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.

Michener Centennial

On Saturday, February 3, James A. Michener (1907–1997), America’s beloved writer and one of Pennsylvania’s most famous sons, would have celebrated his one hundredth birthday. Although he wrote that he did not know who his parents were or exactly when and where he was born, he was raised a Quaker by an adoptive mother, Mabel Michener, in Doylestown, Bucks County. He graduated in 1929 with highest honors from Swarthmore College, where he played basketball, and from 1933 to 1936 taught at the George School in Newtown. He attended Colorado State Teachers College in Greeley, Colorado, earned his master’s degree, and taught there for several years.

His writing career began during World War II when, as a lieutenant commander in the United States Navy, he was assigned to the South Pacific Ocean as a naval historian. He later turned his observations and impressions into Tales of the South Pacific, his first book, and the basis for the Broadway musical and motion picture South Pacific. Published when he was forty years old, Tales of the South Pacific won him the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1948.

During his lifetime, Michener was a popular and successful writer, and his novels sold an estimated seventy-five million copies worldwide. He is considered one of the most prolific authors of the twentieth century. Michener based his novel Hawaii, published in 1959, on extensive historical research, and nearly all of his subsequent novels were solidly rooted in detailed historical, cultural, and geological data. His most popular novels —Centennial (1974), Chesapeake (1978), and Texas (1985) — were constructed as epics, tracing the history of a region from primordial times to the recent past. He typically focused on a few families, exploring their place among the region’s different cultures and the impact of major historical events upon them. Much of his nonfiction, such as books about Japanese art and political memoirs, drew upon his travel experiences.

To observe the centennial of Michener’s birth, the James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown recently opened “James A. Michener: Traveler/Citizen/Writer,” curated by Stephen J. May, author of the recent biography Michener: A Writer’s Journey, and a contributor to Pennsylvania Heritage.

Michener was a complex and gifted individual who, in a sense, led many different lives. He is best summed up by the three words he chose for his epitaph: traveler, citizen, writer. Although his renown derives mostly from his writing, he was also a “man of the world” — someone who spent the better part of his life educating himself about the planet through his constant travels. He was a citizen in the best sense of the word, dedicated to making a difference through public service and philanthropy. He ran for Congress from Bucks County in 1962, served as secretary of the Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention from 1967 to 1968, and advised government leaders on issues ranging from the space program to postage stamps. He gave more than one hundred million dollars to schools, libraries, and other institutions, including the Michener Art Museum. The exhibit focuses on these three key aspects of his life with photographs, objects, and paintings selected from the museum’s collections.

Sponsored by Lewis and Janet S. Klein, “James A. Michener: Traveler/Citizen/Writer” is supported in part by a grant from the Pennsylvania Historical and
Museum Commission. The exhibit continues through Sunday, July 8.

For information, write: James A. Michener Art Museum, 138 South Pine St., Doylestown, PA 18901; telephone (215) 340-9800.

 

Tut, Tut, Tut

Thirty years after an exhibit of Tutankhamun’s treasures last toured the United States and more than three thousand years after his death, a selection of artifacts that once belonged to Egypt’s “boy king” is on view at the Franklin Institute Science Museum in Philadelphia through Sunday, September 30.

More than double the size of the original 1977 exhibition, “Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs” features nearly 130 Egyptian antiquities, many outside of Egypt for the first time. The 18th Dynasty, known as the Golden Age, produced many exquisite works of art for some of Egypt’s most famous rulers.

When British archaeologist Howard Carter (1874–1939) uncovered the remarkably preserved tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922, he created a world-wide sensation. The only tomb of its era found intact and full of indescribable riches, it was the major discovery in the age of easy global communication. That, together with rumors of a mysterious curse, helped make Tutankhamun the most popular pharaoh known to the modern world.

Most likely the son of the heretic King Akhenaten and his lesser wife Kyla, he began life with the name Tutankhaten (“Living Image of the Aten”). The young prince would have grown up at Akhetaten, the new controversial city. Near the time of his father’s death, Tutankhamun married Ankhsenpaaten, probably his half-sister and the daughter of Akhenaten by Nefertiti, the famous beauty and chief wife.

