Happy Birthday Fleisher!

Fleisher Art Memorial celebrated its 125th birthday with a Philadelphia-style block party on June 3. Many organizations participated, and lots of people joined in the fun. The rain held off!

Color Wheels van with a giant birthday cake

Every art department had a display.

The above pictures are from the ceramics open studio.



There were plenty of vendors, local craftspeople, and lots of activities and performers throughout the day.

Traditional Indonesian dancing

Bracelet making

Lots of food, and a comfortable place to sit and enjoy it

I wonder if founder Samuel Fleisher had any idea that his baby would still be making people happy after 125 years. For information on the history of this wonderful institution, press here.

Italian Market Festival 2023

And what a lovely day it was on the second day of the festival when the rain stopped and the sun came out. Not too hot and not too cold. So crowded that if you fainted, the people packed around you would probably hold you up. But everyone was cheerful and polite. Lots of dogs, lots of kids, and food and music.

Sarcone’s Bakery and Ralph’s Italian Restaurant have graced South 9th Street for more than 100 years.

But there are some newcomers to the area. A century ago, the merchants in the market came mostly from Italy. Today, they are joined by immigrants from Cambodia and Mexico.

The highlight of the festival is the greased pole climb, where some plucky (or very foolish) young men attempt to scale a 30-foot high metal pole that is greased with lard. The object is to reach the prizes dangling from the top: cheeses, sausages and, presumably, envelopes of money sufficient to cover any medical bills. The greased pole climb went on hiatus for a few years, I’m sure because of insurance issues, but it’s back and more popular than ever.

Pole climbing, which seems to be endemic in Philadelphia during sports celebrations, is actually an old tradition which can be traced back to Celtic times. Some Pagan-style revelry certainly adds to the fun. The greased pole climb, known as the Albero della Cuccgna, or Cockaigne tree, has a rich tradition not limited to Italy. Which goes to show you that youths’ propensity to take senseless risks knows no borders.

At any rate, greased pole climbing is definitely a team effort. The heavier and stronger guys form a burly base at the bottom and increasingly lighter and more agile guys scramble up their backs with towels to wipe the lard off the pole so they can brace themselves around it so even lighter and more agile guys can scramble up their backs and snatch the cheese and cash. If you are interested in how the pros manage to scale these greased poles and grab the goodies, click here and here.

Christine Lafuente: Subtones in Springtime

My husband and I dropped by the Gross McCleaf Gallery in Philadelphia a little while ago to see a show by painter Christine Lafuente. We knew Chris when she lived in Philadelphia before she made the move to Brooklyn. One of her paintings, a portrait, graces our living room. It was great to see her again!

Subtones in Springtime featured Chris’s latest work, still lifes and landscapes. Her work is characterized by bold, unfussy brush work and a rich, expressive color palette.

I took lots of pictures of her paintings, but I am not posting them here because I think her work is better represented on the web sites that I have listed at the end of this post.

I found this video online when I was doing research for this post. It must have been made on the day we saw the exhibit, because there’s a clear shot of the back of my head!

To learn more about Christine Lafuente and her work, go to her website. See more of her work here. Read an interview with her here.

The Girls

I was commissioned to make a plate festooned with a picture of The Girls by the same guys I made these hats for. The Girls, in case you couldn’t tell, are guinea pigs.

I made drawings in Procreate from some pictures the boys sent me and transferred them to the plates.

I’m working on terracotta with slips and underglazes.

The pigs in outline.

I was really getting into it before I remembered that I know bupkis about painting fur, much less Guinea Pig fur. Still, I persisted.

I have a backup plate in case the first one doesn’t survive the glaze firing. We’ll see!

Jim Brossy at Third Street Gallery

My husband and I took in some art gallery shows this past weekend. The first one was to see Jim Brossy’s paintings at the Third Street Gallery in Philadelphia.

The Third Street Gallery is across the street from O’Neil’s Pub, a hangout of mine in another life.

It’s a cooperative gallery that was founded in 1978, and it’s run by members and volunteers. For a partial list of members, press here.

I’ve written about Jim Brossy before. He refers to his work as “Crackpot Realism. ” He integrates materials such as “tar, cement, wax, latex, steel, objects and other ‘non-art’ materials” with traditional art media. The object is to “eliminate boundaries [between the work and the viewer] creating new form.”

And so the works do not have traditional margins or borders. They continue off the canvas, or bubble and wrinkle over the canvas, adding texture and dimension.

Some of the works spill onto the floor. Others make you do a double take. That which seems painted is a “non-art” material.

Other parts which seem to be “non-art” materials are actually painted.

For more about Jim Brossy and his work, go to his website.

The show runs to May 25. More information here.


I am still experimenting with surface treatments on pottery. This week, I found inspiration in my own backyard. Philadelphia is a city of rowhouses, from multi-million dollar mansions on Delancey Place to more modest homes in the Northeast. I live in a rowhouse in South Philadelphia.

Here’s a plate in progress, with houses, trees, and a sidewalk.

Here’s the top of yet another butter dish. This one’s majolica and it took me forever to draw the houses on all four sides.

Another view. The handle is meant to be clouds. I hope this comes out of the firing without too many flaws. Majolica glaze can be finicky.

