Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

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[caption id="attachment_17125" align="alignright" width="240"]Duval Printing This 1849 advertisement by Christian Schüssele called attention to the new color printing technologies available at P.S. Duval’s Colour Printing & Lithographic Establishment. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, Philadelphia became a leading center of printmaking in the United States. While publishing companies had operated in the city since the eighteenth century, the technological innovations of the firm of Peter S. Duval (1804/5-86) transformed Philadelphia’s lithographic trade into a booming industry. Duval’s commitment to improving printmaking methods and achieving complex artistic expression was taken up in the twentieth century by the Philadelphia Fine Print Workshop of the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project. Then, following World War II, a flourishing of printmaking centers, including the Brandywine Workshop and the Brodsky Center for Innovative Editions, enabled a new generation of artists to experiment with a variety of techniques and materials, cementing the Philadelphia region’s reputation as a pioneer in the field of printmaking.

Philadelphia witnessed the birth of American lithography in 1819 when Bass Otis (1784-1861) produced the country’s first lithograph. Invented in Germany in 1798 by Alois Senefelder (1771-1834), lithography is a planographic process that relies on the inability of oil and water to mix. A greasy crayon is applied to a smooth limestone or metal plate, which is then treated with a chemical solution, sponged with water, inked, and sent through a printing press. As American artists and printers experimented with the technique in the 1820s, they discovered that it allowed for long print runs, large sizes, and the easy combination of text and image. Commercial lithographic production began in Philadelphia in 1828 with the founding of Kennedy & Lucas (active 1828-33). Within just a few years, the industry dramatically expanded. By 1878, over 500 artists, lithographers, printers, and publishers had participated in the city’s lithographic trade.

[caption id="attachment_17124" align="alignright" width="228"]Richards Grandpa's Pet John H. Richard, working for Duval, produced the country's first lithotint, Grandpapa’s Pet, in 1843. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

No publisher was more influential in transforming the art and the business of lithography than Peter Duval. The French lithographer arrived in Philadelphia in 1831 to work for the publisher Cephas G. Childs (1793-1871) Although only twenty-six years old, Duval brought a level of expertise that few Americans could match. In fact, he was the only lithographer in Philadelphia who had received professional training. After quickly achieving success with Childs, he partnered with George Lehman (ca. 1800-70) to found Lehman & Duval (Dock Street and Bank Alley) in 1834. Three years later, he opened his own firm, P.S. Duval’s Lithographic Establishment, at the same location. It then moved to the Artisans’ Building between Fourth and Fifth Streets, between Chestnut and Market Streets, from 1848 to 1857.

A Wide Range of Printing Services

In contrast to Philadelphia firms in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries that specialized in one product, Duval offered a wide range of services, including advertisements, billheads, certificates, checks, circulars, labels, maps, pamphlets, sheet music covers, and title pages. His workshop also served as a training ground for a generation of printmakers, whose artistic abilities, he believed, should match those of fine artists. Through on-the-job instruction, lithographers not only developed their technical skills but also their drawing and painting skills. Because of Duval’s dedication to technological improvement, Philadelphia became one of the first cities in the United States to utilize steam power in lithographic printing. He successfully mechanized one step of the printing process—the pulling of the stone through the press—in 1850 in an attempt to save muscle power and increase efficiency. By the 1860s, he managed to automate the rest of the procedure, including the dampening and inking of the stone.

In addition to streamlining lithographic practices, Duval was a forerunner in color printing. To find an alternative to the costly and time-consuming process of hand coloring, he experimented with tinted lithography in the 1840s. A tinted lithograph, also known as a lithotint, is a monochromatic lithograph printed in several hues from one stone. However, although the method allows for printing numerous inks in various gradations, it cannot print bright, bold colors. Duval finally achieved success with true color printing, or chromolithography, in 1849, printing three or more colors from separate stones. His firm immediately began producing portraits, landscapes, illustrations, advertisements, and title pages with a wide variety of hues. His artists’ skillful reproductions of oil paintings, also known as “chromos,” became so popular that an entire industry arose in Philadelphia dedicated to manufacturing mass-produced, affordable replicas of paintings. Duval’s foremost “chromo” rivals included Thomas Sinclair (active 1838-81), Wagner & McGuigan (active 1845-57), and L.N. Rosenthal (active 1852-84). Overall, Duval and his contemporaries not only elevated lithography from a practical to a fine art but also helped make works of art more available to the multitudes.

