A Visit to Elfreth’s Alley

Years ago, I met a woman who, for a time, owned a house in Philadelphia’s Elfreth’s Alley. She liked the house she lived in but said she never got used to total strangers peering in her front windows and knocking on her door at all hours.

As the nation’s oldest, continuously occupied residential street, Elfreth’s Alley is a tourist attraction. Not a manufactured tourist attraction. Elfreth’s Alley, located in the Old City neighborhood of Philadelphia is the real deal. The people who live there are not historical reenactors, and the houses are privately owned, not part of the National Park Service. I’ve always wanted to explore Elfreth’s Alley more closely, (I pass by it on the way to The Clay Studio), but I am reluctant to go snapping pictures of people’s houses without an invitation. And then the invitation came. A flea market of antiques and crafts to support the Elfreth’s Alley museum, complete with guided tours.

I was pressed for time that day and didn’t have a lot of time to stick around, but I did manage to take a lot of pictures.

Plenty to do after you’ve been to Elfreth’s Alley

A Walk to Northern Liberties from South Philadelphia

One of the best ways to see Philadelphia is to walk it. Here are some pictures I took on a stroll to Northern Liberties from my own neighborhood in South Philadelphia.

How Irises Almost Led Me to a Life of Crime

I have always been a sucker for irises. They are my favorite flower. And of all the colors irises come in, my favorite is purple. Purple irises impede my judgment faster than a couple of shots of whiskey on an empty stomach. The closest analogy I can make is to people who turn stupid and gaga at the sight of a cute baby. They struggle to maintain a sense of boundaries and decency as they poke some stranger’s child and go kitchy-coo. I feel the same loss of control when I see a purple iris. I want to pluck it and take it hostage. I am an adult woman and these days, I manage to control myself when I see irises. But when I saw the riot of purple irises you see below during a recent walk in Philadelphia, I was taken back to my youth and recalled the time I did something that could have gone terribly wrong.

I was attending a small college in central Pennsylvania. My dormitory was next to a ramshackle wooden house with a detached garage that was not part of the college. A fence surrounded the house which had a small yard and garden. I never paid much attention to it.

But one day when I was coming back from class, there they were. The irises. Purple irises, bales and bales of them growing like crazy in the yard, under the fence and fairly stuffed into a narrow strip of ground between the fence and the sidewalk. Hundreds and hundreds of irises. I had never seen so many irises. I was gobsmacked.

I decided right then and there to liberate some of the irises. But not in the light of day-no I didn’t dare. I didn’t want to hear the disdainful clucks of any townies or my fellow students who, I felt, were so judgmental and so conservative that they ironed creases in their jeans. So I hatched a plan. I set my alarm to wake me at 5:00 am on a Sunday morning when I figured most people would be sleeping. I threw a coat on over my pajamas and crept out of my dormitory with a pair of sharp scissors, a flashlight, and a paper grocery bag. I made my way down the road and crept behind the garage where the irises where growing profusely. I knelt down and began to saw away with my scissors.

“Do you go to college here?” I heard a voice behind me. My heart jumped. It was a woman’s voice and it sounded pleasant enough, but maybe she was softening me up for the kill before marching me off to the Dean’s office where she would tell the Dean, in a shrieking and not so pleasant voice this time, what I had done. Then the Dean would call my parents. I had visions of drama. Much drama. The kind of drama only my parents were capable of. Followed by my father having a fit of apoplexy and exploding into little bits (which he never did) or screaming and threatening to write me out of his will (which he did all the time.)

I decided to play it cool, and took a deep breath. “Yes, ” I replied trying to sound as innocent as I could, trying to sound like secreting myself behind an old garage dressed in a coat and pajamas, and cutting some stranger’s flowers and shoving them into a grocery sack as fast as I could at 5:00 am on a Sunday morning was a normal activity for a college student.

I looked up and she was holding some small magazines fanned out like a deck of cards. “Would you like one?” She asked. I didn’t dare say no. “Sure,” I replied, “I’ll take one. She pulled one out and handed it to me. When I saw the name of the magazine, I knew I was home free. There would be no visit to the Dean’s office and no drama.

“I’ve heard of The Watchtower,” I said, “but I never read one. I’ll take a look at this. Thanks.”

“Do you think any of your classmates would be interested?” she asked, pressing the rest of the magazines into my hand. “They might be, ” I replied, “I can put these in the student union lounge.””Thank you, she replied, “and have a blessed day.

I returned to my room, and put my purloined irises into a jar. I can’t remember if I put the magazines in the student union building. I probably did, after my heart stopped pounding. But that is the last time I ever helped myself to anyone else’s flowers. Not that I haven’t been tempted.

Yarn Bombing in Cianfrani Park

I’ve written about yarn bombing before. Yarn bombing is a joyful form of street art that takes knitting and crocheting from the fireside and the easy chair and the knitting circle outside to trees and fences and telephone poles and anything that’s standing still for awhile and can be covered in colorful granny squares and pom poms and stockinette. Always surprising and delightful.

Spring’s Blossoms

Every Spring for a week or so, the flowering trees in Philadelphia burst into bloom all over the city.

