Monday, March 30, 2020

Alfred Crimi Exhibits at Lehigh


Sometimes in  researching an artist whose career was aided by Quirk through an exhibition one discovers amazing things. We helped a school in New York discover James Penney had painted its previously unattributed WPA murals. We learned about the amazing VictoriaOakley and her working toward world peace. We helped draw attention to Joe Army's ground-breaking work in playground structures, where he revolutionized thinking on play. But one amazing wrinkle to the Alfred Crimi story could almost bring tears to one's eyes. 

Crimi would exhibit with Anna Quirk (Francis Quirk's wife) at Lehigh in 1963.


Biography of Alfred D. Crimi

Alfred Crimi

Alfred D. Crimi was born in San Fratello, in the province of Messina, Sicily, on December 1, 1900. He was the eighth of eleven children born to Filadelfio Crimi and Maria di Giorgio. He attended school in San Fratello and at the age of eight, his parents sent him for a few hours after school to a furniture maker to learn a trade. In 1910, the Crimi family emigrated to America.

They embarked from the port of Palermo, and traveled steerage for thirteen days until they arrived in New York. For the first three years he lived and went to school in East Harlem. It was during this period that young Crimi was inspired to become an artist. He began his formal training in art at the National Academy of Design, New York City. In 1924, lived in Greenwich Village, renting a studio at West 14th Street. While there, he won the Suydon Gold and Silver Medals for drawing from life, in addition to other prizes for which he competed. Adding to his academic training, Crimi studied for one year at the Beaux Art, being honored with the Tiffany Fellowship. Crimi’s first one-man show in drawing was at the Babcock Galleries in 1928. He then exhibited at various places including the National Academy of Design, the Sesqui-Centennial in Philadelphia, and the Ferargil Galleries. In 1929, he returned to Italy to continue his art studies. In Rome, he attended the Scuola Preparatoria Alle Arti Ornamentali where he studied the art of fresco and Pompeian encaustic as well as perspective drawing. At the end of his studies, he received a diploma and was awarded first prize for fresco painting. After graduation, he left Rome by train, to return to San Fratello.

During his sojourn in San Fratello, he painted several canvases and during the remainder of time he visited the cathedrals of Palermo, Cefalu, and Monreale – masterpieces of Norman-Byzantine art. Many years later, the cathedral of Monreale inspired his painting “The Cathedral”, which is on display at the Griffiths Art Gallery, St. Lawrence University, Canton, N.Y.

Crimi returned to the United States in 1930 during the Great Depression. Crimi found a position in Portland, Oregon, as a consultant in color decoration for a firm in New York City. After several months in Oregon, he returned to New York and was engaged to teach art at the John Reed Art School. (When he found out that the School was a front for communist propaganda, he immediately resigned). During this time he occasionally visited his brother Fred and his wife Sara, who were musicians. Fred a violinist, and Sara, a pianist, frequently invite other musicians to their home for chamber music sessions. It was at one of these gatherings that Crimi met his future wife, Mary Timpone, a pianist. Mary, whose family had emigrated from San Fratello, married Crimi in 1935.


On May 12, 1935, President Roosevelt signed the Federal Emergency Relief Act and on December of the same year, through the newly organized Public Works of Art Project, he received a commission to paint a fresco in the Open Air Aquarium, Key West, Florida, which he completed in 1935. The fresco, with its vivid, vibrant colors, was one of the main attractions of the Aquarium, and it showed Key West fishermen unloading a catch of fish and a fishing vessel docking. The original mural was destroyed, but images of a replica can be found here


In 1936, both Crimi and Mary were employed on the Works Projects Administration (W.P.A.) – Mary as a piano teacher, and Crimi as an artist in the mural division. His first assignment for which he competed, was to paint a fresco for the Medical Board Room at Harlem Hospital. The fresco was entitled “Modern Surgery and Anesthesia”. Interestingly, the mural depicted only white clinicians. You can learn more about the murals at the hospital here. 

"Modern Surgery and Anesthesia" mural by Alfred Crimi.


Meanwhile, he entered a competition for the main Post Office building in Washington, D.C., and out of more than three hundred entries submitted, he was chosen as one of the six winners. The mural he completed “Parcel Post”, depicted a rural railroad station with a loading platform and men loading and unloading mail.

