Resilience tested

By William Valerio
Posted 12/11/20

Although Woodmere Art Museum galleries are closed, the website is increasingly full of video, digital experiences, and educational art activities, and the grounds are open, safe, and free.

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Resilience tested

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As I’ve written many times in these pages, when my own personal sense off resilience is tested, I turn to art. This is why, in the context of the recent reclosure of Philadelphia’s museums, I’m encouraging you to continue to engage with Woodmere and the city’s other cultural institutions. Although galleries are closed, our websites are increasingly full of video, digital experiences, and educational art activities, and our grounds are open, safe, and free. At Woodmere these days, our growing collection of outdoor sculpture is lyrically encircled by our Straw Journey for the fun of our younger visitors.

Outdoor sculpture speaks to the beauty and mystery of nature that endures around us. Our most recent addition, Alter Root by Steve Tobin, asks us first to consider the idea of “root,” focusing our thoughts on origins, sources, and core meanings, posing more questions from this angle of consideration than it answers. What are the invisible parts of the unseen elements of life that feed us physically and spiritually, giving us stability, strength? Why is it so strange to encounter the root? We know that every tree has roots, but we tend to take for granted things that are hidden from view, underground. Alter Root and Woodmere’s other great outdoor sculptures are reinvented in the changing light and reflections of the seasons, and I would ask you to think about how the ideas they inspire change with the shifting preoccupations of the mind.

Woodmere is also active and alive online. Now is the perfect time to get to know Violet Oakley, the great artist of the American Renaissance who believed (as I do) that art has the power “to lift us out of time,” helping us transcend the worries of the moment with broader, more permanent truths. Dive into the collection pages of Woodmere’s website, where thousands of Oakley’s works are illustrated and described. We organized a section of her mystery portraits, people who were surely the grandparents or friends of some of you reading this article. Please share with us any identifications!

When we were told to close our galleries just before Thanksgiving, we had barely opened our exhibition of recent gifts of art by American Impressionist painter Walter Elmer Schofield. But you can tour the show virtually in the accompanying digital catalogue. When times were hard for Schofield in the years after World War I, when he was haunted by his experiences as a soldier, he turned to nature. Wissahickon in Winter, painted from Forbidden Drive, just a minutes’ walk from the Schofield family home on West Moreland Street, offers a majestic view of the creek’s presence in his life. His famous paintings of the cliffs of Cornwall, England—his most renowned subject—are as much about the unchanging forms of rock as they are about the ever-shifting tides of the ocean. This is the visual poetry of the arts. When we say that art is a healing force, this is what we mean.

We also find ourselves in the midst of a holiday season like no other. Our holiday lights sparkle into the night, and you can support Woodmere by shopping with us at woodmereart.org/shop. Please reach out to the unflappable Stephen Kerzner who runs the Museum Store to learn about our personal shopping services with curbside pickup options. Regardless of your budget, Stephen is glad to help with all your gift-giving needs. This season we offer a special sale of the jewelry collection of late artist Dina Wind, whose Spring & Triangle was the first big sculpture to arrive at Woodmere in recent years; the many unique pieces will satisfy the moment’s need for some flair and wild energy.

There is so much going on, not only at Woodmere, but at all of Philadelphia’s museums. We all appreciate the vote of confidence that comes with each of your interactions, whether outside or online, and we are grateful for your end-of-year contributions. When we look back on this challenging time, let’s be able to say that Philadelphia sustained its museums and understood the power and energy of the arts.

William Valerio is director of the Woodmere Art Museum

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