Celebrating Ten Years of the Visual Culture Program

On October 5, 2018, the Visual Culture Program (VCP) happily marked its tenth anniversary by hosting the William Birch and the Complexities of American Visual Culture symposium. Established in 2008, VCP fosters the creative use of historic visual material for the study of the past. The Program seeks to facilitate events that confront, explore, and complicate the social construction of what we see, how we see it, and why we see it as we do.

In this spirit, the symposium, in collaboration with the recently closed Library Company exhibition William Birch, Ingenious Artist, explored the visual, cultural, and social themes elicited from the work of the immigrant Philadelphia artist William Birch (1755-1834). Supported by the Center for American Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Terra Foundation for American Art, Complexities facilitated multiple dialogues that reflected broadly on the continual resonance in American visual culture of the work of this premier enamel miniaturist, aspiring gentleman, and artist of the first American view books.

Art historian Wendy Bellion started off the presentations with her spirited keynote address Then and Now: How William Birch Matters in 2018. Bellion’s talk challenged our historical and contemporary understanding of Birch as an immigrant artist whose Philadelphia views continue to foster multiple interrelationships between different graphic mediums. The day of vivid and insightful discussions continued as the speakers – art historians, curators, and media artists – further explored Birch’s professional networks as an architect and landscape painter, as well as themes of “liveliness,” urban and commercial aesthetics, critical looking, and artistic innovation.

The Library Company would like to thank the Center for American Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Michael Leja and the Terra Foundation for American Art for their generous support of the symposium. Without their funding, the symposium would not have been possible.

To cap off the event, art scholar and historian Elizabeth Milroy provided final remarks. In keeping with the tone of the symposium, she reflected upon the dynamics of art making and how visual culture helps us to necessarily push the boundaries of what constitutes a visual material. The tenth anniversary of VCP could not have ended more auspiciously.

Here’s to the next ten years of VCP!

To see pictures of the symposium, please click here.

Erika Piola

Director of the Visual Culture Program

Associate Curator, Prints and Photographs