Soon I will be visiting Philadelphia for the first time in a couple of decades. Few people know that I grew up west of Philadelphia along the Main Line. I spent my “Wheaties” years there. In other words, ages 8-18. Then I headed back to the mid-west, where I was born, to attend Bradley University in Peoria, IL, and subsequently graduated from Indiana University with bachelor and master degrees. After Indiana, I struck out on my own for Minnesota and lived there for 26 years. Currently I reside along the Front Range of Colorado loving the weather and vistas as well as easy access to our remote mountain cabin.
From a 7 year old’s perspective, the contrast from Iowa to Pennsylvania was a jolt. I remember my older siblings and I comparing various differences we experienced as we adjusted to our new surroundings. First, there was the funny Eastern accent. We could never quite stop laughing over the pronunciation of ‘water,’ which sounded like ‘wooddar’ to us. Then there was new vernacular to adjust to, such as: sneakers (tennis shoes), dungarees (jeans), teeter-totter (see-saw), etc., which made us scratch our heads. Of course, our new friends wanted to know about cowboys and Indians, and questioned whether we had in-door plumbing. And they could never remember we were from Iowa and not Ohio.
What the east offered that I could not have had if we had stayed in small-town Iowa, was diversity, history and cultural opportunities. For this I am forever grateful.
A train runs for over 30 miles straight west of Philadelphia to Paoli, out through the areas where we lived. (My father took this train into work every day.) Periodically, my mother would take us into the big city on this train. I loved taking the train because I could view parts of the world I could not see from a highway or a car. I also adored the rhythm of the train and the people watching.
One of my favorite places to visit in Philadelphia was the Philadelphia Art Museum. It sits majestically up on a hill towering over the Schuylkill River (Schuylkill is a great spelling-bee word). It always reminds me of a Greek-like Pantheon. We visited all of the historical sites, such as Betsy Ross’s home, Liberty Bell, and Constitution Hall. Musical events took us to see the Philadelphia Orchestra (I saw the world renowned Leonard Bernstein conduct) were also included. On one New Year’s Day we even went to the Mummers Parade. How many of you know what that is?
I cherish those cultural excursions and know that I have benefited from the mixture of a mid-west and eastern upbringing. This week I will be returning to Philadelphia from my 45th high school re-union. Do I dare admit to that? LOL! Fortunately, I will be staying with a high school friend who lives in downtown Philly and will not be out in the corn fields where my high school is. I am sure the corn fields are now full of homes and commercial properties.
This will be my first time visiting Philadelphia as a professional artist. There are so many places I want to explore, and we must not forget all of the flavorful ethnic eateries to inhale.
The Rodin Museum is just down the street from the Philadelphia Art Museum, and The Barnes Foundation has a new downtown location. The Barnes holds one of the finest collections of Post-Impressionist and early Modern paintings, with extensive works by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Henri Rousseau, Chaim Soutine , as well as American masters Charles Demuth, William Glackens, Horace Pippin and Maurice Prendergast, Old Master paintings, important examples of African sculpture and Native American ceramics, jewelry and textiles. Unfortunately, women artists are not well represented at the Barnes.
There are also exhibits at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, which was the first art school that allowed women to attend life drawing classes in the 1800′s. While in high school, I took the train downtown for a summer sculpture class at the Moore College of Art & Design and will make a point to see the contemporary art exhibit that is currently on display.
With only three days to peruse the city, it will be a challenge to pick the candy I will want to taste. There are many more enriching sites beyond what I have mentioned. I hope to also visit some contemporary art galleries. It is always interesting to see how the art can vary from one region of the country to the other.
As I wander down memory lane and re-connect with old high school mates, I will be reflecting upon how these visits to Philadelphia as a youngster, impacted my journey as an artist.
if you are an artist, where would you visit in Philadelphia? How do you approach cultural areas you will soon visit? How do you decide which ones to experience?