Reading Public Museum Honors Its Cultural Centennial with Celebrations and Historical Exhibitions

  • READING, Pennsylvania
  • /
  • June 04, 2013

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Francis Daniel Devlan, (American, 1835-1870), Summer, 1868, oil on canvas, Gift, Misses Caroline and Mary Archer, 1916.49.1

This year marks one hundred years that the Reading Public Museum, Berks County, Pennsylvania, has been open to the public. The Museum is honoring the anniversary with two very special exhibitions, 100 Years and Counting: The Reading Public Museum and The Painters of Berks which opened on Saturday, May 25, 2013 and continues through Saturday, September 14, 2013. These exhibitions are sponsored by Carpenter and Stevens & Lee/Griffin. The Museum’s Cultural Centennial Celebration and related events, collectively titled titled RPM 100, is sponsored by Vist Bank.

John Heyl Raser, (American,1824-1901), View of Poplar Neck #2 Neversink Mountain, n.d., oil on canvas, Gift, Mrs. Richard Wetzel, 1956.33.1

Although The Museum began collecting objects and artifacts beginning in 1904, when Dr. Levi Mengel (1868 – 1941), founder of The Museum, on faculty at the Reading Boys’ High School, was authorized to purchase some 2,000 specimens from the St. Louis World’s Fair, the collections were not accessible to the general public until some nine years later in 1913. Initially, the objects were used for hands-on learning in the classroom and were supplemented by Dr. Mengel’s extensive personal collection of natural history specimens: among them, thousands of butterflies, fossils and minerals.

When The Museum opened to the public on the third floor of the school administration building at Washington and Eighth Streets, it had 45 “well-filled” display cases featuring objects of economic and commercial character from all over the world. By 1915, the collections had grown to an amazing 66,000 when the personal collections of Dr. Mengel were counted among the other Museum acquisitions.

100 Years and Counting includes sections dedicated to The Museum’s founder, Levi Mengel, the history of the collections and of various buildings The Museum has occupied over the years, and a look at its early donors and patrons, including Irvin F. Impink, Henry K. Janssen, Gustav Oberlaender, and Ferdinand Thun. Historical photographs, texts and headlines from early newspaper clippings, and objects from the early days of the institution will be featured in the show.

Christopher High Shearer, (American, 1846-1926), Landscape with Cattle, 1890-1899, oil on canvas, Gift, Mrs. E.J. Mishler, 1921.1155.1

In March 1913, Mengel advanced the idea of incorporating an Art Department as part of The Museum, “which changed the character of the museum from a school museum to a public institution.” The addition of fine art ushered in a name change; The Museum became known as The Reading Public Museum and Art Gallery. Local artist, Christopher High Shearer served as a consultant in the department and recommended purchases and the acquisition of paintings and sculptures. The earliest works of art to enter the collection in the nineteen-teens were a combination of paintings by locally well-known painters, artists who exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, European artists of the Düsseldorf School, and works by old masters.

The Painters of Berks explores the school of painting that developed in the county during the middle of the nineteenth century and continued into the early twentieth century. The exhibition traces the formation of the regional school of painting in Reading and its environs (Berks County), which emphasized landscapes, still life, and portraits.

James Arthur Benade (1823-1853), Francis D. Devlan (1835-1870), J. Heyl Raser (1824-1901), Christopher High Shearer (1846-1926), Ben Austrian (1870-1921), among others, will be examined in the comprehensive exhibition, which will feature more than 60 works. These artists documented the natural beauty and notable citizens of the region. Many of these artists exhibited nationally at venues such as the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, and internationally at world expositions and juried exhibitions. The Painters of Berks also earned fine reputations among their colleagues and among a steady clientele in Reading, one of the most important industrial cities in the northeast.

An exhibition of more than 30 etchings and watercolors by Berks County, Pennsylvania artists are also featured in The Museum’s Works on Paper Gallery during this time.

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Michael D. Anderson
Reading Public Museum
610-371-5850 x231

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