Constructing a World: Saleem Ahmed's 'Rani Road' at Gravy Gallery

By Alex Conner

Many, if not all, reading this have been to an exhibition of art at a commercial gallery. Commercial galleries offer their space to a procession of artists throughout the year in order to exhibit those artists’ works. The ‘voice’ of a gallery is the choice of a gallery. Gallerists - gallery owners - work with artists whose art they feel is resonant with the cultural zeitgeist of the moment; whose art reflects something about the today that they believe is important to share with others. Commercial Gallerists hope that visitors - their potential customers - will discover their own reflexive-insights within the gallery’s voice and the artists’ visions, and choose to show that support through purchasing artworks. This allows the galleries and artists to continue producing works as well as allowing a gallery’s customers the ability to live and grow with the artist’s vision in their own home.

When visiting a gallery, everything is ordered in such a way as to (hopefully) make it appear as though this temporary moment has been/is/will be permanent. It is rare as a visitor to an exhibition to be aware of the penumbra of activity surrounding that permanence. How often do we encounter what happens before and after a show, when the walls are bare and pockmarked with spackle?

Puppy present at the opening, but not part of overall exhibition. It was just too cute a shot not to use.

Puppy present at the opening, but not part of overall exhibition. It was just too cute a shot not to use.

On June 1st, I caught myself idling down North 2nd street in Northern Liberties. It was First Friday and I wanted to return to a neighborhood I had not visited in a couple of months to see what work was being exhibited. I ambled past Gravy Gallery, paused, then slowly walked backwards to take note of another world inside the gallery which had caught my eye. Saleem Ahmed, journalist and photographer, had put together an exhibition of photography focused on women in his family who were raised in Udaipur, India. These photographs are collected in his photo-book, Rani Road. However, photographs were not the only things that occupied the space. They were accompanied by objects distinctly quotidian such as tables, fabrics, family photos, food and drink, arising out of his family’s culture. Their installation was complex and full, which transported the photographs, and the experience of viewing them, into another space.

Besides enjoyment, my first thoughts about the art was that the photographs were intimate, without being idiosyncratic, as well as formally rich. It’s not easy to make photographs or you family interesting to people outside of your family. Any of us who have had to ‘coo’ in the break room over a co-workers photographs from their recent family trip may be aware of this phenomenon.

However, the elaborateness of the installation made me think about how much effort Saleem must have put into gathering these elements together, and forced me to wonder what would happen to them, as well as the art, after the show. The thought traveled with me for the rest of the evening and into the next week where I was so bothered by it that I had to reach out. After e-mails back and forth with Katie Tackman, one of the co-curators of Gravy Gallery, and Saleem, we set a date to meet and discuss just this topic.


Saleem explained that his experience with putting the show together began by being contacted by Katie. Gravy has a revolving curatorial schedule, with different operating members curating exhibitions, and Katie wanted Saleem to put together a show based upon his photo book, Rani Road. She e-mailed him images of previous installations and over the intervening months they agreed on timing and the basic logistics of exhibiting the work.

Like many exhibitions - and life for that matter - I would go on to learn that the preparation for putting together this exhibition was painstaking and deliberative, while the takedown was quite quick. Katie and Saleem worked together for several months, sharing ideas back-and-forth about how to transform the space and find the balance between setting and focus. Putting together an exhibition such as this is almost a little bit like being the designer of a theatrical production. There is a stage that acts as setting - the gallery. There is a duration of experience - though unique to each visiting individual. And there will be, by dint of not being able to experience everything all at once, a sense of periodicity in exploring the world that the artist has created as you travel around the space.

Saleem at the opening

Saleem at the opening

These assertions may seem a little over-the-top, but as someone who spends a lot of his free time traveling around Philadelphia to experience art, I feel like I have the authority to say that this exhibition caught my eye because each of these three aspects of visitor experience were dealt with directly and in-depth. Katie and Saleem detailed for me the emotional hand-wringing, organizational propriety and creative reworking that went on for several months in order to make the moment I walked through the door appear effortless.

The show was up for a month, during which time the reasonably priced and incredibly engaging photographs did not sell. However, a handful of copies of Saleem’s book did find new homes in which to unravel their visual story and offer up moments of reflection for their owners. Saleem informed me that the photo world is “book-crazy” right now, which I thought made a lot of sense.  Much is being said about those who have discretionary income being more inclined to spend it on experiences than objects.  In a world where we are rapidly forgetting that viewing is an experience unto itself, it makes sense to me that a book - even though a centuries old format - would be more attractive to a contemporary buyer of art as it explicitly requires their interaction to unfold itself.

