Arago: 15-cent Penn Academy

15-cent Penn Academy

Walter D. Richards designed the 15-cent Penn Academy stamp of the 1980 American Architecture Series. The stamps of this series were among the last American commemorative stamps produced on a Giori printing press.

The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the oldest art school and museum in the country, opened its doors in 1805. The first institution of its kind, the academy grew slowly in popularity and international esteem. It held its first exhibition 1811, and throughout the next fifty years, attendance steadily increased. By 1871, the Pennsylvania Academy was ready for a new home. Administrators commissioned a former Civil War captain, Frank Furness, to design the building.

Unlike many of his colleagues, Furness did not study architecture in Europe during the war. Even though the great European architects of his day — Ruskin and Viollet-le-duc, for instance — influenced his work, his lack of direct contact allowed him to achieve an original, truly American mode of design. Contemporaries knew Furness for his eclectic, polychromatic approach to the Modern Gothic Revival style, to which he employed dramatically over-scaled and boldly articulated forms. Furness is credited with designing nearly 650 buildings, most located in the Philadelphia area. He designed the Philadelphia Zoo Gatehouses, Merion Cricket Club, and the inspirational monument to the Lancers located on the battlefield at Gettysburg.

From warehouses to hospitals to schools and banks, Furness left his distinctive architectural touch on the city of Philadelphia and developed the American architectural style that influenced many famous designers such as Louis Sullivan, one of Furness's most prominent understudies. Still, among all of his creations, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts building might be Furness's most influential and important project. It is a building steeped in historical significance and a cornerstone in the development of the American architectural style in Philadelphia and the rest of the country.

The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts building opened on April 22, 1876, while the country celebrated its centennial. A boldly opulent, seventy-feet-tall building, it is decorated with sandstone, red brick, pink granite and purplish terra cotta. Dominating the building's face is an enormous gothic window that facilitates the transition of this motif to the inside. As gorgeous as it is, the building's exterior pales when compared to the lavish interior, where gilded floral patterns decorate the majestic Venetian red walls. The ceiling itself is something to admire, painted blue and dotted with shining silver stars.


"The Buildings." Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

"Frank Heyling Furness." Encyclopedia Britannica.

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