The view from my bedroom window

Everywhere you look, the trees are showing off their blossoms like they’re in a competition to see who can be the showiest.

The party lasts about a week and then it’s over. Enjoy it while you can.

Want to see more? Check here and here.

Spring is Here.

The crocuses are peeping up in Bob’s garden. What more proof could we need?

Electricity from the Mind of Mildred Greenberg

Last week’s post which included a link to a film about the artist Judy Chicago got me thinking.  If being an artist is challenging, being a woman artist is even more so.   I saw a great exhibit at the Tate Modern a couple of years ago on the Guerilla Girls and one of my favorite parts of the show was their Advantages of Being a Woman Artist Poster.  You can get a look at it here.  And Jane Dunnewold has produced another excellent video, this one on Women Abstract Expressionists.  You can watch that here.

I was not familiar with the work of Mildred Greenberg although I had known her daughter, Susan for many years and at one time we had even worked in the same office.  Ancient history.   We fell out of touch and the years passed.  Then we got reacquainted, this time through my husband.   And before the Coronavirus shut everything down,  Susan invited us to the opening of a retrospective of her mother’s work presented by InLiquid, a Philadelphia Arts organization, ELECTRICITY: From the Mind of Mildred Greenberg.

Electricity

Mildred Elfman Greenberg hailed from Philadelphia and much of her early work was produced  for the W.P.A.s  Federal Art Project during the Depression.  Her bio from the British Museum, one of the many museums that have her work in their collection reads as follows.   Painter and printmaker. Born as Elfman to Russian immigrant father and American mother in Philadelphia, where lived most of her life. Married Samuel Greenberg. Graduated from Moore Institute of art and Design in 1934; WPA 1940. No work between end WWII and 1974.  That’s thirty years without making art.  I believe at this time that the family had relocated from Philadelphia to California.  It’s my understanding that Greenberg resumed her art career after moving back to Philadelphia in the 1970’s.

Geometric Figures
Student work
Work produced for the WPA
Work produced for the WPA

Later work

You can read more about Mildred Elfman Greenberg here.

Mushrooms and Fairys

I’ve been seeing crops of mushrooms sprouting up in the city everywhere I go. They look like little fairy worlds to me.    Makes me want to reread The Blue Fairy Book.  You too?  You can download it on Project Gutenburg.

Philadelphia: This Week in History

It’s been quite a week.  I wouldn’t say that things started with the murder of George Floyd, because they started long before that.  I worked as a criminal defense lawyer in Philadelphia for seven years when I was in my 20’s and 30’s, taking mostly court appointments.  I wasn’t a white knee-jerk liberal, and I wasn’t idealistic.  But what I saw, and what I experienced changed how I see the world.

Many police departments have had toxic cultures when it comes to dealing with people of color.  Philadelphia is no different.  One of the most divisive figures in the city’s history has been Frank Rizzo who was the Police Commissioner from 1968 to 1971, and later, Mayor.  There was a controversial mural of Rizzo not far from my house in the Italian Market.  People in the neighborhood have been trying to get it removed for years.  This week, the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program ended involvement with the Frank Rizzo mural and it is going to be replaced with art more fitting for the neighborhood.

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Rizzo Mural

 

Likewise the bronze statue of Frank Rizzo that has stood before the Philadelphia Municipal Services Building since 1999 has been removed after years of  argument over whether it should stay or go.

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Statue being removed during wee hours of June 3, 2020

I said in the opening sentence of this post that the events of this week didn’t start with the murder of George Floyd.  We all have a tenancy to ignore things that don’t affect us and to bury feelings that make us squirm.  It’s only human, but it’s dangerous-like ignoring a chronic headache that turns out to be a brain tumor that could have been treated if only we had paid attention.   And it’s only human to do things a certain way because that’s the way we’ve always done them.  That’s dangerous too,  We have to think about what we think about and we have to be aware of our history.  If they don’t teach us in school, we have to find out for ourselves.

I invite you to have a peek into Philadelphia history of the 1870’s, the era of Reconstruction when slavery as a formal institution had ended in this country and when social parity for everyone seemed like it might even  be achievable.  Until it wasn’t.

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Octavius Catto,

It only took 147 years for Philadelphia to commemorate  the work of Octavius Catto who was murdered in 1871 while helping black voters exercise their right to vote.  Read the post, Octavius Catto’s Quest for Parity.   Then understand that we must change, or this tumor we’ve been ignoring for so long will kill us.

 

 

 

 

 

Cats, Cups and Cutters

This week, I went with a friend to feed the cats who live in the feral cat colonies along the Delaware River in South Philadelphia.
There’s a lot of disagreement on how to deal with these feral cats.
People dump they cats by the river to fend for themselves. A cadre of dedicated volunteers trap and spay the cats, feed them and provide shelter. The cats are grateful but being ferals, they are not approachable and will probably live out their lives in the colony unless they are trapped when they are very young and can acclimate themselves to living with a human family.
And now for the cutters part-a shipment from wish.com. Can’t wait to try the cloud cutters.




And some mugs in the pottery studio. Getting back into the swing of things.
If you are interested in cat rescue but don’t have time time or resources to volunteer or foster a cat, you can still help. Press here to donate to the Stray Cat Relief Fund.