Growing up, I regarded Pennsylvania as the most typical and most American part of the country; I loved it. I loved the mid-sized towns with old industrial and domestic architecture, I loved the museums of Philadelphia, and I loved the bridges of Pittsburgh. Of course this was before America moved South and I gave the honor of most American place to Knoxville, Tennessee.
This list didn’t require much thought, and the candidates poured out right away:
2. Painting: The Gross Clinic, by Thomas Eakins. and my second choice would be the Andy Warhol car crash or electric chair paintings. Mary Cassatt, George Catlin, Andrew Wyeth, John Sloan, Stuart Davis, and Keith Haring all deserve honorary mention. And I’m sure there are others. Wow.
3. Sculptor: Alexander Calder, but only the little ones, the more delicate the better. The big ones in plazas are garish and misplaced.
4. Book on free trade: Henry George’s Protection or Free Trade remains a wonderful introduction to economics.
5. Writer: John Updike, or Benjamin Franklin. John O’Hara never clicked with me, though he was my grandmother’s favorite after Shakespeare. I’ll pick The Coup as my favorite Updike; I don’t think he’s written a good novel in a while.
6. Popular music: Todd Rundgren was remarkably talented, never quite fulfilled his promise, but Something/Anything remains a wonderful double album.
7. Jazz: Art Blakey, Keith Jarrett (The Koln Concert, or his Shostakovich), Erroll Garner, Earl Hines, and George Benston was good at the very beginning. Stanley Clarke is amazing to hear live. Wow. And that’s not even counting jazzmen who played long stints in Philly, such as John Coltrane and Sun Ra.
8. Rap music: Schooly D, The Adventures of Schooly D, remains one of my favorite rap albums.
9. Stepdaughter: Yana (it feels funny to list her as a thing, but in the metaphysical sense yes indeed she is), who as of today is moved in at Franklin and Marshall. Boo hoo!
Note we haven’t even touched the Amish quilts, Fraktur drawings, mighty rivers, the Barnes collection, fall foliage, sports, Reading, or philanthropy. Harrisburg, however, is a blight.
The bottom line: Almost certainly, Pennsylvania is better than your state. If you are a foreigner, and want to understand what made America great, study and visit Pennsylvania.