WCU Museum Studies Students Create & Install Exhibition Paying Tribute to Philadelphia’s Diverse Heritage Beyond the Liberty Bell
Beyond the Bell: Philadelphia’s Global Heritage is an interactive exhibition that is open to the community free of charge
To tell the authentic stories of the diverse communities that have made Philadelphia what it is today, 15 Museum Studies Program students at West Chester University (WCU) recently partnered with the Global Philadelphia Association (GPA) to create a special exhibition in WCU’s Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology that highlights the City’s narrative far beyond its colonial heritage of the Liberty Bell. Rare artifacts can be seen on the University’s campus from Philadelphia’s very early beginnings; the relics tell the lives of Native Americans, Africans who were enslaved, numerous immigrant groups seeking political/religious freedom, and many others, even the famed Mummers. The priceless artifacts are on loan from the Lest We Forget Museum of Slavery, Landis Valley Museum, the National Parks Service, and numerous other non-profit lenders. Beyond the Bell: Philadelphia’s Global Heritage exhibition can be seen now through May 1 at West Chester University’s Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology, located on campus in the Old Library building, 775 South Church Street, West Chester. The Museum is open to the community free of charge.
The elaborate, “mini-Philadelphia” exhibit focuses on labor, immigration, transportation, fashion and arts, festivals, as well as sports and pop culture. Against the backdrop of a floorplan modeled after Philadelphia’s own urban grid and made by West Chester University student Christian West, visitors are able to see an array of relics that give life to the spirit of Philadelphia: shackles from a slave ship; a wooden pushcart and horseradish grinder from the early 1900s; 5,000-year-old pottery and other ephemera used by the Lenape people; autographed sports memorabilia from the Hilldale “Darby Daisies” Negro League baseball team; reproductions of letters by Edgar Allen Poe; a Ukrainian bandura smuggled out of the Soviet Union during the C
old War; Mummers’ records, souvenirs and costumes; a train set featuring all the different trains produced in Philadelphia; original artwork from Philadelphia-based artists; souvenirs from the Philadelphia World’s Fair of 1876; relics of St. Katharine Drexel, the 2nd US-born saint and first Philadelphia-born saint; Anthony Benezet’s Anti-Slavery Treatise (C.1762); intricate and inspiring fashion from Colombia, Palestine, Liberia, South India; and much more.
With the expert guidance of Michael A. Di Giovine, director of the University’s Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology and director of the Museum Studies Program, the undergraduate and graduate students have installed an exhibition that is the first-of-its-kind at the University. To secure the artifacts, the students contacted the members of the Global Philadelphia Association, which features many Philadelphia-based organizations, and asked for the loan of artifacts. West Chester University student Aaron Stoyack was an intern at the Global Philadelphia Association and acted as the project’s liaison.
“This is an extraordinary exhibition – and one of the largest we’ve ever had in the Museum,” says Di Giovine. “We couldn’t have done this without the support of the Global Philadelphia Association and its members, as well as many, many community organizations and enthusiastic private individuals who were willing to lend us their valuable artifacts. We hope that, through this important collection of artifacts, organized in a creative design by the students, we can give visitors an understanding of not only the broader heritage of Philadelphia, but also the impact of diverse communities and their interactions on the nation’s history.”
The exhibition has been in the making since the spring 2022 semester. For more than nine months, Di Giovine and the 15 graduate and undergraduate Museum Studies Program students have researched, catalogued, designed, and installed the entire exhibition. The exhibition’s fabrication has been developed by Associate Professor of Theater Tom Haughey. In addition, Director of the Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum David Blackburn co-instructed the class and helped curate the exhibition.
“I’m very grateful to have worked on this exhibit and gained so many valuable, hands-on experiences,” says Jackie Armao, a history major and museum studies minor, who worked on the exhibition. “It’s been really exciting to see something we’ve envisioned come to life; it started as a list of ideas and now it’s a real space where people can come and learn about all of the people and things that make Philly what it is—which is exciting!”
The exhibition is open Mondays, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.; Tuesdays, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.; and Thursdays, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Private appointments and special student-curator led tours can also be organized by calling (610) 436-2247 or emailing email@example.com. More information on the Museum and its exhibitions can be found at www.wcupa.edu/museum.
Lenders Contributing to the Exhibition
Done in partnership with the Global Philadelphia Association, the exhibition includes the participation of the following gracious lenders:
- National Parks Service – Independence National Historic Park
- PA Historical Commission (Ephrata Cloister and Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum)
- Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament
- The German Society of Pennsylvania
- Drexel University Libraries
- Lebanon Valley College Library
- Enoch Pratt Free Library
- Lest We Forget Museum of Slavery
- Acción Colombia
- American Swedish Historical Museum
Original Artwork on Loan
Original artwork featured in the exhibition has been loaned from a diverse community of Philadelphia-based artists, including the following:
- Diane Keller (muralist who did the Frank Rizzo mural)
- Ana Vizcarra Rankin
- Sue Cheng (founder of a new Chinese art museum in Chinatown)
- Salome Cosmique (Colombian artist)
- Diana Larisgoitia (Argentinian artist)