Woodmere’s best can be found online while “social distancing” keeps us inside

Posted 3/18/20

A screen capture of the Violet Oakley page on Woodmere Art Museum's website. by William Valerio Woodmere was the City’s first art museum to close its doors on Thursday afternoon, but if you could …

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Woodmere’s best can be found online while “social distancing” keeps us inside

A screen capture of the Violet Oakley page on Woodmere Art Museum's website.

by William Valerio

Woodmere was the City’s first art museum to close its doors on Thursday afternoon, but if you could use that special lift of the soul that the visual arts offer, here are some meaningful experiences with Philadelphia’s art and artists you can enjoy online through Woodmere’s website. Art gives joy, especially in times of uncertainty.

Woodmere’s website, woodmereartmuseum.org, has a tab labeled “Explore Online,” which is the entry portal to our digital offerings.

Following up on George McNeely’s wonderful article last week about Woodmere’s just-launched Violet Oakley Experience, let me encourage that you explore our almost 3,000 works of art by Oakley, which is one of the greatest strengths of Woodmere’s holdings. Works of art are organized to convey the expanding breadth of Oakley’s accomplishments, in the categories of “House,” “School," and “Church," “City,” “State" and “World." Of particular interest are many hundreds of portraits.

If Oakley had made nothing else, she’d have been one of the great portraitists of American art. If you peruse those sitters who are identified, it is a veritable who’s who of Philadelphia (and especially our northwest region) from the turn of the 20th century up to the artist’s death in 1961. Please also participate in our McNeely-inspired Quiz Time contest, and try your hand at identifying some of unidentified “Mystery Portraits.” The prize of successful identifications is a $50 gift certificate to Woodmere's store.

There are numerous videos embedded all through the website, but in the Violet Oakley Experience, please enjoy the overview of Oakley’s murals in Harrisburg (see “State"), her masterpiece murals for the Yarnall House, now at Woodmere (see “House”), her Great Women of the Bible series for the First Presbyterian Church on Cheltenham Avenue off Germantown Avenue (see “Church"), or her spectacular Dante Window (again, see “House). Of great significance historically, Woodmere’s archive possesses the only known audio (a cassette tape) of Violet Oakley’s voice. We have digitized the audio, and you can take a virtual tour of the Harrisburg murals (see “State”) with the artist herself as your guide.

Videos are also embedded through our main collection pages and on the pages dedicated to past exhibitions (accessible through the tab “Experience and Learn”). For children, please enjoy the videos we made with Warren Oree and the Arpeggio Jazz ensemble in conjunction with the exhibitions, “Freedom’s Journal: the Art of Jerry Pinkney and Charles Santore: Fifty years of Art and Storytelling” 

For me, it gives endless pleasure to cyber-wander through the main collection pages online (accessible on the tab “Explore Online”). You can explore the collection at random, or use the database filters (artist, medium, time period) to focus on personal interests. If you happen to be an artist yourself with a work in the collection, or if you are a friend or family member, we encourage that you “tell us what you know” and post comments on the website pages dedicated to specific works of art. Woodmere is dedicated to the artists of our own city, and we have learned so much through our website from the interactive commentary posted by members of the Hovenden-Corson family (with regard to paintings by Thomas Hovenden and Helen Corson) and from the Stoddard families (with regard to Alice Kent Stoddard and her husband Joseph Pearson).

Learn about the strengths of our collection by getting to know the “Features” menu on our main collection pages. Enjoy the founding collection of Woodmere and the works of art acquired in the 19th- and early 20th centuries by our founder, Charles Knox Smith, or get to know the “Circle of Arthur B. Carles” (a Chestnut Hiller and important American modernist) or Pennsylvania Impressionism. If you go to “Outdoor Sculpture,” you will find videos like “Taking It Apart, Putting it Together” showing the construction, deconstruction, move and reassembly of Dina Wind’s Spring and Triangle. Or watch a slide-show video with vintage images of Harry Bertoia making his masterpiece fountain, “The Free Interpretation of Plant Forms.” You can also watch the more recent middle-of-the-night-police-escort journeys of Bertoia’s sculpture and Robinson Fredenthal’s “White Water” to Woodmere.

Catch up on exhibitions that you may have missed. Woodmere has been a pioneer in the area of “digital catalogues.” Necessity is the mother of invention, and with the realization that we often can’t afford the expense of printing a catalogue for every exhibition, Woodmere decided to go online with many of our catalogues.

Hundreds of thousands of downloads and shared links of our catalogues have occurred, and this is a circulation that far outpaces our printed catalogues. I would recommend in particular that you trace the evolving spirit of Philadelphia’s contemporary art scene with our digital catalogues for the Woodmere Annual—our yearly summer juried show of contemporary art. The Annual is a Woodmere tradition that goes back to the 1940s, but now with our digital catalogues, the overarching gestalt of our city’s art makers can be followed online from year to year.

And finally, if you haven’t subscribed to Woodmere’s podcast Diving Board, now’s the time. Made in conjunction with Kouvenda Media, which is dedicated to narratives of social change, we just released four new episodes that dig deep into our current exhibition, Africa in the Arts of Philadelphia. These podcasts are a way to expand the museum’s storytelling and embrace a range community of voices. Mara McCarthy (former director of the Friends of the Wissahickon) talks about Pennsylvania Impressionism, for example, or take a tour of Germantown with world-famous illustrator Jerry Pinkney. We are thrilled to have captured a conversation with Charles Santore, recently deceased, and he describes his celebrated career and his relationship to TV Guide, which made him famous (these illustration are also “featured” on Woodmere’s main collection page).

It is also a great time to catch up on movies you may have missed (my husband and I just watched “Knives Out” and we recommend it), but with our Tuesday Night at the Movies canceled for the time being, here are some off-the-beaten-path suggestions of movies you can watch online, courtesy of Woodmere trustee and Chestnut Hill's movie king, Ralph Hirshorn: “JoJo Rabbit” on Amazon Prime. And if you need to move your body, and miss Woodmere’s Monday yoga, Jennifer Schleter suggests emailing her for upcoming calming yoga and meditation videos, calls and online classes.

 Enjoy it all, and know that all of us at Woodmere look forward to reopening. On that great day, my first stop will be at Robertson’s for a beautiful bouquet to greet our visitors at Woodmere’s front door.

William R. Valerio, PhD is The Patricia Van Burgh Allison Director and CEO at Woodmere Art Museum

arts, coronavirus