Apparently there’s a Billy Joel song about Allentown. I’m not aware of ever having heard it — he’s not really my cup of tea. But I had a fun time doing a little driving around Pennsylvania’s third largest city this past weekend. We had to go up for another errand and decided to turn it into a day trip that was highlighted by a visit to the lovely Allentown Art Museum.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art is well respected and world class. But that respect and popularity makes it always busy. I’ve been wanting to explore some other Philadelphia-area art museum alternatives and this was the perfect excuse. Plus, as someone who grew up in this region, believe me, I’ve been to the Philly art museum plenty of times.
While the historic snow storm that hit New England brought the Philly area some snow, it wasn’t too bad. In fact, it seemed like just enough to keep the museum from being too busy during our visit. It was wonderful being able to walk freely around the exhibits at the Allentown Art Museum. Their current special exhibits include a collection of Flapper clothing from the 1920s and 1930s, modern glass sculptures plus a large collection of vibrant Haitian art.
Even without the rotating exhibits, the Allentown Art Museum has a strong permanent collection on their walls. The museum has a fantastic collection of Renaissance era paintings in incredible condition. I noted several paintings from the 15th and 16th centuries that look like they could have been painted yesterday. They also have a rather small collection of Pennsylvania Dutch textiles, mainly consisting of samplers, as well as a library that was taken from a Frank Lloyd Wright designed home and placed in the museum complete with all the antique books, beautiful windows and classically designed seating.
Of special note, the museum features a portrait of the daughter of Allentown’s founding father painted by Gilbert Stuart. Stuart is most noted for his unfinished portrait of President and General George Washington that’s used on the American one dollar bill. Pretty neat.
Something else that really struck me about the Allentown Art Museum was their collection of art from local artists. They have a large collection of high quality art from the 1800s and 1900s that was painted in the Philadelphia and New Jersey areas and often depicting the local scenery. It was really great to see.
I always leave the large museums feeling like I missed something important since you rarely can see everything in a single visit. Though the Allentown Art Museum might be small compared to museums like the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Philadelphia Museum of Art, there’s something to be said for their collection. Both the size and the quality allow for a really enjoyable visit and you can see it all comfortably in a few hours. I’ll definitely be going back.