"Parcel Post" mural  by Alfred Crimi


In 1935 he was invited to become a member of the National Society of Mural Painters. In 1936 the Society sponsored a nationwide competition for an eight hundred square feet mural for the rear chancel wall of the Rutgers Presbyterian Church in New York City. Of the 20 entrants, the Crimi's design won the $6,800 commission for his Spreading the Gospel.

The Sad Story


Crimi worked on the mural for two years.  Upon its unveiling on November 20, 1938 the pastor, Dr. Daniel Russell, described it as a picture of "the human Christ, whose muscles have hardened with the toil of rude and heavy tools in a primitive carpenter shop."  A large number of the female members disagreed, finding it disturbing to look at the muscular naked torso of Christ throughout the service.

Late in the summer of 1946 Crimi was in Manhattan and dropped into Rutgers Presbyterian Church to visit his work.  The Rome [New York] Sentinel reported "he was horrified to find that it had been blotted out by the church authorities."  That mural had been erased by a thick coating of white paint.

"It was explained by the Rev. Dr. Ralph W. Key, the pastor, that members of the congregation felt the central figure of Christ 'portrayed physical rather than spiritual strength--they just didn't like it and when the church was redecorated the mural was included in the plans."

The offending Spreading the Gospel. New York Post, March 11, 1947


Incensed and indignant, Crimi went to court for damages.  He admitted to reporters that while "he could not legally force the church to restore the mural, he would attempt to force the issue on moral grounds."

Crimi's case was interesting.  He said the church had replaced his mural with "an undignified burial shroud" and asked the courts to "protect his honor and reputation." (And grant him $50,000 as well.)  To do so attorneys and a judge would have to decide if such a thing as "moral ownership" existed.

It didn't.

After dragging on for years, the courts ruled on January 29, 1949 that "when the picture has been painted and delivered to the patron and paid for by him, the artist has no right whatever left in it." Supreme Court Referee, Charles C. Lockwood, ruled that the work had been “sold unconditionally” in 1938. You can see a more detailed discussion of the case here.

For the years 1939 and 1940, under the WPA’s section of Painting and Sculpture, he was awarded through national competition two additional mural commissions: “Work, Religion and Education” for Northampton, Mass. Post Office, and “Anthony Wayne, General, Surveyor, and Gentleman Farmer”, for Wayne, Pennsylvania, Post Office. These murals were painted on oil canvas. In 1941 as the U.S. entered World War II, all federally sponsored art projects were terminated; consequently, Crimi was compelled to seek other employment.

"Anthony Wayne, General, Surveyor, and Gentleman Farmer” mural by Alfred Crime


During the war, he went to work for the Sperry Gyroscope, and was assigned in the Graphic Engineering Department. In this department he was part of a team of artists doing three-dimensional drawings of military weapons and other instruments from engineers’ blueprints; these illustrations were reproduced in military training manuals. Several of these drawings were also published by Life magazine, the London Illustrated Sunday News and other industrial publications. His work showed remarkable attention to detail and excellent draftsmanship.


Ball Turret Gunner Diagram executed by Alfred Crimi for Sperry in 1943. The Ball  Turret was beneath a B-17bomber and a very dangerous position. 
It was during this period that the genesis of a multi-dimensional painting began to take form. This method involves a combination of geometrical, transparent, overlapping planes; the light is emitted by the whole painting, different from the traditional method of light cast on subjects – the method of chiaroscuro painting. Crimi later perfected this method and used it in many of his paintings; he also wrote a book entitled The Art of Multi-Dimensional Painting. This book may be purchased through Amazon. 

After leaving Sperry, Crimi returned to full-time easel painting and watercolor. However, before he resumed his career as a creative artist, it was necessary that he reconcile his training in the classical tradition, which progressed from realism to expressionism, to abstractionism and to his new found method of multi-dimensional principles of color animation. The first important painting to come out of this period was the much acclaimed “Metropolis”, which is now in the Wisteriahurst Museum of Holyoke, MA. The Painting uses rectangular and abstract geometrical forms to represent a modern city.

