I once heard someone say that Philadelphia, stuck as it is between D.C. and New York, often gets overlooked. I’ve found this to be true – despite Princeton’s equidistance from both Philadelphia and New York, I’ve been to the latter dozens of times over the past few years, whereas I could count on one hand the number of times I’ve made it to Philadelphia, despite the fact that I pass through their airport every time I fly home. This difference in number of visits is in large part due to the practical issue that a train goes straight from Princeton Junction to Penn Station, but to get to Philadelphia means connecting through Trenton, making the trip take twice as long as it should. (Dear SEPTA: please fix this.) Despite this inconvenience, everyone should make it to Philly – it has a vibrant social scene, and a slew of fabulous museums, most notably the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where I’m interning this summer.
I’m interning in the European Paintings department, working on a project to organize their collection of portrait miniatures. I’ve been working on eighteenth-century British portraiture for my independent work, which miniatures are closely related to, so it’s a perfect fit. This internship is part of the PMA’s Museum Studies Internship Program, which means there’s 50 of us at the museum this summer in all its different departments. Every Monday and Thursday, we get to go on tours and hear talks about basically every museum-related topic you can think of.
One of the first things we did was go on a tour that was a basic overview of the museum. We were on the second floor, overlooking the Great Hall, when our guide opened a curtain to show us the view from the front of the museum down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to City Hall. The view alone was great, but it came with a wonderful tidbit about Philadelphia and its artistic history. Our guide pointed out that behind us, Alexander Calder’s “Ghost” mobile hung over the Great Hall. In front of us, as we looked down the Parkway, she pointed to the Swann Fountain in Logan Circle, which Calder’s father, Alexander Stirling Calder, had made. Then, she pointed to the tower of City Hall, and at its thirty-seven- foot-tall statue of William Penn, which it turned out was by Calder’s grandfather, Alexander Milne Calder. I had had no idea there were three Alexander Calders, and that each was a sculptor. That the three generations form a perfect line down the Parkway is just one example of Philadelphia’s great art offerings. I recommend switching things up and traveling south of Princeton. You’ll find me studying the miniatures and British portraits in the PMA’s period rooms, or else engrossed in the PMA’s unrivaled Thomas Eakins collection.