Philadelphia Stories

Art — Produced by Michael O’Reilly

PHILADELPHIA STORIES is a literary journal that just celebrated its 10 year anniversary. As its name indicates, it has a decidedly Philadelphia-centric mission – to publish and celebrate the authors that call “the city of brotherly love” home. For their 10th anniversary, they have expanded that mission to include visual artists and have curated the literary submissions so that the subjects riff off the visuals. Additionally, the text is designed to sit opposite the art in a book and exhibition celebrating the ground-breaking accomplishments of Philadelphia-area women past and present, called Extraordinary Gifts: Remarkable Women of the Delaware Valley. Some of these women—Louisa May Alcott, Margaret Mead, and Marian Anderson among them—are well known. Others, such as Alice Steer Wilson, Dorothy P. Miller, and Helga Testorf, might be less familiar. But none of them allowed the limitations of society’s expectations for their gender to stop them from fulfilling their potential.

While the magazine was started by women it has never been explicitly about women until this book (itself published by PS Books, the publishing arm of the magazine) and exhibition by the same name at the Cheltenham Center for the Arts. We talk to artist Deirdre White, who cut her artistic teeth in Philadelphia and uses Helga Testorf (the “secret” model of Andrew Wyeth’s late career) as her artistic muse. Julie Odell, herself a published author and professor at Community College of Philadelphia, writes about Margaret Mead (born in Philadelphia and raised in Doylestown) in what Odell calls a piece of “flash fiction” – technically defined as a piece of prose of less than 1000 words. The Helga painting and Mead flash fiction are themselves accompanied by a complementary piece of literature or visual art. PHILADELPHIA STORIES was started on a strictly volunteer basis by Christine Weiser and Carla Spataro. Deciding to pursue a life of writing had co-founder Spataro declaring “I’m so much happier now. It changed my life.” Hearing her say that, one can’t help but think that this 10 year anniversary sits on the heads of all of the featured Philadelphia authors and artists, each a jewel in the crown that is PHILADELPHIA STORIES.

Web Extra: Deirdre White – edited by Noe Garcia

Painter Deirdre White was given the task of selecting a famous woman from the Delaware Valley for Philadelphia Stories, a literary magazine. The project consisted of selecting the woman and then creating an artwork representing her. White chose Helga Testorf, the art model. Testorf reminded White of her own mother and has always been fascinated with the artist-model relationship.

Testorf was the last woman to be famous strictly for being an artist’s model. Testorf modeled, in secret, for Andrew Wyeth, one of the best-known US artists of the middle 20th Century. The modeling lasted 14 years and comprised of approximately 245 artworks. They are now known as The Helga Pictures.

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