The Philadelphia Fine Print Workshop

[caption id="attachment_17128" align="alignright" width="339"]Thrash WPA Print Defense Worker, 1941, was produced by Dox Thrash using the Carborundum printmaking method. (Free Library of Philadelphia)[/caption]

Continuing in the tradition of nineteenth-century printmaking firms, the Philadelphia Fine Print Workshop (311 Broad Street) of the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project increased the accessibility of art to the public during the mid-1930s and early 1940s. The primary aim of this New Deal program was to provide employment to artists during the Great Depression. Yet it also sought to introduce art into the everyday lives of Americans by offering the use of its facilities and materials to the local community. It distributed editions to public institutions, such as schools, libraries, and post offices, and held exhibitions in unconventional spaces, such as parks, settlement houses, and subway stations, to allow people of all socioeconomic backgrounds the chance to encounter art outside of a museum or gallery.

The Philadelphia Fine Print Workshop was the only graphic art center of the Federal Art Project specifically devoted to the creation of fine art prints. While other workshops manufactured commercial products, such as posters, brochures, maps, and charts, the artists of the Philadelphia Fine Print Workshop created etchings, engravings, woodcuts, lithographs, dry points, mezzotints, and aquatints for their own creative endeavors. They saw printmaking not simply as a means of mechanical reproduction but as an imaginative process that helped them reconceptualize their approaches to art-making.

Furthermore, the Philadelphia Fine Print Workshop was one of the most racially diverse graphic art centers in the country. African American artists such as Dox Thrash (1893-1965), Claude Clark (1915-2001), and Raymond Steth (1917-97) acquired unparalleled access to costly tools and equipment as well as to a community of artists with a wide range of technical expertise. In an oral history interview for the Archives of American Art, Philadelphia printmaker Hugh Mesibov (b. 1916) explained that a strong sense of community developed among workshop artists, regardless of race. They consistently shared knowledge and exchanged ideas as they explored the possibilities of printmaking technologies together.

As a result of this collaborative environment, the Philadelphia Fine Print Workshop became a center of innovation. Its most significant accomplishment was the invention of the Carborundum printmaking technique, which the Philadelphia Tribune called “the first important innovation in the printmaker’s art in a century.” Carborundum is a coarse, granular industrial product traditionally used to clean lithographic plates. Thrash discovered its ability to produce images of great tonal richness while experimenting at the workshop in 1937. After rubbing the material onto a copper plate with a heavy flatiron, he realized that the Carborundum crystals created a rough, pitted surface that held ink. Mesibov, who was looking over his shoulder, suggested that he use a knife-like tool called a burnisher to polish the surface to create lighter tonalities. Thrash took Mesibov’s advice and sketched a nude. After this initial collaboration, Thrash and his colleagues continued to explore the artistic potential of Carborundum together, developing the Carborundum relief etching and the color Carborundum relief etching. Although these processes never gained popularity outside of the Philadelphia region, the Federal Art Project administration and newspapers across the country, from Time to Popular Mechanics to Magazine of Art, hailed the Philadelphia Fine Print Workshop for its pioneering discovery. Approximately 108 Carborundum prints were created for the Federal Art Project between 1937 and the project’s termination in 1943.

Post-War Printmaking Centers

[caption id="attachment_17127" align="alignright" width="200"]Allan Edmunds, MLK’s Humanity of Man, 2001(Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts) In MLK’s Humanity of Man, Allan Edmunds combined offset lithography with screenprinting, stenciling, and collage. (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts)[/caption]

Building upon the legacy of the Philadelphia Fine Print Workshop, artists founded numerous graphic art centers devoted to artistic collaboration and community engagement during the 1970s and 1980s, including the Fabric Workshop and Museum (1214 Arch Street), the Ettinger Studio (2215 South Street), and the Printmaking Center of New Jersey (440 River Road, Branchburg, New Jersey). Two of the most prolific, which continue to operate today, are the Brandywine Workshop (730 South Broad Street) and the Brodsky Center for Innovative Editions (Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, 33 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, New Jersey). The founder of the Brandywine Workshop, Allan Edmunds (b. 1949), studied with Sam Brown (1907-94), one of the African American artists employed by the Philadelphia Fine Print Workshop.

Like the Philadelphia Fine Print Workshop, the Brandywine Workshop and the Brodsky Center have aimed to educate the public on printmaking processes through classes and lectures. Additionally, they have sought to introduce artists to new technologies by offering equipment and technical expertise for a wide range of methods, from traditional processes, such as etching, engraving, woodcut, and lithography, to more recent methods, such as electroplating, photo-emulsion screenprinting, and video imaging. Edmunds and Judith Brodsky, the founder of the Brodsky Center, have established non-hierarchical environments to encourage artists to work with printers, papermakers, students, and fellow artists. They believe that through such exchanges, artists will come across new, inventive ways to conceive of their work. The Brodsky Center, with its university location, has also taken on the role of a research facility where people can think creatively, develop ideas, and investigate alternative media.

