Meet Our South Philly Heroes (Part 2)

In our last two posts, we told you about our uplifting new holiday windows, featuring 27 South Philadelphia Essential Workers (click here to read more about the project). We also introduced you to a dozen of our glowing subjects (meet them here).

The new view from our corner at East Passyunk Avenue and Tasker Street in South Philly, with windows lit from 4:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. daily through January 10.

Today,  we’ll introduce you to the remaining 15 local heroes lighting up East Passyunk Avenue’s popular “Singing Fountain” plaza.


Some you undoubtedly know from local restaurants and shops….

Heather was our longtime favorite server at Cantina Los Caballitos, while Jesus can be found delivering takeout orders from P’unk Burger.

Others are in the public service sector….

Still making house calls is Philadelphia Gas Works’ repairman Fnu. (And, yes, like all our conscientious subjects, Fnu donned his mask as soon as we snapped his socially distanced photo.)

Read on to meet them all….


Dean is the popular manager of Acme’s wine and beer department. He’s also a martial arts aficionado who is working towards his online organizational leadership and management degree from Southern New Hampshire University.
Scott is a 13-year Acme employee and South Philadelphia native who can most often be found helping customers in the self-service lanes.
Tom is the third-generation owner of Bertolino’s Pharmacy. He started running deliveries there when he was only 8 or 9 years old, and has been the store pharmacist since 1987.
Heather is the owner of two Halo Hair salons who sacrificed profits (and delayed the grand opening of her new Old City shop) for our safety during the long spring COVID-19 lockdown. She is a bike rider, dog owner, and punk rock bass player.
Eric is a CVS supervisor and has been a welcoming presence there for 17 years. You may also recognize this East Passyunk area native from his waiter gig at Broad Street’s Ristorante Pesto.


Shane is a Bing Bing server (and former Black ‘n Brew counter man) with a goal of making customers’ lives as normal as possible in these scary COVID-19 days. He enjoys kicking back with his family and pup in his spare time.
Nate is a Noord restaurant sous chef and Dallas native with a saucy alter ego as the drag queen Hyde Eclair.
David is the Tamalex restaurant owner who partnered with his brother-in-law Alejandro to donate 165 free food packs to Latino families in the early days of the COVID-19 shutdown. He then joined forces with several other South Philadelphia businesses to give away hundreds more food bags.
Heather is a longtime popular server at Cantina Los Caballitos who recently transitioned to her dream jobs of costuming and theater work. She performs drag as Grampy Knockers.
Jesus is the always reliable P’unk Burger bicycle delivery person. A native Californian, his hobbies including bike riding (surprise!) and music.


Steve is a 27-year U.S. Postal Service letter carrier, working against tough odds this year to deliver mail along with our full 19147 and 19148 post office staffs. (And yes, Jason, we’re looking at you, too….!)
Paul has racked up 30 years as an always-dependable Philadelphia Inquirer delivery man. He enjoys cooking and life in South Philly “with so many things to offer”.
Fnu is a cheerful Philadelphia Gas Works in-home repairman whose COVID-19 pastimes include biking around the Navy Yard.


Of course, there’s one more vital link in our neighborhood’s Essential Worker chain and that’s, well…the rest of us.

Nissa & Devin are our newest East Passyunk neighbors, who always keep their masks on to protect us and all these Essential Workers. Nissa is a social worker who loves puppeteering, reading sci-fi and speculative fiction, and biking the city. Devin loves computer programming, making music, playing with synthesizers, and watching cartoons.


Needless to say, our holiday windows barely scratch the surface of the thousands of selfless Philadelphians who have put themselves on the line for us this year in both medical and non-medical roles….

….or the many beloved service and restaurant people who continue to lose their livelihoods due to the pandemic.

We owe them all a debt of gratitude and honor this season.

Happy (safe) holidays!

