Outside the Lines

For 150 years, the Philadelphia Sketch Club has been the catalyst for an exceptional body of work that continues to grow. We spotlight the Main Line artists integral to the PSC’s remarkable longevity.

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The Philadelphia Sketch Club was founded on Nov. 20, 1860, by six former students of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts who hoped to improve their illustration skills. Known the first year as the “Crayon Club,” the group met weekly in their studios or rented quarters. Everyone quickly benefited from the social exchange, seeing the artistic work of others and the mutual encouragement. A unique and lasting camaraderie developed.

PSC exhibitions began in 1865, and the list of medal winners since is an extraordinary honor roll. It includes illustrators N.C. Wyeth, A.B. Frost, Howard Chandler Christy, Henry Pitz and Lyle Justis; cartoonists Hutton and Peter Boyle; painters Hugh Breckenridge, Walter Emerson Baum, Daniel Garber, John Dull, Edward Willis Redfield, Thomas Moran and Fred Wagner; etchers Peter Moran, Stephen Ferris and Earl Horter; lithographers Benton Spruance and Roberts Riggs; watercolorists Frank English, Carl Weber and Ranulph Bye; and sculptors Charles Grafly, R. Tait McKenzie, Bryn Mawr’s Howard Roberts and Joseph Bailly. Perhaps America’s most noted ironworker, Wynnewood’s Samuel Yellin was a PSC member from 1922 to 1940.

A series of chief engravers at the U.S. Mint were celebrated PSC members. During World War I, the PSC held a 10-day arts carnival that raised $2.5 million for the war effort. Former President William Howard Taft called it “the greatest little club in the world on the biggest little street.”

It was the PSC that first responded to the educational needs of the arts community in the early 1870s, when the PAFA was awaiting completion of its new building and was without instructional facilities. Thomas Eakins taught life classes at the PSC and used that experience to get his position as instructor at the PAFA when its new facility opened. Eakins finished his most important work, “The Gross Clinic,” at the club in 1875. Thomas Anshutz succeeded Eakins at the PAFA. He was PSC president from 1910 until his death in 1912. Forty-four of Anshutz’s oil portraits of early PSC members are hung around the upper tier of the club’s library.

Other early PSC notables include William Moylan Lansdale, who joined in 1864 as a young law student. He distinguished himself as a railroad executive but was an amateur artist. Lansdale is credited with the club’s early development and progress. When he died at his Delaware County estate in 1926, he’d been a PSC member for 62 years. Serving as secretary from 1866 to 1878 and as president from 1891 to 1897, he’s responsible for recording the club’s first 25 years of history.

Another early member was James P. Simpson, who once spent $5,000 to host a cricket match between two teams of club members at his Merion estate. He provided uniforms to represent cricket sportswear of the early 19th century: top hats, nankeen trousers, long-tailed coats. Club archives and photographs document the frivolity.

But Simpson was truly noteworthy in the Philadelphia art world during the 1880s and early 1890s. His father had owned Eddystone Print Works, one of the largest manufacturers of calicoes in the world. Running the company after his father’s death, Simpson amassed a fortune. His interest in art led him to study in Europe. Then, after retiring from business at age 45, he pursued etching. His known works include scenes of Venice, the New England and Canadian coasts, and a New York cityscape showing the Brooklyn Bridge.

Jeff Cohen, of Bryn Mawr College, is an expert on the architecture of the Lansdale and Simpson estates, along with other notable buildings on the Main Line designed by PSC members. Architect T.P. Chandler was probably the most prolific Main Liner of the bunch.

Incorporated in Pennsylvania in 1889, the PSC has survived largely on fees charged to members. Almost a hundred years later, in 1991, it received its tax-exempt status, allowing it to seek outside funding. Listed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places and as a contributing property in the Washington Square West National Register Historic District, the PSC now functions as a regional art education center, library and museum. It encompasses three Federal-period rowhouses built in the 1820s. There’s also an upstairs gallery.

Today’s PSC programs include five art workshops per week, 10 exhibitions per year, a library and archive, monthly dinner meetings with speakers, tours, related art events, and still that old-time camaraderie. With roughly 325 members, the PSC plays a significant part in the cultural community. As many as 20 members have come aboard each month of the anniversary celebration.

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