by Janet Anderson
An outstanding art museum in our little corner of the city, Woodmere offers a full calendar of activities for residents of all ages. While the museum may be known to some people simply as a pretty mansion behind high hedges on Germantown Avenue, it is very much more.
In a city that has major art collections on view, all too often Woodmere Museum gets left in the shadow of the Philadelphia Art Museum, the Barnes and others. Yet Woodmere has a unique collection, much of it assembled by the original owner Charles Knox Smith (1845 – 1916), an intriguing individual originally from Kensington who struck out on his own to create an oil company as well as gold and silver mining companies in Mexico.
The museum opened in 1940. It is housed in Smith’s Victorian mansion, to which Smith had added large exhibition spaces. In his will Smith stipulated that “said premises 9201 Germantown Avenue, together with my collection of paintings, antique rugs, statuary, vases and objects of art shall be converted into a public museum and gallery … for the use and benefit of the community in which I have lived … ” And so it has been. Some of the many prominent local artists represented in the permanent collection are Violet Oakley, Herbert Pullinger, Edward Willis Redfield, Nelson Shanks, Jessie Willcox Smith, Benjamin West and N. C. Wyeth.
Woodmere encourages visitors of all ages, including children. For example, “Between Earth and Sky: Roots, Wings, and Other Things,” a summer program for children, which was overseen by Assistant Curator for Education, Hildy Tow, is just one example of the many ways Woodmere reaches out to people of all ages and stages.
The three-week workshop (July 11–13, 18–20, 25–27, from 9 a.m. to noon) for 22 local students aged 8 to 16 helped them to create art for Woodmere’s Children’s Garden. “The children used a variety of materials — paint, metal, wood, fabric and cement among them — to create a giant beanstalk that extends from the ground to the sky,” explained Rose Mineo, a Woodmere public relations representative. “They made a floating cloud of shimmering shapes and colors, fanciful creatures, wrappings for trees and lanterns. They also designed, painted, sewed, molded and constructed the project, and they will also help maintain the garden.”
Woodmere offers many programs aimed at adults, but perhaps the impact that children’s programs have on younger ones is the most impressive. The children not only explore their talent as painters or sculptors, but they also gain social confidence. When the museum offered the program, it was not looking for pint-sized Picassos or Mary Cassatts. The program was free. All parents had to do was deliver their children to the studio next to the Children’s Garden and pick them up later.
Hildy Tow’s encouragement and enthusiasm kept the children excited and eager to find out what each day’s project would be. This is the seventh year Woodmere has offered the children’s program. According to Tow, “Our goal has been to make this a community project. The response to this program is wonderful. It is also a unique opportunity with students from diverse neighborhoods in Philadelphia to work collaboratively and to form relationships and friendships.”
To create the giant beanstalk referred to earlier, the children used long, flexible tubing which they carefully covered with paper mache, twisted a bit to create the look of a growing plant and completed with flourishes of colorful leaves. Because of weather conditions, the completed beanstalk has yet to take its intended place in the Children’s Garden. It is expected to be outside by the end of August.
Another project the kids tackled was to make masks. One boy called his mask “The Spirit of Technology.” A girl named Tatiana called hers “The God of Fire” while another child named Maya called hers “The God of Cats.”
It’s easy to see why some of the children come back year after year. The program is inventive and fun, and the kids don’t have to worry about being graded. Hildy receives many thank you emails from parents of children who have participated in the program. “Thanks for giving children this unique opportunity,” one parent emailed; another wrote, “Such a great program; we are thankful.”
The program is open to all children who are interested in art. This summer’s 22 kids were from Mt. Airy, Flourtown, Roxborough, Center City, Ambler, etc. What they all had in common was an excitement and enthusiasm for the hands-on projects they tackled. The participating students came from Hill Freedman World Academy (public middle school), Mount St. Joseph’s Academy, Our Mother of Consolation, Plymouth Meeting Friends, Chestnut Hill Academy, Germantown Friends School, Friends Select, J.S. Jenks, C.W. Henry School, Erdenheim Elementary, Houston School, Green Woods Charter, Central High and Mastery Charter. This was a United Nations of local school children.
For more information, call 215-247-0476 or visit www.woodmereartmuseum.org