Enriching Philadelphia: American Watercolors at the PMA
This is the first of series highlighting enriching local activities in Philadelphia by Jane Wiedmann, who is an elementary tutor and painter with a degree in Art History. Jane recently attended the American Watercolor in the Age of Homer and Sargent exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The exhibit is on view until May 14. It’s free for members and costs 25$ for non-members.
I love watercolors because they change what the world looks like, help us to see the layers of light in the clouds and sky of an ordinary day. An afternoon of viewing watercolors can help us notice the subtle colors on the buildings in our neighborhoods, the gentle dance and contrast of tree branches, the vast variety of shades of green. Watercolors can help us orient ourselves in the world. They make me appreciate the light around me and always make me feel a little bit like I’m at the beach.
The American Watercolors exhibit is a lot to take in. I wouldn’t recommend bringing kids under six or bringing a bigger group, because the space is designed for lots of small paintings and can feel cramped and overwhelming at times. However, for thoughtful, detail-oriented young art and/or history enthusiasts, this show is a great resource. They even offer individual audio tours for those interested in in-depth learning.
In addition to gorgeous landscapes, seascapes, and still lifes, the exhibit also features interactive activities that walk students through the painting methods, giving viewers a deeper understanding of how the paintings were made. One of my favorite parts of the show is a display of the pigments and color-mixing methods used as well as the paint sets of the artists-that really brought their process to life.
Additionally, the paintings give us a unique lens on U.S. history. Winslow Homer was an embedded artist during the Civil War and his paintings give us a view of the American landscape and life during reconstruction. These gritty-to-realistic portrayals gave way to the next generation of watercolorists, Gilded-Age artists who worked in the style close to Louis Comfort Tiffany’s bright glass designs.
As with many mainstream art exhibits, (and with history itself, as it’s usually told) I was frustrated that the artists included were almost exclusively white men, though there were a few pieces by women. Clearly someone at the PMA agrees with me, as the museum is hosting an “Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon” on Sunday, March 26, from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The museum’s website says: “Join us for a communal updating of Wikipedia entries on subjects related to art and feminism, focusing on women watercolorists. Bring your laptop, power cord, and ideas for entries that need updating or creation.” Sounds like something young tech-savvy young feminists of any gender might enjoy!
Overall, I would recommend American Watercolors to any art enthusiast. Plan to spend the whole afternoon, there’s a lot to see!