|Volume LIII||November 2006||Number 4|
William Rush: The Father of American Sculpture
Come See Some of His Works on Display at The Masonic Library and Museum of Pennsylvania
by Andrew A. Zellers-Frederick, Executive Director, The Masonic Library and Museum of Pennsylvania
As the Tercentenary of America's first international citizen, Bro. Benjamin Franklin, has been celebrated throughout this year, another important Pennsylvanian's birthday, his 250th, passed on July 4 almost completely overlooked. William Rush, a neoclassical sculptor considered by many to be America's first major artist of this medium, was born in 1756. A contemporary of Dr. Franklin's, Rush is credited with developing a new form of sculpture that enabled the visitor to see extreme details on his works from relatively great distances through his dramatic use of contrast and strong shadowing. Initially trained as a wood carver of ships' figureheads, his works adorned many of the vessels belonging to Bro. Stephen Girard. His beautiful creations later decorated churches, public buildings, private homes, and the 1811 Masonic Hall located on Philadelphia's Chestnut Street. His subjects included sculptures of great statesmen such as Franklin, William Penn, Rousseau, Voltaire, Lafayette and George Washington; classical allegorical figures, including Comedy and Tragedy; and those of religious exuberance, Exaltation and Praise.
Today, Rush's works are displayed in prominent institutions across the United States with the largest number and most beautiful of his works exhibited at Philadelphia's Masonic Temple. The Masonic Temple has seven Rush sculptures on exhibit. They include Faith, Hope, Charity, Virtue and Silence, which were originally commissioned by the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania for the 1811 Masonic Hall on the north side of Philadelphia's Chestnut Street between Seventh and Eighth streets. These magnificent works are life-sized figures in wood painted white. There is also a pair of works titled the Winged Angels or Cherubim. All were rescued from the building when it was destroyed by fire on March 9, 1819.
In honor of William Rush's 250th birth anniversary, The Masonic Library and Museum of Pennsylvania is proud to host a special educational, historical and artistic event on Saturday, Nov. 11, beginning at 10 a.m. In collaboration with other local cultural institutions, all of which have their own Rush works (the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Philadelphia Art Museum, the American Philosophical Society, Independence National Historical Park, the Independence Seaport Museum and the Library Company of Philadelphia), three scholarly lectures on William Rush and two curatorial tours featuring his works will be presented. These special lectures will be given by Historian Anna Coxe Toogood, who is with Independence National Historical Park; Curator Linda Bantel, a scholar who previously coordinated a special exhibit on Rush at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts; and Dr. Sylvia L. Lahvis, a professor at the University of Delaware whose expertise is in ships' figureheads by Rush. One of the tours will be delivered by Dennis Buttleman, Curator of the Masonic Temple, and the other by a curator at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Space is limited, and advance confirmed reservations are strongly advised to avoid disappointment. The admission for this day- long exciting event will include all lectures, refreshments, a box lunch in the Grand Banquet Room of the Masonic Temple and the special curators' tours.
This program is partially funded through a grant from the Humanitiesand- the-Arts initiative, a grant-making partnership administered by the Pennsylvania Humanities Council and funded principally by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. The Pennsylvania Humanities Council inspires individuals to enjoy and share a life of learning. Since 1973, the PHC has empowered local groups to offer high-quality public program that have a positive impact on the everyday life of their communities.
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