Bookshelf provides descriptions and notices of recent publications on Pennsylvania subjects.

Gettysburg Religion: Refinement, Diversity, and Race in the Antebellum and Civil War Border North

In the borderland between slavery and freedom, Gettysburg remains among the most legendary landmarks of the American Civil War, asserts Steve Longenecker, author of Gettysburg Religion: Refinement, Diversity, and Race in the Antebellum and Civil War Border North (Fordham University Press, 2014, cloth, 246 pages, $45). A century and a half after the horrific three-day bloodbath waged July 1–3, 1863, the battlefield’s Cemetery Hill, the Lutheran Theological Seminary and its ridge, and the Peach Orchard remain powerful memories for their embodiment of the small-town North and their ability, both individually and collectively, to touch themes vital to 19th-century religion. During this period three patterns became particularly prominent: refinement, diversity and war.

In Gettysburg Religion Longenecker explores the religious history of antebellum and Civil War-era Gettysburg, shedding light on the remarkable diversity of American religion and the intricate ways in which it interacted with the broader culture. He argues that Gettysburg religion revealed much about how trends in the Border North mirrored national developments. In many ways Gettysburg and its surrounding Border North religion signaled a coming pattern for modern America.

“Like so many small towns,” Longenecker writes in the introduction, “Gettysburg’s religious life was vibrant but routine. As Christians nourished their souls on a daily and weekly basis, the priorities of congregational life, such as choir masters, fairs, debts and pastoral placement, often preoccupied them.

Historians want to know what the past teaches, and sometimes an honest resurrection of the past reveals that most persons in the pews were more interested in things small rather than large. Certainly, large political issues and grand reforms claimed attention, but, especially in their religious life, maintenance of the local societies was a very high priority.”

However, despite the lack of excitement, Gettysburg religion had direction and the book probes it and its origin and development during this turbulent period in the nation’s history.

Eminent historian and author Edward L. Ayres characterizes Gettysburg Religion as an “elegant and graceful study [that] illuminates our understanding of America at the time of the Civil War in a remarkable way. It shines a subtle light into religion, private life, and public struggles, revealing living people among familiar shadows of the past.”

 

One Woman in a Hundred: Edna Phillips and the Philadelphia Orchestra

Mary Sue Welsh’s One Woman in a Hundred: Edna Phillips and the Philadelphia Orchestra (University of Illinois Press, 2013, cloth, 241 pages, $35) is a fascinating account of a gifted harpist who joined the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1930, becoming not only the ensemble’s first female member but also the first woman to hold a principal position in a major American orchestra. Plucked from the Curtis Institute of Music in the midst of her studies, Edna Phillips (1907–2003) was only 23 when Leopold Stokowski, one of the 20th century’s most innovative and controversial conductors, named her principal harpist. This candid, colorful account traces Phillips’s journey through the competitive (and sometimes ruthless) realm of Philadelphia’s virtuoso players, where she survived – and thrived – thanks to her undeniable talent, determination and lively sense of humor.

Drawing on extensive interviews with Phillips, her family and her colleagues, in addition to archival sources, One Woman in a Hundred chronicles the training, aspirations, setbacks and successes of this pioneering musician. The author recounts numerous insider stories of rehearsals and performances with Stokowski and renowned conductors of the period, among them Arturo Toscanini, Fritz Reiner, Otto Klemperer, Sir Thomas Beecham and Eugene Ormandy. She also depicts Phillips’s interactions with fellow performers, the orchestra movement and her teacher, the wily and brilliant Carlos Salzedo. Blessed with a nimble wit, Phillips navigated a plethora of challenges ranging from false conductors’ cues to the advances of the debonair Stokowski and others. She remained with the orchestra through some of its exciting years, from 1930 to 1946, and was instrumental in fostering harp performance, commissioning many significant contributions to the literature.

The portrait of Phillips’s exceptional tenure with the Philadelphia Orchestra also reveals behind-the-scenes vignettes of a famous orchestra during a period in which world-renowned Russian pianist, composer and conductor Sergei Rachmaninoff declared it “the finest orchestra the world has ever heard.”

