Narberth’s Elizabeth Hutton MacDonald grew up wanting to go to the Antarctic with Adm. Richard E. Byrd, or perhaps practice medicine. But it was easiest for her to become an artist—and so she did.
“It seemed natural,” she says. “I had lessons in everything—the whole gamut—but the art lessons were the easiest. By the time I was a teenager, I was already selling my artwork.”
She had the genes. Her father, Hugh Hutton, was a political cartoonist at the Philadelphia Inquirer from 1934 to 1974. Her mother, Dorothy Wackerman Hutton, specialized in watercolors and prints. She was also an engraver, etcher and lithographer. She lived to be 102 (more good genes). Elizabeth, who goes by Betty, is only 83.
The family was the recent subject of the exhibition The Art Gene: The Hutton Family Legacy at the Berman Museum of Art at Ursinus College. The exhibit featured 98 pieces by MacDonald, her parents and a niece, Susan Hutton DeAngelus, a graphic artist. It’s the first time all four have been in the same exhibit. MacDonald’s pieces covered the spectrum of her vast talents: lacework, embroidery, oil painting, monotype, etching, watercolor and silhouettes.
The progressive-minded MacDonald joined the Philadelphia Sketch Club in 1990, the first year women were permitted at the oldest and longest continuously running artists’ organization in the country. She served as the club’s first female president. She’s been its secretary and house chair, too, and she now monitors the long standing Monday print workshop at its South Camac Street headquarters.
DeAngelus designs the PSC newsletter. At the Plastic Club—the once female-only artists companion club three doors down on South Camac Street—she’s been president three times. She’s now the archivist.
As house chair, MacDonald cleaned the PSC, where a cartoon by her father once hung on the wall of the men’s room. He was a member from 1941 to 1976. MacDonald’s mom first joined the Plastic Club in 1940. Both belonged to the Philadelphia Art Alliance, but they were told that if they really wanted to meet other artists, they had to join the PSC and Plastic Club to “sit around and chew the fat.”
“The [PSC] was definitely an old gentlemen’s club, with smoking and drinking and falling on your faces,” says MacDonald.
The PSC allowed women to submit art to its shows and would also host square dances. Wives could come—Hugh often brought MacDonald and some of her friends to dance. “It could be snowing or a hurricane, but they wouldn’t miss it,” MacDonald says of her parents.
The PSC’s 150th anniversary will be celebrated with a grand dinner at its headquarters on Nov. 20. It’s a culmination of the massive arts organization’s 15-month anniversary celebration of exhibits at 15 local art institutions. For the anniversary gala, the PSC’s Joseph Pennell Medal—awarded every five years in honor of the early-1920s president—will be presented to the Brandywine Valley’s Jamie Wyeth. The PSC was the setting for the first solo exhibition by Jamie’s grandfather, N.C. Wyeth. The exhibit was recently recreated at the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford as part of the club’s anniversary celebration. N.C. was a member from 1911 to 1919.
The Philadelphia Sketch Club’s connections to the Huttons and other talented Main Liners are among the reasons why this storied institution has endured as long as it has. Their stories are reflected in all their brilliance in the rich array of art on these pages.
The Philadelphia Sketch Club was founded on Nov. 20, 1860, by six former students of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts who hoped to improve their illustration skills. Known the first year as the “Crayon Club,” the group met weekly in their studios or rented quarters. Everyone quickly benefited from the social exchange, seeing the artistic work of others and the mutual encouragement. A unique and lasting camaraderie developed.
