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PAFA says Thomas Eakins' ghost may be in their machine

For months a machine tried to conjure Thomas Eakins' ghost at PAFA. Friday, something happened.

Artist Fernando Orellana prepares his installation of robots that will interact with Thomas Eakins' artifacts at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia. It is part of a series of exhibitions at PAFA to mark the 100-year anniversary of Eakins' death.
Artist Fernando Orellana prepares his installation of robots that will interact with Thomas Eakins' artifacts at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia. It is part of a series of exhibitions at PAFA to mark the 100-year anniversary of Eakins' death.Read moreDAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer

For two months, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts has been trying to summon the ghost of one of its most celebrated sons — literally.

"His Study of Life," an exhibit of Eakins' belongings at the Philadelphia artist's old studio on PAFA's first floor, invites viewers to contemplate legacy and history and the staying power of art. But those belongings also happen to be wired to machines designed to sense spirits and allow them to communicate.

The exhibit's most elaborate work, a robot that holds one of Eakins' own paintbrushes, is programmed to sketch an Eakins original should the machine sense the paranormal. Since August, its electromagnetic sensors and infrared detectors and temperature gauges have blinked in silence.

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