PAFA carves out new gallery from office space

The historic Frank Furness building on Philadelphia’s Broad Street, the original Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts building, will have some of its original offices converted into a new exhibition gallery.

The 136 year-old building is still being used exactly how architect Furness designed it to be used: as offices, classrooms, and gallery space for PAFA. Its skylights and huge glass windows were innovative engineering feats for a 19th-century building.

Since then, PAFA has moved many administrative offices into its second, modern building next door. A new 1,400 square foot gallery will be carved out of what had been offices for curators. To be named the Von Hess Gallery, after a $250,000 donation from the Richard C. Von Hess Foundation, the gallery will be dedicated to PAFA’s collection of works on paper.

The 9,500 piece collection includes drawings, water colors, photograph, and sketchbooks by PAFA alum Thomas Eakins, Cecilia Beaux, and William Glackens.

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“Works on paper in general should not be shown in bright light. Natural daylight is the worst for works on paper,” said museum director Harry Philbrick. “Think of posters in the window of a travel agent, where the colors faded and only the blue dye is left. That’a s good example of what happens when exposed to too much light. Our galleries are marked by beautiful natural daylight – which is wonderful for oil paintings but not for works on paper.”

The gallery will have no windows, all the electric lighting, and its own climate control system. Construction is expected to begin later this month, pending construction bids.

“Ultimately, the goals of preserving the artwork and the goals of preserving the building can’t be in conflict. It’s a very delicate balance,” said Philbrick, adding that the new gallery’s climate-control systems will not impact the systems already in place in the rest of the historic building.

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