The exhibition "On Paper" at Woodmere Art Museum is like a Russian matryoshka doll, a deceptively simple form that contains a multitude of delicacies.
Its public face is that of a small but select group of about 40 works on paper by Philadelphia artists, predominately prints but also including drawings, watercolors, and even several fiber pieces. Many of these artists are prominent in the city's art community, but others have not received much exposure.
Behind that conventional façade is the fact that this show represents about one-third of a major gift to the museum earlier this year of about 120 works on paper by local collectors Ann and Donald McPhail.
The McPhails have been active in several of the city's important art institutions for years. He is an emeritus trustee of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where she is a senior guide.
Donald McPhail also served as president of the Print Club (the Print Center since 1996) from 1978 to 1985.
That association apparently sparked the couple's passion for works on paper; their extensive collection includes not only Philadelphians but works by other American, European, and Japanese artists.
The printmaking community centered on the Print Club and the organization's importance to the graphic arts in the city is another facet of this show that emerges as one looks beyond the McPhails' achievement.
I reached this level of the exhibitiion when I came across a stunning color lithograph by Benton Spruance, a master of that medium, whose career symbolizes the high level of Philadelphia's contributions to the graphic arts.
Describing "On Paper" as "select" is not hyperbole. This is one of the most impressive group exhibitions of such art I have seen in years. The McPhails have been admirably discriminating in their choices; there aren't any glaring soft spots in this selection. (There may be some in the gift as a whole, but that's beyond the purview of this report.)
They have their favorites; one is Peter Paone, whose solo show at the museum runs through Jan. 19. Elizabeth Osborne, represented by two watercolors and a lithograph, each characterized by elegantly reductive shapes and intensely saturated colors, is another.
John E. Dowell Jr. and Dan Miller both have a dozen works in the McPhail collection. Dowell's lithograph Saskia's Dream embodies the ethereal musical spirit that defines his art. Miller's three color woodcuts, whose blocks he cut with a razor blade, are sensitively detailed, especially the image called Wasp.
It's impossible to choose a favorite work from this show. I might vote for Eileen Goodman's lushly glowing watercolor of peonies; Enid Mark's dusky lithograph, Rose, an eccentric, semiabstracted closeup that brings Georgia O'Keeffe to mind; Edna Andrade's large-scale pencil drawing of granite boulders and pebbles; or a boldly contrasted etching, Orchard, by Hester Stinnett.
Large-scale pieces, such as Andrade's drawing; Goodman's peonies; and Phil Simkin's wall hanging, The Cable Knitted News, one of two textiles in the show, tend to catch the eye immediately.
Yet a good half of the show is small-scale and no less praiseworthy. Visitors shouldn't glide past works such as a tiny etching of a dormouse by Christine McGinnis, a 6-inch-square abstract serigraph by Charles Burwell, or Ed Bing Lee's delicately knotted pictorial textile, Ode to Klimt.
Some of the 56 artists in the McPhail gift, such as Burwell and Lee, are new to Woodmere, which is one way it enriches the museum's collection. Just as important, I think, is its emphatic validation of the rich variety of artistic skill and imagination that one can find in this city by looking in the right places.
Hail the Tiberinos. The exhibition "The Unflinching Eye" at the African American Museum in Philadelphia doesn't say anything new about the Tiberino family of artists. But, for the uninitiated, it affirms how the family's members have created a vibrant oasis of art in their Powelton neighborhood.
The Tiberinos produced five artists in two generations - Joseph, the patriarch; Ellen Powell Tiberino, his late wife; and children Raphael, Ellen, and Gabriele.
Their residence-cum-atelier at 3819 Hamilton St. is now a memorial museum dedicated to Ellen Powell Tiberino, who died in 1992.
The exhibition is more a social document than an exploration of individual artistic paths, in that it emphasizes how the biracial family attracted other artists into its circle, resulting in a lively nexus of communal creativity.
The show represents all five artists - four painters and one, Ellen, who works in clay and stained glass - more or less equally. The painters are all realists of varying persuasions. In the second generation, Raphael, like his father, tends toward allegory, while Gabriele, the youngest, is an observer of contemporary life and a celebrated muralist.
My favorite works in the show, and also the most distinctive, are Ellen Powell Tiberino's pencil drawings of characters and social situations, as acute as those of Daumier.
Art: A Gift, and a Family Affair
"On Paper" continues at Woodmere Art Museum, 9201 Germantown Ave., Chestnut Hill, through March 2. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays and Sundays; 10 a.m. to 8:45 p.m. Fridays; and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays. Admission is $10 general and $7 for visitors 55 and older. Students with identification and children free. Information: 215-247-0476, www.woodmereartmuseum.org.
"The Unflinching Eye" continues at the African American Museum in Philadelphia, 701 Arch St., through March 30. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. Admission is $14 general and $10 for seniors, students with identification, and visitors 4 through 12. Information: 215-574-0380, www.aampmuseum.org.
"Art" by Edward J. Sozanski and "Galleries" by Edith Newhall appear on alternate Sundays.