[caption id="attachment_17129" align="alignright" width="258"]Shapiro Frida Miriam Schapiro collaborated on Frida and Me with printer Eileen Foti at the Brodsky Center. (The Brodsky Center for Innovative Editions)[/caption]

As the Philadelphia Fine Print Workshop granted opportunities to artists who had been marginalized because of their race, the Brandywine Workshop and Brodsky Center have actively reached out to artists of color. Edmunds and Brodsky have recognized that few African American artists, especially women, have had the chance to master the technical processes of printmaking. Their artist residency programs have exposed artists of all backgrounds to the possibilities of media technologies and have provided extensive professional development. Since the time of their founding, over three hundred artists have passed through the doors of the Brandywine Workshop and the Brodsky Center, including Will Barnet (1911-2012), Elizabeth Catlett (1915-2012), Barbara Chase-Riboud (b. 1939), Spencer Finch (b. 1962), William Kentridge (b. 1955), Glenn Ligon (b. 1960), Howardena Pindell (b. 1943), Faith Ringgold (b. 1930), Carolee Schneemann (b. 1939), Kiki Smith (b. 1954), Miriam Schapiro (b. 1923), Mickalene Thomas (b. 1971), and Carrie Mae Weems (b. 1953). Through their emphases on creative collaboration and technical innovation, the Brandywine Workshop and Brodsky Center have built upon the rich legacies of Peter S. Duval and the Philadelphia Fine Print Workshop to continue the tradition of printmaking in the Philadelphia region.

Michelle Donnelly earned her M.A. in Art History from the University of Pennsylvania. As a Curatorial Assistant at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, she curated the exhibition “Art for Society’s Sake: The WPA and Its Legacy” in 2013. She is a Samuel H. Kress Interpretive Fellow at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York.

Michelle Donnelly

Michelle Donnelly is a Curatorial Fellow at the Whitney Museum of American Art. She earned her M.A. in Art History from the University of Pennsylvania in 2014 and worked as a Curatorial Assistant at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts from 2013 to 2014.

Modern Chivalry: Containing the Adventures of Captain John Farrago, and Teague O’Regan, his Servant

[caption id="attachment_16646" align="alignright" width="233"]Hugh Henry Brackenridge Hugh Henry Brackenridge, Clayton Braun (American), 1953, oil on canvas, Courtesy of The Trout Gallery, Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pennsylvania. (The Trout Gallery)[/caption]

Modern Chivalry is a rich American novel, penned by the army chaplain, editor, Pennsylvania lawyer and judge, state legislator, and writer Hugh Henry Brackenridge (1748-1816), published in installments from 1792 to 1815. A social and political satire, it features two main characters, Captain John Farrago and his Irish servant, Teague O’Regan, who engage in humorous, competing impulses ridiculing the substance of life in the new republic, while examining its problems, especially the shortcomings of its people, whether found in the forests of western Pennsylvania or the streets of Philadelphia. Their adventures focus on the political and cultural controversies emerging in 1789 with Washington’s presidency through the latter part of 1815 and the second Madison administration, and illustrate what the founders knew—that the most urgent task for the new nation was establishing a government with stability and integrity.

The two protagonists reflect two opposing camps of the democratic spirit: Farrago possesses the quixotic notion of the Renaissance man promoting the values of the ancients (the conservative ideology), and Teague seeks every opportunity for improvement, enthusiastically embracing his freedom from the status quo. His liberal spirit breaks with the elitist controls Farrago offers, as Teague believes he could become a congressman, a philosopher, a minister, a major (outshining his master). Brackenridge’s early narrative method concentrates on this theme of self-assertiveness and how Farrago struggles to control the irrationality of Teague’s ambitions, while a third character, the narrator, intrudes between the vulgar and the elite with little success. In addition to staging issues of class, the novel points up matters of race, in particular through its condemnation of slavery and emphasis on the mistreatment of Native Americans.