Kate & Dave

Meet Our South Philly Heroes (Part 1)

In our last post, we told you about our new and inspiring South Philadelphia holiday windows, featuring 27 non-medical Essential Workers who are courageously risking their health for us in this COVID-19 world – everyone from local pharmacy and grocery employees, to restaurant staff, to sanitation workers.

The Tasker Street view, lit nightly from 4:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m.

You’ll find them smiling from our windows through January 10 on the corner of East Passyunk Avenue and Tasker Street, across from the iconic “Singing Fountain”. 


Starting today, and continuing in our next post, we’ll introduce you to these South Philly heroes who daily put themselves on the line.  Some you can’t miss as they roll down the avenue…

Stepping out from behind their masks for a quick photo: Captain Brian (in truck) and firefighters Jason, Brendan and Matt from the Philadelphia Fire Department’s Engine 10 station.

Others, like Adam Leiter, executive director of the East Passyunk Avenue Business Improvement District, are working miracles behind the scenes. Adam’s keeping local businesses apprised of COVID-19 regulations and opportunities — and promoting a wide variety of socially distanced events for Avenue fans. (Click here for the latest list.)

Adam takes a rare break to pose for our windows.


So read on to meet the first dozen Essential Workers whose images appear in our 2020 holiday windows….


Tyrone is a city sanitation truck driver who overcame daunting odds this summer to keep our trash pick-up timely with crew mates Drissa and Ransell (below). He’s also a personal trainer and a former collegiate basketball player.
Drissa is a hard-working, 14-year city Sanitation Division worker who enjoys watching and playing soccer.
Ransell is another member of our neighborhood’s crack sanitation team. A West Philly resident, he is also a mechanic and creates custom jewelry.


Jason is a four-year firefighter with the Philadelphia Fire Department’s Engine 10 who enjoys reading, hiking, spending time with family, and watching movies with his girlfriend.
Matt has served two years as a PFD Engine 10 firefighter. His interests include working out, cooking and skiing.
Officer Jim, our always helpful avenue bicycle officer since 2018, has been a member of the Philadelphia Police Department since 2003. He’s a father of two and a native Philadelphian.


Ed is a Philly native and a 26-year SEPTA bus operator. You can catch him on the 45 line running along 11th and 12th Streets.
Deneen has been a SEPTA employee for 31 years – 28 of them as a Broad Street subway line operator. Her not-so-secret collecting passion? Shoes!
Otis has been a SEPTA bus operator for 10 years on routes including the local 29 line that runs along Tasker and Morris Streets. He’s a native Philadelphian who enjoys deejaying in his spare time.


Adam is the executive director of the East Passyunk Avenue Business Improvement District, and is the hard-working hero who’s kept local businesses informed of COVID-19 rules and opportunities. When not on the job, he enjoys spending time with family, cycling, skiing, and the local music scene.
Leroy is a member of the Passyunk Avenue Revitalization Corp. (PARC) team that daily cleans and maintains our local commercial corridor. Energetic and fun, his pastimes include football (Fly Eagles!) and working out.
John is another dedicated PARC team member who makes our avenue sparkle. He enjoys basketball and cooking in his spare time.


In our next post, we’ll profile the remaining 15 Essential Workers who are gracing our holiday windows.  In the meantime, please do your part to help them and the many other courageous souls who are selflessly helping us:  Pull up those masks!

John and Leroy at East Passyunk Avenue’s “Singing Fountain”


Kate & Dave (Click here to meet more of our South Philly heroes)

Deck the Walls With South Philly Heroes!

Several years ago, we started an improbable (even to us) holiday tradition by filling our 27 windows with lighted photos of South Philadelphia neighbors and merchants. 

Home for the holidays at East Passyunk Avenue & Tasker Street — but definitely not alone!

And this being South Philly,  everyone brought their dogs – lots and lots of dogs….

A half-dozen enchanting subjects show off their favorite humans.


