America’s First Academy

Contributed by Liz McDermott, Conservation Technician

PAFA’s Richard C. von Hess Foundation Works of Art on Paper Conservation Studio is a dedicated space used to perform important preservation and exhibition related activities. From properly housing works of art on paper for storage to preparing works for exhibitions and loans, the Conservation Studio plays a vital role in supporting PAFA’s mission.

In preparation of PAFA’s upcoming exhibition, First Academies, the museum will put on display its most important document—the original 1805 Charter. Placing the charter on view highlights one theme of the exhibition—the founding of the first Academies in England (The Royal Academy of the Arts, established 1768) and the United States (The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, established 1805). Signed inside Independence Hall on December 26, 1805, the PAFA Charter is an important piece of history not only for PAFA, but for America as well. Framing the document required the utmost care.

The Charter is written on parchment. True parchment is an animal skin which has been treated, stretched, and scraped to create a durable and long-lasting surface for writing and drawing. Parchment is hygroscopic in nature, which means that it absorbs water very readily. This causes parchment to swell in conditions of high Relative Humidity (RH). Conversely, if the RH is too low, parchment will shrink and potentially even crack. Constant fluctuations in temperature and humidity can also degrade the parchment through processes that affect the collagen and lipids in the material. This vulnerability of true parchment to unstable climate conditions made framing the PAFA Charter a welcome challenge. After hours of planning, research, and consultations with colleagues in the art conservation field, it was decided to use the methods illustrated below:


First, perimeter hinges were adhered on the verso of the Charter about 4” apart. The above picture shows the process. Japanese tissue hinges were adhered and weighted using a very dry wheat starch paste. The ends of the Japanese tissue were frayed and overlap the parchment no more than 1/8” to ensure easy and safe reversal by future conservators.


Once the perimeter hinges were adhered, the Charter was positioned into the book mat for mounting. Notice which hinges have been adhered first—like stretching a canvas (but in this case much gentler), the hinges were first attached at the center, then moving opposite and outward, the hinges were attached one by one to create even gentle tension throughout the Charter.


Here is the Charter after mounting (photo by Barbara Katus). Notice the toned Japanese tissue paper at the top and bottom right. This was to disguise the bright white backing mat while on view since the window mat was constructed with a substantial gap to allow freedom of movement inside of the framed package.

Next, a sealed package was constructed to maintain the parchment at an optimum RH during transport and within the gallery environment for up to a year. This technique was developed by Hugh Phibbs, former Coordinator of Preservation Services at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.


The UV- filtering, non-glare plexi glazing was first placed over the mounted and matted Charter and weighted down to prevent movement. Marvelseal 360, a puncture resistant, aluminized polyethylene and nylon barrier film (used for packaging space food!!), was cut to a larger size than needed, and the Charter was placed inside. Next, a specialized double sided tape for museum housing was placed around the perimeter to hold everything together for the next stage.


Using a tacking iron, the Marvelseal was heated around the perimeter. This completely sealed the package to prevent water vapor from leaving or entering the framed micro environment during climate fluctuations—hence the term “sealed package!” Some sealed packages have even been found to withstand flooding, and were found floating amongst the damage.


Next the edges of the Marvelseal were trimmed so that they can’t be seen beneath the rabbet of the frame while on view.


Here is the PAFA Charter fit into its new frame, ready to be enjoyed by our PAFA audience!

Be sure to come and check out First Academies, on view at PAFA from March 2nd – June 3rd in PAFA’s Historic Landmark Building!

Connecting Teachers with Primary Sources (and art)!

Contributed by Hoang Tran, Director of Archives

One of the archives’ primary function is providing scholars access to PAFA’s extensive collections of primary sources. Primary sources are firsthand evidence of historical events. They are generally unpublished materials such as manuscripts, photographs, maps, artifacts, audio and video recordings, oral histories, postcards, or posters. In some instances, published materials can also be viewed as primary materials for the period in which they were written

In collaboration with PAFA’s Museum Education Department, the Center for the Study of the American Artist helped host one portion of a day long professional development workshop connecting art teachers with primary sources that can support classroom topics and promotes the effective use of PAFA’s resources.

The teachers examined works by George Harding, Elizabeth Osborne, Eadweard Muybridge, and Thomas Eakins in our study room. The workshop also included a behind the scenes tour of PAFA’s Works of Art on Paper Storage facility.

