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Philadelphia Sketch Club records


Held at: Philadelphia Sketch Club [Contact Us]235 South Camac Street, Philadelphia, PA, 19107

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Philadelphia Sketch Club. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

"On November 20, 1860, six "Bohemian" students from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, George F. Bensell and his brother, Edmund B. Bensell, Edward J. McIlhenny, Henry C. Bispham, John L. Gihon, and Robert Wylie met at 125 South 11th Street to form a "sketching club." They sought illustration and design opportunities not available at the Academy. Within months, other talented artists were added to the membership, including Stephen J. Ferris, a celebrated etcher and Thomas Moran, the great landscape artist.

"The Sketch Club responded to the educational needs of the arts community in the early 1870's when the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts was awaiting completion of its new building and was without instructional facilities. Under the auspices of the Club, life drawing classes were conducted with Thomas Eakins as instructor. Lectures on anatomy were also delivered. When the Academy opened its new building in 1876, Eakins, an honorary member of the Club, volunteered to take over its life classes, undoubtedly utilizing his teaching experiences gained at the Sketch Club. By 1894 the Sketch Club had 400 active members, including many instructors at the Academy. Thomas P. Anshutz, who succeeded Eakins at the Academy, was President of the Club from 1910 until his untimely death in 1912. When World War I forced the world famous illustrator and etcher Joseph Pennell to leave Europe, he returned to Philadelphia and served as President of the Club in 1921.

"As the years passed, the roll call of distinguished artists, past and present, continued to grow. Today this list includes names as widely known as illustrators A.B. Frost, N.C. Wyeth, Howard Chandler Christy, Henry Pitz, and Lyle Justis; cartoonists Hugh Hutton and Peter Boyle; painters Walter Baum, Edward Redfield, Hugh Breckenridge, Fred Wagner, Carl Weber, and Daniel Garber; etchers Benton Spruance, Stephen Parrish, and Robert Shaw; watercolorists Frank English, John Dull, Ranulph Bye, Domenic DiStefano, and Vincent Ceglia; and sculptors Charles Grafly, R. Tait McKenzie, Howard Roberts, and Ronald Spicer.

"Almost from its start, the Sketch Club has had a history of successful exhibitions, beginning with its first Small Oils Show, a competition which has been held every year since 1865. Small Oils medalists themselves constitute a minor overview of who's who in Philadelphia painting. The list includes many women, such as Paulette van Roekens, Alice Kent Stoddard, Dorothy van Loan, Jean Watson, Rita Wolpe Barnett, and Betty Bowes, as well as such distinguished men as John Folinsbee and Franklin Watkins. Since that first show, the Club's exhibitions have grown to embrace all the visual arts, including prints, sculpture, and photography.

"The present clubhouse, converted from three separate buildings built between 1822 and 1828, faces cobblestoned Camac Street. Its main areas are a large, skylighted gallery which stretches across the entire top floor, and meeting and activity rooms at street level, complete with manteled fireplaces. The upper walls of the library hold 44 portraits of early members painted by Thomas Anshutz while he was Dean of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. The library opens onto a terraced garden and fish pond. At the lower level is a rathskeller, etching room, and kitchen. The rathskeller features a carved wooden mantel dating from the nineteenth century. Scattered throughout the club, in fact, are wooden ship models, stained glass windows, pottery, antique iron work, and art objects made or donated over the last 100 years or more. Members, who now include both men and women, soon adopt one room or other of the club as their favorite spot to talk shop or relax, but the gallery is the focal point for all exhibitions, lectures, and studio workshops."


Quoted text from: Philadelphia Sketch Club. "History." Accessed June 12, 2012.

The Philadelphia Sketch Club records are arranged into several groupings of materials. The collection includes member files in alphabetical order, an annual history file in chronological order, and exhibition catalogs in chronological order. The bulk of the collection--including volumes of meeting minutes, membership records, photographs, and other administrative and financial records--is not in order.

The member files in alphabetical order date from circa 1930-1998, and are comprised of membership applications, correspondence with the Club, and materials relating to member exhibitions at the Club and elsewhere.

The annual history file in chronological order dates from 1864 to 2012, and is comprised of miscellaneous documents from the Club's history, including receipts, photographs, loose minutes, ephemera from Club events and workshops, and tax records.

The exhibition catalogs in chronological order date from 1913 to 2012 and are filed with photographs of artwork and exhibitions, and planning notes and schedules. There are separate files for the Small Oils show, 1932-2005.

Aside from these ordered groupings, the bulk of this collection is many administrative, financial, membership, and other miscellaneous records of the Philadelphia Sketch Club. There are minute books from the start of the Club in 1860 through the present (2012), and secretary's notes from 1860 to 1937. Financial records include treasurer's reports, account books, expense books, dues ledgers, a scrapbook of receipts (1898-1901), and numerous other miscellaneous financial papers and receipts. There is also a box of bank statements from the Relief Trust of the Philadelphia Sketch Club, 1950-1987. Membership records include alphabetical member lists, mailing lists, and active and inactive member applications. Exhibition records include guest registers (1950-1997), exhibition applications, catalogs, and other planning materials. There are many photographs in the collection depicting Club events, artwork, and members (circa 1890-1990), notably a series of portraits of Club members by William Shewell Ellis (1890-1935). Some lantern slides and volumes of prints probably used for artists' reference are mixed in with the collection. Highlights of the collection include a box of Philadelphia Sketch Club member Christmas cards--most featuring original artwork--circa 1920-2004, and copies of PSC Annual and bound newsletters from the 1930s.

A selection of Philadelphia Sketch Club records, 1860-1949, were microfilmed by the Smithsonian Archives of American Art in 1985-1986 (7 linear feet on 5 microfilm reels).

Records created by the Philadelphia Sketch Club.

Summary descriptive information on this collection was compiled in 2011-2012 as part of a pilot project conducted by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania to make better known and more accessible the largely hidden collections of small, primarily volunteer run repositories in the Philadelphia area. The Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories (HCI-PSAR) was funded by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

This is a preliminary finding aid. No physical processing, rehousing, reorganizing, or folder listing was accomplished during the HCI-PSAR project.

In some cases, more detailed inventories or finding aids may be available on-site at the repository where this collection is held; please contact Philadelphia Sketch Club directly for more information.

Philadelphia Sketch Club
Finding Aid Author
Finding aid prepared by Celia Caust-Ellenbogen and Michael Gubicza through the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories
This preliminary finding aid was created as part of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories. The HCI-PSAR project was made possible by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
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