Saturday, April 19, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Spinning the family wool business into a passion for art philanthropy

Samuel S. Fleischer. Art classes he began in 1898 continue to this day as part of a nonprofit.
Samuel S. Fleischer. Art classes he began in 1898 continue to this day as part of a nonprofit.
Samuel S. Fleisher graduated from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in 1892 and began working in his family's successful wool business. But his true passion was philanthropy, particularly the promotion of arts education.

In 1898, Fleisher organized free art classes at night for poor boys at 422 Bainbridge St. The school soon became known as the Graphic Sketch Club. In 1906, Fleisher moved the night school to 740 Catharine St., an ideal location because many of the workers from the Fleisher family's mills lived in that Italian community. All classes were free, except for art materials, which Fleisher bought in bulk at discounted rates. If students lacked the means for the supplies, Fleisher provided those free as well.

Although Fleisher's original plan was to offer art education to poor teenage boys, he welcomed girls, adults, and people of all races and religions. To accommodate the ever-increasing enrollment, Fleisher acquired additional properties nearby, including an Episcopal church and two large Romanesque buildings that had housed a home for indigent boys.

When Fleisher died in 1944, the Sketch Club was renamed the Samuel S. Fleisher Art Memorial. For a time, it was run as a program of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It became a nonprofit corporation in 1983, and continues to offer art classes and exhibitions for the community.


Content and images provided by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. For more stories, visit www.hsp.org.

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