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The many faces of Pennsylvania art

Courtesy Antique Auto Museum

From the eastern shores to the western hills, Pennsylvania prides itself in great art.

In museums across the state, visitors will find painting, sculpture and other works by artists from both the nearby area and around the world. Some museums, such as Pittsburgh’s Andy Warhol Museum and the Brandywine River Museum, present a sample of one artist or artistic style.

Others, like the Philadelphia Museum of Art, have a broad collection of international master works from throughout history.

But the state’s artistic treasures go beyond traditional museum galleries. The art of the automobile takes center stage at a classic car museum in Hershey, and artwork lives outdoors in several large murals in and around the community of Lancaster.

Next time your group travels to the Keystone State, make sure your tour itinerary includes some of these great art institutions.

Philadelphia Museum of Art
Standing atop a hill overlooking the city, the Philadelphia Museum of Art is the paragon of creative culture in the area. One of the largest art museums in the United States, this institution boasts a massive collection that traces more than 2,000 years of art history. Visitors will find such wide-ranging items as famous impressionist paintings and a ceremonial Japanese teahouse.

Most groups that visit the museum take one of the topical tours offered by expert museum guides.

“Our guides train for about six years before they give tours, so it’s a unique experience for groups,” said Rebecca Winnington, group sales assistant at the museum. “Our most popular is the Highlights Tour. We can also do Flowers in Art, Women and Art, Saints and Sinners or American Art.”

In addition to the main museum building, the institution includes two other nearby art attractions. The Pearlman building across the street from the primary building is an annex that houses contemporary art, a costumes and textiles gallery and a number of large-scale rotating exhibits. A few blocks away, the Rodin Museum features a number of works by the well-known French sculptor.

The museum also hosts high-profile special exhibitions from time to time. Next spring it will feature an art and fashion exhibit showcasing the work of Roberto Capucci. After that is “Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus” in the fall, followed by “Van Gogh Up Close” in the spring of 2012.

Brandywine River Museum
Chadds Ford
In the Brandywine Valley area near the Delaware border, the Brandywine River Museum preserves the work of some of the region’s most talented artists.

“The predominant collection is from the Wyeths,” said group tour coordinator Dawn Dowling. “There are three generations: N.C. Wyeth was famous for illustrations in children’s books like ‘Last of the Mohicans’ and ‘Kidnapped,’ and those paintings are in our gallery.

“Andrew, his son, lived here until he was 91 and painted scenes of Chadds Ford. His son is Jamie Wyeth, and he did the famous John F. Kennedy portrait and the whole illustration series for the Watergate trials. He does the White House postcards, even to this day.”

In addition to work by the Wyeth family, the museum also features other artists who lived or worked in the Brandywine area. Much of the collection consists of illustrations and landscape art depicting the region’s natural environment.

When groups visit, they can see some of the landscape for themselves. The museum is set on the banks of the Brandywine River and is surrounded by outdoor sculptures and native wildflower plantings.

“The building itself is an old brick mill building,” Dowling said. “It was built in 1864, but they’ve redone it so there are three floors of circular glass walls. So it looks very rustic from the front and very modern in the back.”

Andy Warhol Museum
The strength of the Carnegie family fortune and the Carnegie Institute has left Pittsburgh with a number of high-profile cultural attractions, including the Andy Warhol Museum. The museum holds thousands of works by Warhol, one of the most influential American artists of the 20th century.

“This is arguably the largest single-artist museum in the world,” said visitor services manager Derek Palladino. “We have tons and tons of artifacts. There’s always a rotation of Warhol works, and we bring in special exhibits that reflect Warhol’s influence.”

Since the artwork in the museum is frequently changed, visiting groups could see any one of several famous Warhol pieces, such as his colorful portraits of Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe or his interpretation of “The Last Supper.” New this year is a long-term exhibit dealing with Warhol’s work in television and film, showcasing more than 100 clips from television broadcasts and silent art films that Warhol did.

Groups that visit the museum can take an hourlong guided tour and participate in hands-on workshops that introduce them to some of Warhol’s signature techniques.

“You go into the studio on the underground level, and you get to silk-screen and make objects like Warhol did,” Palladino said. “They [the museum] have images similar to Warhol’s and a lot of modern-day celebrities on silk-screens, too.”

Antique Auto Museum
It will take only a short time inside the Antique Auto Museum in Hershey to see that many of the classic cars of the 20th century were pieces of art in themselves. This museum, which opened seven years ago as an outgrowth of the Antique Automobile Club of America, features 70,000 square feet of exhibits and about 150 beautiful autos.

“Our main-level gallery is ‘A Cruise Through Time,’” said Nancy Gates, director of marketing and operations at the museum. “The whole gallery is done in period-themed settings and backdrops. We start in Battery Park, N.Y., in the early 1900s, and then we take you decade by decade across the country, ending in San Francisco in the 1960s.”

Along the way, visitors see 1930s cars set in art-deco Miami, a Midwest gas station from the 1940s and a classic scene from a drive-in theater during the 1950s. Each display features beautiful cars, including some that were used in Hollywood movies.

“We have Betty White’s 1977 Cadillac in our lobby,” Gates said. “As part of our bus collection, we have the bus that was used in ‘Forest Gump.’”

Particularly artistic cars in the collection include a rare 1930s DuPont, a classic Cord and a Studebaker designed by the same artist who created the original Coca-Cola bottle. Art enthusiasts will also enjoy the museum’s collection of 300 hood ornaments.

Lancaster County murals

Though the area is often associated with its “Pennsylvania Dutch” Amish communities, Lancaster enjoys a bustling arts scene. In addition to visiting an arts district downtown, groups can take tours throughout the city and county that highlight outdoor murals painted by local artists.

“We visit the different murals that Karen Hunt has done throughout the city,” said Cathy Strite, whose company, All-in-One Tours, takes groups on mural tours in Lancaster. “They are located in different neighborhoods. Some are pictures of the neighborhood, and some are pictures of the city itself.”

Groups will learn about the history of the city through the mural tour. Once they’ve seen the artwork, visitors then have a chance to meet the artist at the Heritage Center Museum.

“Karen takes you back into a classroom and shows you how a mural is created,” Strite said. “Then everyone gets a chance to work in teams and paint part of a mural themselves.”

The tour also includes some time at the local Quilt and Textile Museum, where participants learn about another local art form. The visit can be customized with stops in other artists’ studios or an evening show at Lancaster’s Fulton Opera House.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.