In 1947, George Binet Gallery in New York sponsored a one-man show. The exhibition was a retrospective of the previous six years and demonstrated Crimi’s abundant capacity for handling pictorial problems masterfully. It showed how Crimi worked his way through strong-modeled, rounded forms, to pure abstraction. Among the painting presented were “My Window”, “Polyphony”, “The Unconquered”, and “Meucci”. As a result of this exhibition he was invited to teach at City College in the Adult Education Program, lecturing on paintings, watercolor, and perspective drawing. He also taught at the Pratt Institute in New York and Penn State University. Among the subjects covered in his classes were “Fresco Painting in Terms of the Present”, “The Making of Venetian Glass Mosaic”, “A Creative Approach to Color”. Crimi’s film “The Making and Fascination of Fresco Painting” was usually included in the curriculum.

During this time he became member of several art societies, including National Society of Mural Painters, Allied Artist of America, The Audubon Artists, The Federation of Modern Sculptors and Painters, and others.

"City in Decay" by Alfred Crimi 1948

"Shutter Eye" by Alfred Crimi 1960

Spaces and Planes #1" by Alfred Crimi 1950


Alfred Crimi Painting

Alfred Crimi Painting


In 1949, he held a successful one-man show at the Ferargil Galleries in New York City. Ferargil also handled other well-known artists including Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton. The show received effusive praise from the critics; “Jewel-like” was the term used by a critic for several of his oil paintings. In 1956 he won The Emily Lowe Prize for his painting entitled “The Three Mary’s”, depicting the Annunciation. Later that year, he returned to the Village renting a new studio on 13th Street. The following year he held an exhibition at the World Eggleston Gallery on Madison Avenue. Among the paintings presented were: “Metropolis”, “Dead City”, “Out of Space-Out-of Time”, and “Rigging”. The critics gave good critical reviews but were confused with the diversity of styles. Crimi was essentially a mural painter who had turned to easel painting. However, he relentlessly experimented with new mediums, in order to more fully and originally express himself, going from realism to multi-dimensional techniques and to abstraction.

In 1959 he held a one-man exhibition at the Two Selected Artists Gallery in New York. This exhibition consisted mainly of works of the multi-dimensional style, and it included “The Cathedral”, which had been inspired by the Byzantine Cathedral in Monreale (Sicily). In 1962 the Holyoke Museum in that Massachusetts town sponsored a one-man exhibition of Crimi’s works. Then in April 1963, his artwork was highlighted in an exhibit at Lehigh University Art Galleries organized by Francis Quirk.  This was followed by an exhibition sponsored by Fordham University, New York in 1966, one at Temple Emeth in Teaneck, New Jersey, in 1969, and another in 1971 at the Ringwood Manor Museum, Ringwood, New Jersey. Moreover, he exhibited in major national and international group shows including New York City’s Whitney Museum, Museum of Modern Art, and Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Chicago Art Institute, and The Cerneschi Art Gallery in Paris. In 1961 he was invited to participate in the Prima Mostra Internazionale d’Arte Sacra in Trieste, Italy, and in 1972 at the Cerneschi Art Gallery of Paris. He served during the years 1958-1961 with the Art Commission of the City of New York. When his three years term ended he returned to mural work while continuing easel painting. During the next ten years he was engaged by the Board of Education to execute five Venetian glass mosaics in New York City Schools – including those of Adlai Stevenson High School, Albert Einstein Jr. High School, and Public School 377.

Crimi was the recipient of more than forty awards from numerous art organizations. His articles on fresco painting, mosaics, and the multi-dimensional principle of color animation, appeared in American Artist, Today’s Art, Liturgical Art, and the Book of Knowledge.

After 18 years, he had to vacate the studio at West 13th Street, New York City. He rented another studio on West 4th Street, but left in 1978, after a 1976 flood that damaged several of his paintings and led to litigation against the landlord, he left.

His last one-man exhibition was sponsored by the Ulrich Museum of Wichita State University and featured predominantly his multi-dimensional paintings. Simultaneously, he received first prize in graphics for his famous “Mediterraneum Noon” from an exhibition sponsored by the Associated Galleries of West New York.

During the early 1980s the Crimis moved to a new apartment near the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, New York, where Alfred Crimi expanded his artistic skills yet again, doing a series of watercolors of the garden. Crimi died on January 7, 1994.

In researching this article we have learned that a number of Crimi paintings were deaccessioned by the Musuems at St. Laurence and Wichita State. We do not know if they still hold any of his works. There still are Crimi paintings at the Smithsonian.

If you are interested in adding a Crimi painting to your collection, then you are in luck! A fine one will be coming up for auction in Connecticut in late April.  You can bid on it here.  One can see how it has the feel of a mural. 