This spring,  COVID-19 tore a hole in the familiar workings of our East Passyunk neighborhood. But while we safely cocooned at home,  we couldn’t stop thinking about the Essential Workers who courageously kept us going.

Some – like grocery and pharmacy staff,  sanitation and utility workers,  bus and delivery drivers,  mail carriers and firefighters – put their health on the line simply by showing up for work.

Tom Bertolino has been on the front lines of S. Philly’s pandemic response as the pharmacist and third-generation owner of Bertolino’s Pharmacy.

Others – at restaurants, salons and gyms – took major financial hits by closing their doors for months or opening them at limited capacity. Heather Garden was only days away from the grand opening of her second Halo Hair salon when pandemic restrictions shuttered salons throughout the state.

Halo Hair is back open in East Passyunk and Old City with new COVID-19 protections. (And, yes, that’s Dave sliding in for a quick shot of Heather touching up Kate’s natural blue highlights.)


This summer,  we decided to photograph a cross-section of South Philly’s non-medical heroes.  Some – including bike officer Jim,  CVS manager Eric,  and Acme manager Dean – we’d already met.

Others – like our local trash collection crew and SEPTA drivers – had kept our lives humming for years,  even if we didn’t know their names. 


And,  yes,  we went out of our way to keep them safe,  photographing them from afar and having them remove their masks only for the seconds it took to snap their smiling faces.

Three of 2020’s hardest-working (and most essential) local workers: Tyrone, Drissa and Ransell from the Streets Dept.’s Sanitation Division.

On Thanksgiving eve,  we proudly lit their photos in our annual holiday windows….

David Piña of Tamalex was among the many Passyunk area restaurant owners who donated free food to needy residents during the pandemic shutdown.


Need some inspiration?  You can visit our holiday heroes at East Passyunk Avenue and Tasker Street, across from South Philadelphia’s “Singing Fountain”.   They’ll be smiling there through January 10,  lit daily from 4:30 pm ’til 2:30 a.m.

As always, we’ve posted a sign on our corner door telling you who everyone is – and how they spend their spare time (everything from deejaying to shoe collecting!) when they’re not working for all of us.


Can’t visit in person?  Check out our next two blog posts to read about all 27 of our glowing window subjects.

In the meantime, tie on those masks,  stand 6 feet apart,  and wash those hands for 20 seconds when you get back home.  We want to see you  (and them!)  around the fountain for many holidays to come.

Nissa and Devin, our newest neighbors, always mask up in public. (And, yes, someday we hope to see what they actually look like!)


Kate & Dave (Click here to see our next Essential Worker blog post!)

Deck the (South Philly) Walls With Neighbors – And So Much More!

Family responsibilities have kept us from blogging regularly this year,  but there’s one tradition we can’t abandon:   lighting up our South Philadelphia corner with smiling neighbors and their irresistible dogs.

So,  if you’re dining or playing near the restaurant-packed “Singing Fountain” between now and January 6,  check out our well-decked windows at East Passyunk Avenue and Tasker Street….

18_11_29 1 Neighbor Windows DC_0177We’ll keep the lights on for you ’til 2 a.m.


It all started  in 2013 when we sat in our third-floor kitchen,  waving to neighbors who couldn’t see us.

“Maybe we should put life-sized photos of ourselves in the windows to let people know we’re here,”  Kate joked.   “Then we wouldn’t feel like we’re spying on them.”

Within seconds,  it morphed into something bigger.

“Wow – what if we took photos of the neighbors and put them in the windows, too?   We could do it for the holidays!”

18_11_29 2 Dave Holiday Windows CM_3953Another family tradition:  Kate captures Dave’s best side as he lifts a photo into our windows.

And so,  15 months after moving to South Philadelphia,  we found ourselves explaining to people we barely knew why we wanted to photograph them.

Fortunately,  South Philadelphians have a sense of humor – even if they did roll their eyes after we left.

