By Sarah R. Schwartz ’10
Benton Spruance: City Views, an exhibition focusing on the artist’s views of Germantown and Philadelphia, is on display at the Art Museum of LaSalle University until March 4. The Free Library of Philadelphia is loaning the majority of these works.
Before Spruance bought his own studio on Germantown Avenue, furthering his connection with the city of Philadelphia, he taught and worked from the art studios of Arcadia University, where he was professor from 1926 to 1967. The University holds the memory of Spruance fondly in its hallowed halls.
Using his architectural skills, Spruance proposed a major addition to the fine arts studios, dedicating his time and energy to design the structure that would later bare his name. Unfortunately, Spruance never saw the Spruance Fine Arts Center reach completion. It was publicly dedicated to him on May 3, 1969, a year and a half after his death.
Dr. Lloyd Abernethy, Professor Emeritus of History, wrote the definitive biography Benton Spruance: The Artist and the Man, in which he eulogizes, “Neither a studio-bound artist nor an ivory-towered academic, Spruance demonstrated that a hard-working and resourceful artist-citizen could make a difference.”
Abernethy also addresses the special connection Spruance had with the Arcadia community. “Spruance’s congenial disposition and common sense approach to campus issues won him many friends among the faculty and a prominent role in decision making at the college.
“Despite his rigorous studio regime and busy schedule of outside responsibilities, he somehow found the time for involvement in a wide variety of campus activities, from planning May Day celebrations to drawing illustrations for yearbooks to designing sets for theater productions…Spruance is remembered best by his former colleagues and students for his generosity in personal relationships and the unusual compassion he exhibited in times of their distresses.”
In 2003, in conjunction with the University’s sesquicentennial celebration, Arcadia’s Art Gallery hosted Benton Spruance: World of One’s Own. The exhibit provided a contemporary platform from which to survey the evolution of mid-20th century Modernism.
Arcadia’s archives, in the basement of Landman Library, hold many of Spruance’s original lithographs. One is on display in the Office of the Provost. Watch for more as Archives & Artifacts, Arcadia’s faculty, student, staff and alumni-run multimedia project, brings aspects of the University’s rich history to life through video, found objects, oral history, archival documents, and online photo galleries.
Watch a video about the Spruance exhibit at La Salle Art Museum.
Image courtesy of the Print and Picture Collection of the Free Library of Philadelphia.