A Winter Getaway In The City of Brotherly Love

by Jim Weaver

Although I lived in Philadelphia for more than half my life, I moved away a few years ago to a retirement community.  Fortunately, I’m still close enough that several times a year my wife Barbara and I get back to visit.  Coming back to the city now as a “tourist” has become a delightful experience.

On a recent trip, we visited the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (America’s first art school founded in 1805) for the opening of a spectacular new exhibit “Henry Ossawa Tanner: Modern Spirit” which runs here through April 15th before traveling to Cincinnati and Houston.

Tanner was a Pennsylvania Academy graduate (1865) and the first African American to receive international acclaim as an artist.  However, because of racial bigotry in America he was forced to move to Paris to pursue his career abroad.

The exhibit features over 100 Tanner works, some of which have never been shown in the United States.  One of my favorite paintings is “The Banjo Lesson” (1896) which depicts an old black man teaching his grandson to play the banjo. From the Hampton University Art Museum collection, it is one of the first painting by any artist to show African Americans in other than a serving role.

Outside the Academy on the new Lenfest Plaza there is a fascinating new sculpture by American artist Claes Oldenburg.  The 18 foot tall “Paint Torch” with orange paint blob at its base depicts a giant upright paintbrush which become a lighted torch at night.  Oldenburg’s famous “Clothespin” sculpture is located near Philadelphia City Hall.

At the Philadelphia Museum of Art currently is an exhibit featuring of works Vincent Van Gogh. Titled “Van Gogh: Up Close” it will run through May 5th.

Nearby on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway the new Barnes Museum is set to open on May 19th. It will feature the Dr. Albert C. Barnes Collection including masterworks of the world’s great Impressionist and Postimpressionist artists.

After a delicious lunch at the Pennsylvania Academy’s cafe (in the school’s architectural treasure, the Frank Furness Building), we went shopping at the old John Wannamaker’s. Although its now a Macy’s, it stills retains much of the charm of years gone by when it was the city’s leading department store.  The large bronze sculpture of the eagle is still located at the center of the first floor grand court.  “Meet me at the Eagle” was once a phrase every Philadelphian knew.

Looking upwards from there you encounter the world’s largest (confirmed on the web) pipe organ. The Wannamaker Organ is still played twice a day, Monday through Saturday, more often at the Christmas season, and for special concerts.  Christmas brings an amazing light show in the space in front of the organ pipes.   Go to YouTube online and search Philadelphia Opera Company’s “Hallelujah” Random Act of Culture (held in the Wannamaker Grand Court).

Several decades ago I attended a national convention held at the Warwick Hotel (now the Raddison Warwick) just off Philadelphia’s upscale Rittenhouse Square.
It was a pleasure to return here and to see how its been improved without losing its beauty and charm.  Because it is a historic property, much has remained as I recalled it, but much is also new and most attractive.  It was wonderful to have valet parking at the front entrance and a fabulous breakfast at Tavern 17 (for 17th Street).  I loved the Egyptian cotton sheets and 42 inch HD/TV and the service was both timely and courteous.  Learn more online at www.radisson.com/philadelphia-hotel.

After a delicious dinner at a nearby restaurant (there are about 60 restaurants within easy walking distance of the Warwick), we caught a cab to the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall for a concert by the highly esteemed Philadelphia Orchestra.  Artistic Director Designate Yannak Nezet-Seguin conducted a program of Bach’s Brandenberg Concerto #5 and Mahler’s Fifth Symphony.  It was a thrilling performance in all respects by one of the world’s leading orchestras.

I can hardly wait for Spring and the Philadelphia Flower Show, the Philadelphia Antiques Show, and the opening of the new Barnes Museum.  To learn more about this great city and upcoming events view www.philadelphiausa.travel; and www.visitphilly.com. ;

James C. Weaver
301 Laurel Place, P.O.Box 125
Cornwall, PA 17016 USA

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