That first year, we signed up 26 neighbors,  4 dogs and a baby.  The baby moved on,  but – this being Passyunk Avenue – our dog population has grown….

17_12_01 3 Dog WindowsClockwise from top left:  Lucia,  Barney (twice),  Amelie,  Bella,  Milli and Maizy show off some favorite humans.

And after worrying that it’d be a total bust (you mean we need to clean our windows — and light them?),  we landed on the front page of the Philadelphia Inquirer on Christmas Eve and a family tradition was born.


While you’re here,  don’t miss these truly fabulous displays that make South Philadelphia the city’s hottest holiday neighborhood:

  • 1600 block of South 13th Street,  between Tasker & Morris (2 blocks from us)

15_12_09-02-miracle-on-south-13th_9828Click here to read about the annual  “Miracle on 13th Street”.   (And,  yes,  they add new surprises each year!)

  • 2700 block of Smedley Street,  between 16th & 17 and Moyamensing & Oregon

2015_12_28-2-smedley-cm_0763The 2700 block of Smedley Street is always a traffic-stopper.   Click here to read our past post about it and Colorado Street.

  • 2700 block of Colorado Street,  between 17th & 18 and Moyamensing & Oregon


Leave time to explore the whole area between Oregon,  Moyamensing,  16th & 18th Streets,  where you’ll literally find hundreds of homes and front windows festooned for the holidays,  each grander than the last.


Although we’re not posting as frequently,  we still have fun planned for the new year:   Kate is wrapping up her research on that great 1960s South Philadelphia photo album before handing it over to Temple University’s Urban Archives….

18_11_29 3 Fabian“Oh, wait – isn’t that….?”  Check out the 1960s album photos here on our website and read the stories behind them in this group of blog posts.

And we plan to unveil another improbable Philadelphia Dumpster Diver house tour this spring — this time featuring our own South Philly home….

18_11_29 4 Kitchen Ceiling Stars CM_8850We are definitely in a pre-home-tour improvement panic,  plastering stars on our kitchen ceiling and constructing a valence of toy cars and postcards for the living room.


To quote Kate’s mom, “You two always did have more guts than brains…!”

18_11_29 5 Catherine MellinaCatherine Mellina – 1922-2018  (Miss you, mom!)

Happy holidays to all!

Kate & Dave


The Dumpster Divers are back — and you’re invited!

Last fall,  we told you about a grand exhibit marking the 25th anniversary of the Philadelphia Dumpster Divers,  that predictably unpredictable band of found-object artists who have been re-purposing the city’s castoffs since 1992.

This year,  they’re back with an intriguing exhibit of all new work and you’re definitely invited,  starting with a First Friday celebration on Nov. 2 from 2-10 p.m. at the Dupree Gallery,  703 S. 6th Street.

18_10_30 4 Dumpster Diver ShowThe Divers and friends previewed “Re-Crafted”,  their new exhibit,  last weekend at the Dupree Gallery in Philadelphia’s Queen Village section.

Through Dec. 29,  thirty different Divers — including new members Tim Barton and Eve Hoyt — will offer witty,  smaller-scale assemblages — and,  yes,  that definitely says one-of-a-kind holiday gifts to us!

18_10_30 1 Dumpster Diver ShowClockwise from top left:  Work by Tim Barton,  Ellen Sall,  James Dupree,  Neil Benson,  and Eve Hoyt.

You can check out the complete artist list and all the gallery hours at the Dumpster Divers website, here.

18_10_30 2 Dumpster Diver ShowClockwise from top left:  Work by Burnell Yow!,  Eva Aanya Preston,  Carol Cole,  Bruce Gast,  Ann Keech,  and Lion Studio.  Center: Leo Sewell.

As an added treat,  the Divers are partnering with CraftNOW Philadelphia and almost two dozen local museums,  galleries and fine craft groups,  each of which is offering November events to celebrate our city’s innovative craft culture — including the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s prestigious contemporary craft show (Nov. 2-4).

