Changing venues

Philadelphia as a city is host to a wide variety of artists, venues, schools, lofts, studios, galleries, ateliers and possibly even a garret or two where artists can ply, practice and present their craft. The City of Philadelphia is also landlord to several venues that consistently present high-quality exhibitions, many of which might not find a host in a revenue-driven art world.

Two of these venues are now offering something to see — Art In City Hall is featuring a show of illustrations for children’s books and the Philadelphia International Airport has marvelous sculpture/wall-hanging that celebrates the Declaration of Independence.

Art In City Hall is presenting "Pictures Make Stories: Children’s Book Illustrations," highlighting area artists whose work is more complex than commonly assumed. No longer is all children’s art colored pencil or pen-and-ink drawings. This exhibition includes such techniques as drawing, oil painting and painting over photography.

There are 13 artists in the exhibition, some familiar, others relatively unknown. Those showing include Tony Anthony, Adam Rex, Donald Daily, Matthew Stemler, Joan Gallup, Julie Store-Waring, Trina Schart Hyman, Juliet Wayne, Barbara Hirsch Lember, David Weisner, Earl B. Lewis, Lee Wilkinson and Jerry Pinkney.

South Philadelphia’s Charles Santore, perhaps the most famous children’s book illustrator in this region, is not included in the show. That’s too bad, but it’s not surprising, since the venue is geared more to newer artists. Not that the exhibitors lack credentials: Pinkney, Weisner and Hyman have all won Caldecott Awards, the annual prize for the most distinguished American picture book. Lewis is the 2003 winner of the Coretta Scott King Award, Anthony has spent more than 10 years with National Geographic and Rex is represented by his work from The Dirty Cowboy by Amy Timberlake.

The illustrations are on display on the third and fourth floors of the northeast corner of City Hall in 13 glass display cases through Jan. 31. Touring City Hall itself is an option, as the 510-foot-tall building is considered one of the finest examples of French Second Empire Architecture. It is a national historical landmark, the largest and tallest masonry building in the world, has more than 14 acres of floor space and 695 rooms, and is larger than the U.S. Capitol. The building’s first tenant was Alexander Milne Calder, who had a studio basement and is the creator of the statue of Billy Penn standing atop the building.

In Southwest Philadelphia, an architectural structure of a different kind — Philadelphia International Airport — has just installed "American Dream" in the international arrivals hall. The sculpture by Rob Fisher is in three parts. A passage from the Declaration of Independence, "We hold these truths to be self-evident … " is written in huge metal letters, approximately 13 feet high and 250 feet long. The sculpture is set off 6 inches from the wall to provide space for back lighting that makes the quote seem to float in the air.

The second part is a glass and aluminum railing to the entryway that is etched with replicas of the signatures of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, which are also illuminated. The third part of the installation is an 8-by-10 foot stained-glass window that represents the physical document.

Fisher, a Pennsylvania native, spent months researching the subject in order to capture as much as possible the feel and context of the document. He was most impressed with its venerability. In an artist’s statement, he said, "This led naturally to associations with light and stained-glass windows, which, in my experience, are media that intrinsically convey the spiritual meaning that I feel is embodied in the document."

A tour around the airport also might be appropriate, as its statistics are impressive. Owned by the city, it generates an annual $7.2 billion in revenue for the regional economy, employs more than 20,000, is the fifth-largest airport in the country and last year processed almost 25 million passengers. And the reason one never reads in the media about routine airplane landings and takeoffs is this: In 2002, the airport handled 463,167 of them. In addition to passengers, the airport also shipped 596,394 tons of cargo.

Pictures Make Stories: Children’s Book Illustrations
Through Jan. 31
Art In City Hall
Third and fourth floors

American Dreams
Permanent installation
Philadelphia International Airport