Philadelphia, PA (June 5, 2006)--Anne d’Harnoncourt, Director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, today announced the appointment of Elisabeth R. Agro to the new position of Nancy M. McNeil Associate Curator of American Modern and Contemporary Crafts and Decorative Arts. Effective October 1, 2006, Ms. Agro will join the Museum staff and support the acquisition, exhibition, research and publication of American decorative arts from 1850 to the present, with an emphasis on contemporary crafts.
“Elisabeth Agro brings her broad range of experience with American decorative arts and crafts at an important moment, as the Museum integrates more contemporary material into its distinguished historical collections,” said Ms. d’Harnoncourt. “We are so very grateful to Robert and Nancy McNeil for supporting this key and highly-visible position. Ms. Agro will work closely with the Museum’s Womens’ Committee, whose annual craft show has done so much to help build our distinguished craft collection, and reach out to area artists, collectors, and the Museum’s wide audience for contemporary decorative art.”
Joining a team of American specialists, Ms. Agro will work with Dr. David L. Barquist, Curator of American Decorative Arts, and Dr. Kathleen A. Foster, the Robert L. McNeil, Jr. Curator of American Art, and Director of the Center for American Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The Museum established the Center for American Art in 2002 with the support of a $5 million endowment gift to its capital campaign from Robert L. McNeil, Jr. The center is dedicated to the exploration of the artistic and cultural heritage of the United States in general and the Philadelphia area in particular, through lectures, symposia, programs, fellowships, publications, research and collaboration.
“As the American Art department surveys its collections and plans for the substantial expansion of its galleries, it is wonderful to add such a creative curator as Ms. Agro,” said Kathleen Foster. “We are especially glad that this new position honors the pioneering role of Nancy McNeil, one of the founders of the internationally-famous Philadelphia Craft Show and a generous and keen-eyed supporter of the crafts collections at the Museum.”
Elisabeth Agro comes to the Museum from the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, PA, where since 1996 she served as a curatorial assistant, assistant curator and most recently as associate curator in the decorative arts department, developing and coordinating special exhibitions and presenting lectures and gallery talks regarding a collection of some 10,000 American, European and non-Western objects dating from 1680 to the present. She was responsible for the exhibitions in the museum’s Treasure Room gallery, working with a variety of materials including ceramics, glass, metal, wood, and textiles, as well as the annual display of the museum’s Eighteenth Century Neapolitan Presepio, one of the best examples of its kind outside of Italy. Among the many exhibitions she organized were Art Nouveau Tiles (2001), which traveled to the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Connecticut, What's in Your Tureen: Soup, Stew, or Ragoût (2001-2002), and Twentieth-Century Decorative Arts, Design, and Craft from the Collection (2000). She contributed to the exhibitions and catalogues Aluminum by Design: Jewelry to Jets (2000-2001), which traveled to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and the Design Museum in London, Contemporary Directions: Glass from the Maxine and William Block Collection (2002). Most recently, she spearheaded the museum’s campaign to acquire a chair by the noted Arts and Crafts designer, Charles Rennie Mackintosh.“Ms. Agro’s versatility will make her a great addition to the American Art Department team,” said Barquist. “Few American museums have curators specially dedicated to modern and contemporary crafts and decorative arts, so her position will allow the Philadelphia Museum of Art to maintain a leadership role in this burgeoning field.”
Ms. Agro obtained a B.A. in Italian studies with concentrations in Art History, Italian, and Gallery Management from Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, VA, and an M.A. in the History of Decorative Arts from the Parsons School of Design in association with the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum.
About American Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art
The importance of the Philadelphia region as a center for distinguished artistic production for over 300 years as well as the city’s crucial role in American history assured the Museum's strong commitment to American arts. Today the collection, which continues to grow rapidly, is recognized as one of the finest public holdings of American art in existence, with major examples of decorative arts, architecture, painting, and sculpture that have been acquired steadily since the Museum’s founding in 1876. Outstanding areas of the collection are 18th- and 19th-century Philadelphia furniture and silver, assembled primarily by gifts from R. Wistar Harvey, Mr. and Mrs. Walter Jeffords, H. Richard Dietrich, Robert L. McNeil, Jr., and members of other Philadelphia families. The rural Pennsylvania collections, which began at the turn of the century with the enthusiasm of curator and director Edwin AtLee Barber and patrons John T. Morris and Mrs. William Frishmuth, grew dramatically with large gifts from J. Stogdell Stokes, Titus C. Geesey, and most recently the heirs of Ralph Beaver Strassberger. Areas of strength include collections of Pennsylvania German furniture, ceramics, textiles, fraktur, and toys.
Other decorative arts of note are the unmatched collection of porcelain objects, design books, papers, and tools relating to the short-lived manufacturing venture of William and Thomas Tucker of Philadelphia in the 1820s and 1830s, given by their descendent Anne Tucker Earp in 1951; the 500 examples of American glass and their European prototypes given by George Horace Lorimer in 1938; the Shaker furniture and objects given by Mr. and Mrs. Julius Zieget, and fine holdings of turn-of-the-20th century ceramics and glass by Tiffany, Rookwood Pottery, and others.
Mrs. William Wilstach’s bequest of paintings in 1893 constituted the beginning of the American paintings collection. Among the first purchases with the fund she established were pictures by J. A. M. Whistler and George Inness in 1895, and in 1889, The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner, the first painting by the young African American artist to enter the collection of a comprehensive art museum in the United States. The Museum is fortunate to house a remarkable group of portraits by the Philadelphia artist and scientist Charles Willson Peale, including Rachel Weeping and his Staircase Group, as well as the five family portraits in the Cadwalader Collection, which, together with their related furniture, represent a unique commission in 18th century America. The work of the pioneering early 19th-century Philadelphia sculptor William Rush has its most extensive representation in the Museum as a result of his public commissions to decorate buildings in the city. The most celebrated component of the 19th-century paintings holdings, which also include four splendid canvases by Winslow Homer and a strong representation by Mary Cassatt, is the Thomas Eakins Collection, given by the artist’s widow, Susan Macdowell Eakins, and their friend Mary Adeline Williams in 1929 and 1930. Encompassing paintings, sculpture, sketches, and archival material, this gift formed the nucleus for the largest collection of the artist’s work in existence. The American art collections at the Museum are also strong in works by self-taught artists, Pennsylvania Impressionists, and early modernists such as Charles Demuth, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Charles Sheeler.
In 1977, the Women’s Committee of the Museum began to contribute funds from the proceeds of the annual craft show for the purchase of contemporary American crafts, which would bring the historically strong collection of decorative arts up to the present day. These objects provide a focus for the growing collections of contemporary craft art, which includes the Museum’s most recent purchase of period architectural elements, the library fireplace and doorway (acquired together with a wood-paneled music room) designed and carved in 1936 and 1937 by Wharton Esherick for the Curtis Bok house in Gulph Mills, Pennsylvania.