The Inquirer: Arcadia Gallery Sheds Light on Utopian Benches

November 29, 2011

The Philadelphia Inquirer recently featured Arcadia University Art Gallery’s current exhibit, "Francis Cape: Utopian Benches.” The Gallery shed some light on Cape’s carved-poplar benches, as reported by Edith Newhall, contributor for the Inquirer.

The natural light has given the space an unfamiliar openness, and the windows are beautifully preserved relics of the 1893 building's arts and crafts interior architecture. But it is Cape's 20 unpainted carved-poplar benches, based on the designs used in American utopian communities and arranged here in tidy rows, that lend the gallery its present meetinghouse character.

In planning his project, Cape studied available examples of benches, made measured drawings of them, and visited a number of U.S. communities—defunct and extant—including those within easy reach of Arcadia, such as Ephrata Cloister. His benches are reconstructions of ones used for various purposes by the Hancock and Mount Lebanon Shaker communities; the Harmony Society; the Society of True Inspiration in Amana, Iowa; the Hutterites; and the Society of Separatists at Zoar, Ohio, among others.

Cape's exclusive use of poplar for his benches has the interesting effect of highlighting the nuances and disparities in their designs while simultaneously uniting them visually. Cape, helpfully, has provided a sheet of Xeroxed photographs identifying each bench and the community from which it sprang; even so, some careful looking is required (sitting on the benches is encouraged, by the way).

Where the installation succeeds most eloquently is in displaying the commonality between furniture and sculpture and the sense of community that can be engendered by something as simple as sharing a bench.

Read the full article.

Photos by Lindsay Deal ’13

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