Monday, August 18, 2014

A View of the Past

It is always interesting to learn how researchers use the material we make available to them at the Library Company. Obviously, many academics visit us to examine books, documents, and images for use in scholarly publications, but our researchers are not limited to scholars.  Our historical resources have also served as inspiration to filmmakers, playwrights, and artists. Check out past blogs about some of these projects at; and  One Philadelphia artist Paul MacWilliams recently shared with me this reproduction of his monumental (50 x 70) oil on linen, Pennsylvania Statehouse, 1776, based on more than three years of research at local  repositories including the Library Company of Philadelphia. 

 Mr. MacWilliams, who holds a degree in illustration from the Philadelphia College of Art (now University of the Arts), used late 18th century Philadelphia maps, prints, and other visuals to research the landscape of the city looking north from Independence Hall. He also read through John Fanning Watson’s Annals of Philadelphia to gain a better understanding of life in the colonial city. Outbuildings, gardens, even horse droppings in the street are meticulously rendered in his work which took three years to paint. Mr. MacWilliams also painted a companion piece depicting the view from the same vantage point in the 21st century.

Sarah J. Weatherwax
Curator of Prints and Photographs


  1. Wow, what a terrific reconstruction painting, quite breathtaking. Would very much like to use it for my
    family documentary, in which I trace my Scottish
    ancestor's itinerary from New York to Ohio. Not a
    public domain issue, but just want to make sure no
    fees are owed anyway.
    Where can I find the 21st century version?
    Reid Bishop

  2. Here is a link to a copy of Paul MacWilliams's contemporary view of this scene. Please contact him if you have any questions.