Introducing Our New Dumpster Diver House Tour: Meet Leo Sewell

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.

17_05_04 1 Leo Sewell Liberty Torch LSLeo Sewell’s Lady Liberty tribute took three years to plan and construct.   (Photo courtesy of Leo Sewell.)


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.

17_05_04 2 Leo Sewell DC_1618Leo constructs a flamingo in his studio.   The bird and its partner now grace the lobby of a Florida business building.

With a BA in economics and an MA in art history from the University of Delaware,  Leo was living every artist’s dream by the late 1980s:   supporting himself full-time with his art,  and turning out witty interpretations of everything from people and animals, to grandfather clocks and sideboards.

17_05_04 3a Leo Sewell CM_DCA female torso with a rotary dial navel and plastic fish abs holds court with a cat and  penguin.   Leo is best known for his human and animal figures.

Inspired by his work,  fellow “junk artists” Neil Benson and Len Davidson invited him to become a founding member of the Philadelphia Dumpster Divers – that merry band of local assemblage artists who socialize and exhibit art together.


Unlike many found-object sculptors,  Leo doesn’t start with taxidermy forms or other bases.   Instead,  he builds his pieces from the inside out,  adding layers of identifiable objects to form bones,  flesh and skin.   At the end,  parts of all three layers are visible.

17_05_04 5 Leo Sewell DC_1832Leo built up his “Ram’s Head Trophy” using everything from toys,  car logos and clocks, to a slide rule,  cabinet hardware and corn-cob holders.

Large pieces,  like the one below,  are typically hollow,  like a basket.

17_05_04 6 Leo Sewell AVAM DC_6029This lumbering stegosaurus greets visitors at Baltimore’s American Visionary Arts Museum.


1980 was a big year for Sewell:   He purchased his 1870s home,  a former carriage house in Philadelphia’s Powelton Village section,  and he met his wife Barbara.   The couple married in 1986 and have a daughter,  Abby.

17_05_04 7 DC_1848Leo isn’t the only family member skilled in fitting pieces together:  Barbara Sewell with one of her handmade quilts.

Their home is an inspiring mix of American furniture,  found and purchased art,  and Leo’s witty constructions.

17_05_04 8 Leo Sewell DC_1757Leo made the grandfather clock case and several of the smaller bulls-eye wall mirrors.  He also built the back on the church pew.  The graffiti painting is actually a rescued garage door panel.

17_05_04 11 Leo Sewell DC_1862Leo made the ski-embellished  jelly cabinet,  the chandelier,  the found-object rocket ship,  the wall art….and the cherry dining table.


17_05_04 9 Leo Sewell DC_1624

Ready to tour Leo’s studio and imagination-filled home?   Click here to start!

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

17_05_04 10 Leo Sewell DC_1609Larger than life:  Leo with  “My Girlfriend With the Golden Globes”  and  “Trophy for a Big Chef”.


Kate & Dave




Our Lucky 13th Dumpster Diver House Tour: Carol & Elliot Cole

What happens when a longtime potter with a background in teaching and television takes a papermaking class?

If it’s Philadelphia area artist Carol Cole – with a love of multicultural art and a penchant for found objects – the results probably won’t fit in your stationery drawer….

16_09_16-1-carol-cole-dc_6024Carol’s  “Turn of the Century: 500 Familiar Objects from 1999”  is made of paper pulp imbedded with – yes – 500 real objects ranging from a wristwatch to a wrench.   This outdoor version is cast in fiberglass.

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It’s Dumpster Diver House Tour Time: Meet Susan & Patrick Moloney

A major perk of belonging to the Philadelphia Dumpster Divers – that merry band of artists who have played,  exhibited and produced witty,  found-object art together since 1992 – is that we get to hang out in the area’s most creative homes.

Today our  Unexpected Philadelphia  website takes you on another Dumpster Diver photo tour – this time to the inspiring home, studio, and garden of Susan and Patrick Moloney.

16_08_15 1 Susan & Patrick Moloney DC_3787Patrick and Susan Moloney with one of their ever-ready coffee makers

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Live from the Magic Gardens: Linda Lou Horn’s Cast of Curiosities

Linda Lou Horn always dreamed of becoming an artist.

So when the long-time nurse,  elder care activist,  and gestalt psychotherapist decided to radically change up her life at age 50,  she marked the occasion with a two-mile free fall from an airplane.

16_07_08 1 Linda Lou Horn DC_5561Linda Lou with “Going Nowhere Fast” in her polka-dotted dining room.

 Now the much-exhibited, found-object artist – whose art-and-imagination-filled home we profiled last summer – has landed in a one-woman show at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens through August 28. Continue reading

In Memory of Dumpster Diver Randy Dalton: The Blue Grotto

Last fall we introduced you to the art-filled home and fabulous gardens of Philadelphia Dumpster Diver Randy Dalton and his longtime partner Michael Martin Mills.

16_02_10 15 Michael & Randy 8560(Michael Martin Mills,  left,  and Randy Dalton in their always summery dining room.)

And,  yes,  you can still tour their house and garden on our website,  and read the blog post about them here.


But Randy had a magical surprise up his always blue sleeve – one we planned to interview him about later this year:   His Blue Grotto art environment.

16_02_10 1 Randy Dalton Blue Grotto CM_7495(Randy’s Blue Grotto contains hundreds of blue lights,  sculptures,  found objects, 
photos and more,  in support of his  “Do Blue!”  campaign for the arts)

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Ready for a fun new Dumpster Diver house tour? Meet Ellen Benson…

It’s tour time again!

Over the past 8 months,  Unexpected Philadelphia has taken you to 8 inspiring, art-filled homes belonging to the Philadelphia Dumpster Divers – that warm and wacky band of artists and collectors who exhibit,  socialize and produce witty,  up-cycled art together.

Today we’re heading to the home and studio of Ellen Benson,  sister of Divers’ co-founder Neil Benson,  whose house we’ve already visited.

16_02_05 01 Ellen Benson Wall DC_2211(Ellen in her living room with what she modestly calls “The Wall”.
About a third of the work is hers; the rest hails from around the globe.)

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Dumpster Divers at Dupree Gallery Thru Jan. 30

If you follow our Unexpected Philadelphia website,  you’ve toured eight wildly creative homes and studios belonging to members of the Philadelphia Dumpster Divers – that merry band of found-object artists who prove  (in the words of co-founder Neil Benson)  that “Trash is simply a failure of imagination.”

16_01_12 01 Diver Dupree Show DC_1152(Divers take to the walls of the Dupree Gallery.)

And now through January 30,  you can experience their work firsthand at Philadelphia’s Dupree Gallery in Queen Village.

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