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All about Ben


May 16, 2008
By Jimmy Mincin,
“If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing.’’

Those are the words of Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the United States of America and one of the framers of the Constitution.

As an author and printer, satirist, political theorist, politician, scientist, inventor, civic activist, statesman, diplomat and entrepreneur, it seems he practiced what he preached. More than 300 years after his birth, his determined curiosity and innovative spirit still are not forgotten.

The Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art in Loretto is celebrating Franklin with its “Cents and Sensibility: Benjamin Franklin and Popular Culture” exhibition, on view through July 20.

“It’s not the typical art exhibition,” said Gary Moyer, executive director at SAMA. “This is an eclectic and whimsical display of Franklin memorabilia. It really shows the dynamics of the man.”

The exhibition was developed with young audiences in mind, he said, and offers a fresh look at one of the nation’s most important historical figures. The collection, more than 200 pieces in all, is comprised of audio and video recordings, print media, advertising buttons, product containers, action figures, clothing and bobblehead dolls.

“This exhibit puts a new perspective on Ben Franklin’s legacy,” Moyer said. “If you’re into collectibles, print media and those types of things, I think you’ll find this very entertaining.”

“Cents and Sensibility” debuted in 2006 at the Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, and was organized to commemorate the 300th anniversary of Franklin’s birth, said Roy E. Goodman, curator of printed materials for the American Philosophi-cal Society in Philadelphia. Its title references “the ability of the average person to make it in this country” — even in times of “economic uncertainty.”

“We think of Ben Franklin in many different ways — as an inventor, a printer and a lady’s man,” he said. “I was thinking of him in a more practical way, with regard to his business savvy. Things like quality, productivity and reliability — all those things that America was, and hopefully still is — are embodied in Ben Franklin.

‘‘It’s also a pun on the Jane Austen novel (Sense and Sensibility),’’ he said with a laugh.

Goodman, who co-curated the exhibition with Sherry Bufano, also of Philadelphia, said Franklin’s steadfast belief in human potential also was what inspired him to share his personal collection with others.

“Franklin wanted to see America and Pennsylvania improve its standing in the world through education, science and civic and community organizations,” he said. “I wanted people with only a basic knowledge of him to realize how much he helped build and promote America — to know that there are things beyond the lightning, the $100 bill and an interest in the ladies.”

Franklin, born in Boston, Mass., in 1706, was a major figure in the development of physics and electricity, he said. He invented the lightning rod, bifocals, the Franklin stove, the catheter, a musical instrument (the Glass Armonica) and Daylight Savings Time. He formed the first public library in America and the first fire department in Pennsylvania. As an early proponent of colonial unity, he helped conceive the idea of an independent American nation, serving as a diplomat during the American Revo-lution.

Today, his image is honored on coinage and money; warships; and in the names of towns, counties, educational institutions and companies.

Despite all these achievements, Goodman described Franklin as the ‘‘most approachable of all the founding fathers.’’

‘‘He would always respond to letters from the average person,’’ he said. ‘‘He was a middling kind of guy — someone you could probably sit down and have a beer with, or even take to a Curve game.’’

He also noted the exhibition’s color scheme was done in black, yellow, pink and blue — or ‘‘colors a printer would use.’’

‘‘Since Franklin was a printer, that was sort of the underlying art aspect of the show,’’ he said.

To help celebrate the exhibition, the museum will be offering a Franklin Family Fun program at 1 p.m. June 28, in which children can learn about Franklin by participating in various museum activities, including exhibition tours, art projects and science experiments. At 7 p.m., Goodman will present a slideshow-accompanied lecture on Franklin’s life.

‘‘The irony of that, is that Franklin was more of a doer than a talker,’’ he said. ‘‘He was kind of shy, so he didn’t like to speak in public places. He’d probably love the Internet — he wouldn’t have to speak so much.’’

But Goodman doesn’t mind the public eye. He looks forward to sharing his Franklin expertise with others.

‘‘I’ll talk a little about collecting, how I acquired these things and how we grouped them together,’’ he said. ‘‘I’ll also be touching on aspects of his everyday life. People might look at this as a chance to see how Franklin’s ideas impacted the city of Altoona and its institutions.’’

Mirror Staff Writer Jimmy Mincin is at 946-7460.

Article Photos

Courtesy photo
A Franklin cash register, a children’s toy, is part of the exhibit.

Fact Box

If you go
What: ‘‘Cents and Sensibility: Benjamin Franklin and Popular Culture’’
When: Through July 20; Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 1 to 5 p.m. Saturdays.
Where: Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art, Loretto
Admission: Free
More information: Contact the museum at 472-3920 or visit

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