Pennsylvania’s 3rd largest city, Allentown, is a travel surprise. Unlike Erie, its population is growing as its industrial past gives way to a service economy future. Closeness to both Philadelphia and New York City is causing an influx of people from all demographic groups to move and live here, but it still has a rather small town feel as it sprawls in all directions. There are a number of viable things to see, like the already written about Liberty Bell Museum. Another worthwhile stop, which is close to the bell, is this city’s main art museum, an island of culture in a typical old city downtown. Rather expensive to visit, this art repository has some offbeat temporary and permanent attractions.
As is the case with many urban art museums, it’s in an old, city-owned Federal Style building that has had an expensive and extensive renovation within the past 10 years. It still shows and the volunteer staff is still interested in it. The Allentown Art Museum’s 1st floor mostly contains its permanent collection, but it has a few temporary installations too. Its 2nd floor is given over to big temporary shows, an interactive family gallery, and an education center. Photography is featured in its lower level.
The 2 current temporary pieces on floor 1 are both interesting. Artist Sol LeWitt died in 2007 but left behind wall drawings with specific directions. He believed that the idea for a design was far more important than the finished work. Recently 4 artists put his #793A on a wall in the Allentown Art Museum. It took them 3 weeks to complete this project, and it will only be up for another year. The photo above shows just part of this wavy, colorful design. The other temporary display is Stephen Antonakos’ light filled Room Chapel. It will only be on view until Sept, 2019. Ruth loved the Sol LeWitt installation and insisted that I photograph it, an impossible task. Both are partially shown above.
Thus museum’s permanent holdings contain a few recognizable names. However, I found myself more invested in Gifford Beal’s painting of a local event. Ruth & I had just visited the Liberty Bell Museum, and Beal’s depiction of 18th century American patriots hiding that bell in Allentown was still resonating. This painting will probably be up forever. The other permanent installation is a Frank Lloyd Wright library. Wright designed a house for the Little Family early in his career. When the house was demolished, the Little’s living room went to New York’s Metropolitan Museum and their library came to the Allentown Art Museum.
Allentown’s sister city in the Lehigh Valley is Bethlehem, which is also doing a better-than-average job of re-inventing itself. Bethlehem Steel’s plant here was one of the world’s largest. It closed in 1995, leaving a 4½-mile-long facility to either decay or be re-purposed. Both are still happening. The Lehigh Valley is Pennsylvania’s smallest geographic region.