 

Robert Qualters: Autobiographical Mythologies

“I grew up in the Monongahela Valley cities of McKeesport and Clairton at a time that now seems as remote to me as that of ancient Egypt,” writes artist Robert Qualters in the foreword to Vicky A. Clark’s newly released Robert Qualters: Autobiographical Mythologies (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2014, paper, 217 pages, $29.95). “Rushing home from elementary school to listen to the fifteen-minute radio programs called serials, like Terry and the Pirates and Jack Armstrong. Gritty, shiny specks of stuff from the steel mills on the snow streets. Always drawing, I liked to sit up in bed listening to the Friday night fights and draw, trying to get the feeling of the radio announcer’s action…. In seventh grade I was a popular drawer of naked women…. It became understood that I would be an artist in some fashion, first by my mother… and then by my high school art teacher, who complained that I never did what she wanted me to do but who nonetheless encouraged me to go to Carnegie Tech, where she had been a student.”

And so began a new life for the 17-year-old freshman art student.

Qualters eventually grew to become well known and appreciated in Pittsburgh where his work is included in the collections of the Carnegie Museum of Art, as well as in other prestigious public and private collections. When the author moved to Pittsburgh in the early 1980s she discovered Qualters and found it easy to place him in the category of western Pennsylvania painters because of his imagery. Like fellow artists of the time he was inspired by the remains of the industrial landscape that had shaped the character and history of the city. Clark’s categorization had consequences, relegating him to the large number of regional artists whose work was primarily based on life in the region.

The author contends it is difficult to rise above the beliefs and myths that formed the fabric of Pittsburgh and its artists, especially its long line of painters. Consequently, it has taken some time to see Qualters as the artist he is – in Clark’s words “a contemporary flaneur [‘connoisseur of the street’] and raconteur interested in the human condition as filtered through his own experiences in the city he chose to call home.” As Qualters has said, “It’s as true for painters as it is for any other creative people … that we constantly mine our own lives and experience for material.”

Even though Qualters left to serve in the U.S. Army and took the opportunity to travel throughout Europe and California during the days of the Bay Area Figurative movement, he never really left Pittsburgh behind. He returned in 1968, meeting the city head on by incorporating it in his paintings during an era dominated by abstract art.

Pittsburgh is a backdrop for Qualters’s stories, his encounters with ordinary people doing ordinary things. Recognizing specific places such as the Carnegie Museum of Art or Homestead adds interest to his work, just as the words he frequently uses to frame his images add a layer to the viewer’s understanding.

Robert Qualters: Autobiographical Mythologies is published in conjunction with the artist’s 80th birthday.

 

Morganza: Pennsylvania’s Reform School

The Pennsylvania Reform School at Morganza, Washington County, was one of many institutions serving residents of the Keystone State in a wide variety of capacities from the mid-19th century through the mid-1960s. Established in 1850 as the House of Refuge by the state legislature, it opened four years later in what was then the ninth ward of Allegheny, a municipality annexed in 1907 by Pittsburgh and known since as the city’s North Side. In 1876 the House of Refuge was relocated to near Canonsburg. Renamed the Pennsylvania Reform School, it was purposely built in a vast country area surrounded by nature, 20 miles to the north of Pittsburgh. Bordering on Chartiers Creek, the school’s expansive, meticulously landscaped campus was punctuated by handsome buildings and structures. Morganza was the original name given to the land upon which the institution was sited.

In Morganza: Pennsylvania’s Reform School (Arcadia Publishing, 2014, paper, 127 pages, $21.99), Christopher R. Barraclough expands on the first state-owned and state-operated reformatory for juvenile delinquents. “Architectural beauty was never the intended purpose of the buildings; they were designed to reform young individuals into becoming proper citizens,” he writes. “And, in their later lives, institutions like this were necessary to help people with mental disorders and other emotional handicaps function in society,” Barraclough continues. “Throughout its years of operation, concerns such as isolation, confinement, neglect, and abuse arose. Findings and laws prohibiting the use of your adolescents to work in fields and perform other taxing manual labor jobs impacted facilities like this.” Parents often threatened misbehaving children that “they would be sent to Morganza,” and its name was an often repeated descriptor during its more than one century of existence. Mere mention of Morganza terrified youngsters.

Morganza was not flexible enough to face the medical and social challenges of 20th-century reform. With an enormous campus and little to no admittance, a facility of this size could no longer effectively operate. The school was shuttered in the 1960s, after a series of name changes, and its inmates sent to other institutions for juvenile delinquency. The school then served as a home for the mentally handicapped and the emotionally disturbed. The institution maintained the facility until it closed and was ultimately demolished in 2012. Morganza: Pennsylvania’s Reform School is a highly pictorial account of the school, its buildings and grounds and the people who lived and worked within its confines.