PSC exhibitions began in 1865, and the list of medal winners since is an extraordinary honor roll. It includes illustrators N.C. Wyeth, A.B. Frost, Howard Chandler Christy, Henry Pitz and Lyle Justis; cartoonists Hutton and Peter Boyle; painters Hugh Breckenridge, Walter Emerson Baum, Daniel Garber, John Dull, Edward Willis Redfield, Thomas Moran and Fred Wagner; etchers Peter Moran, Stephen Ferris and Earl Horter; lithographers Benton Spruance and Roberts Riggs; watercolorists Frank English, Carl Weber and Ranulph Bye; and sculptors Charles Grafly, R. Tait McKenzie, Bryn Mawr’s Howard Roberts and Joseph Bailly. Perhaps America’s most noted ironworker, Wynnewood’s Samuel Yellin was a PSC member from 1922 to 1940.
A series of chief engravers at the U.S. Mint were celebrated PSC members. During World War I, the PSC held a 10-day arts carnival that raised $2.5 million for the war effort. Former President William Howard Taft called it “the greatest little club in the world on the biggest little street.”
It was the PSC that first responded to the educational needs of the arts community in the early 1870s, when the PAFA was awaiting completion of its new building and was without instructional facilities. Thomas Eakins taught life classes at the PSC and used that experience to get his position as instructor at the PAFA when its new facility opened. Eakins finished his most important work, “The Gross Clinic,” at the club in 1875. Thomas Anshutz succeeded Eakins at the PAFA. He was PSC president from 1910 until his death in 1912. Forty-four of Anshutz’s oil portraits of early PSC members are hung around the upper tier of the club’s library.
Other early PSC notables include William Moylan Lansdale, who joined in 1864 as a young law student. He distinguished himself as a railroad executive but was an amateur artist. Lansdale is credited with the club’s early development and progress. When he died at his Delaware County estate in 1926, he’d been a PSC member for 62 years. Serving as secretary from 1866 to 1878 and as president from 1891 to 1897, he’s responsible for recording the club’s first 25 years of history.
Another early member was James P. Simpson, who once spent $5,000 to host a cricket match between two teams of club members at his Merion estate. He provided uniforms to represent cricket sportswear of the early 19th century: top hats, nankeen trousers, long-tailed coats. Club archives and photographs document the frivolity.
But Simpson was truly noteworthy in the Philadelphia art world during the 1880s and early 1890s. His father had owned Eddystone Print Works, one of the largest manufacturers of calicoes in the world. Running the company after his father’s death, Simpson amassed a fortune. His interest in art led him to study in Europe. Then, after retiring from business at age 45, he pursued etching. His known works include scenes of Venice, the New England and Canadian coasts, and a New York cityscape showing the Brooklyn Bridge.
Jeff Cohen, of Bryn Mawr College, is an expert on the architecture of the Lansdale and Simpson estates, along with other notable buildings on the Main Line designed by PSC members. Architect T.P. Chandler was probably the most prolific Main Liner of the bunch.
Incorporated in Pennsylvania in 1889, the PSC has survived largely on fees charged to members. Almost a hundred years later, in 1991, it received its tax-exempt status, allowing it to seek outside funding. Listed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places and as a contributing property in the Washington Square West National Register Historic District, the PSC now functions as a regional art education center, library and museum. It encompasses three Federal-period rowhouses built in the 1820s. There’s also an upstairs gallery.
Today’s PSC programs include five art workshops per week, 10 exhibitions per year, a library and archive, monthly dinner meetings with speakers, tours, related art events, and still that old-time camaraderie. With roughly 325 members, the PSC plays a significant part in the cultural community. As many as 20 members have come aboard each month of the anniversary celebration.
Villanova’s Donald Meyer has a studio in Devon and is director of exhibitions at Woodmere Art Museum in Philadelphia. He’s also a past PSC vice president from 1999 to 2009. The museum’s Kindred Spirits: Woodmere and the Philadelphia Sketch Club is a hub exhibit of the anniversary celebration, running until Jan. 2, 2011.
“The perfect place to see modern art was in Philadelphia,” Meyer says. “We had the art schools; we had the collections. These were the people in the 1920s who had the money to buy precious things. Philadelphia is really the mecca of Modernism, and the whole reason I wanted to be a [PSC] member is because of all these others who were members.”
