Cradle of liberty, cradle of craft

from The Magazine ANTIQUES, March/April 2013 |

An impressive roster of renowned craftsmen trained and worked in Philadelphia during the twentieth century. This flourishing activity is due to the city's long history as a center for artisans extending back to the time of its founding. The French Huguenot silversmith Cesar Ghiselin arrived in Pennsylvania in 1681 in the company of a cabinetmaker, pewterer, blacksmith, printer, and a second silversmith, who would become part of the city's first community of craftsmen. As America's largest city in the later colonial and early national periods, Philadelphia was a center of innovation. In 1770, for example, Gousse Bonnin and George Anthony Morris founded the American China Manufactory, a successful if short-lived attempt to produce porcelain tablewares to compete with those imported from Europe and Asia.


Wharton Esherick (1887-1970) in a photograph by Emil C. Luks, c. 1940. Wharton Esherick Museum.

Twentieth-century Philadelphia craftsmen were nurtured at institutions created in the nineteenth century. The nation's oldest art school and museum, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, was founded in the city in 1805. In the wake of the Industrial Revolution, when Philadelphia became known as the "workshop of the world," nineteenth-century philanthropists followed the lead of English reformers and set up institutions to train artists and improve public taste. The first to focus exclusively on what were then called "industrial arts" was the Philadelphia School of Design for Women, founded in 1848; it was subsequently named the Moore Institute and is now Moore College of Art and Design. After the Centennial Exhibition, the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art opened in 1876, modeled on London's SouthKensington Museum. Over time this entity evolved into two separate institutions, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Philadelphia College of Art (now University of the Arts). In the following decades additional institutions were founded: the Philadelphia Textile School (1884), later the Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science, now Philadelphia University; the Drexel Institute of Art, Science, and Industry (1891), now Drexel University; the Graphic Sketch Club (1898), now the Samuel S. Fleisher Art Memorial; and the Graduate School of Fine Arts (1920) at the University of Pennsylvania, now the School of Design.

Twentieth-century Philadelphia craftsmen also found a heritage of local artist communities that had formed at the century's beginning, inspired by the arts and crafts movement in England. Around 1900 a number of painters, including several graduates of the Pennsylvania Academy, began settling in and near New Hope, Pennsylvania, which by the 1910s became an artists' colony that included furniture makers Frederick Harer (1879-1947) and Morgan Colt (1876-1926). In 1901 architect William Lightfoot Price (1861-1916) formed the short-lived Rose Valley community in Delaware County, with workshops devoted to furniture and ceramics. Beginning in 1912 Raymond Pitcairn (1885-1966), heir to the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company, undertook the construction in Montgomery County of Bryn Athyn Cathedral and his home, Glencairn. He organized guilds of craftsmen at the site who produced stone carving, furniture, woodwork, stained glass, and metalwork for the buildings; some of the work on Glencairn continued into the early 1940s.

Pitcairn was but one of a class of wealthy patrons for artistic endeavors that had been created by Philadelphia's and Pennsylvania's industrial might. Members of the Bok, Curtis, Ingersoll, Price, and Wetherill families were others who supported contemporary artists. For over three hundred years Philadelphia has offered craftsmen a stimulating community of peers, patrons, and institutions. The artists profiled in the following pages, who are only a selection from a much larger list of distinguished artisans, were and are the beneficiaries of this long history, and their careers have continued and enriched the story. DAB

I have drawn on the work of many other scholars and curators, to whom I am most grateful. For historical information: Nina de Angeli Walls, Kathryn Bloom Hiesinger, William Ayres, E. Bruce Glenn, and Edward S. Cooke Jr. For biographical details in my artist profiles: (Samuel Yellin) Myra Tomach Davis, Edward S. Cooke Jr., and Jack Andrews; (Parke Edwards) Robert Edwards; (Wharton Esherick) Edward S. Cooke Jr., Gerald W.R. Ward, Kelly H. L'Ecuyer, and Mansfield Bascom; (Phillip Lloyd Powell) Todd Merrill, Julie Iovine, and Jane Port; (Paul Evans) Todd Merrill, Julie Iovine, Jeannine Falino, and Monique Long; (Olaf Skoogfors) David Hanks, Elisabeth R. Agro, and Jane Port; (Hans Christensen) Barbara McLean Ward and Gerald W.R. Ward; (Henning Koppel) Graham Hughes. DLB

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by Émile Jacques Ruhlmann (1879-1933), 1926. Macassar ebony, amaranth, and ivory. Metropolitan Museum of Art. By Cynthia Drayton

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