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'Endangered' treasures in Western Pa. museums need public's help


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Pennsylvania's Top 10 Endangered Artifacts

Oldest Butterfly Specimens in the Americas

The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, Philadelphia. Why it's important: Two 18th-century butterfly specimens represent the oldest entomological specimens in the Americas and provide an example of an ingenious early method of preservation.

Earliest-known U.S. Free Frank signed by President George Washington

American Philatelic Society, Bellefonte, Centre County. Why it's important: Signed by George Washington, this letter is the earliest known instance of a special privilege extended to the head of state of the new nation.

Visitors' Book of Heroic Abolitionist Imprisoned in Philadelphia

Chester County Historical Society, West Chester. Why it's important: Passmore Williamson's visitors' book contains the signatures of Frederick Douglass and hundreds of notable supporters of the imprisoned Quaker, a hero of the abolitionist movement.

Film Archive of Pittsburgh's African-American Community

Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh. Why it's important: Footage from African-American photographer Charles “Teenie” Harris chronicles daily life in Pittsburgh's black neighborhoods in the 1930s and '40s, providing rare, intimate glimpses into a bygone world.

16th-Century Family Bible

Mennonite Heritage Center, Harleysville, Montgomery County. Why it's important: Froschauer Bible from 1536 with rare illuminated Fraktur bookplate and genealogical record that documents the flight from religious persecution by the Bachmans, a family of Mennonite immigrants.

Garments Handmade by Faith Community

Old Economy Village , Ambridge, Beaver County. Why it's important: A ceremonial coat and cap made for George Rapp (1757-1847), leader of the Harmonists, showcases the craftsmanship of this community known for its successful industrial enterprises.

Wig of Pennsylvania Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, Lancaster, Lancaster County. Why it's important: Wig worn by Congressman Thaddeus Stevens (1792-1868), passionate abolitionist, advocate for the 13th Amendment and recent subject of Steven Spielberg's “Lincoln.”

Legendary Sculpto-Pictorama

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia. Why it's important: The figures from “Philadelphia Cornucopia,” a mixed media environment created in 1982 by Red Grooms, are a unique celebration of the city's 300-year history.

Bust of Lincoln Carved in Pennsylvania Anthracite

Pennsylvania Anthracite Heritage Museum, Scranton, Lackawanna County. Why it's important: Sculpted by noted African-American artist C. Edgar Patience, the bust of President Lincoln is made from anthracite coal, one of Pennsylvania's most valuable natural resources. 

Victorian Needlework

Schwenkfelder Library & Heritage Center, Pennsburg, Montgomery County. Why it's important: A whimsical fool-the-eye table setting crafted by an unidentified Pennsylvania German woman in the late 1800s illuminates women's changing roles and forms of artistic expression.

Friday, Sept. 20, 2013, 8:57 p.m.

Two Pittsburgh-area museums have items named among the state's Top 10 Endangered Artifacts list, and you can help them through online voting, sharing and donating.

Old Economy Village's handmade, ceremonial coat and cap that belonged to founder George Rapp, along with the Carnegie Museum of Art's film archive of Pittsburgh's African-American community, made the Top 10 list out of 60 submissions. The six-week campaign, a statewide initiative from the Philadelphia-based Conservation Center for Art & Historic Artifacts, aims to promote nonprofit crowdfunding for items that illustrate important parts of history and need restoration.

Lulu Lippincott, curator of fine arts for the Carnegie, says it will cost some $20,000 to restore the collection of footage from photographer Charles “Teenie” Harris, which currently sits in original boxes in an archive. The museum wants to restore the hard-copy images from the 16-millimeter films made in the '30s and '40s and create digital prints for the website.

“The process to stop deterioration is expensive,” she says. “We're just delighted” to be chosen for the list.

Old Economy's maroon, velvet and silk garment set will cost about $5,000 to restore in a painstaking professional process, says village curator Sarah Buffington, who nominated the clothing for the list.

“I never thought we'd win anything,” she says. The coat “hasn't been on display in quite a while because it's in bad condition. The lining is really shot … and the seams of the coat are falling out. It's in really bad shape.”

The soft cap isn't faring much better — it's lining is shredded, Buffington says.

The hope is to restore the coat and cap for a new textile exhibit set to open on Mother's Day weekend in 2014.

Top 10 items also include historic manuscripts, books, 18th-century butterfly specimens and a congressional wig.

“Our goal with this campaign is to showcase the state's historic treasures and the need to preserve and protect our heritage for future generations,” says Ingrid Bogel, executive director of the conservation center. “We've created this program to give institutions a new platform through which to share their stories and to give people a chance to show their support by voting as many times as they'd like, sharing their favorite artifacts with friends through social media and supporting the conservation of these artifacts with online donations.”


Kellie B. Gormly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at or 412-320-7824.

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