As the arctic chill descends upon Philadelphia again, we here at HSP have a touch of island fever—not Antigua, Cayman, or Bahama, but Petty’s, Hog, and Soupy. This week HSP helps kick off the city-wide Philagrafika 2010 festival with a unique art installation about the tiny yet contentious island in the Delaware River known as Petty’s Island . As this week’s City Paper notes, “It’s a place littered with well-known and colorful characters [including]William Penn, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez…and even the pirate’s pirate himself, Ol’ Blackbeard.” Created by artist Duke Riley, the exhibition at HSP explores this little-known history of Petty’s Island, and “reclaims” the island on behalf of one those colorful characters, Ralston Laird. An Irish immigrant, Laird settled on the island in the 1850s and declared himself king. Items from Riley’s project–including artifacts excavated from the island and decorative plates with images of Laird descendants–will be on display along with original documents and maps from HSP’s collection that Riley used for inspiration from January 29 through April 9. We’re hosting a reception for Riley’s installation this Thursday, February 4th. Click here for a full calendar of events, including more Philagrafika and Petty’s Island-related programs.
Two essays on PhilaPlace also wade into the little known histories of the Delaware River islands. Brand new this week is Chris Dougherty’s From Wetland to Urban Land: A Social and Environmental History of Philadelphia’s Tidal Islands. Dougherty writes: