December 4, 2015 | The once famous career of the musical prodigy Thomas “Blind Tom” Wiggins, born a slave and raised to entertain audiences here and abroad with uncanny feats of musical mastery, tainted virtually everyone who touched it. Wiggins’s owners exploited him and profited hugely from his earnings (his concerts and sheet music yielded an astonishing $20,000 in 1879); critics and reporters wrote about him in gaudily racist language; African-American intellectuals kept him at arm’s length dismayed by his stage antics. Yet Wiggins’s gifts were indeed awesome: he was composing music at age five and went on to master the works of Bach, Beethoven, and other composers, often in a single afternoon. He also leaped about the stage, clapped for himself, and used the racial slurs his managers had taught him though he could not have understood their import. Today he would be classified as autistic.
“Blind Tom” Wiggins (1849–1908) in a photograph of 1865 by W.L. Germon’s Temple of Art, Philadelphia.…» More
November 13, 2015 | Julia Margaret Cameron’s “photography has been a touchstone for generations of photographers. The pictorialists adored her,” writes Phillip Prodger in our article about the British photographer in this issue. And he couldn’t be more right, says Barbara Tannenbaum, curator of photography at the Cleveland Museum of Art and co-curator of the museum’s stunning exhibition Shadows and Dreams: Pictorialist Photography in America. “While the images of the pictorialists were related in part to the impressionist painters,” she says, “the aesthetic did indeed stem from Cameron, who was an important source of inspiration not just in terms of technique, but also content. Her emphasis on imagination over fact, subjectivity over objectivity, and poetry over description became core values of pictorialism.” As examples from the exhibition, Tannenbaum cites the work of Clarence H. White of Newark, Ohio, who would probably have learned of Cameron’s work through Alfred Stieglitz’s journal Camera W…» More
November 13, 2015 | Often cited as an early influence on the humor of the New Yorker magazine, Puck ran in this country from 1877 to 1918 (it began with a German-language edition). The choice of Shakespeare’s mischievous fairy as the magazine’s namesake and mascot pretty much set the tone for its lighthearted mockery, and judging by the drawings and published cartoons on exhibit at the Flagler Museum, the humor remained gentler than you would have expected from satirists in the Gilded Age. The artists’ subjects are familiar ones: country bumpkins, uppity women, fads, fancies, and, of course, plutocrats and politicians.
The Haunted Auto by Alfred Zantziger Baker (1870–1933) for the cover of Puck, 1910. Collection of Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf, courtesy of the Flagler Museum,Palm Beach, Florida.
One particular drawing will certainly strike a chord with contemporary viewers: The Theatre Conversationalist (1890) suggests an ornate remedy for those who would rather listen to each other than let …» More
October 30, 2015 | Little known except to connoisseurs—Amy Finkel calls it “one of Philadelphia’s hidden treasures”—the Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection at Drexel University is about to come into the limelight. We spoke to Clare Sauro, its curator and the organizer of its first major exhibition, Immortal Beauty: Highlights from the Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection, which will be on view from October 2 to December 12 at the Leonard Pearlstein Gallery of Drexel’s Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts and Design. Ranging from a fragment of sixteenth-century Italian velvet to a 2012 evening dress by Alexander Wang, the more than seventy-five pieces in the show are a fraction of the fourteen thousand in the collection, which was begun in the late 1890s as an educational resource for Drexel students and renamed for the Foxes last year in honor of their ongoing support. By Eleanor H. Gustafson
What do you think will be most surprising to viewers of the exhibiti…» More
October 14, 2015 | One afternoon not long after I began working here I opened a letter that asked me a challenging question: how, the writer wanted to know, “did a Polack [sic] like you get your position?” After a few jolly moments in the office I called our longtime editor Wendell Garrett, who enjoyed odd news from the passing scene. Wendell was amused, but he also reminded me that the magazine had been founded in the 1920s, the banner era of American xenophobia, and he reckoned some of that lingered in a few of its readers.
It made sense. The heretofore neglected field of American art and decorative arts embraced by the magazine was bound to draw a trickle of folks for whom the only way to be American is to give up being anything else…as if that were possible. The magazine, of course, took a higher road, celebrating the successes of American arts and just as often noting their connections to the arts of the rest of the world.
Which brings me to our September/October issue, which has tradition…» More
[Compiled by Bill Stern, Executive Director at the Museum of California Design, Los Angeles. Originally published in "Curator's Eye" in Modern Magazi» View All