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.
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.
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.
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.
I had some time after a visit to the hand doctor today, so I decided to check out the Philadelphia Fashion District.
The Gallery Shopping Mall in downtown Philadelphia has been completely renovated and reopened to the public in September as Philadelphia Fashion District. No one shops at malls anymore, so the developers couldn’t just follow the old model of retailing in a renovated space. So in addition to the standard mall retail therapy establishments, the Fashion District is offering some intriguing opportunities for artists, makers, and entrepreneurs.
The Fashion District has invested one million dollars for art installations geared to “making museum-caliber art more accessible to the city, while also elevating the beauty of The District.” The Bridgette Mayer Gallery has a display there with art for sale.
Conrad Benner, whose blog StreetsDept.com, chronicles street art in Philadelphia, has been charged with curating an exhibit of the work of Philadelphia street artists. These works are currently on display on the lower (concourse) level of the Fashion District through the end of this year.
The Fashion District has provided space for RecPhilly, an organization who provides co-working space, recording studios, visual labs & conference rooms for creatives. RecPhilly membership is financially accessible and has proven to so popular that there is now a waitlist. But new memberships are sure to open up in the future. Read more about RecPhilly on their website here.
The Fashion District is sponsoring more art-related events than I’ve written about here as well as planning to open up movie theaters, restaurants and performance spaces. They are trying to do a lot and we’ll see how it goes. Here are some pictures.
I’ve written about public memorials before on this blog, but I have never seen one quite like the Memorial to the Lost.
Philadelphia lost a lot of people to gun violence last year. Michelle Tamika Washington, Rasul Benson, and Steven Wallace are three names on forty t-shirts hanging outside the Church of St. Luke and the Epiphany on South 13th Street in Philadelphia.
Guns murdered 295 Philadelphia residents last year. There were many more shooting victims who did not die.
The organization behind the memorial is Heeding God’s Call to End Gun Violence, Their literature describes the point of the memorial: “Each shirt has the name, age, and the date of the victim’s death. Each name represents a whole human being, a child of God. Each one deserves to be remembered. Each death deserves to be noted and mourned.”
The Philadelphia Obituary Project has a similar philosophy,
If you are interested in the movement to end gun violence, you can follow Heeding God’s call on their Facebook page which also contains information on volunteering and donating.
I was going to write a post a few months ago about a wonderful visit I made in July 2019 to the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology. But one thing led to another as it usually does. The Penn Museum post went into the drafts folder and I went on to other things. I recently returned from Southern Spain(Seville and Granada)where I was overloaded with Spanish Baroque interiors. They are beautiful, but after awhile, you feel like you’ve eaten too much birthday cake. (At least I did).
“Where do you get your inspiration?” is a question I sometimes hear. And while I will not be making a Spanish Baroque wedding cake any time soon, I find inspiration pretty much everywhere. Which brings me back to the Penn Museum. There is certainly enough to inspire anyone who spends an afternoon (or better, the whole day) there.
The Mesopotamian jewelry collection is outstanding. Here are some pictures, but it’s better to see the collection in person.
The Near Eastern pottery collection is also very interesting. These pots are from Iran.
I was so taken with the pot shaped like an Erlenmeyer flask that I decided to make my own version using the tar paper technique, Here’s where memory and inspiration clash: I remembered the shape upside down.
But I think I love the Mexico and Central American collection best because it contains some striking Mayan artifacts as well as jewelry and pottery.
I love that turtle (I think) vessel and could see myself trying a colorful terra cotta version.
Where do you get your inspiration?
Jeweler’s Row is a Philadelphia treasure the future of which is being threatened by potential unbridled development. Jeweler’s Row, located on the 700 block of Sansom Street, was not always the seat of the Philadelphia jewelry industry, having been home to the printing and engraving trades before morphing into a jewelry district around the 1880’s. Many jewelry store proprietors from the Delaware valley and South Jersey made weekly trips to Jeweler’s Row to drop off and collect repair jobs, replenish their stock and to meet with their fellow jewelers to talk business.
A developer sold a brace of buildings to Toll Brothers Builders in 2017 and Toll Brothers got permission to tear down the buildings to erect a high-rise apartment building. There was plenty of opposition from the neighborhood and community groups but in the end it didn’t matter.
Last week, I got to tour 708 Sansom Street which is one of the buildings slated to be demolished. It is a cavernous four-story building with tin ceilings and ornate hardware. As I walked from floor to floor, I could see that the tenants, the majority of whom were manufacturing jewelers, were in the process of moving their equipment out of the building and finding new space for their businesses and studios.
I imagine that 708 Sansom Street supported many families over the years and that its tenants were a close-knit bunch. Now it is like a ghost town.
Most of the former tenants have found new space but it has not been easy. Many of them have had to relocate away from Sansom Street.
While it’s true that the only constant in life is change, and that the face of the jewelry business is changing, there is still room for places like Jeweler’s Row. These business districts and manufacturing centers still serve a purpose. But then again, you never really miss something until it’s gone.
I feel so lucky to live in a City where I am within walking distance from wonderful shopping districts with a genuine historical significance. Of course there’s the 9th Street (Italian) Market, Jeweler’s Row, and the Reading Terminal Market. But one of my favorite areas is Fabric Row is located on Fourth Street below South Street. Even though I don’t sew much, I love window shopping on this colorful street. There’s always something to see.
According to the Philadelphia History Museum’s web site, Philadelphia’s bustling fabric row on South Fourth Street ran through the heart of a Jewish immigrant neighborhood. Peddlers hawked dry goods from pushcarts and sidewalk stands. Successful vendors opened family-run shops. Dressmakers, shoppers, and tailors flocked to this area of the Queen Village neighborhood to purchase fabrics and notions for their customers and families.
There aren’t as many fabric stores on Fourth Street as there used to be. Times change. People are not sewing as much as they used to. (Although home sewing has moved into a new phase.) New businesses are popping up among the fabric stores including independent fashion stores, shops selling hand made goods and the wonderful Kawaii Kitty Cafe. It is still a thriving, vibrant area.
Visit Fabric Row the next time you visit Philadelphia. In the meantime, here are some more pictures I took on walk down Fabric Row when the weather was much warmer!
The Some pictures I took in December and January during Philadelphia walkabouts.
Two weeks ago, I hopped the Market-Frankford El to the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia in search of the Boston Street Gallery. The Boston Street Gallery is about a mile from the York-Dauphin El stop. I had occasion to visit this neighborhood on a regular basis in another life, but I had not back for many years. It certainly has changed.
I went to the Boston Street Gallery to attend the opening of a show called Lyrical Perceptions which includes work by Wayne Cambern. I met Wayne at the open pottery studio at Fleisher Art Memorial. Like me, he was getting back into pottery after a multi-year hiatus. But his primary interests are drawing and painting. So I jumped at the chance to see his other work when he told me about the show.
The urge to make art has been with me for as long as I can remember. I love color, design and craftsmanship in its many manifestations. I hope this quest to make something that qualifies as art speaks to the viewer. –Wayne Cambern
My big regret in writing this post is that my pictures simply cannot convey the mastery of Wayne’s drawings and portraits. In order to get the full effect, you will have to visit the show which runs until December 1, 2018. In the meantime, I will let the pictures speak for themselves.