Watercolor sketchbooks - FineArtConnoisseur.com
Detail of “Sunset. Columbia Bridge” by James Lancel McElhinney.

The “O.T.W. — On the Water” project by James Lancel McElhinney began as a series of conversations between artists, rowers, and historians about the Schuylkill River as a nexus of American art, science, literature, and commerce.

Celebrating the spirit of exploration and expeditionary journal-painting, this exhibition also presents historic images in conversation with contemporary River Artists Patrick Connors, Tom Judd, Deirdre Murphy, Stacy Levy, Jacob Rivkin, and Joseph Sweeney. These artists are working in a variety of media, from intaglio printmaking and painting to video and installation, which together with picturesque engravings by historical artists celebrate a river in transition, inviting visitors to explore its banks and waters, perhaps to become part of its reclamation.

From James Lancel McElhinney:
“O.T.W. — On the Water: The Schuylkill River,” was conceived as a monographic show about my 2018 journal-painting project that explores a three-mile stretch of Philadelphia’s historic Schuylkill River as it passes through Fairmount Park from East Falls to Fairmount Water Works, beside the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

From the watercolor sketchbook of James Lancel McElhinney:

Watercolor sketchbooks - FineArtConnoisseur.com
Standing on the western shore of the river below the Dragon Boat Dock, looking southwest. Imagine being in the middle of the river, where Thomas Eakins envisioned Max Schmitt, at rest in his single scull. Passing Three Angels, a lone oarsman pulls downriver toward stone arches, the Connecting Railway Bridge
Watercolor sketchbooks - FineArtConnoisseur.com
Facing northwest, sheltered by the arches of the Pennsylvania Railroad Connecting Bridge on a rainy day. Kelly Drive is to the right. A bike-trail runs beside it. Schuylkill Expressway roars behind the western bank, with MLK Drive and the Dragon Boat dock on the wooded shore beyond. A solitary rower moves downstream.
Watercolor sketchbooks - FineArtConnoisseur.com
Marking a point halfway between Philadelphia Museum of Art and East Falls, Columbia Railroad Bridge was constructed in 1920. A grandstand for watching Schuylkill Navy regattas sits just upstream. Behind the distant tree-line is Memorial Hall. Built for the 1876 Centennial Exposition, it now houses the Please Touch Museum.
Watercolor sketchbooks - FineArtConnoisseur.com
A broad esplanade on the eastern bank was created when landfill replaced pestilential wetlands. A grove of cherry trees was created from a gift to the city by Japan, honoring the sesquicentennial of American independence. Rising behind the Connecting Railway Bridge is the distant form of the Comcast Technology Center.

About the Artists

CRAIG BRUNS is chief curator at Independence Seaport Museum. He was trained as a visual artist at Tyler School of Art, Temple University. Prior to joining the museum in 1995, Bruns worked in the Philadelphia arts community as an independent curator, and as a conservation tech at Philadelphia Museum of Art.

PATRICK CONNORS looks to the Schuylkill as his muse. An erstwhile rower, classically trained in drawing and painting, for decades Connors has set up his easel along the river. Drawn to its banks and bridges, Connors re-envisions what he beholds, with a reverence for history and a timeless gaze.

TOM JUDD is celebrated for his personal, symbolic, and enigmatic imagery. In this cinematic freeze-frame, Judd imagines a Victorian woman in an antiquated bathing-costume, about to plunge into the river. Distant arches of Strawberry Mansion Bridge locate this feat on the Schuylkill River.

DANIEL KENNEDY (Exhibition designer) is visual services representative in the Education Department at Independence Seaport Museum. He is a graduate of the University of the Arts.

STACY LEVY is an international environmental artist based in Central Pennsylvania. In “Tide Field,” Levy anchored columns of brightly colored spheres along the Schuylkill estuary, which are submerged and exposed by tidal activity. Seeking locations that “provide the opportunity to make visible some of the forces at work at the site,” Levy invites the viewer to consider “how nature functions in an urban setting.”

EDMUND DARCH LEWIS was born in Philadelphia in 1835 and trained at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Lewis traveled through much of the northeastern United States in search of subjects, earning a strong reputation as a landscape and maritime painter. He died in Philadelphia in 1910.

JOHANN GEORG MARTINI was a German draftsman and engraver born in 1785. Little is known of his life. While he produced American scenic views, there is no evidence that he ever visited the United States. His death is reported as either 1842 or 1853.

JAMES LANCEL McELHINNEY was born and raised in the Delaware Valley and holds degrees from Tyler School of Art and Yale University. Best known for his Hudson Valley journals, and paintings of historic battlegrounds, McElhinney received a Pollock Krasner Grant in 2017. Later that year he published Hudson Highlands: North River Suite, volume one, a suite of contemporary prints in the spirit of 19th-century topographical art. His focus today is on American waterways.

DEIRDRE MURPHY received an Ecotopian Toolkit Grant from the Penn Program in Environmental Humanities and help from the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge, the University of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Audubon, and Drexel University’s Academy of Natural Science to create “Mapping Movements,” an intaglio print mapping avian migration routes along the urban fringe of the lower Schuylkill Valley.

GRANVILLE PERKINS was born in Baltimore in 1830. He studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and later moved to New York, where he exhibited at the National Academy of Design. Best known for landscapes and maritime subjects, Perkins was an accomplished watercolorist who produced scenic views published in travel books such as Appletons’. He died in New York in 1895.

JACOB RIVKIN compiled Floating Archives, a series of animations based on archival photographs and drawings, to be exhibited as a public artwork on the lower Schuylkill River in September 2018. These animations were projected onto a screen suspended between two canoes traveling northward from Bartram’s Garden to the dam at the Fairmount Water Works. This film is organized spatially, reimagining the labor, leisure, and obscured histories of the waterway from 1800 to today.

JOSEPH SWEENEY based his color etching on a Schuylkill River scene he first captured in oils early one summer morning. Rowers are out on the river, just as sunlight breaks the horizon. Oarsmen’s jerseys contrast with the shadowy backdrop of the wooded far bank. Traffic sounds hum in the distance, but on the water (which had been a thoroughfare in the 18th century), a sense of calm and timelessness prevails.

GRAHAM WHITE is a visual artist and designer. Trained at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston and at Tufts University, White divides his time between Manhattan and Connecticut. Graham created the sketchbook animation and designed this website.

“O.T.W. — On The Water: The Schuylkill River” is on view at the Seaport Museum (Philadelphia, PA) through September 2019. Bonus: Listen to the Schuylkill River Netcast podcast for interviews with these river artists.

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