One of Philadelphia’s most prominent artists died a few weeks ago. Joe Tiberino, a painter and muralist, died in his Powelton Village home Feb. 19. He was 77.
“He was pretty much winding down,” said his eldest son, Raphael. “He had been dealing with some health issues, and everything started to get bad in the last year.”
Joe Tiberno was an artist, married to an artist, who fathered artists. His home in Powelton Village and his bar on South Street in the 1980s, Bacchanal, were pillars of the Philadelphia art scene.
“When Ellen and I got married, we had this thing where we were going to try to get to know one another,” said Tiberino in 2013, remembering the early years with his wife, in the 1960s. “We had an idealistic place to live. We had no phone, no TV, we just did paintings together.”
With his wife, Tiberino bought a cluster of adjacent houses in Powelton Village, turning them into an artist compound with studios, exhibition space, and a central backyard for parties, group drawing sessions, and general socializing. It became an unofficial hangout for artists.
Sitting in that backyard in 2007, Tiberino remembered when he and sculptor Joe Brenman turned the house into an ad hoc art school for about a dozen people.
“One day a week, for a month, they would come here and paint. Then the next month we would go to his studio and sculpt. Rotate back and forth,” said Tiberino. “Everyone came out pretty well-rounded.”
The Tiberinos raised four kids there; three became artists, one a minister. Two years, ago the African American Museum in Philadelphia curated “The Unflinching Eye,” an exhibition of 50 years of work by the Tiberino family.
After Ellen died of cancer in 1992, Joe turned the house into an art museum in her name. Raphael, his son, says the Ellen Tiberino Museum will continue to operate, and he has not yet thought of how to memorialize Joe.
“Right now, I’m in the zone of not believing he’s gone,” said Raphael. “I guess once that comes reality in my head, it’s something the family will consider.”