As a social document, Modern Chivalry directs attention to Philadelphia and its citizens, from a controversial episode ridiculing the supposed pretensions of the city’s American Philosophical Society for “[having] access made so easy, that every one may obtain admission” to a local color piece that shows city election candidates who “eat and drank abundantly…pampering their appetites, … swollen [in] size.” Later, Farrago searches for Teague across the city and along the way rescues a young woman who has become trapped in a brothel. After arranging for a Quaker lady to take her in, he returns with the good news only to find that the girl has committed suicide. Showcasing both the best and worst elements of the city, Brackenridge uses sentimentalism as a counter to the Calvinist doctrine of human depravity, emphasizing the goodness of humanity. In a send-off to the city, Brackenridge calls out to his Philadelphia readers in amazement and irritation: “Will no body attack it and prove that it is insipid, libelous, treasonable, immoral, or irreligious? If they will not do this, let them do something else… . Will no body speak?” Brackenridge demands that his readers shoulder their own share of responsibility for the failure to live up to the democratic ideal.

Of Modern Chivalry, the editor of the standard edition of the novel, Ed White, argues that “our challenge today is to read it carefully on its own terms, as a democratic literary experiment by a cautious supporter and enemy of democracy.” Not a simple text or an easily ignored one, the novel remains an essential work within the canon of early American studies. 

Paul J. deGategno is Professor of English at The Pennsylvania State University at Brandywine and the author of James Macpherson, Poet of Ossian; Ivanhoe: The Mask of Chivalry; and The Critical Companion to Jonathan Swift.

Paul J. deGategno

Paul J. deGategno is Professor of English at The Pennsylvania State University at Brandywine and the author of James Macpherson, Poet of Ossian; Ivanhoe: The Mask of Chivalry; and The Critical Companion to Jonathan Swift.

Pennsylvania Impressionism

[caption id="attachment_16395" align="aligncenter" width="562"]Young My House in Winter Charles Morris Young’s painting of his home illustrates the technical and aesthetic techniques of the Pennsylvania Impressionists. (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts)[/caption]

Pennsylvania Impressionist painting flourished in eastern Pennsylvania in the first half of the twentieth century. Often referred to as the “New Hope School” because artists in Bucks County produced the best-known works, the style was also practiced vigorously in Montgomery, Chester, Delaware, and Lehigh Counties, and key artists of the movement taught at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia. In comparison to the impressionism being practiced in other parts of the United States, Pennsylvania Impressionism was characterized by its thick brushwork and its almost single-minded focus on landscape painting.

Pennsylvania Impressionism began with the settlement of the painters William Langson Lathrop (1859-1938) and Edward Redfield (1869-1965) in the picturesque village of New Hope, along the banks of the Delaware River, in 1898. Within a few years, these two men had gathered around themselves a group of artists who sought to combine the innovations of the French Impressionists, especially their interest in capturing light and plein-air painting—or painting outdoors—and their focus on the themes of everyday modern life, with an interest in American subject matter. Walter Elmer Schofield (1867-1944), George Sotter (1879-1953), and Henry Snell (1858-1943) visited Lathrop and Redfield in New Hope as early as 1902; and Daniel Garber (1880-1958) bought a house in Lumberville, just north of New Hope, in 1907, having discovered the property with the help of Will and Annie Lathrop. These artists were inspired by the relatively unspoiled landscape of Bucks County. They painted this section of the Delaware River Valley in all weather and in all seasons, each in his own unique way, but they were especially fond of depicting the area as it looked in winter.

[caption id="attachment_16402" align="alignright" width="300"]John Folinsbee was known among the New Hope school for painting winter scenes at night. (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts)  John Folinsbee was known among the New Hope school for painting winter scenes at night. (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts)[/caption]

By 1915, when the New Hope art colony was at the height of its fame, Garber and Lathrop were nationally famous as teachers. Redfield’s habit of lashing a canvas to a tree during a winter storm, or of standing in knee-deep snow while he completed a canvas at one go became the stuff of legends. Garber and Lathrop received gold medals at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition of that year in San Francisco, and Redfield was given an entire room at the same exhibition, in which he exhibited 21 paintings. By that time, the group had come to include such luminaries as Robert Spencer (1879-1931), Rae Sloan Bredin (1881-1933), Fern Coppedge (1883-1951), Mary Elizabeth Price (1877-1965), John Folinsbee (1892-1972), and Harry Leith-Ross (1886-1973). This group of painters expanded the repertoire of the New Hope School by exploring brighter colors—as Coppedge did­­—and by delving into nighttime scenes—as did Folinsbee—and Spencer’s views of factories and tenement buildings.

