New couple at the Art Museum

March 9, 2009 2:54:17 PM PDT
An exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art is giving visitors a peek into the city's past that many people may not know about."Hiram and Elizabeth Montier were painted by Franklin Street in 1841. This is one of the only pendant portrait pairs of African-American sitters known from this time period," said Art Museum curator Mark Mitchell.

The portraits of the 19th century Philadelphia bootmaker and his wife are at the museum on loan from the New York City-based Pickens family, the Montiers modern day descendants.

The artwork is amazing on two counts: First, it's a a reminder that the history of black Philadelphia includes not just slaves, but also also a thriving free black middle class that goes back to the city's earliest days.

"When I look at these portraits and I see a black couple who got married, they had resources, they loved each other, they bore children... That's the American story," said William Pickens III, a descendant of the Montiers.

And the Montiers couldn't be more Philadelphian. Hiram Montier was descended from Humphrey Morrey, a white colonist who became the city's first mayor in 1691.

Morrey's son, Richard, fell in love with an African slave. He freed her and married her and raised their family in what's now Glenside. Hiriam Montier is their great-grandson.

"The fact that you can see a story of true love that was built in the city of brotherly love, that's something that's authentic and should be shared with the world," said John Montier Pickens.

Now Hiram and Elizabeth Montier offer museum visitors insight into our earliest days, a past that includes people of many cultures and a love that crossed race, class and even bondage.

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