18_10_30 5 Dumpster Diver Show“Look!  Up in the sky!  It’s…” an eyeball-covered mobile by artist Sally Willowbee  (second from left).

This year’s citywide craft theme is “Making a Difference” and the Divers have been doing that for 26 years – reminding us all that “trash is simply a failure of imagination.”

18_10_30 3 Dumpster Diver ShowThat’s artist and gallery owner James Dupree — Philadelphia’s own “Black Picasso” — in the white coat at center.  Click here to see our photo tour of his fabulous Mantua studio.

Information on all the November craft events can be found at the CraftNOW Philadelphia website, here.   And don’t forget to check the Divers’ own website  for a list of gallery hours between now and Dec. 29.

18_10_30 9 Dumpster Diver ShowWe’ll see you here!

Kate & Dave



Meet Randall Cleaver – The Dumpster Diver Who (Almost) Got Away

Cuckoo birds popping from mid-century waffle irons.   Icarus falling from the sky on a vintage heater stage with plexiglass curtains.   An elephant’s eye swaying with a clock’s movement.

Found-object clockmaker and Philadelphia Dumpster Diver Randall Cleaver’s home is a symphony of  light, movement and sound.

18_07_26 1 Randall CleaverTwo of Randall’s captivating time pieces: On “Angel in Time”  (left)  the wings glide up and down,  while the eyes open and close and fiber optic lights blink on and off.   A bagpiper’s legs  (right)  form a clock’s moving pendulum.


In the past three years,  we’ve visited 16 imaginative homes and studios of the Philadelphia Dumpster Divers – that merry band of found-object artists who have worked and played together since 1992.

And today we’ll lead you through the intriguing home, studio and garden of Randall Cleaver and wife Beth Richwine – with a side trip for lunch.

18_07_26 2 Randall CleaverRandall Cleaver with “Happy Feat”, his first animated clock.  The vintage Victrola case boasts a pinball game and foosball players kicking bells.  Famed tin-can artist Bobby Hansson also dances a jig.


A Philadelphia Dumpster Diver since 1997,  Randall earned his BFA in sculpture at Penn State University,  and created art while working as a museum preparator and packer at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

He began incorporating clocks into his sculptures as a humorous creative challenge in the 1980s,  after noticing that clocks were showing up on every appliance he purchased.

18_07_26 3 Randall Cleaver CM_0402Randall built the copper airships that swing around the Eiffel Tower on “Aerotime” (left).  “A Pig in the Polk” (right) features spinning figures of President James Polk,  while a fake flame crackles in the old heater base.


But clocks weren’t the only happy fate awaiting Randall:  After a long-distance courtship,  he married Beth Richwine – a conservator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History who he met at a friend’s wedding.

And,  yes,  some things were obviously meant to be:   When the couple bought their Takoma Park,  MD home in 2006,  it was located on  (where else?)  Philadelphia Avenue.

18_07_26 4 Randall Cleaver DC_5396Does anyone really know what time it is?  Randall and Beth certainly do:  An animated display of Randall’s clocks light up a living room wall beneath a shelf with Beth’s handmade pottery.


In 2008,  Randall’s obsession led him to the School of Horology in Columbia,  PA,   where he learned clock repair and restoration,  a skill that helped refine his art.

He also repairs clocks for private,  business and government customers,  including the U.S. Supreme Court,  House of Representatives and Smithsonian Institution.

18_07_26 5 Randall Cleaver DC_5653Pieces from Randall’s antique clock collection share space with his own creations.  And,  yes,  he made the white oak mantelpiece.


Randall also enjoys making found-object lamps, particularly from vintage kitchen items like coffee pots and blenders…

18_07_26 6 Randall CleaverA collection of Randall’s unlikely lamps made with (from left) an electric kettle,  a pair of metal colanders,  an antique porcelain doll head,  and an electric coffee pot.