"New York Harbor" by Alfred Crimi





Thursday, March 26, 2020

Conrad Roland's Posthumous 1958 Exhibit at Lehigh University



With a look at the posthumous exhibition of Conrad Roland’s ornithological work, we continue our series on artists whose work was exhibited at Lehigh University Gallery under the aegis of Francis Quirk. The image of Quirk with a Lehigh alumnus below was published after the opening in the April 15, 1958 edition of the Brown andWhite


We do not know the specific discussion around featuring Roland’s work, however, we find it commendable that Lehigh provided this member of the valley's arts community with this belated honor.

Conrad Roland Biography


Conrad Roland was born in Reading, Pennsylvania in 1900. At the age of 17, Roland joined the Delaware Valley Ornithology Club and was on the Academy of Natural Science’s orbit. Although he loved learning about and observing birds and nature, Roland went on to study at the Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia. He was a student of Louis Agassiz Fuertes, widely considered second only to John James Audubon as the most prolific American bird artist. In 1936, he and his wife Marie Palmore moved to Kempton, Pennsylvania where he spent the next 20 years studying and painting birds. Kempton is the home of Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, a premier location for watching migrating raptors. In winter he frequently traveled to Clearwater, Florida to sell paintings. He also would mentor Fred Wetzel who achieved considerable acclaim and commercial success with his paintings of birds and nature.


He was known to paint thirty images a day and he has works in the collection of the Reading Public Museum.

Conrad Roland died in 1957. 




Conrad Roland Pennsylvania Painter, Ornithology Painter, bird image
Flight by Conrad Roland  1944  Image Courtesy of the Reading Public Museum

Artistically, Roland liked to work in pastel, crayon and watercolor. His paintings show technical strength and a ‘mastery of the medium.’ He painted both from life and birds that had been mounted. Several of his mounted birds were donated to Muhlenberg College.

Conrad Roland Pennsylvania Painter, Ornithology Painter, Whippoorwill image
Whippoorwill by Conrad Roland    Image Courtesy of the Reading Public Museum



Snow Covered by Conrad Roland

Conrad Roland Pennsylvania Painter, Ornithology Painter, Whippoorwill image
Toucan by Conrad Roland

Conrad Roland Pennsylvania Painter, Ornithology Painter, Whippoorwill image
Bird by Conrad Roland
Conrad Roland Pennsylvania Painter, Ornithology Painter, Warbler image
Black Throated Warbler by Conrad Roland  Image Courtesy of the Reading Public Museum
We had considerable difficulty assembling this biography of Conrad. He has no Wikipedia page, which is an unfortunate oversight. It would make a nice project for a motivated person.  His paintings occasionally come up for auction and command prices ranging from $100- $1000. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

William Lone Star Dietz- One additional painting from Albright College

Tree of Knowledge by William "Lone Star" Dietz
Through the generous efforrs of the staff of the Freedman Gallery at Albright College we have recieved the above image of "The Tree of Knowledge" by William "Lone Star" Dietz.

Dietz was football coach at the school from 1937 to 1942. While we don't have the date of this painting, we assume it is from that period. While it is not a great painting, it does capture scenes of life at the College. You can find photos of all the Dietz paintings at Albright here.


Tuesday, March 10, 2020

New Quirk Art Comes to Light - Fishermen


Through Pennsylvania friends of Francis Quirk, we obtained the image below of an oil painting of fishermen. He gave the painting to them as he was leaving his home on Macada Roud in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to move to Maine following his retirement from Lehigh University.
Quirk Art, Francis Quirk Fishermen, Quirk painting, fishermen Image Francis Quirk
Fishermen by Prancis J. Quirk

The initial image seemed a bit dark so we incorrectly attempted to brighten it for our readership, and that image is below. However, after further consultation with the owners, it appears that the original image better reflects the actual painting.  The men in the painting are navigating a ship that is lost in  a fog. The fog makes the tone rather dark. The ship's owner is on the left in blue staring anxiously into the fog. The other two figures are sailors who work on the ship. In any case, we like the way he has pulled together the yellow blue and green outfits and a collection of different poses.

Quirk Art, Francis Quirk Fishermen, Quirk painting, fishermen Image Francis Quirk
Fishermen by Francis J. Quirk with color adjustment to brighten it. 
We found the oil painting to be an interesting addition to our image library as it dovetails with several other pieces. Quirk seems to have an affinity for these hardworking men of the sea.

