Silent No More: Replicating the Justice Bell

A year after graduating, Erin Addie (BFA ’18) and Gary Pergolini (BFA ’18) are back at PAFA.

The pair recently installed their replica of the Justice Bell in the Rotunda of the Hamilton Building for a temporary exhibition. The original Justice Bell is a replica of the Liberty Bell and was commissioned by Katharine Wentworth Ruschenberger in 1915 for use in the women’s suffrage movement. The bell traveled across Pennsylvania to drum up support for granting women the right to vote. The original bell is now on view at Washington Memorial Chapel Valley Forge Park.

The original Justice bronze bell is immovable, the replica is made of lightweight fiberglass and resin and will be used by the Justice Bell Foundation to educate people about the original bell’s history and promote voter participation.

“For me it was pretty exciting working on this project,” Addie said. “I’ve been able to remind people that there is a lot of work to still do in the suffrage movement and provide the foundation with this iconic image.”

Mingo Stroeber, creative projects director for the Justice Bell Foundation, said the story of the Justice Bell is often untold. She herself didn’t know about the bell until a few years ago, and it was a part of her family history.

“My grandmother was a part of the big parade in Philadelphia in 1915 that featured the Justice Bell,” Stroeber said. “My grandmother told me one of the proudest moments of her life was when she marched down Broad Street in 1915 for women’s suffrage.”

Stroeber and her team have been working to educate youth on the importance of the American women’s suffrage movement. They visit Philadelphia-area schools presenting on the Justice Bell and then ask students to create based on the question, What does justice mean to me?

But talking about the Justice Bell was one thing, seeing it would be another.

“We talked to PAFA about getting a replica made and got referred to sculpture department chair Rob Roesch,” Stroeber said. “He told us about two former students, Erin and Gary, who were working at Traction Company, and they agreed to take on the project.”

In less than a year the replica has gone from an idea to a fully realized sculpture. Addie and Pergolini share studio space at Traction Company, an artist collective specializing in fine art, sculpture, and custom metal and wood fabrication.

“We started working in mid-February and we officially finished in mid-July,” Pergolini said. “We worked on it around other projects, which was an interesting life lesson.”

The pair spent 400 hours researching in their shared studio researching, getting materials and constructing the bell.

“We were excited about the project because in the past had done a lot of bronze casting and mold making but this was an opportunity for us to take time and make a living learning about a new material,” Addie said.

Amanda Owen, executive director for the Justice Bell Foundation, said seeing the completed replica for the first time earlier this summer was indescribable.

“It was just jaw-dropping magnificence,” she said. “These artists absolutely exceeded, we knew they’d be able to do this but this whole project exceeded our expectations.”

Instead of a two thousand pound bronze bell, the replica is light enough to be lifted by two people. The ability to easily move the replica bell was essential to its construction. After a two-week viewing at PAFA, the replica Justice Bell will be on tour for much of 2020.

“They tell us all the places it’s going and it’s really exciting to be a part of this whole organization/event happening over the next year and all that revolves around the bell,” Pergolini said.

In addition to use in The Justice Bell Foundation Education Initiative, the replica bell will also be on view at the Brandywine River Museum, the Berkshire Theatre and in Washington DC.

“We want people to know about the incredible struggle women went through to get the vote,” Stroeber said. “And connect it to young people today and the importance of being civically engaged.”

About PAFA

Founded in 1805, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts is America's first school and museum of fine arts. A recipient of the National Medal of Arts, PAFA offers undergraduate and graduate programs in the fine arts, innovative exhibitions of historic and contemporary American art, and a world-class collection of American art. PAFA’s esteemed alumni include Mary Cassatt, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, William Glackens, Barkley L. Hendricks, Violet Oakley, Louis Kahn, David Lynch, and Henry Ossawa Tanner.