When Philadelphia’s Please Touch Museum moved to Fairmount Park’s Memorial Hall in 2008, they asked city artist Leo Sewell to build a replica of the Statue of Liberty’s torch and arm, which had originally been displayed in the park during the 1876 Centennial Exposition.
Leo obliged the children’s museum – with a fun-filled, 40-foot rendition that features everything from toys and skis, to discarded license plates and road signs.
Leo Sewell’s Lady Liberty tribute took three years to plan and construct. (Photo courtesy of Leo Sewell.)
PLAYING IN THE (JUNK) YARD
Leo’s introduction to the joys of junk came early, when he explored the dump near his childhood home. His dad taught him to use tools, and soon he was shaping and assembling industrial discards into wonderful new objects.
Leo constructs a flamingo in his studio. The bird and its partner now grace the lobby of a Florida business building.
Last fall – when pre-election angst and anger were at their peak – Dave and I contacted over two dozen Philadelphia artists, writers and performers, and asked them to pose for our windows holding upbeat signs with words like create, collaborate, envision and, yes, VOTE….
Twenty-eight smiling artists lit up our South Philadelphia windows last October to remind us that we really do have more in common than not.
As you may recall, participants included everyone from singer Bobby Rydell and comedian Jennifer Childs, to jazz pianist Alfie Pollitt and sculptor Miguel Antonio Horn.
But there was one window, front and center, that was reserved for my earliest role model.
IN PHILADELPHIA, NEARLY EVERYONE READS….
Like today, the late 1960s were a confusing and complex time to be a teenager and, three days a week, I’d rush home from high school, tear open the Philadelphia Bulletin, and read Claude Lewis’ column.
Philadelphia’s first black newspaper columnist, Claude Lewis, during his Philadelphia Bulletin days. (Photo courtesy of the Lewis Family.)
(Continued from Wednesday, March 29. Click here to read Part 1…)
While Philadelphia artist Lou Hirshman first became known in the 1930s and 1940s for his witty three-dimensional caricatures of public figures, his subject matter evolved with the decades.
By the 1960s, he was using his found-object constructions to comment on social types ranging from psychiatrists and dictators, to pot smokers and TV viewers.
Hirshman’s 1962 “The Duel” shows two combatants – deftly outlined in long strands of string – locked in eternal combat by the children’s scissors that bind them. Their matching physiques and identical button faces hint at a different type of duel – an internal one.
A major perk of writing our Unexpected Philadelphia blog and website is the connections we make with intriguing Philadelphians, past and present.
In October, 2016, we led you on a photo tour through the art-filled home and garden of Philadelphia Dumpster Diver Randy Dalton and former Inquirer editor Michael Martin Mills. Among their treasures was this 1963 portrait of then-President John F. Kennedy by the late Philadelphia artist Lou Hirshman….
Artist Lou Hirshman transformed coconut and peanut shells, matzo, peas and Chiclets into this witty caricature of JFK. Note the fish-shaped tie.
BIRTH OF AN ARTIST – AND AN ART FORM
Which is what led us last week to a fun phone conversation with Hirshman’s son and daughter, William (Bill) Hirshman and Deborah Donnelly.
A major perk of hosting our Unexpected Philadelphia website is that we get to run happily amok – with cameras in hand – through the homes and studios of our fellow Philadelphia Dumpster Divers, that merry band of artists who have played, exhibited and produced witty, found-object art together since 1992.
So when “Dumpster Diva” Ellen Sall invited us to photograph her South Jersey home last August, we had our beach clothes packed before the phone call ended.
“You expect us to drive all the way to the Jersey shore? Can we come today??”
Ellen and her mom, Bernice Rosenfeld, began making beaded jewelry together in the early 1980s, under the name “By Bernel”. By the mid-1990s, Ellen had struck out on her own, making Fimo clay earrings and pendants that incorporated objects like beads and her own watercolor drawings.
Ellen and husband Robert Sall in the living room of what she calls their “HOE” house – “Heaven on Earth”.
When we moved to South Philly in 2011, we were lucky to stumble across two groups that provided us with both art inspiration and a wonderful circle of friends.
The first, as you’ve probably guessed, was the Philadelphia Dumpster Divers, that inspired group of found-object artists whose homes and studios we profile on our Unexpected Philadelphia website. (And, yes, there are more Diver home tours coming, including — when we finally get around to it — our own.)
“Tracy Takes Another Chance on Love” – Kate’s found-object commentary on the pre-Dave dating scene. Hmm — Should I take the “not quite divorced” guy for 50 points, my cousin’s ex-fiance for a family-wrecking 30 points, or “Mr. 93%-Right” for 100 points?
Philadelphia mosaic artist Isaiah Zagar introduced us to the free-spirited Dumpster Divers, but his sister — dancer and choreographer Sheila Zagar — introduced Kate to its complementary and indispensable opposite: the Artist Conference Network.
If you’ve followed the story on our blog, you know that a friend gave us a fabulous housewarming gift: a 12-pound photo album from the 1960s, packed with images from nightspots in and around South Philadelphia.
You also know that we’ve been on a grand hunt to identify the hundreds of entertainers, sports figures, business people, politicians and “just plain folks” cavorting on its pages, with the goal of donating them to Temple University’s Urban Archives for safe-keeping.
WHO ARE THEY?
The photos were collected by South Philadelphia newspaper columnist Arthur Tavani, and many are already on our website, along with whatever identifications we have.
In September, 2015, we added our first section of “Who Are We?” photos, asking for help in identifying the many unknown women in them. Today, we published 27 new photos on our website, all showing at least one person we can’t identify.
Some photos include famous Philadelphians….
Yes, that’s South Philadelphia singer Al Martino second from right, with columnist Art Tavani (far left) and Philadelphia council president Paul D’Ortona (far right). But who’s the man with the flower in his lapel?