This tiny painting is 4″ x 4″, acrylics on board, July, 2017.
This tiny painting is 4″ x 4″, acrylics on board, July, 2017.
About a year ago, a friend of mine asked me if I would do a painting of his family home. Sure, I said.
Well, time moved on, we kept talking about it here and there, but finally this summer the stars aligned and the project was done. Here is the story, and it is special to me.
My friend, John, lives in the home where he grew up. It was built more than 100 years ago by his grandparents, lived in by his parents, and now by him. It’s an end-of-row rowhome located in what was a small town about 35 miles from Center City Philadelphia.
The area is now suburbanizing and there have been a lot of changes, but the house is still as it has always been, rising up from the street in a dignified way.
As well as a doing a portrait of the house, John asked me to include his dogs: Ava, Maggie, Nikki, and Winnie. Other than that, well, it was up to me.
Normally I won’t do commissions. I dislike feeling the future owner’s hopes hovering over my shoulder as I work. I extra dislike the idea that I could disappoint the recipient. In this case, I know that John likes my work; he has been a big supporter of me, always.
But I also knew that this house means more than just shelter to him. It is the embodiment of a lifetime of memories for him and the setting for all his family’s history for a century. I felt a lot of responsibility.
But, I figured, I’ll get to work, and if it doesn’t please him, well, I’ll just…just…try again!
I want to show the process of this project, and I will break it down into its parts. Because I decided there would be paintings rather than painting.
Here are my ideas. I would do a small portrait of each dog; I’d do the house; and I’d do a picture of the front door and steps. In this way I could represent all the parts that seemed important. The house, of course. The dogs deserved their own spaces; I felt they would be insignificant inside the larger painting and I didn’t like that idea, since they are so important to John. And I just liked the front steps; that’s the way everyone who’s ever been there goes in and out, all those years!
My husband and I drove out and took pictures of the house in June. John sent me pictures of Ava, Nikki, and Maggie; I took a picture of John and Winnie in July.
Now you know it all. Here are the results.
Let’s start with the dogs.
And John and Winnie. I met Winnie myself; John brought her to the Tinicum Festival of the Arts and I took her picture.
Here is the close up of the steps and front door.
And now. The house!
Here are the finished pieces all together…
Here are three mail art postcards, all including handwriting, and all using up scraps of this or that.
This bird postcard was made by painting a background (including the blue blob I later turned into the bird) and pasting strips of handwriting practice paper around it.
Next, I covered my cardboard surface with scraps of handwriting practice paper and glued on a little drawing. Voila! Done.
This card featured a painted background, letters stenciled on, and then some paper scraps added. Plus some scribbling into the paint.
People, save your scraps. They are useful.
These are all mail art postcards made using the same figure. Let me think how I did these…
I cut out the figure from a paint card. I like the stiffness of the cardboard and yet it is not too thick.
Then I took some already-painted postcards and did my work. The first two are stencils with some details added.
The last card is the figure itself – I turned it over to the non-paint color side (you can see the black painting seeping around the edges from when I used it earlier) coloring it yellow and gluing it down.
One figure, reappearing in multiple roles…
I visited the city on Wednesday, August 9, the city being my city, Philadelphia. My husband had a meeting at his downtown office and I decided to take the ride in and go look around.
It was a beautiful day. I rarely go into Philadelphia anymore, but for many years I was here every day – I worked in several different locations (for the same employer) in Center City and in the historic district. I also drove all over the place for my job, so I know a lot about the entire city; but it’s the hub of things I want to talk about today.
On this walk, I visited two of my favorite art pieces, both public art. I’ll show you a little bit and then, if you are interested, you can find more info on the internet or…you can visit Philadelphia!
All right. We’ll start with some relief sculptures on this building.
It’s the US Courthouse (now Robert C Nix Federal Building) and the William Penn Annex of the post office. The building is quite large – it extends a half block on Market Street and goes all the way through the block to Chestnut Street.
The reliefs I am interested in are along the 9th street facade. They were the work of Edmond Amateis and commissioned by the government through the WPA to ornament this 1930’s building.
They depict mail delivery and show it taking place in far-flung locations. I have always loved these sculptures for their style and beauty, and for the idea that mail delivery unites the world, with people working hard to get a letter where it needs to go.
Here they are: they are arranged in two pairs. You will notice a difference in the look of the reliefs – two were in the sun and two in shadow.
First, the cowboy and the city postman:
Next, mail delivery in the tropics and in the far north:
Every time I am in the neighborhood I stop to take a look. For more information look here.
Now, my other favorite. It’s Dream Garden, a huge mosaic located in the lobby of the Curtis Center at 6th and Walnut Streets, right next to the Independence Hall complex. I worked in a building around the corner for some time and when I needed a respite, I’d come over and visit the mural.
It was designed by Maxfield Parrish and created by the Tiffany studios. Many many small pieces of glass, iridescent, opaque, all glowing. It was installed in 1916 in this building, at the time the home of Curtis Publishing (Ladies Home Journal, Saturday Evening Post). The building itself is fascinating and beautiful, but I am showing you just the mosaic today.
As a note – there are a lot of pictures on the internet, better than mine – here is its official entry by its owner, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
The mosaic was almost lost to the city about 20 years ago, when its owner died and the heir proposed selling it to a Las Vegas casino. In a complicated transaction with public donations and the cooperation of other beneficiaries under the will, the mosaic became the property of PAFA and is now protected as a historic object.
I noticed some “band-aids” on the mosaic that were not there when I last saw it.
A bit of research told me that construction elsewhere in the building had shaken the structure a year ago and damaged the mosaic. I can’t find details on what the restoration plan is, except that it is being studied for repair. I feel better knowing it is in the care of a museum, at least. Anyway, my pleasure was not diminished by the “band-aids”.
All right, now you’ve seen them. My favorites.
Mail art postcard,
First I made the background of collaged magazine papers. Then I drew the bridge and other details with India ink. Last, the little red figure was set in place.
There, my part of the story ends, and you supply your own next chapter.
These paintings are 8″ x 8″, done in acrylics, June, 2017.