City Refuge
Category: Resource
Written by Kellie A. Hanna

Samuel S. Fleisher had a vision: everyone interested in art should be offered free instruction. He wanted to offer the opportunity for personal enrichment and professional growth to adults and children in Philadelphia and surrounding areas. He achieved his goals in 1898 through the founding of the Graphic Sketch Club. He directly supported the program throughout his life, and upon his death in 1944 he left his residuary estate in trust to support the operations and maintenance of the program under the administration of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Under conditions of Fleisher's will, the Graphic Sketch Club became known as the Samuel S. Fleisher Art Memorial. It continues to pay homage to the ideals of its founder.

From the beginning, the Graphic Sketch Club gave Philadelphia's communities the chance to learn and enjoy the artistic process first hand. It's popularity increased rapidly in the space of 17 years; and in need of larger quarters and more resources was expanded in 1915. It was then that Fleisher added his sanctuary. He added to the facility pieces from his own collections and provided a multi-cultural style to the place--religious scenes, medieval and Russian statues and icons, Oriental carpets, and decorative objects. It was meant to be a refuge for study and thought. Students were encouraged to study the works of art and were invited to frequent concerts and recitals, and had access to the grand piano. It was a special kind of museum--interactive, interdisciplinary, and available to the public, with the working population in mind. By 1922, the Club developed the idea of a museum to add to its educational resources.

Since its inception as the Graphic Sketch Club, the organization has encountered several changes and steady growth. When the Philadelphia Museum of Art acquired the Club in 1944, they enhanced Fleisher's original collection with museum quality objects. European paintings and sculpture added to the atmosphere. The PMA kept Fleisher's vision alive. The sanctuary was open regularly to the public, and musical performances remained a mainstay of the Memorial's educational program.

Today the Fleisher is much larger but still a haven for the interested individual. Adults and children alike can enjoy studio classes, lectures, concerts, art critiques, and exhibitions at either of two galleries. Classes are as varied as resources allow, but include painting, calligraphy, photography, and sculpture. Both the novice and the serious student will find a place in the open studios, and the professional artist can delve into several programs emphasizing creative growth, skill development, and the freedom to express their talents. All artists and enthusiasts will find an atmosphere conducive to the exchange of ideas and technique and a place to socially interact.

Thanks to the extraordinary efforts of Samuel S. Fleisher and others who believe in the social and personal impact of the arts, the Fleisher Art Memorial serves over 3,000 adults and children with a variety of free and low-cost studio classes, an ever-expanding gallery, and a variety of educational programs. Holding true to its founder's ideals that its programs be accessible and growth oriented, the Fleisher stands as a refuge for those in the Philadelphia area.

The Fleisher Art Memorial 709-721 Catharine Street Philadelphia, PA 19147

*Thanks to The Fleisher Art Memorial for information.


Do you know of a similar organization in your community? We'd love to know about it! Write Kellie Hanna with your idea.

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