The Darby School of Art

Pennsylvania Impressionism was also practiced seriously in the early twentieth century at Fort Washington, for instance, between 1900 and 1918. Thomas Anshutz and Hugh Henry Breckenridge (1870-1937) ran a summer art program called the Darby School of Art, which specialized in landscape painting in the impressionist mode. One of the Darby School’s first students was Daniel Garber. Another student was Maude Drein Bryant (1880-1946), who went on to become a key figure in the “Philadelphia Ten,” a powerful group of women artists who exhibited together from 1917 to 1945. Bryant eventually settled in Hendricks, Pennsylvania, in Upper Salford Township, and spread an appreciation for impressionism throughout upper Montgomery County.

[caption id="attachment_16396" align="alignright" width="300"]Quaint street Walter Emerson Baum Walter Emerson Baum painted vibrancy into the store fronts of Allentown’s main street. (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts)[/caption]

Pennsylvania Impressionism also thrived in Lehigh County, thanks to the efforts of Walter Emerson Baum (1884-1956), a Bucks County native who eventually founded the Allentown Art Museum and the Baum School of Art in Allentown. And Chester County became a locus of Pennsylvania Impressionism, too, when the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts set up its country school in Chester Springs, in 1917. Daniel Garber taught at Chester Springs, and some of the artists who came under his influence there included Mildred Bunting Miller (1892-1964), Grace M. Green (1904-1978), and Charles Morris Young (1869-1964). These artists worked in a style that often approached Fauvism, with its emphasis on bright and sometimes arbitrary color, but they stayed true to the Pennsylvania Impressionist preference for landscape paintings done with the same thick brushwork favored by the founders of the movement.  

The work of the Pennsylvania impressionists gradually went out of fashion in the 1930s and 1940s, giving way to modernist styles such as abstraction and cubism. It has regained popularity among collectors in recent decades, and their work has been the subject of a number of museum exhibitions and scholarly studies in the last few years. The exhibition entitled “Pennsylvania Impressionism,” which was held at the Michener Museum in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, in 2002 was accompanied by a catalog containing groundbreaking essays by Brian Peterson, William Gerdts, and Sylvia Yount.

Pennsylvania Impressionism tends to be more “American” than other branches of American Impressionism, partly because it celebrated the American landscape so vigorously, and partly because it always retained the careful draftsmanship that most of its practitioners had learned at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. It was a hybrid of French and American ideas, and not a wholesale adoption of European ideas—as Boston and New York Impressionism were. Pennsylvania Impressionism helped Americans to become familiar with, in a gradual way, the many new artistic ideas that were coming from Europe in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Mark W. Sullivan earned a Ph. D. in Art History from Bryn Mawr College and specializes in American art and architecture. He has just published Picturing Thoreau: Henry David Thoreau in American Visual Culture (Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2015), and is writing a book on Thomas Anshutz and Hugh Breckenridge, whose Darby School of Art in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania, was an important factor in the development of Pennsylvania Impressionism and American modernist painting.

Mark W. Sullivan

Mark W. Sullivan earned a Ph. D. in Art History from Bryn Mawr College and specializes in American art and architecture. He is the author of Picturing Thoreau: Henry David Thoreau in American Visual Culture (Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2015), and is writing a book on Thomas Anshutz and Hugh Breckenridge, whose Darby School of Art in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania, was an important factor in the development of Pennsylvania Impressionism and American modernist painting.

Birch’s Views of Philadelphia

[caption id="attachment_16264" align="aligncenter" width="575"]Executive Mansion on Ninth William Russell Birch and his son Thomas collaborated to create this colored print of the President's House at Ninth Street, which no president ever occupied. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

The City of Philadelphia, in the State of Pennsylvania North America; as it appeared in the Year 1800 is a masterpiece of American copperplate engraving and the first book of views to be entirely produced and published in the United States. Comprising twenty-seven scenes or “views” of Philadelphia’s buildings and streetscapes, the book aimed to give, in the words of its creator William Russell Birch (1755-1834), “the most general idea of the town.” Enormously successful, the work was published both as a bound book and as separate loose-leaf prints, and appeared in three subsequent editions over the next thirty years. It is significant as a record of Philadelphia’s architectural past and as a rich example of urban visual culture in the early Republic.

[caption id="attachment_16262" align="alignright" width="300"]Market Street at Third Street The southeast corner of Third and Market Streets, featured in the first edition of Birch's Views. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

The first edition of Birch’s Views, as the work came to be known, was part of a larger boom in population, visitation (as tourism was termed at the time), and book and map publishing that the city witnessed during its ten-year period as the United States Capital, 1790-1800. Birch arrived in Philadelphia from his native England during this time, and his Views lingered on sites of commercial, political, and cultural import, from the High Street Market to Congress Hall to the Fifth Street Library. Throughout, Birch balanced careful renderings of edifices with a feel for city life: Philadelphia’s handsome Georgian facades and characteristic street corners are enlivened by pedestrians, horse-drawn carts, groups of soldiers and Native Americans, and, in the plate “High Street, From the Country Marketplace,” the 1799 funeral procession for George Washington. Together the prints provide a virtual walk through the city, the viewer pausing to take in picturesque sights and local color. Yet these details of daily life also speak to larger ideals of civic identity and national order, as in the bustling shipbuilding scene entitled “Preparation for War to defend Commerce.”