And there’s always the renowned Main Line collector Dr. Albert C. Barnes and his opinion of the PSC. As it turns out, there are no records or recollections of Barnes’ association with the club. “He had his own little fiefdom in Merion,” says Meyer. “Our world would’ve been an enemy to his.”
There were no enemies to be found at a recent meeting of the Professional Artists Group, a club within the PSC that meets monthly to socialize while a fellow member speaks and exhibits work. The night’s event featured Philadelphia’s Bill Scott, a color-based abstract painter, printmaker and art historian who was raised in Haverford and teaches at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Evoking architectural and floral imagery, his best pieces continue to fetch $14,000-$40,000 each.
Among the PSC members there were Wynnewood’s Tony Auth, editorial cartoonist at the Philadelphia Inquirer for the past 39 years, and his wife, Eliza, an oil painter who depicts realistic landscapes and portraits. They’re first-year members.
“We share much of our work as artists, no matter what medium,” says Tony, who also writes and illustrates children’s books. “It’s just fascinating to learn about things we don’t know. We both benefit personally and professionally. Whatever the medium, this place has quite a tradition for joining all the muses around town.”
Ardmore’s Joe Sweeney, an outdoor landscape painter—what the French call plein air—is another recent club member. “There were a lot of Main Line members in the beginning, and now again,” says Sweeney, who’s taught outdoor classes as an adjunct at the PAFA since 1993.
Narberth painter Alexandra Tyng is famed architect Louis Kahn’s daughter. But she didn’t even know her father was once a PSC member when she joined. When Kahn died in 1974, she was just 20.
“He was always an influence, but I also made it a point to make a path on my own,” says Tyng, who paints representational oil landscapes and portraits in settings. “We did not have the same last name, so that made it easier. For a long time, no one in the art world knew the connection, and so I truly was able to make it on my own.”
In May, Tyng’s portrait of her father was hung in the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution. “I was really happy, and they were happy, too,” she says.
A grand master of the modern-day PSC has to be painter Bill Campbell. He turned 95 in September, celebrating in October with a birthday party and exhibit at the Plastic Club, which accepts men these days. “I had a party and exhibit for my 90th birthday,” he says. “I thought that would be it. Five years later, I’m still around.”
Though he currently lives in a four-story brownstone stuffed with art in the shadows of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Campbell was a founder of the Main Point, the storied Bryn Mawr coffeehouse and cabaret, which closed in 1981. The popular venue hosted singer/songwriters like Bruce Springsteen, along with plays and art shows. Campbell used to sketch the performers, giving his work away.
Campbell’s first visit to the PSC was in 1935. By the winter of 1939-40, as World War II raged on, he joined. Today, he’s the longest-tenured member in club history. “My memory goes back to 1935, so that’s half the life of the club,” he says.
Campbell still marvels at the range of artists, ironworkers, stained-glass craftsmen and architects that were always on-hand, pointing out that there was much more diversity among the ranks back then. He trained as a realist but, by high school in 1930, developed an interest in the Impressionists and early Modernists. “New stuff when I was a kid,” he says.
Beginning in 1935, after a New England summer session with the PSC’s Horter, Campbell took up abstract painting. “It was 1940 before I had any sketch worth working on,” he says. “By 1945, I had a half-dozen that developed into paintings.”
Campbell painted both realistic scenes—usually outdoor landscapes—and abstract studio works until about a decade ago, when he turned solely to abstracts. A few bouts with skin cancer had confined him to indoor work.
These days, Campbell has been donating his work, and that of others, to Woodmere. “I didn’t know if I had tons of stuff for the trash or whether there was some interest,” he says. “They told me it was all priceless, and not to throw anything away—but all of this made my life. There’s a richness to being involved in any of the arts that nothing else can equal. At 95, I have lots of handicaps, but thank goodness I still have a memory.”
To learn more, visit sketchclub.org.