Hidden in Plain Sight
Located at 10 North High Street in West Chester, Pennsylvania, the STONE RELIEFS by Harry Rosin is the largest public art project in the region.
On the first block of North High Street, a four-panel sculpture looms some 80-feet above the sidewalk as thousands of people pass by who seemingly take no notice of the artwork in their midst. Within the panels, fifteen carved figures are set in poses evoking their own sense of movement. Each represent a point in history dating from the earliest days of European settlements. It's an impressive example of the culture and style of Chester County during the 1960's.
For nearly a half century, its creator has remained all but anonymous and the story it tells largely ignored. Now, with a little research from the archives of the Chester County Historical Society's library, its story can be brought to light. It covers the community's desire to be modern and artistic, while at the same time historic and reflective. To achieve this was no small feat. Nearly three years of planning, controversy, and compromise took place before the sculptures were finally erected.
One cannot fully appreciate the sculptures without an understanding of the circumstances surrounding the development of the building upon which they were placed. Thus, a little background is provided.
From Courthouse to Courthouse Complex
The North Wing first opened to the public on April 24, 1966, to introduce the $3.3-million structure. It had two court rooms, located on the second floor, plus administrative offices which included the Board of Commissioners offices and their meeting chambers. The original address was 16 North High Street. That was changed to 2 North High Street when the North Wing became the entrance to the entire Courthouse Complex. On October 14, 2011, the building was sold to the E Kahn Development and J. Loew & Associates and the address was changed again to 10 North High Street while the Historic Courthouse retains its correct address of 2 North High Street.
The old collides with the new
The Stone Reliefs
Harry Rosin (1897-1973), an internationally known sculptor living in New Hope, Bucks County, was selected from a number of submissions. He is probably best known for the Connie Mack Statue (1957) now located at Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia. Rosin was asked to complete a series of commemorative panels set in a "vertical motif." The result was four panels, each depicting individuals that are part of the history of Chester County. They were carved from statuary buff Indiana limestone over a period of six months by George Hitchcock, James Salady, and Webster Bundy at the Heltonville Limestone Corporation in Bedford, Indiana, with direct oversight by Rosin. Each panel is ten-feet high, five-feet wide and one-foot thick and together they weigh a total of eighteen tons. The panels cover the column of windows on the east facade, but there are spaces in the sculpture where light is emitted from inside the building giving it a backlit glow. It became Rosin's largest work.
Placement of the Stone Reliefs was completed on March 11, 1966. However, nothing was placed on the work to suggest who did downtown's most dynamic and expressive historic rendering.
Characters depicted in each panel
The final component of the work was a stone legend that appears at the base of the sculpture executed by A. Regis Milione (1917-1994) of Drexel Hill. It was commissioned to identify each of the characters in the sculpture.
From top to bottom, those depicted in the sculpture are:
Panel 1 : Native Indian | Founding Settlers
This is the only panel that has anonymous figures: a "Native Indian" and a male and female representing the "Founding Settlers." It seems odd that while each of the other individuals are identified in the remaining panels, there was no selection of, say, William Penn, who established Chester County, or Lappawinsoe, Chief of the Lenni Lenape Tribe at the time.
Panel 2 : George Washington | Marquis de Lafayette | Anthony Wayne
George Washington, a Virginian, and Marquis de Lafayette, a Frenchman, are surely most notable, but are not strongly connected to Chester County except for the time they fought the British at the Battle of Brandywine, one of the bloodiest encounters of the American Revolutionary, and their subsequent retreat to Valley Forge. General "Mad Anthony" Wayne, however, was very much a local hero.
Panel 3 : William Darlington | Bayard Taylor | Thomas McKean | Rebecca Lukens
Each of the individuals depicted in this panel were actually born and bred Chester Countians. If anyone could be called the father of West Chester, it would be William Darlington (1782-1863). Bayard Taylor (1825-1878) was a great writer and critic whose words still resonate today. Thomas McKean (1734-1817) could be placed among the legion of under-rated founders who was a political leader, scholar, lawyer and signer of the Declaration of Independence. And Rebecca Lukens (1794-1854) added more than gender diversity -- as the head of Lukens Steel she was a woman who competed effectively in what was truly a man's world. The glaring omission would be that of Thomas U. Walter, whose architectural elements from the Courthouse are emulated on the North Wing, not to mention the existence of at least three other of his outstanding local structures.
Panel 4 : Smedley D. Butler | Mark Sullivan | Herb Pennock | George Morris Phillips
This panel is the most curious to modern eyes. Smedley Darlington Butler (1881–1940), at the time of his death the most decorated Marine in US history, was revered in West Chester. But Raymond Rettew (1903-1973), a local lad responsible for the first mass production of penicillin and easily credited with saving thousands of lives during World War II, did not make it onto the sculpture. Mark Sullivan (1874-1952), a writer whose only noteworthy work is an out-of-print, six-volume tome called Our Times, has quietly slipped into obscurity while Horace Pippin (1888–1946), a self-taught African-American painter considered one of America's foremost artists, is passed over. Herb Pennock (1894-1948), the great baseball Hall-of-Famer, had his character blemished in 1947 when, as manager of the Phillies, he was either unwilling or unable to prevent his team from significantly attacking Jackie Robinson with racial slurs during a game. While Pennock appears to be depicted twice both as a boy and an adult, there doesn't seem to have been room for a notable such as Pierre du Pont (1870-1954), who created Longwood Gardens, a major Chester County attraction, not to mention his philanthropic contributions to local schools and hospitals including the expansion of Chester County Hospital into what it is today. George Morris Phillips (1851-1920) is, on the other hand, most deserving of his place within the reliefs since he, as principal of the West Chester State Normal School for 39 years, helped positioned it to eventually become West Chester University.
But finally. . .
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Originally posted March 27, 2013; updated October 5, 2018