[caption id="attachment_16266" align="alignright" width="300"]First Chestnut Theatre The Chestnut Theatre was lost to fire, but preserved as an image by Birch's Views. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

Like other engravings and printed books, the Views resulted from a collaborative endeavor. Birch’s son Thomas (1779-1851) painted sketches in watercolor, which were transferred to copper plates by engraver Samuel Seymour or by Birch himself. Birch made changes in nearly every edition, updating existing scenes to better reflect the city’s landscape, adding new views, or simply getting rid of scenes that no longer held appeal. The work thus not only documents many structures later demolished, but also indicates the shifting character of Philadelphia’s built environment and of public taste.

At the time of its first publication in 1800, the Views constituted the most extensive pictorial catalog of Philadelphia to date, an attempt to depict the city in its full range of activities and places and to record it for posterity. Birch advertised the volume as a “Memento for the 18th Century,” and the book’s eminent subscribers, such as Stephen Girard (1750-1831) and Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), showed that such memorializing carried political and cultural weight among the nation’s elite. City views, annals, and other antiquarian projects gained particular popularity in Philadelphia in the 1820s onward, part of a renewed interest in historical memory. Birch participated in this wave of interest, publishing the fourth and final edition of his Views in 1827-28. Artistic merit and the historical appeal of Birch’s views have ensured their continued popularity.

[caption id="attachment_5030" align="aligncenter" width="544"]William Birch's 1798 print of the frigate <i>Philadelphia<i> at the Humphrey's and Wharton Shipyard Birch captured the construction of frigate Philadelphia in November 1798 at Humphrey’s & Wharton Shipyard on Front Street on the Delaware River. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

Emily S. Warner received her B.A. in Art History from the University of Chicago (2006) and her M.A. in the History of Art from the University of Pennsylvania (2012), where she is a doctoral candidate. Her research interests include topics in both nineteenth- and twentieth-century art history and visual culture.

Arts and Crafts Movement

[caption id="attachment_15815" align="alignright" width="305"]Furness Desk Architect Frank Furness also produced furniture designs that influenced the Arts and Crafts movement in Philadelphia. (Philadelphia Museum of Art)[/caption]

The Arts and Crafts movement in Greater Philadelphia grew against the backdrop of the area’s increasingly industrial character in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The 1876 Centennial Exhibition brought attention to Philadelphia’s prominence as a manufacturing center and fostered a renewed sense of pride in the city’s connections to national history, but it also elevated anxieties about the state of America’s crafts and the potential shortcomings of mechanized production. In the face of mounting unease with the social and environmental impacts of industrialization, Arts and Crafts advocates sought to mobilize architecture and the decorative arts in the service of recovering what they saw as the disappearing premodern values of craftsmanship, artistic harmony, and cultural cohesion.

The movement spread to the Philadelphia area over the last quarter of the nineteenth century with the increasing reach of the English design reform movement. The influential and polemical writings of English architect A.W.N. Pugin (1812–52), art critic John Ruskin (1819–1900), and especially designer William Morris (1834–96) together called for artists and craftspeople to work toward social and aesthetic reform. With an ethos of honest labor and “truth to materials,” they argued that objects and spaces should be simultaneously beautiful, functional, and produced in conditions that acknowledged the humanity of their makers. These ideas circulated in Philadelphia with the formation of art guilds modeled after those in England, popular periodicals such as The Ladies’ Home Journal (established 1883 in the city), and vibrant personal exchange among artists and designers on both sides of the Atlantic.

By the time of the Centennial, several Philadelphia designers were already promoting aesthetic visions rooted in romantic notions of medieval Europe, rejecting what they considered the formality and ostentation of the neoclassical styles dominating the profession. Architect Frank Furness (1839­–1912) and cabinetmaker Daniel Pabst (1826­–1910), generally considered “Victorian” figures, nevertheless drew upon the ideas of their English contemporaries, design reformers Owen Jones (1809–74) and Christopher Dresser (1834–1904)—Dresser had attended the Centennial and lectured in Philadelphia—in their emphasis on stylized, organic ornamental schemes. Around the same time, architect Wilson Eyre Jr. (1858–1944) was instrumental in reviving an English vernacular style in and around Philadelphia. These designers laid important groundwork for the area’s later Arts and Crafts activity.

