Manayunk’s newest art gallery owner, Lenny Bazemore, had no idea what was in the basement of his Main Street building.
The basement space was covered by decades of dirt and trash, but Bazemore spotted something in a back corner.
“I saw this little piece of wood sticking up and climbed over the debris and took a look at it, and said, ‘Oh, my God, what is this?'” he recounted during NewsWorks‘ recent visit to Bazemore Gallery.
Finding a treasure
Bazemore had noticed one of 12 pieces of a large-scale square wood-relief sculpture steeped in neighborhood history.
“Whoever put it in the basement put it up against the wall,” he said. “Other than being very dirty it was in good shape,” he added, noting it wasn’t difficult to put the 12 pieces together.
Once Bazemore looked at the whole piece, he said his heart “just started beating so fast, because I realized what beauty I found.”
He sent it for restoration and preservation at Stable Tables, a Flourtown-based shop that specializes in working with salvaged and reclaimed wood.
Now, the handsome piece is mounted next to the glass front of the gallery. The lapping water of the canal lives in the artist’s wood cuts, and the train track wends gracefully away alongside. Exquisite leafy trees line the water, buildings march away beyond, and Manayunk’s iconic bridge arches gracefully over all.
Made in Manayunk
It ended up in Bazemore’s basement because the previous owner of the space was the late Rocco “Rocky” Barba, who was also proprietor of the former Manayunk restaurant Sip’n Steaks.
Barba commissioned the piece to hang in his restaurant, and when it closed, the sculpture was tucked away in the basement of the now-gallery, forgotten for over 20 years.
Today, Bazemore proudly calls it “the staple of the gallery,” and insists that it’s not for sale: “It’s a piece of art that’s never going to leave here.”
The disappearing artist
The story of the artist behind the Manayunk sculpture isn’t so clear. His name, Jordan Ivanov, and the date, May 1975, are carved across the bottom of the piece. When Bazemore recovered the piece, he said two locals—a carpentry worker and a former Sip ‘n Steaks employee who knew the artist—helped fill him in on how the piece came to be.
According to Bazemore, Ivanov, a native of Hungary, was a homeless artist who lived under the bridge on the banks of the canal. Barba commissioned the piece from him, and while the artist worked from wood blocks mounted right on the wall of the restaurant, Barba supplied him with coffee and daily meals.
Beyond that, no one seems to know much about Ivanov, except that he met “hard times” and eventually returned to Hungary.
But Bazemore has been searching and said he recently discovered a younger artist living in Atlanta who is also named Jordan Ivanov—could he be a son or relative? Bazemore is trying to find out.
Bazemore, a Norristown native and current Main Line resident, is an artist himself, working in oils and acrylics. He got his start in the art world about seven years ago, working for a gallery in Rittenhouse Square.
“I wanted to do something that Manayunk was missing,” he explained, noting that while Manayunk is now known for its history, shopping and dining, there is a “void” where the art galleries used to be.
“I chose Manayunk because of the proximity to the Main Line and Center City,” Bazemore said, hoping the space will give both Main Liners and Center City residents another reason to visit Manayunk.
Formerly a jewelry store, the space, which Bazemore purchased from Barba’s wife Vilma, stood empty for several years. Now, the gallery owner emphasizes his clean, inviting, Feng Shui vision, including a “living wall” of exotic plants and flowers.
“I opened this gallery knowing that the business model of the gallery has to work,” he said. Owning the whole building and renting out the apartments above is part of that plan. He’s also dedicated to the idea of networking and collaboration among art galleries throughout the city.
Bazemore’s current show includes one of his own paintings, 2012’s “Go Getter,” a sparkling, streamlined riot of color and gloss.
“Call it whatever you want: it’s something that actually makes you get up in the morning,” he said of the piece. “You wake up every day knowing that you’re somebody.”
“As a gallery, you have to be constantly changing, constantly willing to try something new,” he added. “You won’t always succeed. But you just might.”
Disclaimer: Lenny Bazemore’s wife, Teresa Bryce Bazemore, is on the WHYY board.