In a busy week at Woodmere, it’s the art and people who shine

By William Valerio
Posted 10/2/20

Through a very busy week at Woodmere, I’ve been continually inspired by artists and by the people whose passion it is to share art with others. The exhibition we just opened on …

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In a busy week at Woodmere, it’s the art and people who shine

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Through a very busy week at Woodmere, I’ve been continually inspired by artists and by the people whose passion it is to share art with others. The exhibition we just opened on Saturday—Sam Feinstein, Group ’55, and Midcentury Abstraction in Philadelphia—is about a group of painters, musicians, dancers, and architects who embraced abstraction in its many guises at a time when it was considered radical to do so. These artists looked around at American life in 1955 and at a culture that felt destabilized by McCarthyism, the Cold War, and the atomic bomb. In response, they offered abstract art as a spiritual form of storytelling that could both uplift the human spirit and cut through the mire. They organized public forums at the Free Library and elsewhere to share these ideas. You can learn more about the exhibition here.

To make the exhibition happen, we collaborated with Springside Chestnut Hill Academy. Sam Feinstein, the leader of Group ’55, and his first wife, Barbara Crawford (who was also a member of the group) both taught at the school, and so in their honor, SCH is presenting Sam Feinstein: The Early Years, which includes a selection of Crawford’s work. The couple were deeply humanitarian in their various pursuits, and through the 1930s and 1940s made art that addressed the widespread poverty and suffering that came with World War II.

Together with our colleagues at SCH, we are fortunate to be working with Patricia Stark Feinstein, second wife of Sam Feinstein. Over a period of decades, Pat systematically saved exhibition flyers and posters, audio recordings of artists’ talks, and a broad variety of ephemera, all while stewarding her husband’s substantial art collection. Former Woodmere director Edith Emerson did the same to preserve the legacy of her life partner, artist Violet Oakley. Pat and Edith did all of this without a degree in library science or formal training in archival practices. Instead their approach was as loving as it was disciplined and common sensical. This is to say that Pat, like Edith before her, is an ordinary person like you or me, driven by the conviction that art matters.

A similar conviction runs through everything we do at Woodmere. Warren Oree, who for ten years has organized the Museum’s jazz program (now held outdoors on Saturday evenings for the next few weeks), does so because he believes in the power of music and what he calls “undefeated jazz.” You can purchase tickets here. Yianni Arhontoulis of Mica, with whom we offer fine dining on the Museum’s porch on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, is passionate about local and sustainable agriculture, the social experience of sharing a meal, and the nourishment of body and soul. Our new porch heaters arrived this week, and they keep it toasty. You can make your reservations here.

This week also saw the installation of our new Straw Journey for families and children. Curator of Education Hildy Tow worked with architects Peter Brown and Barbara Sprague as well as educators at Temple University to create a playful learning experience with the straw bales, that is, directed activities that combine the fun of physical activity with specific educational outcomes, in this case an understanding of mathematical relationships. The various straw installations are anchored around our outdoor sculptures in a way that brings different geometric shapes—lines, squares, arcs, triangles—to life. What could be a more creative destination for families who are living, playing, and learning together in ways that were unimaginable last fall? We look forward to seeing you!

William Valerio is the director of the Woodmere Art Museum.

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