Additionally, young institutions such as the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art (founded 1876, later separated into what would become the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the University of the Arts), the Philadelphia School of Design for Women (1848, later Moore College of Art and Design), or Trenton, New Jersey’s School for Industrial Art (1898, later part of Thomas Edison State College) were modeled after European precedents and attempted to address perceived low standards of design in manufacturing. Through instruction, exhibitions, and lectures by prominent artistic figures, these organizations became important vehicles for the theories of design reform, advancing the notion of craftsmanship in relation to modern manufacturing.

Arts Colonies and Craft Production

Outside of these official institutional efforts, one of the most ambitious undertakings of Arts and Crafts advocates was the establishment of utopian communities to promote aesthetic excellence and social unity through the crafts. Often framed as political acts and conceived in broadly anti-capitalist terms, they attempted to provide solutions to the uneven economic opportunity of the American Gilded Age. These communities drew upon design reformers’ cultural critiques—especially Morris’s views on art and labor—while their picturesque, vernacular-styled physical environments were inspired by the work of reformist architects such as Eyre.

[caption id="attachment_15816" align="alignright" width="300"]English ceramicist William P. Jervis used hand and machine techniques in producing his works (The Metropolitan Museum of Art) English ceramicist William P. Jervis used hand and machine techniques in producing his works. (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)[/caption]

The Philadelphia area was host to a particular concentration of arts-focused community experiments. Most prominent among them was Rose Valley, established near Moylan, Pennsylvania, in 1901. With the production of “artistic handicraft” as one of its core charters, the Rose Valley Association built its arts colony in and around an abandoned textile mill, a potent symbol of disenchantment with mechanized industry. The village was largely the project of Philadelphia architect William Lightfoot Price (1861–1916), whose early career included a stint in Frank Furness’s office, and his partner M. Hawley McLanahan (1865–1929). By 1905, the community included a furniture shop (for which Price designed many of the pieces), metalworking and pottery shops, and a bookbindery in addition to individual artists’ studios. Rose Valley also maintained a “city office” and a press in Philadelphia, which sold and promoted work from the shops. However, their production ultimately proved financially unsustainable, and the Rose Valley Association was disbanded by 1910.

The year before the founding of Rose Valley, Price helped found another experimental community. Arden, Delaware, just north of Wilmington, was a joint venture between the architect and Philadelphia sculptor Frank Stephens (1859–1935) and was based on the “single-tax” theories of American economist Henry George. Stephens and Price couched George’s radical economic principle in medievalizing terms—what they saw as the democratic, “charming” character of the Middle Ages—and borrowed from the English Garden Cities movement, designing a woodland village with two central greens. While the scale of craft activity in Arden was more modest than at Rose Valley, the village was host to a furniture workshop, a printing shop, and the commercially successful Arden Forge, which operated until 1935. In both colonies, social life was equally integral to the utopian vision; theater, poetry, dancing, and music all played important roles in fostering both community spirit and a holistic approach to artful living.

Philadelphia-Area Artists and the Medieval Ideal

[caption id="attachment_15819" align="alignright" width="300"]Key Lock Gothic ironwork reborn in Samuel Yellin's lock set. (Philadelphia Museum of Art)[/caption]

Amid the influence of Philadelphia’s arts institutions and utopian colonies, the work of several individual artists in greater Philadelphia also relates to Arts and Crafts principles, particularly the emphasis on medieval models. The Polish-born master metalworker Samuel Yellin (1885–1940), who studied and later taught at the Pennsylvania Museum School of Industrial Art, used traditional techniques and structured his Philadelphia workshop around longstanding European craft practices. Yellin’s student Parke Edwards (1890–1973) contributed significant metalwork to the Bryn Athyn Cathedral (built 1913–19) in the eponymous Swedenborgian community north of Philadelphia, where workshops established for the building project were consciously shaped after medieval precedent. And amid a prevalent Gothic revival, painter William Willet (1869–1921) formed a stained glass studio in 1898 with his wife Anne Lee Willet (1867–1943). Inspired by the English Pre-Raphaelites, a group with close ties to Arts and Crafts, Willet diverged from the vogue for opalescent glass in the American movement, strongly preferring medieval techniques and materials.

