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A Kite View of Philadelphia and the Sesqui Centennial International Exposition which was designed drawn and coloured by Edwin Olsen and Blake Clark and published by Houghton Mifflin Co.

  • Author: CLARK, Blake & OLSEN, Edwin (artists)
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Co, Boston (publishers)
  • Date: 1926
  • Dimensions: 95 x 73 cms


Blake Clark & Edwin Olsen’s decorative “kite view” map of Philadelphia designed for the City’s 1926 Sesqui-Centennial Exposition

About this piece:

A Kite View of Philadelphia and the Sesqui Centennial International Exposition which was designed drawn and coloured by Edwin Olsen and Blake Clark and published by Houghton Mifflin Co.

Bright printed colours. A couple of minor nicks & edge tears in blank margins, small tears and separations at lower left fold juncture. Very slight surface wear along folds. Old unfilled pinholes at sheet corners touching /dissecting neat border line in all four corners. Folded and preserved inside a special presentation envelope (34 x 27cms), the front cover incorporating the central section of the main map. The envelope with some minor tears and losses to upper corners and to blank verso flap. With all a nicely preserved & fresh clean example. 

This beautifully designed and decorative map of Philadelphia was designed by two young American  draftsmen and architects, Blake Everett Clark [1900-1979] and Edwin Birger Olsen [1902-1996], who appear to have come together in the mid 1920’s to work on a series of three colourful and entertaining pictorial maps of the cities of Philadelphia, Boston and Washington D.C. that were published by the Boston-based publishing firm of Houghton Mifflin Co.

As Elisabeth Burdon has highlighted, these three maps share many common features with Max Gill’s Wonderground map, not only in terms of their similar presentation format (folded and offered for sale in a special presentation envelope) but also their design (with scroll/speech bubble labelling & decorative surrounding borders). It seems likely that Clark and Olsen’s three maps were very strongly influenced by Gill’s model and its distinctive cartographic design template. Examples of Gill’s 1924 Wonderground map were exported to US retail outlets, such as the Washington Square Bookshop in New York, during the mid 1920’s and it is also known that Blake Clark travelled in Europe and visited Great Britain in the early 1920’s, as he started out on his artistic career.

The map itself extends from Gipard Ave in the North to Washington Avenue in the South and from John Penn’s House and the University of Pennsylvania across the Schuylkill River in the West to the Delaware River in the East. The borders of the map are filled with a sequence of decorative panels depicting historical buildings of the City and important scenes from its history. The four corners of the map show detailed historical maps : lower left – Penn’s Plan of Philadelphia 1682; upper left  – a detail of Philadelphia from Melish’s 1816 map; lower right : New Sweden in 1654; and upper right – Penn’s Plots in Central Philadelphia 1698. The map title appears in a kite-shaped cartouche upper right. Further selections of poetry, wordplays, puns and jokes are dotted around the map. The official seal of Philadelphia appears top centre with the inscription below : “Let us satisfy our eyes I pray you, with the memorials and things of fame that do renown this City”. A larger inset appears bottom centre showing the site of the Sesqui-Centennial International Exposition in South Philadelphia. A surrounding text announces: “Here unrolled before your Eyes, the Great Sesqy lies.An extra added attraction, we hope will prove to your satisfaction”. The buildings on the Exposition site were designed by the young Louis Kahn, later an equally renowned architect, then working under the direction of Philadelphia City architect, John Molitor. The symbol of the Fair was an 80 ft replica of the Liberty Bell, adorned with some 26000 15-watt light builbs, which was placed at the northern entrance to the site. To the south lay the main thoroughfares of the site with their adjacent exhibition buildings, a stadium and a large five acre amusement area, located within the League Island Park. The Fair did not live up to popular expectations and only drew some 10 million visitors. Heavily endebted, the Fair went into receivership in 1927 and all the principal assets and fixtures were sold at auction soon afterwards.