For more information on how to schedule classes at the Center for the Study of the American Arist, please visit our website

Customized professional development opportunities are available  through the School of Fine Arts ( and Museum Education ( with ACT 48 and New Jersey credits.

New Digital Collection – Pennsylvania Society of Miniature Painters’ Annual Miniature Exhibition photograph collection

Contributed by Hoang Tran, Director of Archives

The Dorothy and Kenneth Woodcock Archives is happy to announce that the Pennsylvania Society of Miniature Painters’ Annual Miniature Exhibition photograph collection has been digitized and available online on PAFA’s Digital Archives.

[Installation photograph at the Pennsylvania Society of Miniature Painters’ Annual Miniature Exhibition, undated]
Until 1903 the annual exhibitions included oils, watercolors, prints, drawings, and sculpture. In 1904 watercolors, prints, and drawings were segregated into a separate annual exhibition, which also featured the annual display of the Pennsylvania Society of Miniature Painters. Thus, from 1904 to 1953, the Academy mounted two annual exhibitions.

New Year, New Acquisitions!

Contributed by Alexander Till, Associate Registrar

The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Art’s collection, which includes artworks in various media—from painting and sculpture to media art arts and photographs—reveals key aspects of America’s rich artistic history. In recent years, the museum has made a concerted effort to build its collection by acquiring works by underrepresented artists.

Brooke Davis Anderson, Edna S. Tuttleman Director of the Museum, along with Barbara Katus, Manager of Imaging Services, marveling over recently acquired Violet Oakley charcoal drawings.

These works will need some conservation before they will be ready to be exhibited.







Before works of art can enter storage, they need to be cataloged and properly housed. Jennifer Johns, Senior Registrar, and myself work with Liz McDermott to remove the artwork from its shipping container. The works came in rolled and we needed to lay them out to flatten them.


Our work-study student, Sami Russels helping me unpack a new acquisition.







We’re also very excited to announce that PAFA has recently acquired 278 sculptures by 20th century African American artist John Rhoden. We won’t be keeping all works, but we will help broker the rest of the collection for other institutions! Read more here.

New Digital Collection – Eadweard Muybridge’s Animal Locomotion study

Contributed by Hoang Tran, Director of Archives, and Barbara Katus, Manager of Imaging Services

Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904) was an English photographer who is considered the father of motion picture because of his photographic studies of animal motion. His pivotal work in the development and evolution of motion picture began in 1872. Muybridge was hired by Leland Stanford, the California governor and founder of Stanford University, to settle a debate regarding whether a horse had all its hooves off the ground simultaneously or not. For six years, Muybridge used photography to figure out the answer to the question. All his work led to success in 1878 when he setup 12 cameras along a racetrack to photograph a galloping horse. The photographs proved that there is a point when no hooves touch the ground during the horse’s stride.

Muybridge’s connection to PAFA began when PAFA’s board member Fairman Rogers and art faculty member Thomas Eakins corresponded with Muybridge about his Stanford photograph project. In 1883, Rogers invited Muybridge to give a lecture at the Academy. On February 12, 1883, Muybridge lectured on The Romance and Realities of Animal Locomotion, illustrated by the Zoopraxiscope at PAFA. Muybridge eventually relocated to Philadelphia and continued his work on his landmark study on animal locomotion.

Under the auspices of the University of Pennsylvania, Muybridge eventually published 12 volumes that illustrated animal locomotion in 781 plates. Fairman Rogers who was an alumnus of the University of Pennsylvania and co-founder of the School of Veterinary Medicine, professor of civil engineering acquired a set of Muybridge’s 12 volumes. In 1887, Rogers donated the volumes to PAFA’s library.


128 years after Rogers’ donation, the volumes required much needed conservation to be usable again. PAFA was fortunate enough to receive grant funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to support the conservation of all 12 volumes. After conservation, the volumes were all digitized in-house. The volumes are now freely accessible online.

To view all 12 volumes, please visit PAFA’s Digital Archives here.

Happy Holidays!

Contributed by Hoang Tran, Director of Archives

On behalf of the Museum Team, we wish everyone a very happy holiday season! This past week, PAFA staff and faculty came together for our annual holiday party celebrating over food, music, and prizes!


Three members of the museum team (Mark Knobelsdorf, Barbara Katus, and myself) were among the raffle prize winners!