Quirk Art, Francis Quirk Fishermen, Quirk painting, fishermen Image Francis Quirk
Watercolor of Fisherman by Francis J. Quirk

Quirk Art, Francis Quirk Fishermen, Quirk painting, fisherman Image Francis Quirk
Pastel of Fisherman by Francis Quirk
Quirk Art, Francis Quirk Fisherman, Quirk painting, fisherman Image Francis Quirk
Fisherman with Binoculars  Pastel by Francis J. Quirk

Quirk Art, Francis Quirk Fisherman, Quirk painting, fishermen Image Francis Quirk
Early Morning Shrimper by Francis J. Quirk  Photo courtesy of Canton Museum of Art

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Francis Quirk brings Raphael Soyer Artwork to Lehigh


We continue our stream of posts about artists who were helped by Francis Quirk by looking at Raphael Soyer. His work was part of a 1970 exhibition at Lehigh University

Raphael Soyer was a painter, draughtsman, and printmaker who believed that "if art is to survive, it must describe and express people, their lives and times. It must communicate." From an early age Soyer along with his brothers Moses and Isaac were encouraged to draw by their father, a teacher of Hebrew literature and history. Forced to leave Russia in 1912, they immigrated to the United States and settled in Brooklyn. In the mid-1920s, having studied at Cooper Union, the National Academy of Design, and the Art Students League, Soyer painted scenes of life on New York's east side. He also mentored other painters including Ruth Gikow who studied under him privately. Their work has a certain similarity.

Raphael Soyer 




His portrayals of derelicts, working people, and the unemployed around Union Square during the Depression reveal more of a poignant vision of the human condition than the art of social protest popular with many of his contemporaries. Throughout his life Soyer painted people—his friends, himself, studio models—with an unerring eye for intimacy and mood. He frequently hired the homeless as models. 

Transients by Raphael Soyer

Employement Agency by Raphael Soyer

Cafe Scene by Raphael Soyer

After his time in art school, Soyer did not immediately begin working as a professional artist, and instead painted during his free time while working other jobs. Soyer's first solo exhibition took place in 1929. Beginning in the early 1930s, he showed regularly in the large annual and biennial American exhibitions of the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Carnegie Institute, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the National Academy of Design, and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. He had a series of solo exhibitions in New York galleries, and also worked in the WPA Federal Arts Project in the 1930s.

Soyer's teaching career began at the John Reed Club, New York, in 1930 and included stints at the Art Students League, the New School for Social Research and the National Academy.  

Soyer deeply admired fellow American artist Thomas Eakins, and produced a group portrait entitled Homage to Thomas Eakins, which was based on Fantin-Latour's Hommage à Delacroix.  The painting included other artists of his time with Eakins' famous Gross Clinic painting in the background. 




The Sitters in Homage to Thomas Eakins
Leonard Baskin, 15 Aug 1922 - 3 June 2000
Raphael Soyer, 25 Dec 1899 - 4 Nov 1987
Mary Soyer, 20th Century
Edward Hopper, 22 Jul 1882 - 15 May 1967
Lloyd Goodrich, 10 Jul 1897 - 27 Mar 1987
Moses Soyer, 25 Dec 1899 - 1974
Reginald Marsh, 14 Mar 1898 - 3 Jul 1954
Jack Levine, 3 Jan 1915 - 8 Nov 2010
John Koch, 1909 - 1978
Edwin Walter Dickinson, 1891 - 1978
Henry Varnum Poor, III, 30 Sep 1888 - 8 Dec 1970
John Dobbs, 2 Aug 1931 - 9 Aug 2011


Homage to Delacroix by Fantin-Latour


Among Soyer's portrait subjects were artists and writers who were his friends; these included Allen Ginsberg, Arshile Gorky, Chaim Gross, Gitel Steed, Edward Hopper, and Steve Poleskie. In 1967 the Whitney Museum of American Art exhibited a retrospective of his work.



Outside of classic art, Soyer was hired in 1940, along with eight other prominent American artists, to document dramatic scenes and characters during the production of the film The Long Voyage Home, a cinematic adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's plays. He also illustrated two books for Isaac Bashevis Singer, entitled "A Little Boy in Search of God and Love" and "Exile."

