Museum Without Walls™: AUDIO – Ellen Phillips Samuel Memorial — North Terrace


[Penny Balkin Bach] The sculptors for this terrace were selected from the third and final sculpture international exhibition in 1949. Over 250,000 people came to see the works on exhibition and there were over 250 different works to see. The event was unbelievably popular and widely covered by the national press. At the time, even LIFE magazine called it “the world’s biggest sculpture show.” I’m Penny Balkin Bach, I’m Director of the Fairmount Park Art Association and I’ve written a number of books and articles about public art in Philadelphia. The idea with this terrace, the last of the three to be built, wasn’t to express a historical period but rather those inner energies of the nation. [Kathleen Foster] This was the perspective of the 1950s, of what made America great – religion, the sciences, the arts, the worker. I’m Kathleen Foster, the Senior Curator of American Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. After World War II, the United States was enriched by a flood of immigrant artists as well as an awareness of international art trends. [Balkin Bach] If you stand in the middle and you face Kelly drive, you’ll see “The Laborer” on your far left and that was created by the American-born Ahron Ben-Shmuel, but the rest of the artists are from abroad. “The Scientist” on the left is by the Armenian artist Koren der Harootian. “The Poet” was created by the Spanish artist José de Creeft. And “The Preacher” on the far-right is by the German-born sculptor Waldemar Raemisch. [Foster] In hindsight, the Fairmount Park Art Association might have made different choices, perhaps choosing sculptors that we today think of as more progressive and forward looking. [Balkin Bach] While many great talents from all over the world were overlooked for these commissions. Alberto Giacometti, Constantin Brancusi, Henry Moore, Alexander Calder, David Smith, even Picasso exhibited work at that exhibition, but none of these artists were chosen. Back then, they would have been seen as very radical. [Foster] Back in the 1950s, what you see here was in fact the mainstream style of sculpture. Back then, nobody knew who was gonna win in the history of art in the battle between abstraction and more old-fashioned figuration. [Balkin Bach] Even though abstraction was becoming more popular after the Second World War, I think that it’s fair to say that the Samuel Committee felt ethically bound to represent the wishes of the donor, Ellen Phillips Samuel, and so they decided to commission work that maintained the basic human form as a reference. [Foster] People might have found these sculptures quite reassuring really in that they expressed some of these older values of realism as well as a taste of the modern. [Balkin Bach] You’re now on the North Terrace near the bridge. If you want to learn more about the history and the ideas behind the Samuel Memorial you can walk south to two other terraces because each terrace has a different story to tell.

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