Atwater Kent Collection Shared Through Drexel-PAFA Partnership

Jul 18, 2023

by Matthew A. Thurlow   

A strategic partnership between Drexel University and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA) has created the opportunity to store, study, and display the Atwater Kent Collection (AKC). This alliance came to life earlier this month with the opening of the exhibition Seeing Philadelphia, which is on view through September 5, 2023, in PAFA’s Samuel Hamilton Building. 

The AKC represents the holdings of the former Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent, which was founded in 1934 as the Atwater Kent Museum and closed in 2018. Drexel has stewarded the collection since 2019 and is continuing the museum’s mission of “collecting, preserving, and interpreting a collection of 130,000+ objects amassed to tell the important stories of Philadelphia’s past and give context for the present.” 

Seeing Philadelphia consists entirely of two-dimensional art, including a range of maps, prints, and photography that document Philadelphia’s evolution over 300 years. The display also highlights a broad range of women artists who were active in Philadelphia during the early 20th century. With the nation’s semiquincentennial approaching, of particular interest are a series of paintings by Arrah Lee Gaul depicting Philadelphia street scenes during the sesquicentennial of 1926. The AKC material is complemented by photographs and text provided by the TRIPOD program of Drexel’s Writers Room, a community-based program engaged in creative placemaking. 

This first installment of the Drexel-PAFA partnerships precedes a second, significantly larger exhibition that will open next summer. Titled Philadelphia Revealed, Drexel’s curatorial team will pull together a variety of two- and three-dimensional selections from the AKC that illustrate a noteworthy breadth and depth of narratives pertaining to the city’s history, communities, and built environments.

The Decorative Arts Trust has supported Drexel’s cataloguing and reevaluation of the AKC through the IDEAL Internship program. Over the past two summers undergraduate students have worked with Drexel’s curatorial staff to assess and relocate the AKC, which is now housed at PAFA. Last Summer, IDEAL Intern Bryce Zenon mined the collection related to African American themed objects in preparation for Philadelphia Revealed and updated records as needed. 

More of the AKC is now available online through a standalone website, and new content will be made available as soon as images and metadata are processed.

Matthew A. Thurlow is the Executive Director of the Decorative Arts Trust. 

About The Decorative Arts Trust Bulletin

Formerly known as the "blog,” the Bulletin features new research and scholarship, travelogues, book reviews, and museum and gallery exhibitions. The Bulletin complements The Magazine of the Decorative Arts Trust, our biannual members publication.


Subscribe to receive an email when the Decorative Arts Trust publishes a new post.

Click Images to Enlarge

Did you know that clicking on the images in Bulletin posts will allow you to get a closer look? Simply click on an image, and a larger version will open in a pop-up window. 


Join our mailing list to receive the latest news, tour and symposium announcements from the Decorative Arts Trust.

Thank you for subscribing!


Join our mailing list to receive the latest news, tour and symposium announcements from the Decorative Arts Trust.

You have Successfully Subscribed!