Question of the Week
The Fleisher Art Memorial, located at 719 Catherine Street, was originally known as what?
In 1898, Samuel S. Fleisher, a member of the Fleisher family who owned a series of wool mills in Philadelphia, organized free art classes for poor boys at 422 Bainbridge Street. This school soon became known as the Graphic Sketch Club. In 1906 Fleisher moved the night school to 740 Catharine Street. This location was ideal for Fleisher, since many of the workers in his family’s mills lived in this Italian community. All classes were free, except for art materials. If students lacked the means for supplies, Fleisher provided those free as well. Although Fleisher's original plan was to offer art education to poor teenage boys, Fleisher welcomed girls, adults, and people of all races and religions who came to attend classes. To accommodate the ever-increasing enrollment, Fleisher acquired additional buildings on the 700 block of Catherine Street, including two large Romanesque buildings which had formerly housed a home for indigent boys and an Episcopal church. Fleisher was the school’s sole benefactor, and he attended to the school nearly every day.
Fleisher graduated from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in 1892. Though he became successful in his family’s wool business, his true passion was philanthropy, particularly the promotion of arts education. He retired from the family business in 1919. In addition to his work with the Graphic Sketch Club, Fleisher worked with many other local organizations, such as the Jewish Foster Home and Orphan Asylum, the Philadelphia Art Alliance, and the Philadelphia Playgrounds Association. He was also the founder of the Businessmen’s Art Club.
When Fleisher died in 1944, the Graphic Sketch Club on Catherine Street was renamed the Fleisher Art Memorial in his honor. For a time, the Fleisher was administered by the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It became a non-profit corporation in 1983 and continues to offer art classes and exhibitions for the community.
Fleisher won the Philadelphia Award in 1923, and information on him is available in HSP's collection of Philadelphia Award records (#3081). Additional images of him can be found in the Philadelphia Record photograph morgue (#V07).
About the Author
Look for these history stories every Sunday in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The stories, called Memory Stream, are published in the Currents section of the newspaper.