New Deal Art in Philadelphia, PA Schools

The following is an article from the July 8, 2004 Sun Times

Philly schools uncover art treasures

PHILADELPHIA -- To the delight of school officials, a multimillion-dollar treasure trove of art has been discovered in basements, boiler rooms, closets and halls in Philadelphia's cash-strapped public schools.

The art -- 1,200 works in all, including paintings, sculptures and tapestries -- had been donated to the school system or bought for small sums.

But over the decades, many of them were taken down when the walls were painted and were put into storage, where they apparently were forgotten.

The 19th- and 20th-century collection is probably worth tens of millions of dollars.

''This is an incredibly unusual and extraordinary find,'' said art consultant Kathleen Bernhardt-Hidvegi of the Chicago-based Corporate Art Source. She conducted the inventory in the city's 264 schools.

The collection includes paintings by Thomas Eakins and Henry Ossawa Tanner, both of whom attended Philadelphia's prestigious Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, as well as landscapes by ''Pennsylvania Impressionists'' Edward W. Redfield, Walter Emerson Baum and Henry B. Snell.

The school system will look into how to preserve the collection and make money off of it, perhaps through calendars, coffee-table books and the like.

Natalye Paquin, school system chief of staff, made it clear that selling the collection is out of the question.

''It's for the benefit of our children, and it's part of our region's history,'' Paquin said. ''Many of these paintings were made here, some only a couple of blocks from the school. That's an exciting way for kids to learn about art, culture and history.''

The inventory is similar to one conducted for the Chicago school system, where Philadelphia schools chief executive Paul Vallas and Paquin worked. Roughly the same number of works were inventoried in the Chicago schools, whose collection was estimated to be worth at least $20 million. But Philadelphia's collection is ''richer in its historical value and more beautiful,'' Paquin said.

©2004 Sun Times

E-mail Nancy

© 2004 Nancy Lorance
All Rights Reserved.