My Visit to Pennsbury

But first: As part of our current planning process, PHMC worked with the PA Office of Administration to develop a survey to help us better identify stakeholders, determine the role PHMC should play regarding history in the commonwealth, and find out how well we're doing with the programs and services we provide. You can help shape the direction of our strategic plan by accessing the survey here—please respond by Sept. 24. Thanks in advance for your input.

Just to be clear—a day away from the cubicle wasn’t the ONLY reason I headed east on the Turnpike in late August to visit Pennsbury Manor. That was a bonus. The real draw was a chance to catch up on what’s been happening there and to see “The Seed of a Nation,” the new exhibit at the (relatively) new visitor center. During the exhibit installation phase, we posted some behind-the-scenes photos (courtesy of PHMC staff) here, here, and here, but I had not gotten to see the finished product for myself. As usual, my photographs will not do it justice—my hope is to give you a hint and inspire you to explore it on your own.

I love the look of this exhibit. Warm, vibrant colors. Visual variety, with graphics, period images, high-quality whitecast forms (see detail below), photographs, and objects. Opportunities to interact physically with the exhibit range from low-tech (such as flip panels) to high-tech (such as touchscreen video monitors). It’s a thoroughly modern exhibit that also creates a sense of the historic site that visitors will see as they tour.

As beautiful as this exhibit is, I think it is the content that shines brightest. (Full disclosure: I was involved in the planning stage of the exhibit, primarily as a semi-soulless bureaucrat focused on keeping the process moving.) The exhibit opens with an exploration of William Penn’s religious and social beliefs, how they were reflected in the establishment of Pennsylvania, and how those beliefs (or their reflections) influenced the foundations of our American government. Sound remote and academic? We’re talking religious toleration and the role of religion in government and public life—hot topics in the news recently (and periodically for the last 300 years or more).

The exhibit goes on to introduce us to the other people who lived at Pennsbury during (and after) Penn’s time—his family and the diverse peoples who visited with and worked for them (whether as free, indentured, or enslaved laborers). The changing image of William Penn in popular culture and advertising (I know you’re thinking about oatmeal right about now) serves as a transition between the late 17th-early 18th century and the reconstruction of Pennsbury in the early 20th century.

The section on the reconstruction presents, in my opinion, a fascinating array of information about the documentary and archaeological research that shaped the initial work, controversy over the reconstruction at the time it was launched, and the continuing research that has refined and revised the interpretation of Pennsbury to the public. You’ll never look at a historical reconstruction or restoration in quite the same way again.

I’ve really just scratched the surface here and it’s taken more words than I expected—so I’ll leave you with this. On Sept. 30, a special evening of food, drink, and entertainment is planned in support of Pennsbury Manor—a reservations-required taste of the 17th century called “Dine Around the Manor.” Get there early and dive into the exhibit before you soak up the atmosphere of the party. I think you’ll be glad you did.


Anonymous said...

looks great! any ideas of updating other site's older exhibit spaces?

Amy Killpatrick Fox said...

Thanks, Jill. We've been doing new exhibits as funds permit (a blinding flash of the obvious, I know). New exhibits are in various stages of progress at Drake Well, Lumber Museum, Military Museum, and Railroad Museum (I'm probably missing someone). It will take some time to get to everyone, and in the meantime many sites--such as Anthracite--do great work on changing exhibits and in-house upgrades. Hang in there.

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