Tall ship, wide range of art: Gazela festival features exhibit

This week, an art exhibit has been installed inside the hull of a 19th-century tall ship, where cod used to be stored and salted.

The exhibit is part of a weeklong festival aboard the Gazela, a 177-year-old Portuguese fishing boat, which has been afloat at Penn’s Landing for decades. It is one of Philadelphia’s best-kept nautical secrets.

The wooden ship with three masts and a dozen sails is fully functioning, operated by the Philadelphia Ship Preservation Guild. Roughly 200 dues-paying members sail her about five times a year.

Volunteers come from almost every background.

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“We have got rock climbers who say, ‘rocks are fun,’ but they want to climb,” said ship engineer George Wisser. “Some are very young and nimble. They are our best rigworkers. They come from the rock-climbing world.”

Becky Goldschmidt, owner of the Random Tea Room in Northern Liberties, had no experience with boats when she saw a display at last summer’s ShadFest.

“There was a picture of a tugboat and some knots, and a really rad girl behind the counter named Biz Goldhammer,” said Goldschmidt. “I was, like, I can hang out with this chick. And she was, like, there’s a sailboat, too.”

Because of Goldschmidt’s involvement in the local art community, she was tapped to create an exhibition in the hull of the ship.

So this week, pop-art prints, abstract paintings, and found-object sculptures compete with the abstractions of weathered wood grain, rust stains, and tar drips of the original hull.

The smell of old wood, fish, and sweat mix into a heady cocktail, shaken by the swells of the Delaware River. It’s as far from a white-cube gallery as you can get.

“The darkness of the wood makes the art pop,” said Goldschmidt. “It really complemented the art a lot. The colors really zing, and the essence of the boat is intact. It’s not super-polished and it’s not supposed to be.”

Above deck, theater and music performances will take place all week. The boat is small, but audiences can see and hear easily from shore.

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