PAA staff recently rediscovered a treasure trove of old letterpress blocks depicting scenes of historic Philadelphia that date from the 1920s. Many of these blocks were created by etcher, lithographer, and illustrator Joseph Pennell (above, left) who was born on July 4th, 1857 in Philadelphia. Pennell studied at the Philadelphia Industrial Art School (now University of the Arts) and at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art. He lived much of his life in London where he taught at the Slade School of Art. Pennell was a friend and colleague of James McNeill Whistler, and published a biography of the artist in 1908 with his wife Elizabeth Robins Pennell.
Each block is cast in lead or copper and mounted on a wooden backing, lovely objects in their own right. The blocks were originally used to create various printed material for PAA, including newsletters, calendars, and souvenir postcards.
Basement Press, a collaboration between Eli VandenBerg (above, right) and Katie Baldwin, has teamed up with PAA to bring these blocks back to life. You can now purchase your very own print here in our Shop! They are individually hand-colored, and each one depicts a landmark or neighborhood in Philadelphia and environs. Rich in detail and period charm, they are atmospheric and lovely.
We hope Mr. Pennell would be proud.