NW Philly venues participate in open studio tours

Hundreds of artists west of Broad Street opened their studio doors to the public this weekend as part of the annual Philadelphia Open Studios Tour (POST).

While many of the venues have been POST participants for years, two new sites in East Falls and Roxborough aimed to forge connections between artists, local businesses, and their respective communities. 

The East Falls Development Corporation (EFDC) showcased the work of the six artists participating in its fish-themed “Eco-Art” program in a pop-up studio in the Mason’s Building on Ridge Avenue. Prominently displayed was “Waffles” the five-foot catfish, a decoupage sculpture-in-progress which was steadily being covered with photographs and three-by-three inch drawings created by Penn Charter and Thomas Mifflin students, as well as other East Falls residents.

Frank Hyder’s giant fish made of reclaimed PVC beckoned visitors inside as it sat atop the Mason’s Building. The eyes, made of solar LED planels, light up at night.

Noemi Armstrong, the project manager for the Eco-Art initiative, explained that the fish represented the history of East Falls, which for years was known for its famous “catfish and waffles” dish. “Waffles” has been touring different East Falls businesses, where residents were asked to contribute Post-it size art that represents something about living in the local area. When finished, the sculpture will be installed outside of the Trolley Car Café on Ferry Road for all to see.

Eco-Art originated with a grant initiative by the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education, said Armstrong. The purpose of the “Destination Schuylkill River” initiative sought to bring awareness of the Schuylkill River through public eco-themed art. The resulting sculptures must all be made from recycled materials, and some have already been installed in the community.

On Ridge Avenue in front of Inn Yard Park, for example, stands a catfish bike rack sculpture by Sandra Webberking, built entirely from repurposed metal. Across from the post office on Ridge Avenue, Lynn Denton has installed a mosaic tribute to the “Five Fishes.”

East Falls has been dubbed the “urban village on the Schuylkill River,” by locals and EFDC board member Sharon Jaffe explained that the fish theme for Eco-Art emerged naturally from the close tie East Falls has to the river. “It’s an important part of our heritage,” she said.

East Falls Glassworks

Down the road at Sherman Mills, a trio of POST visitors stopped in at East Falls Glassworks to watch owner Jon Goldberg in action as he worked on a piece in his “Water” series, assisted by Phil Vinson. Donning protective glasses, the group watched, entranced, as the two glass artists worked a glowing orb of glass, bringing it in and out of the 2,200-degree furnace to keep it hot.

The piece was composed of two different formulas of glass – lead crystal and clear glass, Goldberg explained, “so the end result is a piece that is totally clear but has an effect inside it.”

Goldberg says the studio is the only public glass studio for the community in Philadelphia. Vinson, who was trained at Tyler School of Art and specializes in mold making, said that students can learn a variety of forms in classes. “They go from basic paperweights to blown forms, like cups and vases, pieces with handles,” he said.

Complex pieces like the one Goldberg was making can take seven or eight hours of work to complete, and require a cool-down period of at least a week in one of the shop’s kneeling ovens. Even though participants couldn’t see their final piece completed, it was hard for spectators to leave.

“Glassblowing is really a performance,” said Vinson.

RoxArt Stroll at Roxborough Development Corporation

In collaboration with the Manayunk-Roxborough Art Center, the Roxborough Development Corporation (RDC) has made a great commitment to showcase the work of local artists in its office on Ridge Avenue. What began as a series of summer shows blossomed into a POST exhibition featuring many pieces of media, including illustrations, paintings, sculptures, pottery, textiles, basket weaving, and photography.

“Our mission is to make the Ridge a pleasant place,” said JoAnn Desper, a member of the RDC board of directors. Noting that in past years Roxborough hasn’t been well-represented in the list of POST venues. “We wanted to show that we have some wonderful local artists, and that it’s worth coming up the hill to visit us,” Desper said. 

RDC Operations Manager Ken Bigos said that the community’s response to the POST initiative has been positive.

“It has definitely brought a lot of new people to Ridge Avenue,” he said. The art is hung on the walls in what is considered to be public space in the RDC, and people do come to see it during regular office hours – sometimes looking right over his shoulder as he works.

Although it was the first year as a POST venue, Desper said the turnout was high on Sunday for a sidewalk demonstration by artists from Manayunk Pottery and the Philadelphia Guild of Handweavers.

“We’re a great venue for artists who don’t have other places to display their work,” said Desper.

Manayunk-Roxborough Art Center

Around the corner on Green Lane, the quiet presence of a brightly colored sculpture of a palette and paintbrushes marks the otherwise hidden entrance to the Manayunk-Roxborough Art Center (MRAC). The building, once thought to be a horse stable, was transformed in 1962 into what is now the art center, housing a gallery below and studio and classroom space on the second floor.

For POST, the MRAC artist cooperative launched its annual members’ show, featuring 45 works by 18 different member artists. Although most were paintings, there were also collage and photo pieces, and even some pen drawings by the youngest member of the cooperative, Emily Burke, age six.

Mark Elliott, president of MRAC, says he hopes to see even more collaboration with RDC and other groups in Manayunk and East Falls to offer artists more venues to show their work.

“Outside of the Arts Festival in Manayunk, the other places really don’t have anything,” he said. “To team up as an area is a better thing to do.”

Turnout for POST was good, Elliott said, though his goal is to get new people into the space. “If one person came in here and was moved, I’m happy.”

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