Celebrating 75 Years of Fine Art in Philadelphia
Country’s Oldest Outdoor Show of Original Art
Who could have known, so many years ago, that the efforts of a few students, looking for a way to exhibit their art work, would 75 years later become one of the most respected and well attended outdoor art shows in the entire country.
It was June 1932, when a small group of Philadelphia art students first came to Rittenhouse Square to hang their work between the trees on clotheslines. These students known collectively known as the, “Art Student’s League”, had come together at the Graphic Sketch Club (now the Samuel S. Fleisher Art Memorial) where they had studied art with Earl Hortter, an internationally known Philadelphia etcher.
As these students became older and the show became more popular, the “Clothesline Show”, as it was called, evolved to include professional artists and students. Providing the opportunity for students to exhibit in the show has been one of this organization’s priorities since the beginning. Providing Philadelphia with a good art show with quality work has been the other goal or priority throughout all those years. As a result, each and every year, there are several students who exhibit in this prestigious and well-known art show of original art only.
As more and more artist began to exhibit in the park, the reputation of the show as being a quality show began to grow as well. Gradually, the show began allowing artists to exhibit from New Jersey and Delaware.
As always, the Rittenhouse Square Fine Arts Association (RSFAA) continues to be a non-profit organization, made up top quality artists from all over the country, although most reside in the tri-state area of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. Autonomous and independent, this organization receives no public or private funding to conduct the event.
Then, in 1976, the Bicentennial Year, the name of the show was changed to the Rittenhouse Square Fine Arts Annual – a change that restored the emphasis on fine art instead of clothesline. Known now as the Rittenhouse Square Fine Arts Association, this organization runs what has become the oldest continuously run outdoor art show of original artwork in the entire country.
Exhibiting on clotheslines and benches as the exhibit space of choice were eventually replaced by display racks or panels and canopies of varying shapes and styles. The park sidewalks were filled with artists’ displays, for many years, on both sides of the sidewalks throughout this historic park. Spending an afternoon in Rittenhouse Square, filled with canopies, tents, displays and even the occasional clothesline of quality fine art was an impressive site for certain.
Then, in 2004, in its 73rd year of the event, another change took place. It was in this year that the show moved outside the park, to the perimeter sidewalk surrounding the Square. It was this year when the Rittenhouse artists began to “Circle the Square”.
In 2005, the RSFAA organized and held the 1st Annual September Rittenhouse Square Fine Art Show . This year will have the 2nd annual show held September 15 – 17.
This year’s show, the 2006 June art annual, features more than 140 artists from all over the country and art students from various Philadelphia art schools. They will “Circle the Square” and be exhibiting all types of artwork: Unusual, unique, abstract, stylized, representational and traditional, including 3 dimensional work as well as 2 dimensional. With this many top quality artists, there is not limit to the diversity of subject matter and techniques.
Although an independent art organization run by artists, the RSFAA could not have existed without a large measure of community good will and public support. The RSFAA acknowledges the support of the Fairmount Park Commission, the City of Philadelphia, and the Philadelphia Parking Authority. Major appreciation goes to those patrons who chose fine art to enhance their homes and work environments. Without their support, none of this is possible.
This 75th June Rittenhouse Square Fine Art Show is scheduled for Thursday, June 1 through Sunday, June 4 at the same park where it all started, at the Rittenhouse Square at 18th and Walnut. a part of the Fairmount Park system. Daily show hours are 11:00 am to 7:00 pm, except Sunday, when the show will end at 5:00 pm. You won’t want to miss this event. Come take a walk, see the art and “Circle the Square” yourself.