Barbara Katus and I designed and constructed a PAFA gingerbread house. It includes flying buttresses, mosaic tile entry, and custom icing roof.

We want to thank everyone for their continued support. Happy Holidays!

The “Genius” Alumna

Contributed by Hoang Tran, Director of Archives

PAFA Alumna Njideka Akunyili Crosby was announced as one of the winners of the prestigious 2017 MacArthur Fellowship, otherwise known as the “Genius Grant.” In honor of the award, PAFA has hung her monumental two panel work, I Always Face You, Even When it Seems Otherwise. Now on View in the Samuel M.V. Hamilton Building at PAFA.



It took extra hands to hang such a large work. Our Team consisted of Liz McDermott, Michael Gibbons, Mark Knobelsdorf, and myself.

The MacArthur fellowships are awarded annually by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to extraordinarily creative people who inspire the masses.

Critical Observation // Art Appreciation

Contributed by: Hoang Tran, Director of Archives

PAFA’s collection of prints, drawings, miniatures, photographs, sketchbooks, and illustrated books contains over 13,000 American works on paper, dating from the 18th century to the present day. Works of art on paper are by nature delicate objects that can be irreparably damaged from cumulative exposure to light. As a result, PAFA can only display these works for short periods of time, and then only in low levels of light to guarantee their preservation for future generations.

PAFA’s new Center for the Study of the American Artist provides a dedicated study room to act as a classroom for teaching with works of art on paper in PAFA’s permanent collection, a practice that has been fundamental to PAFA since its inception as America’s first fine art school and museum.

The seminar style room provides a setting to encourage art criticism, discussion, and contemplation.

On some occasions, there are a series of framed works that require viewing in their storage location!


The Center is open to qualified individuals, groups, and classes.

Visits are generally held Monday – Friday during the hours of 10am-4pm, dependent on the availability of staff. We recommend that visitors begin an initial search of PAFA’s collection of works on paper here. For more information, please visit the Study Center

IMLS Project Update: PAFA’s New Digital Archive

Contributed by: Hoang Tran, Director of Archives

The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts’ (PAFA) Dorothy & Kenneth Woodcock Archives is excited to announce the public beta launch of its new online Digital Archives. With the generous support of the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), the Archives was able to develop a comprehensive plan to digitize and disseminate some of the Archives’ most significant holdings. For the one year pilot project, the Archives selected a high value/high risk collection—the Annual Exhibition Photograph collection—to test and develop proper workflows, guidelines, and best practices.

To increase the searchability and discoverability of digital resources, images were cataloged using widely adopted metadata standards. To ensure we reproduced high quality digital surrogates, we developed a digitization workflow that adhered to national standards and guidelines. The results from the pilot project will help guide future digitization projects.

As the IMLS Grant Project comes to a close, we are happy to announce that we have exceeded the initial goal of the pilot project. This past year, we were able to develop internal guidelines for digitization and cataloging, rehouse 100% of the photograph collection, digitize, catalog and provide free online access to over 3,600 images, and even develop a new online database.

The project is also significant as it provides us the ability to better serve our patrons. We are aware of the changing trends in research methodologies and how scholars have come to expect online access to primary sources. We will use the momentum created by the success of the pilot project to continue developing digitization projects. Please continue to visit the Digital Archives for newly digitized items and collections.

IMLS Project Update: That’s a wrap!

Contributed by: Tess Amram, IMLS Project Archivist

I want to wrap up by extending my thanks to IMLS for the grant that made this project possible. Overall, I’m incredibly proud of the work I did here at PAFA, and there are so many images that I can’t wait to send to people to discuss, once everything is up and running online. (That old adage that ‘everyone has a twin’ is more true than I thought – I’ve lost count of how many double takes I’ve done, thinking the subject of a painting from over a hundred years ago was actually a friend of mine now. Also, there are so many adorable dogs the world deserves to see.)

Even aside from all the technical (that is, marketable) skills I’ve learned, working with these materials has been an object lesson in how small the world can be – for example, the first time I saw the painting “Three Friends,” by Joseph Rodefer DeCamp, was not in installation photographs from the 1912 Annual Exhibition, but hanging in the main library of my alma mater six years ago, dourly watching over thousands of undergrads going about their academic lives. It’s little things like that that were, for me, the most exciting part – those moments of connection between Back Then, and Now.


“Three Friends,” by Joseph Rodefer DeCamp