Blake Everett Clark was the eldest son of Massachussets stockbroker, Charles A Clark [1870-1950] and his wife Ellen (née Blake) [1876-1934], who lived in Beverly and then Milton, MA. Through his mother he was the grandson of the famous Harvard alumnus, the former Chief Justice of Montana and one-time Confederate soldier, Henry Nichols Blake [1838-1933]. Blake Everett was the eldest of three sons and was born in June 1900 in Somerville, MA. He subsequently attended Milton Academy, where he completed his studies in 1917. In the summer of 1917 he spent 3 months as a volunteer ambulance driver with the American Field Service in France. It is known that he stayed on in France until Jan 1918 when he was repatriated to Camp Devens at Avery, MA, as a private in the 301st Ambulance Detail Battery. He was again in France between June 1918 and Feb 1919. He then returned to the USA to complete his tertiary education at Bowdoin College in Maine. In May  1920 Clark was a delegate of the Kappa Chapter of the Psi Upsilon (Student Fraternity) Convention at the Tau, University of Philadelphia. After graduating from Bowdoin, in September 1923, Clark again travelled to Europe, taking in Great Britain, France and Italy as part of an extended academic and artistic tour. Whether in 1919 or 1923, it is known that at some point during this period, he spent some time studying at the famous artistic atelier, the Académie Delécluse, in the Montparnasse district of Paris. By 1923 Clark’s parents had moved to Los Angeles and Clark himself had addresses in both Boston and Ogumquit, Maine, about 70 miles south of Bowdoin. In the early 1930’s he married Muriel Cooley and settled in New York. In the 1940 Census he is recorded living with his parents-in-law and with his wife and two young children in the King’s District of Manhattan, working as a buyer in a New York Department store. Little is known of his later life. He died in January 1979 in Maricopa County, north of Phoenix in Arizona and is interred at the Cave Creek Cemetery, in the wonderfully named resort of Carefree in that same district.

Edwin Birger (or Berger) Olsen [1902-1996], was the son of first generation Scandinavian immigrants, Ingwald and Jennie Olsen of Yonkers, Westchester. His father was Norwegian and his mother Swedish. A painter by profession, Ingwald appears to have arrived in the United States in the mid 1890’s and his future wife around the same time. Both parents became naturalized citizens of the US in 1917. In the 1920 US Census Edwin is listed with his parents and two younger twin sisters living in Yonkers and working as a draftsman’s apprentice. He subsequently appears to have studied at Harvard University and graduated in 1923 with a degree in architecture. In 1925 he is listed in a Boston City Directory as a draftsman working at 24 Federal Street, Boston. At this time, 24 Federal Street was the address of the headquarters of the prominent engineering, design and construction company, Lockwood Greene & Co. His home address is listed as 139 Beacon Street, Boston. In a career that spanned the next sixty years, Olsen was affiliated with numerous prominent architectural firms, including John Russell Pope, Eggers & Higgins, and McKim, Mead & White, whom he joined in 1956. In 1935 he and his wife Janet were living at Gramecy Park, New York. In 1940 they are listed in the US Census living in central NYC with their two young twin children, Edwin & Birger. Olsen’s architectural work during this later 1930’s period included the West Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, designed by John Russell Pope and the Museum of History and Technology at the Smithsonian Institution. In a 1993 oral interview, preserved in the National Gallery of Art, Olsen recollects his experiences during the construction of the above buildings. He also recounts his meetings with Jacqueline Kennedy and former President Harry Truman during refurbishment of the White House and attempts to reinstall a fireplace in the official state dining room in the early 1960’s. Olsen retired in 1984 and in retirement became an accomplished watercolourist, particularly of architectural reproductions, many of which he regularly exhibited in the Westchester and Rocklands Counties of New York. He died at Blauvelt NY in March 1996.

Refs: David Rumsey Collection; Edwin Birger Olsen, Architect: Obituary notice, New York Times, March 17th 1996; Blake Everett Clark listed in : Appendix G, Roster of Volunteers of the American Field Service in France, 1915-16-17, p.92 in: Extracts of the History of the American Field Ambulance Service in France, “Friends of France”, 1915-17, As Told by its Members [Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston & New York, 1920]; Annals of Psi Upsilon 1833-1941 [Exec.Council, Psi Upsilon, New York, 1941] p.502 ( & adjacent photo of 1920 Convention delegates); Elisabeth Burdon: The Cartographic Impact of MacDonald Gill’s Wonderground Map of 1913