Not long after his father’s death, the ten-year-old Tutankhaten ascended the throne of Egypt, his coronation a grand event with pomp and pageantry. One of his first actions as pharaoh was to distance himself from the Amarna religion, because his father’s belief in one god, the Aten, had proved to be unpopular with the people. He quickly reestablished the orthodox belief in the pantheon of the gods and reopened their temples. By his second year, King Tutankhaten and his queen had changed their names to Tutankhamun and Ankhsenamun. Although they did not completely abandon Amarna, members of the royal family reestablished the old capitals and spent most of their time at the traditional administrative center of Memphis.

After a brief, nine-year reign, the boy king unexpectedly died before reaching his twentieth birthday. The cause of his death remains a mystery and continues to fuel much discussion and conjecture. An x-ray made in 1968 appeared to show damage to the base of Tutankhamun’s skull, perhaps caused by a blow to the head, but CT scans have disproved that theory. Recent examination revealed a compound fracture of the left thigh. If he sustained such an injury, he could have died quickly of infection, but the soft tissue is too damaged to yield conclusive proof. Whatever the reason for his death, Tutankhamun’s advisors quickly arranged his funeral.

Ancient Egyptians believed that at the moment of death, the ba and the ka — two parts of an individual’s total identity — separated from the body. They considered the ba to be the soul or personality, represented by a bird with a human head that could leave the tomb and affect the lives of loved ones left behind. The ka was the life force, perhaps the most crucial part of an individual’s identity. In order to function in the afterlife, the ka needed food, drink, incense, clothing, and perpetual ritual care. It was only through the properly mummified body and well-executed funeral rites that the ba, the ka, and the body could be reunited, allowing the deceased to become an ankh, an effective and blessed spirit that could dwell in peace and eternity.

“Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of Pharaohs” showcases fifty objects and artifacts discovered in the boy king’s tomb, as well as eighty articles from tombs unearthed in Egypt’s fabled Valley of the Kings. The exhibition was organized by the National Geographic Society.

For more information, write: Franklin Institute Science Museum, 222 North 20th St., Philadelphia, PA 19103; telephone (215) 448-1200. Advance tickets required.

 

Picturing What Matters

An exhibition of images tracing the origins and history of photography in America, beginning with the introduction of daguerreotypes through contemporary techniques, is on view at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg through Sunday, June 3.

Although diverse in subject and format, the images are distinguished by their common sprit: they voice a refrain for family and community that extends beyond national boundaries to universal values shared throughout the world. Photographs include themes of family, at work and at leisure; national milestones and crises; patriotism; and quirky, unusual glimpses of life. More than one hundred photographers are featured in the exhibit, “Picturing What Matters: An Offering of Photographs from the George Eastman House Collection,” including Timothy O’Sullivan, Southworth and Hawes, Eugene Smith, Margaret Bourke-White, Walker Evans, Ansel Adams, Lewis Hine, Dorothea Lange, and Paul Strand.

Historically, tumultuous events frame anew the question of what matters to individuals, community, and society. Photography has long been a powerful force in giving personal and cultural currency to what Americans deem important and in shaping a collective memory. “Picturing What Matters” grew out of perspectives prompted by the tragedies of September 11, 2001. The staff of the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York, selected the images in the exhibition not only to commemorate the horrific day and its impact on the world, but also to evoke meaning from a common visual history. The staff selected photographs that moved them, creating a display that is diverse and united, comforting and startling. Images featured in “Picturing What Matters” include Migrant Mother by Lange, Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park, California, by Adams, and Old Glory Goes Up on Mt. Suribachi by Joe Rosenthal.

To complement the exhibit, the Westmoreland Museum of American Art has organized a companion exhibit, “Picturing What Matters to Our Community,” a selection of images submitted by area residents in response to the museum’s request for photographs of people, places, and events that matter to them.

The exhibition is supported in part by a grant from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

For more information, write: Westmoreland Museum of American Art, 221 North Main St., Greensburg, PA 15601; telephone (724) 837-1500.