statue of Liberty, on which he worked with nine hundred children; a mural on the exterior of Necker Children’s Hospital in Paris, in 1987; and a mural painted on the western side of the Berlin Wall three years before its fall. He also held workshops for chil­dren in schools and museums in New York, London, Tokyo, and Bordeaux, in addition to producing imagery for literacy programs and public service campaigns.

In 1988, at the age of twenty-nine, Haring was diagnosed with acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). The fol­lowing year he established the Keith Haring Foundation to provide funding and imagery to AIDS organizations and children’s programs. He used his art during the final years of his life to speak about his own illness and to generate awareness of AIDS. Haring died of complications related to AIDS at the age of thirty-one on February 16, 1990. He was cremated and his ashes scattered in a field near Bowers, just south of Kutztown. Since his death, he has been the subject of several international retrospectives. In the words of an admiring curator, Keith Haring had literally risen from the subway to the museum.

The Reading Public Museum recently opened “Keith Har­ing: Journey of the Radiant Baby,” the first major exhibition to explore the artist’s transformation of the 1980s youth culture into an artistic vision that reshaped the art world and attracted a worldwide audience. The exhibition brings together nearly one hundred of Haring’s works, including his trademark painted tarps, sculpture, prints, furniture, and paintings, many of which have never before been exhibited. Highlights include a selection of original subway drawings that played a critical role in establishing his fame and one of his final projects, a haunting altarpiece created shortly before his death. Ronald C. Roth, director and CEO of the Reading Public Museum, ex­plains that the altarpiece, on loan from New York’s Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine – where more than a thousand mourners attended a memorial service for the artist in May 1990 – is an extremely significant part of Haring’s artistic legacy. “The elements in this work of art,” says Roth, “are rem­iniscent of traditional Russian religious icons, and Haring infuses it with his distinctive graphic vocabulary, such as fren­zied dancers, swooping angels, multi-armed figures, and a baby as the central motif. They combine with the familiar shape of an altarpiece to become spiritual, uplifting, and ecumenical.”

Roth says that “Keith Haring’s first exhibited work was at the Reading Public Museum thirty years ago, in 1976,” noting that, “although that work is lost to history, many people in Berks County remain aware that one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century was born and raised here, and remained a close association with the area throughout his life. It’s quite fitting that our museum has undertaken this exhibi­tion.”

“Keith Haring: Journey of the Radiant Baby,” supported in part by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, will re.main on view through Sunday, August 6.

For more information, write Reading Public Museum, 500 Museum Rd., Reading, PA 19611; telephone (610) 371-5850; or visit the Reading Public Museum website.