The bottom part is meant to be the sidewalk.

Rowhouses are cozy and fuel efficient. You are living close to your neighbors, so you learn to get along. If you want to learn more about row houses, check out the Philadelphia Rowhouse Manual.


I had to volunteer for Toddlerpalooza if only because I loved the name. Sponsored by the Barnes Foundation, Toddlerpalooza was an event for young children to try their hand at making art. I was there with ColorWheels community art program run by Fleisher Art Memorial.

Our project involved gluing pieces of colored paper to pre-cut shapes.

We brought plenty of paper and glue sticks,

Making a painter’s palette seemed appropriate.

Giant Lego looked like fun.

Daniel Tiger made an appearance.

As did The Clay Studio. Who doesn’t like to play in mud?

There was also a balloon artist. I got this mouse for Boris.


I’ve been busy making butter dishes lately, much like my foray into teapots a few years ago.  I decided to try upping my game with Majolica glaze. Majolica pottery, for the uninitiated, is traditionally made from a white, tin-based white glaze used on terra cotta clay, and decorated with glazes over the white glaze.

Here’s a picture of a butter dish that I made from terracotta using the tar paper technique. I show the process here.

Here are a couple of butter dishes after bisque firing. The third butter dish isn’t Majolica; it’s white earthenware with low fire glazes.

Majolica is also a low fire glaze. We fire at cone 06. The above picture is the butter dish top dipped into the Majolica glaze. You are supposed to dip the entire piece in one fell swoop and let it dry without trying to touch up any wet runs or drips. After the glaze is dry, you can smooth out imperfections with your finger, but it’s best not to have them at all. The glaze will not run in firing and hide any goofs. You will see every imperfection which is why you want to make sure the glaze surface is as close to perfect as possible.

The fact that Majolica glaze does not move in firing might seem like a curse, but it is also a blessing. The overglazes you use to decorate stay where you put them. You have a lot more control over the finished product if you know what you’re doing. Something I don’t claim to know.

Here’s a finished butter dish. I have some little pinholes in my finished glaze. I think that’s because I didn’t have a thick enough coat of the Majolica glaze.

So, I’m still a bit of a butterfingers when it comes to Majolica glazing. But I’m learning!

Spring Colors in the Market

The Italian Market near my home (although it now more of an international market) is an inspirational feast of shape and color. See for yourself.

Cherry blossoms near the 9th Street market, South Philadelphia.

Baby Bananas


Nice melons!

How often do you see fresh chick peas?

Chayote Pears

Cranberry Beans

The burning question!

Magnet Clasps for Polymer Clay

I have been interested in using rare earth magnetic clasps in polymer pieces for a long time but haven’t done any work on them lately. My interest was rekindled when I signed up for Curious Mondo’s 2023 Polymer Clay Symposium and watched Belgian polymer artist Allison Cohade demonstrate how to make a brooch with a magnetic fastener. Even though the demo was complimentary, the technique is not mine to share. You can purchase the entire 2023 symposium here. I don’t know if there is a way to purchase the video as a single tutorial, but it never hurts to ask.

My prior experiments with magnetic clasps involved hiding the magnets in the beads of the necklace in unexpected ways and places, instead of making the magnet clasp the focal, or placing it at the back of the necklace where most clasps are usually found.

Of course, one of the big problems with using magnets with polymer is that magnets become weak when you bake them, (although they now have magnets you can bake and they won’t lose their strength. If I try them, I will post about it.) So you have to find an artful way of incorporating them into the clay.

But then I had an aha moment. You don’t bake metal or wood or a myriad of other materials that you use to make jewelry, and yet I see wood and metal jewelry with magnetic components all the time. So, what’s the big problem? That problem is how to attach them to to clay and either integrate them into the design, or make them invisible. So it’s not a clay problem as much as a design problem.

There are (generally speaking) two ways to attach jewelry components: mechanically, (examples are bezels, prongs, soldering, and wire bending meant to capture a stone, a chain, or a finding), or chemically (glue). Traditionally, jewelers frowned on chemical attachments. But there’s a school of thought that says that if people like Faberge and Cartier had access to the quality of glues we have today, they’d have used glue. I’ll leave that for you to decide.

We usually glue rare earth magnets onto polymer. Is this chemical attachment enough to hold them in place permanently? Some authorities suggest that it is. Here are some tips.

I think that making magnetic brooches might present less of a challenge than magnetic clasps because you never see the back of the brooch. It’s hidden when the brooch is worn. Then again, you want the back of the brooch and the magnets to look great anyway because this is a hallmark of good craftsmanship.

K&M Magnetics has a handy guideline sheet for making magnetic brooches. This site discusses the pros and cons of pin brooches vs. magnetic brooches. Here’s a video on how to make a non-polymer magnetic brooch which might give you some ideas.

Donna Kato has a great video with instructions for making a magnetic clasp up on her YouTube channel. I am trying variation on her methods and will post my results here, along with some of my own ideas. Speaking of Donna’s channel, you really need to watch every one of her videos, even if you consider yourself advanced. You are guaranteed to learn something. This is an incredibly valuable resource that’s available for free, so why not check it out?