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The Three Faces of William Penn
Background Information for Teachers

An analysis of artwork can reveal much about the social and political climate of the time in which it was created. Such analysis can also provide some insight into the personal beliefs and ideals of the artist. Benjamin West, Edward Hicks and Jack Savitsky each had his own view of Penn's treaty with the Indians. Each artist placed emphasis on elements that were important to him and provided a view of history that, at a minimum, was a century after the fact. The images presented by these three artists present an iconic view of history that may or may not be an accurate presentation of William Penn's encounter with the Delaware Indians.

Below are listed a few biographical facts about each of the artists to aid in your classroom discussion:

Benjamin West (1738-1820)

  • One of first American artists to gain worldwide recognition

  • Born to Quaker parents in Springfield (now Swarthmore) in the Pennsylvania colony

  • Befriended Indians who gave him his first paints

  • In 1763 went to England and remained there until his death

  • In 1772, King George III commissioned him as historical painter

  • West painted historical and religious subjects

  • Painted Penn's Treaty with the Indians in 1771

Source: Benjamin West - Quaker American Painter


Edward Hicks (1780 - 1849)

  • Brought up as a Quaker in Bucks County, Pennsylvania

  • Split with Quakers over perceived worldliness and materialism - followers known as Hicksites

  • Deeply religious and spiritual

  • Used animal symbolism to demonstrate human personality traits

  • Believed in "peaceable kingdom" where all could live in harmony

  • Believed that Indians deserved respect

  • Painted The William Penn Treaty circa 1800-1805

Source: Braostoski, John. "Hicks' Peaceable Kingdom" Friends Journal, February 2000.


Jack Savitsky (1910-1991)

  • Grew up in northeastern Pennsylvania

  • Left school after sixth grade to work in coal mines

  • Paintings documented hard lives of coal miners

  • Also painted religiously motivated and patriotic pictures

  • Simple yet powerful images

  • Painted The William Penn Treaty in 1982

Source: Savitsky


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