Rose Valley started as a farming community in the late 1600’s, becoming a small mill town by the 1800’s. After a fire destroyed the main mill in 1885, it was largely abandoned until 1901 when local architect William Price purchased the land to form a utopian socialist society, as described by Englishman William Morris.
The Rose Valley Association rented out working space to craftsmen, and became known for producing Arts & Crafts style furniture, pottery, metalwork, and printing. Price designed furniture and housing, including homes that can still be seen along Price’s and Porter Lanes.
He also renovated old structures into worksop spaces. The large mill became the furniture workshop and the bobbin mill became workshops and theater space (community was an important aspect of the society, with the development of a theater, school, pool, etc.). Today it still houses the Hedgerow Theater, America’s oldest resident repertory theatre, where Wharton Esherick once designed sets and printed fliers to pay for his kids’ theater training (The Wharton Esherick House: “If it isn’t fun, it isn’t worth doing”).
Price also renovated and added on to an old stone barn to create a painting studio for artists Alice Barber Stevens, a well-known magazine illustrator, and her husband Charles, also a painter, photographer, and amateur anthropologist.
Both Charles and Alice were students at PAFA (Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts: American Art & Victorian Splendor), mentoring with Thomas Eakins (Philly Artists: Thomas Eakins), who chose Alice to illustrate an Academy classroom scene for Scribner’s Magazine, her first illustration credit.
The model looks vey similar to the one used in Eakins’s own “William Rush and His Model.”
Today, their home, Thunderbird Lodge, is a museum dedicated to Rose Valley. Charles’s second floor studio houses exhibits relating to Alice and Charles, including a few pieces from Charles’s extensive Native American collection (most of which was donated to the Penn Museum Mummies, African Masks & Buddhas – Traveling the World at the Penn Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology) and Alice, including her painting chair.
It also contains works from local Rose Valley artists and factories.
Alice’s first floor studio hosts rotating exhibits. At the time of our visit (June 2022), the exhibited works were by Alice and Charles’s son Owen, a painter and astronomer who studied at both PAFA and with NC Wyeth (Philly(area) Artist(s): The Wyeth Family). Owen combined his skills to paint astronomically correct paintings at a time when paintings were superior to photographs in capturing astrological phenomena. He was sent by the Museum of Natural History in New York to paint the total eclipse in Peru in 1937, and his paintings of that event hang in various planetariums around the country. The exhibit also contains Owen’s telescope.
Admire the octagonal steps leading up to the second floor studio.
And, make sure to visit the attached house. The former living room is beautiful and houses a very cool gift shop selling period antiques. Be sure to check out the Mercer tiles in the fireplace surround. Mercer was a contemporary of Price’s, both of whom were proponents of reinforced concrete architecture (Philadelphia + Architecture = Arts & Crafts (Henry Mercer’s Tiles)).
The room beyond is the wood paneled dining room, with its perfect window seat for reading and naps!
The VERY pink bathroom is also a treat.
The museum has limited hours (only open once or twice a month in 2022), so check the website before visiting. You can look around on your own, or ask for a tour. Volunteers are generally members of the tiny community, many whose families go back to original Rose Valley residents and artists.