Soyer's work is in numerous museums including the Museum of Modern Art; The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University; The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.; The New York Public Library, New York; Tel Aviv Museum, Israel; Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy and Los Angeles County Museum, California.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

More on William "Lone Star" Dietz

After our initial post on William "Lone Star" Dietz, we subsequently found a very well written and researched piece about him by Linda WaggonerIf these posts have made you curious, Tom Benjey's biography "Keep A-goin' The Life of Lone Star Dietz" provides a very well researched life history. 

This post draws on both sources. He truly is a fascinating character who undoubtedly had many interesting twists in his life. 

Artwork by William Dietz

The first is that Dietz had true artisitic talent, which he exhibited from a young age. Born in 1884, he was taking art courses in Minneapolis at the age of 20 to perfect his drawing.  In 1904, he worked at the St. Louis World Fair, where his charm, good looks and artisitic talent drew considerable attention. 

Image of Sioux Warrior from Keep-A-Goin  The Life of Lone Star Dietz by Tom Benjey

At the fair, an artwork executed in grains depicting a Sioux warrior drew notice in the national press. 

Artwork by William Dietz


When he enrolled at the Carlisle School in 1907, he was descirbed as an "authentic" Sioux artist and athlete. But his stay there was certainly not uneventful. After a few months he eloped with the Director of the Art Department, Angel de Cora who was fourteen years older. 

Angel de Cora
Winnebago painter, illustrator, Native American rights advocate, and teacher at Carlisle Indian School. She was the best known Native American artist before World War I.


de Cora had come to the school to create an art program and she is widely regarded as the first Native American artist of reknown. The marriage was kept hidden for several months, but eventually came to light. Not long thereafter, Dietz was able to obtain a paid position as de Cora's assistant.
Dietz and de Cora with a pet Woflhound
The couple collaborated on a magazine called The Indian Craftsman and on art. Dietz also wrote articles for the publication. 
Illustration for Yellow Star with de Cora and Dietz signatures
William Dietz in football attire

Dietz was instrumental in creating the tradition of holiday bowl games by bringing his team to the first Rose Bowl. After coaching the Washington State Cougars to a 1916 RoseBowl win, Dietz also tried his hand at acting and appeared in a few movies. He invested in a studio founded by Tyrone Power, but it ended with a total loss for him in 1918.  later that year, while filming "Fools Gold" he would sue de Cora for divorce. She would die of pneumonia in 1919.

In addition to being a football player and a controversial Native American figure, he also was an illustrator, painter, writer, art teacher, dog breeder and actor. 




Saturday, February 15, 2020

Francis Quirk and Boxer/Sculptor/Playground Equipment Designer/Professor Joe Brown

While we tend to think of Quirk as a painter, he also had an interest in sculpture as shown by his purchase of various pieces for Lehigh University and exhibitions. These exhibitions boosted the profile of the artists; helping build their resumes and careers. In an earlier post, we discussed a 1955 exhibition that included artwork by William "Lone Star" Dietz, Jose deRivera and Joe Brown.  This post focuses on Joe Brown who is best known as a sculptor and boxer, but there is much more to his story. 

Joe Brown at work in his studio working on a play structure.

Joe Brown was the son of Russian immigrants, he grew up in South Philadelphia and graduated South Philadelphia High School in 1926. A gifted athlete, he won a 1927 football scholarship to Temple University. He left before graduation, and briefly worked as a professional boxer. He made extra money as an artists' model, and became interested in studying sculpture. He served a 7-year apprenticeship under University of Pennsylvania professor and sculptor R. Tait McKenzie

Brown became the boxing coach at Princeton University in 1937, continuing until the early 1960s. He began teaching a sculpting course in 1939, became a resident artist at the university, and was made a full professor of art in 1962.  He continued teaching at Princeton until his 1977 retirement.

This is where the post takes off in a different direction. I thought it would be discussing Brown's sculptures on Veteran's Stadium, but instead we transition into his work designing play structures for children. 

Having recognized, that movement through sport and play is important for the development of young people, Joe Brown turned his attention to play equipment for the first time in 1950. Brown critiqued play equipment designed by Princeton's architecture graduate students. Challenged by the students, and somewhat embarrassed that he had no real knowledge of playground design other than his own experiences as a child, Brown began to come up with his own devices.