An image from Saleem’s artist talk about his book Rani Road.

An image from Saleem’s artist talk about his book Rani Road.

All good things must come to an end, and that nagging thought that had driven me to reach out to Katie and Saleem now wanted me to inquire where all these complex parts of the exhibition now lived.  Saleem informed me that several of the photographs in the exhibition had been re-hung in his own home, in intimate spaces such as his bedroom and living room. However, the majority had been taken out of their frames and stored safely from light, dust, scratches and so many simple environmental factors that can ruin expensive prints.  The frames are now neatly stored in his basement closet.  


The small rug, end table, incense holder and textiles in which the gallery was swathed, now furnish parts of his own, recently purchased, home. I found it particularly poignant that these two big life moments - a solo gallery exhibition and the purchase of a home - coincided so closely with one another and that the needs of one (furnishing a home) became so important to the other (contextualizing artwork).  Saleem is now half-living in the world he helped  create for his artworks and the visitors he wanted to explore them.

By the time you are reading this, several more exhibits have come and gone at Gravy. I imagine their stories are similar, but different.  Familiar, but at a distance, to Saleem’s experience. Galleries like Gravy and curators like Katie who choose to work closely with artists in order to divine a shared vision that they believe elicits something unique and nuanced are becoming more rare in an art world that is trending towards quick and digestible visual experiences.  I will not forget their efforts and, in knowing that there is a home in Philadelphia where elements of this installation still exist, am happy to think that such a considered and evocative experience could be reconstituted again.


Interview Series: Yvonne Bobrowicz

By Leigh Werrell

Yvonne Pacanovsky Bobrowicz, dressed, as usual, in all black, sits in her Fitler Square row home, surrounded by plants, light, and various artifacts – clues to the narrative of her full life. Her husband, an artist and former architect named Joe, is in the kitchen. As Yvonne and I chat, she gestures to objects in the sitting room, showing me the intricately carved furniture her father built and a copper plate her mother hammered and etched with a floral pattern. 

 Bobrowicz’s home is also filled with remnants of her own artistic explorations. A weaving hangs in the window: a vertical train of transparent strands falling down the pane, catching the light like water. Her more recent work resides in an upstairs room and in her sunlit studio. Bobrowicz’s work is made of thin, plastic monofilament, each strand knotted together and hung to form an organic mass that glows like a jellyfish when touched by light. A few of these pieces are over six feet tall and four feet wide, however they all have a distinct feather-like weightlessness. In some, the texture of the filaments changes halfway down the piece, as Bobrowicz has inserted ties coated in gold or made of organic materials, such as linen. These pieces in particular have a certain – almost sensual – bodily quality, maintaining a distinctly figurative anatomical form while remaining ethereal in nature.

 Bobrowicz has been weaving since the 1930’s, and continues to work today. She studied at the esteemed Cranbrook Academy of Art, among other institutions, and started teaching at Drexel University in 1966. The Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Racine Art Museum, and the Art Institute of Chicago own work by Bobrowicz, and she was represented by Snyderman-Works Galleries in Philadelphia from 2000 to 2017. Her work is currently on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art along with that of Jack Larimore and Sharon Church.

Bobrowicz sat down with me to chat about her family, life and artistic intentions a few days ago.

Yvonne Bobrowicz in her living room

Yvonne Bobrowicz in her living room

Leigh Werrell: How long have you been a practicing artist?

Yvonne Bobrowicz: My parents were art-craft, but at that time, art and craft were apt to be separate, when actually they are a degree of one. I didn’t think of myself as an artist, really, until mid-life, when that whole art-craft evolution started. I grew up in a very creative household. It was the depression – survival – beauty was something that I would be exposed to, develop and live with. My mother always had to set the table the night before, so you started the day in calm and beauty. At one point there were seven of us around the table because of the aunties. How she did it, I don’t know, but there was always something good to eat, and she designed and made a lot of our clothes.

