Features appear in each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage showcasing a variety of subjects from various periods and geographic locations in Pennsylvania.

 

Ruffed grouse, the state bird.

Ruffed grouse, the state bird. The State Museum of Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Icons is a landmark exhibition at The State Museum of Pennsylvania that tells the story of the commonwealth and its people, places, industries, creations and events with more than 400 artifacts and specimens from the museum’s collection.

The State Museum contains the largest and most comprehensive Pennsylvania history collection in the world, with a diverse array of objects ranging from prehistoric fossils and 9,000-year-old Native American axes and adzes to Colonial-era rifles and textiles to Arnold Palmer’s golf clubs. Typical of large museums, The State Museum publicly displays less than 1 percent of its 5 million objects at any given time; however, an effort has been afoot to showcase more of the collection.

Pennsylvania Icons comes as the culmination of this initiative, known among staff as the “Get-the-Stuff-Out Campaign.” The objects on these pages represent only a sampling of the exhibition.

 

 

The Pennsylvania Landscape

From its earliest settlements to the present, Pennsylvania has been uniquely shaped by its fertile landscape and abundant natural resources. Native Americans found sustenance in Pennsylvania’s forests and fields for millennia prior to the arrival of Europeans. Artifacts such as 12,700-year-old Clovis spearpoints, excavated in Fayette and Dauphin counties, are evidence of Pennsylvania’s earliest inhabitants.

State Forester Oliver Benjamin Gipple’s Bureau of Forestry jacket. PHMC

State Forester Oliver Benjamin Gipple’s Bureau of Forestry jacket. The State Museum of Pennsylvania

Rich farmland was a key to the economic success of Pennsylvania’s first European settlers. Through their innovative use of fertilizer and crop rotation, they cultivated the most productive fields and pastures in Colonial America. Their scythes, rakes, pitchforks and other agricultural implements have been preserved to tell the story of farming in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania’s natural resources fueled the Industrial Revolution and its manufacturers developed into some of the nation’s most successful corporations. In the late 18th century, Pennsylvania was the largest producer of iron in North America, manufacturing vast quantities of tools, cookware and stoves. A century later, the state was supplying much of the nation’s oil, coal and steel as well.

As its namesake forests were harvested, the commonwealth also emerged as the nation’s leading producer of lumber. Saws, axes and other implements on display were the tools of the early lumber industry. A Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry jacket and badge belonging to Oliver Benjamin Gipple (1890-1971), a proponent of managed logging and Pennsylvania’s state forester, 1947-52, represent conservation efforts that successfully revived the commonwealth’s depleted forests and wildlife populations.

 

Susquehanna River from the Hills, Columbia, oil on canvas by Lloyd Mifflin, 1913. PHMC

Susquehanna River from the Hills, Columbia, oil on canvas by Lloyd Mifflin, 1913. The State Museum of Pennsylvania

 

Founding Pennsylvania

A chair allegedly constructed of wood from the legendary Treaty Elm, c. 1810. PHMC

A chair allegedly constructed of wood from the legendary Treaty Elm, c. 1810. The State Museum of Pennsylvania

As a member of the Religious Society of Friends, or Quakers, William Penn (1644-1718) founded Pennsylvania on principles of religious tolerance, nonviolence and equality. He took great care to craft equitable treaties with Native American leaders for purchasing and recording land titles. As a result, European immigrants in Pennsylvania lived in relative harmony with their Native American neighbors during Penn’s lifetime. A religious treatise that Penn coauthored in 1671 with fellow Quaker George Whitehead (1636-1723), A Serious Apology for the Principles and Practices of the Quakers, explains the beliefs of the Friends in response to criticism by a Presbyterian clergyman. The copy in the exhibit is identified by a bookplate as Penn’s personal property.

According to legend, Penn pledged a treaty of friendship to Lenape chief Tamanend (c.1625-c.1701) at the village of Shackamaxon, in present-day Philadelphia, under an elm tree in 1682. Whether or not the meeting actually occurred, the Treaty Elm came to symbolize Penn’s desire for peace in Pennsylvania. A painted armchair handed down through successive generations of the Ball family of Philadelphia and now in The State Museum’s collection was allegedly constructed of wood from the legendary Treaty Elm after it collapsed during a storm in 1810. Although Penn enacted numerous treaties with Native American leaders, the romanticized scene of a single event held under an elm tree became popular and was referenced frequently in art and literature in the 18th and 19th centuries. Several renderings are featured in the exhibit, including one version (of many) painted by folk artist Edward Hicks (1780-1849). A native of Bucks County, Hicks sought to depict the Quaker tenet of the Inner Light, which breaks the physical barriers of differences between individuals and enables them to live together in peace, resulting in a unified and harmonious world.