Photo of Jiggle Rail designed by Princeton Professor and Sculptor Joe Brown
Mr Brown improvised, on the spot, with some scrape of steel tap laying around from some repair work being done at the school. He put some pieces of metal banding together to form a small model of the spider-like device which he later came to call the Jiggle Rail. It was a intriguing device that he couldn't quit thinking about, and so later he built a full size Jiggle Rail and got permission to set it up in a school playground.

Examples of his designs were presented to the general public at the National Recreational Congress in St. Louis in 1954. Many experts believe his designs to have been revolutionary.
Ropes and Tires Play Sculpture by Joe Brown



His radically new aesthetic of play design brought him into contact with renowned architects such as Marcel Breuer and Walter Gropius. In a letter to Brown, Breuer wrote: ‘These are I believe magnificently simple, sympathetic and dynamic instruments and succeed in being first-rate sculptured objects.’ His ‘dynamic instruments’ consisted of rope and/or steel and fully acquired their sculptural quality when children played on them, the rope’s instability and unpredictability demanding quick reactions and communication. 


Saddle Slide installation


Robert Nichols, one of the founders of Playground Associates, wrote to him for help when they formed their company that would soon produce the Saddle Slide. Brown termed his structures “’Play Communities’ and they included the so-called Swing-Ring, which seems to have inspired many play structures up until today.


Swing Ring designed by Sculptor Joe Brown
Whale designed by Joe Brown

Many experts believe his designs to have been revolutionary. He developed what he termed play communities, which drew attention both for their sculptural character and their play function. 

Sculptor Joe Brown designing play equipment.

Joe Brown is thus also regarded as a pioneer of modern play equipment culture, having been one of the very first to define play as preparation for the responsibilities of adulthood. Over the next few years, he installed a number of prototypes in and around Philadelphia and outside the USA, in London and Tokyo. Playground Associatges acommercialized some of his designs.

In 1959, Joe Brown published a book called Creative Playgrounds and Recreation Centers containing the designs of his first spatial rope play equipment. He derived his play concept for rope play equipment from a classic boxing ring. He believed deeply that play was a preparation for adulthood, a popular view since the early part of the twentieth century. Brown wanted his pieces to demonstrate cause and effect as part of normal behavior, with the aim of forming cooperative future citizens. We find it interesting that our search for images of Brown turned up two that showed him at work on play structures. To learn more about Joe Brown's playground pieces go here. 

Having played in parks and raised two active boys, I have vicariously enjoyed the descendents of this "enfant terrible's" designs and their benefits. In Susan Solomon's Book American Playgrounds, she quotes a description of him in his time as "the most hotly debated figure in playground architecture-- a sort of Frank Lloyd Wright among the teeterboards." He advanced thinking on play spaces significantly. 

Moving back to Brown's sculpture, he created more than 400 works - statuettes, portrait busts, and sculptures. Examples are on many college campuses, and in the collections of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the National Academy of Design, Princeton University Art Museum, Yale University Art Gallery, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, and the National Art Museum of Sport.
Joe Brown in his studio with clay sculptures that would be cast and installed in Philadeelphia

Perhaps the best known works were the giant 15 foot tall sculptures of at Veterans Stadium. Philadelphia Veterans Stadium, informally called "The Vet", housed the Philadelphia Eagles of the National Football League (NFL) from 1971 through 2002 and the Philadelphia Phillies of Major League Baseball (MLB) from 1971 through 2003. The Vet also hosted the annual Army-Navy football game 17 times, first in 1976 and last in 2001, and the Philadelphia Catholic League football playoffs during the 1970s and 1980s. The 1976 and 1996 Major League Baseball All-Star Games were held at the venue. The Vet was also home to the Philadelphia Stars of the United States Football League (USFL) from 1983-1984, and Temple University Football from 1974-2002.

Punter Sculpture in place at Veterans Stadium

He was originally selected to produce the four statues by the Art Commission in 1970. In 1976, his statues of football and baseball players were installed along the walkway of Veteran's Stadium. When the Stadium was replaced by Lincoln Financial Field and Citizens Bank Park, and subsequently demolished in 2004, the Philadelphia Phillies removed and restored the statues. They were relocated to the perimeter of the Citizens Bank Park's new parking lot where the Vet once stood in March, 2005. The Punter and The Batter were relocated to the north end of the parking lot, along Hartranft Street/Phillies Drive. Tackle and Play at Second were relocated to the south end of the parking lot, along Pattison Avenue.

The Tackle by Joe Brown