Unique Phillips’ Mill Community Association Offers Programs in Art, Photography, and Theater
ART PLUS HISTORY: The Phillips’ Mill, shown here, is many things to many people. An important cornerstone in New Hope, it was once a grist mill, dating to the 18th century. It is now a unique visual and performing arts center, welcoming artists, photographers, playwrights, actors, and art lovers from around the region. Its long history, showcasing important talent, brings countless visitors to its annual exhibitions and performances. It will hold its “92nd Juried Art Show,” opening on September 25, featuring the work of important area artists.
By Jean Stratton
History and art come together at the Phillips’ Mill in New Hope, Pa. Located at 2619 River Road, it was originally a grist mill in the 18th century, when farmers brought their grain to be ground into flour.
Today, it is known for presenting one of the most prestigious art shows in the region, attracting top talent and serious art collectors.
Considered to be the birthplace of Pennsylvania Impressionism, the Mill is home to its acclaimed “Juried Art Show,” first held in 1929, explains Laura Womack, vice president of the Phillips’ Mill Community Association board and chair of the art committee.
As reported in the Phillips’ Mill Association’s special book, Celebrating 75 Years of Art, “Among the founders were the now legendary leaders of the Pennsylvania art colony, centered in New Hope at the beginning of the 20th century. Initially, they included Edward Redfield, William Langston Lathrop, and David Garber.”
These were prominent, nationally respected artists, working in the landscape tradition, and they were drawn to the natural beauty of the New Hope area, adds Reni Fetterolf, longtime Phillips’ Mill Community Association member and historian. A number of the early participants were also women, including artists such as M. Elizabeth Pierce, Mary Smyth Perkins, and Fern Coppedge.
As the book continues, “Their prominence attracted other artists to the area to study and work with them. As more and more artists joined the colony, William Lathrop gathered them and their families together into a social circle to share ideas about art. Events were held at the Lathrop home, and these gatherings were the precursors to the committees of the eventual Phillips’ Mill Community Association.”
“The Association is a nonprofit organization, dedicated to the promotion of the arts and the preservation of the artistic and cultural heritage of the Bucks County area,” explains Reni Fetterolf. “As a nonprofit, it is supported by members, patrons, and benefactors. Also, sale of the art is another means of support.”
The purchase of the Phillips’ Mill in 1929 provided an important local exhibition space and a new place for more social events through membership in the organization.
The Mill’s history dates to pre-Revolution America, and one goal of the Association was the preservation of the Mill as a historic landmark. “Operating before and during the American Revolution, the Mill was a constant ‘forum.’ There was plenty to talk about, in addition to the exchange of local news and gossip, while waiting for grist or flour,” reports an early publication.
The fact that it has evolved into such a significant symbol for art reinforces the importance of history and art as blended cultural resources.
Association board member and art committee member Terri Epstein emphasizes this historic connection. “I am fascinated by the historic significance of the Mill, that so many important artists walked the floors, breathed in the autumn air blowing through the doors and windows of that very structure. I walk in and feel the ghosts of all that creativity swirl around me. It makes me smile every time.”
She adds that before moving to Bucks County, she was a Pennington resident, and visited the Phillips’ Mill art show many times. “It is definitely an event that draws people from all over the greater Princeton area.”
“Without the Phillips’ Mill, there wouldn’t be the focus on art here,” points out Fetterolf. “The juried shows have been very important in creating excitement and energy.”
Although especially known for Pennsylvania Impressionism, The Mill’s art focus has presented every kind of art from the earliest days of the show, including impressionism, representational, realistic, modern, and contemporary, among other genres.
The show attracts the best work of hundreds of artists living within a 25-mile radius of the Mill. More than 1,000 people visit the show each year, and all art is for sale — oils, watercolors, mixed media, pastels, and drawings, as well as sculpture. In addition to framed art, there is a portfolio of unframed art, including drawings and paintings.
This year, the show will include the creations of more than 200 artists across three categories: framed works, sculpture, and unframed portfolio pieces. The work to be included is selected by a panel of jurors, who then judge the pieces for awards. This year, prizes will be given to 16 artists.
Something To Buy
The planning for the show involves months of preparation, explains Womack, “It really takes nine months. We start in June. The best artists want to be in the show, but they all have to be selected. The public will know that these artists have been vetted by experts. Also, the people who want to come to the show know that there will be something they’ll want to buy.”
Many established artists have participated in the show more than once, and the Art Committee is also always on the lookout for up and coming artists and new talent, points out Fetterolf.
People of all ages come to see the art, including families, she adds. “It can be a really nice outing for people, with a visit to New Hope and this very scenic area. Many people look forward to coming every year.”
In addition to the annual “Juried Art Show,” Phillips’ Mill offers several other programs: a photo exhibition, theater productions, the Youth Art Exhibition, and the Emerging Playwrights Competition.
The drama program presents three plays, both musicals and dramas, during the year, and interest in photography has become an increasingly important focus over the years.
There is extra excitement about the art show this year, as it will once again be on-site, in person. Last year, it was available only online due to the pandemic.
World of Possibilities
“We had to be very innovative, blending the new technology with the traditional show,” reports Womack. “We have been able to do that without losing the personality of our history as we embrace the new communication.”
She adds that in difficult times, people need the arts even more, and through Phillips’ Mill, a sense of community and belonging has been furthered. “We soon discovered that we could actually reach more people when we started to share stories and artwork online. It opens up a world of possibilities, and motivated us to launch new programs and expand our reach on some wonderful platforms we didn’t even know existed.”
While many will wish to visit the show in person this year, online viewing will also be available.
The Association members are enthusiastic about the new show and all that it means to the artists, collectors, and the community at large.
“Art is so important. It is such a signature in this area,” points out Womack. “We are so glad to be able to do this. I love working with the people at the Mill and the artists. Everyone here loves art and is so committed to it.”
Adds Fetterrolf, “I look forward to seeing everyone here — the artists and the people who fall in love with the art and the environment when they come here. Think about it — the transformation of the space. Just look at this room. Now, it’s just a plain room. But when the art is here, and the paintings are up on the walls, it is like magic!”
The show will run from September 25 through October 31, daily from 1 to 5 p.m. A $5 entry fee is charged for adults, with senior and student discounts.
For further information, call (215) 862-0582. Website: phillipsmill.org.