…and he’s been experimenting with hand-cranked automata using mechanical parts that (as with his clocks) he often constructs himself.

18_07_26 7 Randall Cleaver CM_0358“Migration” was inspired by “The Birds”,  Alfred Hitchcock’s classic horror film.  When cranked,  the birds go up and down,  the phone booth revolves,  and Hitchcock’s TV theme song plays.


So,  click here to take our complete photo tour of Randall and Beth’s fun-filled home and studio.

As always,  when you arrive at our Unexpected Philadelphia website,  click on any thumbnail image to page through larger versions of all the photos.    You’ll also see a caption under each large photo if you’re on a non-mobile device like a PC or laptop.

18_07_26 8 Randall Cleaver DC_5626Randall in his art studio and clock workshop. Check the Internet for videos of his animated clocks in motion!

 P.S.  You can follow our blog by clicking the black “Follow” button near the top right of the screen.

Increased family responsibilities mean that we can’t post as often,  but we’ll unveil another great house tour around year’s end.


Kate & Dave

Visit the Inspiring Studio of Artist (& Dumpster Diver!) James E. Dupree

Spending a dreary winter afternoon with Philadelphia artist James E. Dupree is like winning a trip to the tropics:   He’s warm,  funny,  gracious,  and full of fascinating stories about pinging – and getting pinged by – the conventional art world as an African-American male.

18_02_27 1 James Dupree DC_4938James E. Dupree – Philadelphia’s own Black Picasso

And visiting Dupree’s art-packed,  8,600 square foot studio in Philadelphia’s Mantua section is like exploring an inspiring alternate universe.

18_02_27 2 James Dupree StudioThree rooms in the marvelous maze that is Dupree’s West Philadelphia studio Continue reading

Home for the Holidays – With 2 Dozen Neighbors (& More!)

Last night was East Passyunk Avenue’s annual tree-lighting ceremony,  and over two dozen South Philadelphia neighbors,  shop owners and dogs smiled down from our windows in what has become our annual holiday salute to the neighborhood.

So,  if you’re dining or playing near the restaurant-packed  “Singing Fountain”  between now and New Year’s Day,  check out our well-decked windows at East Passyunk Avenue and Tasker Street….

17_12_01 1 Linn Street 2017 CM_9017We’ll keep the lights on for you ’til 2 a.m. each night.

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Dumpster Diver Exhibit Extended to November 4!

In our last post,  we told you about “DUMPSTER DIVERSions”,  our 25th anniversary pop-up exhibit by 46 members of the Philadelphia Dumpster Divers,  that predictably unpredictable band of found-object artists and their painter/photographer/performance artist friends….

17_10_16 1 Dumpster Divers Exhibit DC_4073Some of the more than 125 works you’ll find behind our purple door.


Based on the encouraging feedback we’ve received in our first two weeks  (hey, we can never predict what will happen when we schedule one of our unlikely projects!),  we’ve extended the exhibit to Saturday,  Nov. 4.

17_10_16 2 Dumpster Divers Exhibit DC_4077aCollage,  fiber and found-object art by Eva Aanya Preston,   Ellen Sall,  I. George Bilyk, Burnell Yow! and  Bruce Gast

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The Philadelphia Dumpster Divers’ 25th anniversary exhibit opens this Friday,  and we’ll have Divers on the inside,  Divers on the outside  (check out our new window display,  below)  and Divers on our website  (don’t miss our two-part anniversary album of Diver art).

But first,  we’d like to invite you to visit….


The Divers,  of course,  are that merry band of found-object artists and their painter-photographer-performance art friends who have worked and played together since April Fool’s Day,  1992.

17_09_30 1 Dumpster DiversAmong our 46 featured Diver artists are (clockwise from top left):  Leo Sewell,  Ellen Sall,  John Jonik,  Hugo Hsu,  Smokie Kittner and Harry Anderson

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