 

Penn’s Treaty, oil on canvas by Edward Hicks, c. 1830-40. PHMC

Penn’s Treaty, oil on canvas by Edward Hicks, c. 1830-40. The State Museum of Pennsylvania

 

Pennsylvania German Arts

Scherenschnitte valentine for F. G. Beÿerlein, watercolor and ink on wove paper, southeastern Pennsylvania, 1840. PHMC

Scherenschnitte valentine for F. G. Beÿerlein, watercolor and ink on wove paper, southeastern Pennsylvania, 1840. The State Museum of Pennsylvania

Although Pennsylvania is home to many ethnic groups, the Pennsylvania Germans, or Pennsylvania Dutch, have been particularly correlated with the state because of their distinctive decorative arts. The Pennsylvania Germans are descended from the approximately 80,000 German-speaking immigrants who arrived in Pennsylvania between 1683 and 1820 from regions along the Rhine River, in what is today Germany, and northern Switzerland.

Many Pennsylvania German arts feature traditional folk motifs such as hearts, tulips, birds, angels and a variety of stars. Craftsmen, inspired by their love of color and fanciful design, applied these to virtually everything, from pottery and painted chests to textiles. These designs are particularly prevalent in fraktur, a Germanic tradition of decorated manuscripts and printed documents prevalent in Pennsylvania from about 1740 to the early 1900s. Pennsylvania German fraktur artists made documents such as birth records, writing samples, house blessings, valentines, religious texts, bookplates, rewards of merit and New Year’s greetings. The most common type of fraktur in Pennsylvania was the Geburts-und-Taufschein, or birth and baptismal certificate, because of the importance of baptism in the Lutheran and Reformed churches to which the majority of Pennsylvania Germans belonged. A colorful birth and baptismal certificate made in 1826 by Johann Georg Bussjaeger for his daughter, Elisabeth, when she was 15 years old is one example. The document shows that Elisabeth was born on August 7, 1811, in Westmoreland County. By the late 1700s many Pennsylvania German families like the Bussjaegers had moved beyond the southeastern region’s borders in search of land and better economic opportunities.

 

Birth and baptismal certificate for Elisabeth Bussjaeger, watercolor and ink on wove paper made by John George Bussjaeger, Westmoreland County, 1826.PHMC

Birth and baptismal certificate for Elisabeth Bussjaeger, watercolor and ink on wove paper made by John George Bussjaeger, Westmoreland County, 1826. The State Museum of Pennsylvania

 

Pennsylvania’s Story is America’s Story

Pewter flask made by Johann Christopher Heyne, Lancaster, 1770s, owned by Col. Christian Lauer of the Associated Battalion during the American Revolution.PHMC

Pewter flask made by Johann Christopher Heyne, Lancaster, 1770s, owned by Col. Christian Lauer of the Associated Battalion during the American Revolution. The State Museum of Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania was the setting for many pivotal events during the formation and development of the United States of America. Several key engagements of the French and Indian War (1754-63) occurred on Pennsylvania soil. State Museum archaeologists have uncovered several artifacts from the war at Fort Augusta, Fort Loudon and Fort Hunter, such as a spur, a bayonet, a flintlock and musket balls, which now are part of the exhibit.

Flag of the First Pennsylvania Regiment of the Continental Line in the American Revolutionary War. PHMC

Flag of the First Pennsylvania Regiment of the Continental Line in the American Revolutionary War. The State Museum of Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania state flag from the platform on which President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address at the dedication of the Soldiers National Cemetery, November 19, 1863. PHMC

The Pennsylvania state flag from the platform on which President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address at the dedication of the Soldiers National Cemetery, November 19, 1863. The State Museum of Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania was the economic, political and military keystone in the success of the American Revolution. From Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River to the encampment of the Continental Army at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania’s military role was instrumental in the war effort between 1775 and 1783. Artifacts in the collection include a Committee of Safety Brown Bess musket made by Horace White and Martin Ely and a screw-top pewter flask dated 1776 and engraved with the name of its original owner, Col. Christian Lauer. A German immigrant, Lauer settled in Berks County, became a blacksmith and owner of the Moselem Forge and served in the Pennsylvania militia. The flask bears the mark of its maker, Johann Christoph Heyne, a Moravian who worked in Lancaster.

