How do you infuse energy and culture into an historic site that’s an island among neighborhoods in the midst of slow revitalization? Here’s how: you make it the next piece of the Schuylkill River trail. And add art. Drexel’s Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation has garnered the vision for Bartam’s Garden, and is now seeking the funding to bring it to life.
I had the pleasure of editing this intensive 28-page proposal, which spans history, urban planning, and some of the best landscape-based art installations in the world.
You might not know: John Bartam (1699–1777) was a pioneering North American naturalist and devoted Philadelphian. His home and grounds are lovely—well worth a visit the next time you’re headed down 95 past the airport or on a trek into deep Southwest Philly. (Head over in the spring and summer for some dreamy and free kayaking and canoeing on the Schuylkill.)
The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) has been a client for several years, and whenever I’m there I swoon over the collection but also find myself envying the arts students who are talented and passionate enough to attend this prestigious art school.
I just finished work on a brochure about one of PAFA’s most unique programs: the Post Baccalaureate, which provides an intensive year with four dedicated faculty members. The testimonials speak to what it means to come to a place like PAFA to devote one’s self to the hard work of being doggedly creative. And also how transformative even one year can be. I, for one, was inspired.
A few years ago I researched and wrote a script for an exhibition for the Eagles Mere Museum, in a small town near Williamsport, PA. It was settled by a glassmaker in the late 18th century, and became a famous resort destination during the Victorian era. Today it’s as unspoiled as ever, with the beautiful “cottages” (many of them 8+ bedrooms) surrounding the perfectly preserved lake. I went back to take a look at the museum now that it’s open, and was pleased to run into the husband-and-wife team of historians who advised me on the project (Barbara and Bush James, longtime Eagles Mere summer residents and authors of Mere Reflections: A Unique Journey through Historic Eagles Mere, 1988). I was thrilled to learn that the exhibition we created had over 11,000 visitors in 2008—up from 400 per year in its previous location—a former chapel.
The location is much better, for sure, at the center of the small village, alongside new retail space. But the exhibition itself is also far superior—it tells the story of this place and shows off the highlights of the extensive collection. Whereas before there were dozens of objects filling cases from floor to ceiling, with very few labels and almost no interpretation, we strived to organize and prioritize the images and objects in order to tell a compelling story. Without the funds for expensive computer interactives, the exhibition relies on historic photography, objects, and traditional text panels to educate and engage its visitors. It goes to show it’s not a big budget that makes for a satisfying museum experience. You can learn a lot, even just from reading the headlines and a few captions. Well worth a visit.
Here’s what Therese Boyd, writer for the Harrisburg Patriot-News, had to say:
“The [Eagles Mere] museum does justice [to the town’s] rich history . . . natural areas and historic architecture. . . . This is one of the best small museums I’ve ever seen. In materials and presentation, in choice of artifacts and interactive displays, the entire museum experience is outstanding.”
A glimpse of a facial expression conveys volumes. This is one of my favorite photographs. It’s William Faulkner in 1962, with Eudora Welty in the background, when she presented him with the Gold Medal for Fiction at the National Institute of Arts and Letters, in New York.
I came across this photograph and dozens like it when I was doing research on Faulkner for a master planning project for the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) in Oxford. The museum wanted to find a way to honor one of its most distinguished alumni and longtime Oxford resident, and we devised a thematic approach to make his life, his writings, and his genius accessible to museumgoers.
(The museum also oversees Rowan Oak, the historic site that was Faulkner’s home for many decades, which happens to be a short walk through the woods from the museum. Read more about this amazing site in this New York Times article, or more about my involvement with the related landscape planning project.)
It was a fun to help the Philadelphia Zoo develop an exhibit commemorating its 150th anniversary. I worked with curators and other zoo staff members on panels for a special exhibition about how America’s first zoo paved the way and contributes research as well as opportunities for entertainment and engagement with these glorious animals of all stripes.
The design team created a series of markers around the zoo provided opportunities to interpret historic buildings as well as fun facts about its role in the community as well as the animals who have lived there.
The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) needed a general information brochure that straddled its dual identity as a prestigious art school and a museum housing one of the world’s finest collections of American art. ARC devised the brochure’s organization and wrote all copy. The piece was designed to compete with other rack brochures at the Visitors Center and is also mailed out to the media and other interested parties. The third panel folds in under the three call-to-action headings: “visit,” attend,” and “create.”