Curious Revolutionaries: The Peales Give Their Encore at Philosophical Hall’s Museum

Thumbnail Image

Publication or External Link





M. Mason, D.E. Marsh, and A. Ellison 2017. Curious Revolutionaries: The Peales Give Their Encore at Philosophical Hall’s Museum. American Philosophical Society News 20(2017): 6-11


THE EXHIBITION NOW ON VIEW at the APS Museum is Curious Revolutionaries: The Peales of Philadelphia. This exhibition displays the work of the Peales, an early American family of patriots, soldiers, artists, politicians, inventors, explorers, naturalists, entrepreneurs, and world-class, ever-busy tinkerers. Their boundless curiosity led them to pursue a wide variety of interests, which ranged from excavating mastodon fossils in upstate New York, to collaborating on inventions like the polygraph, to painting the pantheon of American leaders, to collecting and cataloging thousands of species from all over the world. As his portrait gallery grew and attracted a supportive audience, Charles Willson’s idea for developing a public museum began to take shape. By educating the American public and increasing their understanding of the natural world, Peale believed his museum could help cultivate a more enlightened citizenry and advance America’s prestige around the world. In 1786 (the year he was elected a Member of the APS), he founded the Philadelphia Museum at his home on Third and Lombard Streets, establishing what would become the first successful public museum and a model for future democratic museums. The Peale-Sellers Family Collection (of 19 linear feet, comprising some 38 boxes and 147 volumes) and the Society’s related collections include letters and diaries, as well as sketchbooks, painting palettes, hand-cut silhouettes, and watercolors. Highlights from the APS Museum collections include admission tokens from Charles Willson Peale’s Philadelphia Museum (which was located in Philosophical Hall from 1794 to 1810), miniature fireplace patent models designed by Charles Willson Peale and his son Raphaelle, and several paintings. Together, these important collections reveal the Peales’ influence on early American popular culture through innovations in art, science, and technology. The exhibition is divided into three thematic sections: The Peales and the New Nation, Peale’s Philadelphia Museum, and The Legacy of the Peales. Each section offered us the opportunity to explore lesser- known aspects of the Peale family and experiment with new curatorial approaches.