Three extraordinary flags are also on display. The earliest was used by the 1st Pennsylvania Regiment of the Continental Line between 1776 and 1783, during the Revolutionary War. The regiment was involved in several engagements, including Trenton, Princeton, Brandywine, Germantown, Monmouth and Springfield. The second flag, made of blue-and-white-striped silk, bears the handwritten inscription, “This quilt was used by Wm. Huckel in the Western Expedition 1794.” An Englishman, William Huckel arrived in Philadelphia in 1775 and served with several militia units during the Revolutionary War and was a paymaster under Col. Francis Gurney, traveling with his unit to western Pennsylvania as part of the 1794 expedition to suppress the Whiskey Rebellion. The third flag is a Pennsylvania State banner that was flown at Gettysburg National Cemetery during President Abraham Lincoln’s delivery of the Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863.

 

Pennsylvania Products

Pennsylvania is significant for its production of finished goods ranging from long rifles and locomotives to Mack Trucks and Hershey’s Kisses. Iconic products are featured in the forms of a century-old Planters peanuts tin, a Heinz tomato ketchup bottle and a set of Crayola Crayons. The exhibit also includes a bottle of Hires Root Beer extract, invented by a Philadelphia pharmacist in 1876; a guitar produced in 1870 by C.F. Martin & Co. of Nazareth, Northampton County; and a Predicta Princess Swivel Television manufactured in 1959 by Philco of Philadelphia.

Going further back to Colonial Pennsylvania, a c.1750 woven rush seat chair from the Philadelphia shop of William Savery (c.1721-87) is a particularly refined example of a type that was ubiquitous in both urban and rural households. Other iconic products made in Pennsylvania may be less practical, but their impact has been almost as profound. Naval engineer Richard James (1914-74) developed the Slinky toy in 1943 and demonstrated it at Gimbels Department Store in Philadelphia in November 1945. Later that year, Richard and his wife Betty formed James Industries in Paoli, Chester County, to manufacture Slinky toys. The exhibit features a store display from the 1950s that demonstrates the Slinky’s ability to walk down stairs.

 

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Noteworthy Pennsylvanians

Arnold Palmer’s golf clubs.

Arnold Palmer’s golf clubs. The State Museum of Pennsylvania

The exhibit also highlights Pennsylvanians who have made a mark on the statewide, national or international levels, from polymath Benjamin Franklin (1706-90) to civil rights activist C. Delores Tucker (1927-2005). Some are represented by portraits, others by objects that once belonged to them. Artists such as Benjamin West (1738-1820), Violet Oakley (1874-1961), Andy Warhol (1928-87) and Horace Pippin (1888-1946) are denoted by their own original works of art. Pippin reflected his life experiences in his artwork during a tumultuous time in history. Born in West Chester, Delaware County, he worked odd jobs as a young man before enlisting in World War I to fight with the Harlem Hellfighters, an African American infantry regiment. Ironically, Pippin took his first formal art class in 1938, the same year that the Museum of Modern Art included several of his paintings in a traveling exhibition. His c.1930 oil-on-wood panel in the exhibit, Losing the Way, depicts a rural doctor lost in the snow while trying to find a patient.

Genevieve Blatt campaign poster for judge of the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, 1973.

Genevieve Blatt campaign poster for judge of the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, 1973. The State Museum of Pennsylvania

Other objects related to famous Pennsylvanians include a trophy awarded to basketball player Wilt Chamberlain (1936-99), a Patty-Jo doll based on the comic strip character of cartoonist Jackie Ormes (1911-85) and the pelvis and femurs of the dinosaur Coelophysis bauri discovered by paleontologist Edward Drinker Cope (1840-97). Judge Genevieve Blatt (1913-96) is represented among the politicians. A native of East Brady, Clarion County, she was the first woman to be elected to a statewide office in Pennsylvania when she became secretary of internal affairs; she was re-elected twice. In 1972 she was appointed to fill an unexpired term as a judge on the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court; she won re-election thereafter, serving until her retirement in 1993. Blatt wrote the groundbreaking 1975 ruling that gave girls equal access to school sports. The exhibit includes several Blatt artifacts, including a nameplate from her office and a campaign poster.

 

 Losing the Way, oil on burnt-wood panel by Horace Pippin, c. 1930.

Losing the Way, oil on burnt-wood panel by Horace Pippin, c. 1930. The State Museum of Pennsylvania

 

Pennsylvania Icons is now open at The State Museum of Pennsylvania. For more information, visit the State Museum of Pennsylvania website.

 

Bradley Smith is curatorial administrator at The State Museum of Pennsylvania and curator of the Pennsylvania Icons exhibition.