Building a Masterpiece: Frank Furness' Factory for Art

Frank Furness and George Watson Hewitt, Elevation on Broad Street, 1873-1876. Ink, watercolor wash, and pencil on paper, 25.5 x 34.5 inches, PAFA, 1876.6.8

September 29 - December 30, 2012

Historic Landmark Building

The process of designing and constructing the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts is evident in the drawings that Furness & Hewitt created to win the competition and build the Academy's National Historic Landmark.  This exhibit presents the competitors' schemes as well as the Furness drawings for the first time.

Furness 2012

In 2012 institutions across Philadelphia are celebrating the architectural acheivements of the heroic life of Frank Furness (1839-1912).  After service in the cavalry in the Civil War, for which he won the Medal of Honor, Furness designed nearly 1,000 projects for the Philadelphia engineers and industrialists who together transformed America.  For this clientele Furness created a new architecture that incorporated the materials and expressed the energy of the Iron Age.  Just as Barcelona's Antonio Gaudi symbolized his city in the twentieth century, Furness embodied the values of Philadelphia in the industrial age.

In 1873 the young architect Louis Sullivan (1856-1924) entered the Furness & Hewitt office.  Many years later he recalled Furness' partner, George Hewitt, with his nose in books while Furness "made buildings out of his head."  In making designs that expressed purpose instead of looting historical forms, Furness began the process that led to modern architecture.

For Sullivan, Furness' method was right and became the basis for his own architecture in Chicago.  Sullivan passed Furness' ideas on to Frank Lloyd Wright who kept them alive in the twentieth century.  Other Furness students continued the architectural evolution Philadelphia including William L. Price and George Howe who form a link to the architectural values of the Philadelphia School of Louis Kahn and Robert Venturi. 

Experience Furness' buildings and learn about different aspects of his career from the exhibits of Furness 2012.  Find out more about the celebration here.

Venue Curator: Anna Marley, Curator of Historical American Art
Guest Curator: George Thomas

This exhibition is supported in part by a grant from the William Penn Foundation.

Additional support from Robert Shusterman.

PAFA's special exhibitions in 2012-13 are supported by generous contributions from Max N. Berry, Esq., Donald and Linda Caldwell, Jonathan L. Cohen, and Lori Levine Ordover and Janusz Ordover.

The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts’ public programs are funded in part by a grant from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts (a state agency funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency).

General operating support provided, in part, by