[caption id="attachment_15904" align="alignright" width="188"]These stained glass panels by William and Ann Lee Willet possess the gothic-revival style popularized by the Pre-Raphaelite artists working in England (Corning Museum of Glass) These stained glass panels by William and Ann Lee Willet reflect the Gothic Revival style popularized by the Pre-Raphaelite artists working in England. (Corning Museum of Glass)[/caption]

The Pre-Raphaelite influence, as well as involvement of English illustrators such as Walter Crane and Kate Greenaway in design reform, also provided important precedents for some Philadelphia-area graphic artists. Wilmington-based illustrator and author Howard Pyle (1853–1911) published a well-known cycle of Arthurian illustrations (1903–10) that played upon contemporary interest in the Middle Ages. Pyle taught at the then–Drexel Institute of Art, Science, and Industry until 1900, later opening a teaching studio at his own home. His instruction proved so popular that an informal colony of illustrators formed in Wilmington. A number of his students, including Violet Oakley (1874–1961), a Philadelphia illustrator, designer of stained glass and mosaics, and muralist for the Pennsylvania State Capitol), and the painters and illustrators Maxfield Parrish (1870–1966) and N. C. Wyeth (1882–1945) went on to prestigious careers.

In Doylestown, Pennsylvania, Henry Chapman Mercer (1856–1930) founded the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works in 1899. Building on his prolific career as an archaeologist, historian, and collector, Mercer’s initial ambition was to revive disappearing Germanic pottery techniques from early America. However, he also drew significant inspiration from the Middle Ages for the Moravian ceramics, whether in conventional shapes, pictorial “mosaic” tiles, or the distinctive high-relief designs (known as “brocade” tiles) he used in larger narrative compositions. In addition to his membership in the influential Boston Society of Arts and Crafts, Mercer was well-connected with nearby Arts and Crafts advocates. William L. Price, for example, used Moravian tiles in several of his buildings, including Jacob Reed’s Sons’ store in downtown Philadelphia (1903) and the façades of Rose Valley houses. Mercer’s lectures and writings further illustrated his conviction that learning from the past was critical for the arts of the industrial era.

Decorative Arts Farther Afield

[caption id="attachment_15814" align="alignright" width="240"]The Fulper Pottery Company of Flemington, New Jersey integrated glass and ceramic elements in this glazed ceramic lamp (The Metropolitan Museum of Art) The Fulper Pottery Company of Flemington, New Jersey, integrated glass and ceramic elements in this glazed ceramic lamp. (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)[/caption]

Beyond Philadelphia, a number of commercial firms responded to the growing American taste for the Arts and Crafts, although these tend to be less well-documented. One of the most successful was the Fulper Pottery in Flemington, New Jersey, which had operated since the early nineteenth century but released a popular “Vasekraft” line of art pottery by 1909; Trenton-based Lenox’s Ceramic Art Company (founded 1889; from 1906, Lenox Incorporated) likewise produced Arts and Crafts wares. In southern Pennsylvania, the York Wall Paper Company offered several designs that echoed William Morris’s well-known wallpapers and textiles, while glass firms such as Gillinder and Sons in Philadelphia and the Dorflinger Glass Company in White Mills, Pennsylvania, produced works with organic ornament that would have fit well within an Arts and Crafts interior.

By the time the United States entered World War I in 1917, the American Arts and Crafts ideals were subsiding in the face of shifting tastes, the disbandment of arts colonies, and the increasing economic pressures of industrial production. Some individual firms and makers nevertheless continued their craft-derived work; Samuel Yellin continued forging iron into the 1930s. Ultimately, Greater Philadelphia’s Arts and Crafts history is especially notable for the close-knit nature of the artistic community and the generally high quality of its output. In many ways, Pennsylvanian reformers came as close as any Americans did to realizing the medievalizing ideals of Ruskin and Morris, albeit in short-lived fashion. The Arts and Crafts legacy, furthermore, set an important stage for the rise of the studio craft movement in postwar Philadelphia.

Colin Fanning is Curatorial Fellow in the Department of European Decorative Arts and Sculpture at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. He holds an M.A. in Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture from the Bard Graduate Center.

Emily S. Warner

Emily S. Warner received her B.A. in Art History from the University of Chicago (2006) and her M.A. in the History of Art from the University of Pennsylvania (2012), where she is a doctoral candidate. Her research interests include topics in both nineteenth- and twentieth-century art history and visual culture.

Colin Fanning

Colin Fanning is a PhD candidate at the Bard Graduate Center, where his research focuses on the history of American design education. From 2014 to 2017, he was Curatorial Fellow for European Decorative Arts and Sculpture at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

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