William Penn (1890, cast 1892)

by Alexander Milne Calder (1846 - 1923)

Photo Caption: Photo Alec Rogers © 2016 for the Association for Public Art
City Hall Tower, Broad and Market Streets
1890, cast 1892

Commissioned by the City of Philadelphia

Owned by the City of Philadelphia


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At A Glance

  • Part of the Museum Without Walls™: AUDIO program

  • Over 36′ tall and weighs more than 53,000 pounds

  • One of Philadelphia’s most prominent landmarks

  • Completed in 1892 and hoisted to the top of City Hall in 1894

At over thirty-six feet tall and weighing more than 53,000 pounds, Alexander Milne Calder’s sculpture William Penn atop City Hall is one of Philadelphia’s most prominent landmarks. Completed in 1892 as a city public works project, the work was hoisted to the top of City Hall in 1894.

“William Penn” remained a dominant point in Center City’s skyline because of a “gentlemen’s agreement” that no skyscraper would be built higher than the brim of Penn’s hat.

Calder based his depiction of Penn holding the charter of Pennsylvania on thorough research of the colonial period. For example, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania helped determine the kind of clothing Penn would have worn.

Because the sculpture would be viewed from a distance, Calder sought to interpret Penn in a highly legible way. He later claimed bitterly that the statue was incorrectly installed facing northeast instead of south – throwing its features into perpetual shadow. In fact, early drawings showed the statue facing northeast toward Penn Treaty Park, the site of his legendary treaty with the Lenni Lenape Indians.

William Penn
Photo Caitlin Martin © 2012 for the Association for Public Art

William Penn remained a dominant point in Center City’s skyline because of a “gentlemen’s agreement” that no skyscraper would be built higher than the brim of Penn’s hat. Thus, a single work of art exerted a profound influence on the city’s architectural development. In 1986, the gentlemen’s agreement was finally broken, but “Billy Penn” continues to command the long vistas of Broad Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

Adapted from Public Art in Philadelphia by Penny Balkin Bach (Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 1992).

 

RESOURCES

Museum Without Walls logo: a program of the Association for Public Art

 

Voices heard in the program:

Greta Greenberger is the Tour Guide Director for Philadelphia’s City Hall Tours and Visitor Center. She is responsible for conducting tours of City Hall for visitors and school groups.

Timothy Rub is the Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. He is an art historian who specializes in architecture and modern art.

Segment Producer: Bruce Wallace

A program of the Association for Public Art (formerly the Fairmount Park Art Association), Museum Without Walls™: AUDIO is an innovative and accessible outdoor sculpture audio program for Philadelphia’s preeminent collection of public art.

User calls Museum Without Walls Audio for Robert Indiana's LOVE sculpture
Photo Albert Yee © 2010 for the Association for Public Art

A “multi-platform” interactive audio experience – available for free by cell phone, mobile app, audio download, or on the web – Museum Without Walls™: AUDIO offers the unique histories that are not typically expressed on outdoor permanent signage.

Unlike audio tours that have a single authoritative guide or narrator, each speaker featured in Museum Without Walls™: AUDIO is an “authentic voice” – someone who is connected to the sculpture by knowledge, experience, or affiliation. Over 150 unique voices are featured, including artists, educators, scientists, writers, curators, civic leaders, and historians.

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This artwork is part of the Along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway tour, and the Around City Hall tour.

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