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Must-see museum exhibits in Philly this fall

The Franklin Institute has jellyfish, the Free Library explores the New Deal, and more.

Jeff and Tracey Waters, Staines-upon-Thames, Surrey, UK, February 2014 C-print. Courtesy of the artist
Jeff and Tracey Waters, Staines-upon-Thames, Surrey, UK, February 2014 C-print. Courtesy of the artistRead moreCopyright Gideon Mendel

With considerable caution, Philadelphia’s museums are seeking to draw in visitors following nearly two years — and counting — of pandemic-related shutdowns and disruptions. Yet the pandemic itself does not emerge as a major focus of exhibitions.

Water does, as several museums take its social and cultural measure in exhibits such as “Gideon Mendel: Drowning World” at the Academy of Natural Sciences, tackling the devastation of increasingly frequent catastrophic flooding.

editor's note
Because of the pandemic, a lot of events and openings are still unpredictable, and we expect that many will change. Check with the venue in advance to confirm dates and times, and what COVID-19 vaccination and testing policies are in place.

Flooding from Hurricane Ida’s remnants prevented the highly anticipated “Pool: A Social History of Segregation” from opening as planned Sept. 3 at the Fairmount Water Works. A rescheduled opening date has not been set at the time of publication, but a virtual-only show is now online. At the Science History Institute, “Downstream” explores 200 years of water analysis, protection, and regulation.

Exhibitions elsewhere take on Ben Franklin, motherhood, the New Deal, and the many ways people across the world have adorned themselves over the ages. Check with venues for current COVID-19 protocols.

Gideon Mendel: Drowning World

South African photographer Gideon Mendel offers a stark portrayal of the human condition and overwhelming climate events around the world. (Through Oct. 17, Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, 1900 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy, 215-299-1000, 🎟️ Buy tickets

Making Her Mark: Philadelphia Women Fight for the Vote, Self-Guided Tour

How women fought for and won the right to vote. (Through Dec. 3, free, Parkway Central Branch, Free Library of Philadelphia, 1901 Vine St., 833-825-5357,

Dr. Franklin, Citizen Scientist

What better place to explore Franklin’s scientific accomplishments than in the museum of the learned society he founded in 1743? The APS collection of Frankliniana is unparalleled, to say the least. (Through Dec. 31, Museum of the American Philosophical Society, 104 S. Fifth St., 215-440-3400,

Jellyfish Revealed

The final iteration of “Now/Next,” a pop-up exhibit gallery, takes a deep look at the secrets of these free-swimming marine animals through the lens of celebrated photographer and National Geographic Explorer Anand Varma — with live moon jellyfish viewing. (Through Dec. 31, Franklin Institute, 222 N. 20th St., 215-448-1200, 🎟️ Buy tickets

For the Greatest Number: The New Deal Revisited

This exhibition highlights art and objects from the 1930s that show how workers shaped the country. (Through Feb. 4, free, Dietrich Gallery, Free Library of Philadelphia, Central Branch, 1901 Vine St., 833-825-5357,

Designing Motherhood: Things That Make and Break Our Births

The designs of things related to birth and reproduction — from breast pumps to IUDs. While being born is a universal human experience, the designs that shape it are not and are rarely examined in any kind of social or cultural fashion. (Through May 31, Mütter Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, 19 S. 22nd St., through Nov. 14, Center for Architecture and Design, 1218 Arch St., 215-560-8564, 🎟️ Buy tickets

Pool: A Social History of Segregation

A multidisciplinary exhibition featuring performance and visual artists exploring the racial aspects of public pools in Philadelphia and elsewhere. Among the artists involved are Homer Jackson, James Ijames, Carlo Rosa, Lowell Boston, Dylan B. Caleho, and Modupeola Fadugba. The multimedia exhibit is unable to open yet due to flooding at the Kelly Pool House, but videos from the show are available online at Check the website for updates. (Kelly Pool House, Fairmount Water Works, 640 Waterworks Dr., 215-685-0723,


A kind of history of water, this exhibition, set to run about 18 months, explores more than 200 years of water analysis and water protections in the United States. (Through mid-2023, Science History Institute, 315 Chestnut St., 215-925-2222,

The Stories We Wear

The museum uses its vast array of attire, jewelry, uniforms, regalia, and more to explore the styles and meanings of fashion and adornment through the millennia. The exhibition explores how people have dressed for ceremony, for instance, featuring a traditional wedding outfit of a Hopi bride (circa 1900) and the headdress of a Buddhist priest from 16th-century Nepal, alongside ritual objects and statues from Tibet ranging from the 14th to the early 20th century. (Sept. 25-June 12, Penn Museum, 3260 South St., 215-898-4000,

The Wizard of Oz Educational Exhibit

A traveling exhibit based on the movie classic. (Oct. 8-Jan. 16, The Please Touch Museum, 4231 Avenue of the Republic, 215-581-3181,

Liberty: Don Troiani’s Paintings of the Revolutionary War

With a zeal for historical research, Troiani has devoted his painting career to depicting the actual look of the Revolutionary War. This is the first exhibition of his work, which is often featured by the National Park Service and the Smithsonian Institution to convey verisimilitude. (Oct. 16-Sept. 5, 2022, Museum of the American Revolution, 101 S. Third St., 215-253-6731,

Richard J. Watson: Portals + Revelations, Beyond Realities

A 1968 graduate of Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Watson is known for his murals in Philadelphia’s Church of the Advocate. “Portals + Revelations” explores the artist’s creative evolution during his decades as AAMP artist in residence. (Oct. 21-March 6, 2022, African American Museum in Philadelphia, 701 Arch St., 215-574-0380,

Printing Abolition: How the Fight to Ban the British Slave Trade Was Won, 1783-1807

The Rosenbach Lectures, delivered by Michael F. Suarez, University of Virginia, will delve into the networks sustaining and building abolitionism at the turn of 18th-century Britain. (Oct. 25, 26 & 28, 5:30 p.m., free, Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, Van Pelt-Dietrich Library, University of Pennsylvania, 3420 Walnut St., 215-898-7555, 🎟️ Register

The Invisible World of Water

Centered on two micro phenomena of water-snow crystals and diatoms, the exhibition will present rare historical Victorian diatom slides by Harold Dalton, microphotographs by Ukichiro Nakaya, contemporary ceramic sculpture by Margarita Hagan, and stop-motion imagery by physicist Kenneth Liebbrecht. (Nov. 13-April 17, The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, 1900 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy, 215-299-1000,


Scholars consider what is no longer here in light of its former presence in the pre-digital world for the 14th Annual Schoenberg Symposium on Manuscript Studies in the Digital Age. The event is hosted by the Free Library of Philadelphia Central Branch and the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center. (Nov 17-20, online, 215-898-7555, 🎟️ Register

» READ MORE: Find more in our complete fall arts guide