We had to go forth looking the way she wanted us to. She would put our hair up because little girls had to have curls. My father had wavy hair. None of the three of us got it, and she lamented. So she would put our hair up in paper and safety pins every night- there was a night ritual- we got the hair curled and then she’d read wonderful stories. She took elocution as a child and she was very good- she probably could have been an actress except her mother would have had a fit, because she was old Victorian…

LW- So basically when you were a child you had the idea of aesthetics all around you and then –

YB- It was something we lived with. My older sister was very good. She was going to be a painter, only she was a girl. My mother realized she had talent, so she looked up an artist in town. He was an impressionist. He had come from Texas where he was so poor he had to draw with charcoal on the ground.

LW- So you found that you were proficient at art as well, at that age?

YB- I did enjoy painting. In boarding school my mother said, “You should take typing, because girls should know how to type – you might be starving at some point!” and that’s what girls did – but I was terrible! I almost flunked. 

I would draw my roommate or scenes of the campus.  But when I went to Cranbrook, I went into craft and not fine art and it worked for me.

Cosmic Series #2 , Knotted monofilament, natural linen, 88” x 36” x 16”, 1985 (Courtesy of Snyderman-Works Galleries)

Cosmic Series #2, Knotted monofilament, natural linen, 88” x 36” x 16”, 1985 (Courtesy of Snyderman-Works Galleries)

LW- Your parents were both creative – your father was a woodworker – did they encourage you in your pursuit of art?

YB- Oh, yes. When I was in 7th grade, the teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I said I wanted to be an arts and crafts teacher – of course my parents were arts and crafts teachers. So my mother said, “Oh, fine, you can go to the state art school.” which was part of Rutgers.

My father came from a farm, and in the winter he would carve little sticks with a penknife. His father had three boys out of nine children! Anyway, they said, “We’ll send him to the carver.” because he could be apprenticed at eleven. You see this was the Austrian-Hungarian empire, and in the early 1900s the farm children could only be educated if they went to the army or into priesthood.

My father had incredible handwriting – he prided himself. He was smart in the head, really an intellectual. When he died he said he wished he had been a philosopher. Anyway, at eleven he was out of the house. What you did was you went to live with the guy who had the business, the carpenter. He swept the floor first and then he taught him – that’s how he went to school.  And when they were 17 they would become journeymen. They worked all the time, but every once in a while they could dance. He lived to be 95 and taught ‘till 80. He worked and he made beautiful things.

LW- I know that you studied at Cranbrook, University of Pennsylvania, and the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art (now University of the Arts) and taught at Drexel. How did these institutions influence your work?

YB- The school on Broad and Pine [University of the Arts] was wonderful- Annie Albers came, so I took her course, and I read a lot, sort of like my father.

Cranbrook was most important to me. The campus was beautifully designed. It was a total aesthetic environment, philosophically and physically. But remember – with hand weaving – people would say, “Oh how relaxing.” They thought that you had a nerve disease or something, either it was like knitting or you lived in Appalachia and you were trying to survive. It didn’t bother me. I love my weaving, and I lucked into Cranbrook.

Cosmic Galaxie Series #1 , knotted monofilament; brass, 53” h x 36”, 2011 (Courtesy of Snyderman-Works Galleries)

Cosmic Galaxie Series #1, knotted monofilament; brass, 53” h x 36”, 2011 (Courtesy of Snyderman-Works Galleries)

LW- What was the art community like when you first moved to philly?

YB- The Art Alliance was important. The Academy (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts) was important. There were not a great many galleries. When I first left school, one of the architects there said my friend from Carnegie Mellon is opening a design studio, go and talk to him. So I did. And he said to go to the Art Alliance. He said, “there’s something called the Home Fashion League” – and these were the decorators. See, the terminology for the designing of spaces has changed.

Philadelphia had a guild of hand weavers. These were ladies from the Main Line, who decided they didn’t want to play bridge. They were mostly upper-middle class. One of them had a husband who traveled a lot after the war. He went to Sweden, and you see, in Sweden, you would rent a loom at the department store. Of course, they weave a certain knotted, Rya rug, which they did for beds, floors, walls, sleds – you know, it’s cold there!

So they decided to have a little group who would learn to weave. They bought looms. And a couple of them went to Cranbrook Summer school. They were all around 50, and I was 22 or 23. They contacted me – they found out somehow that I wove – and I was the young one.  A lot of them did a type of weaving where they would copy patterns. Of course we [at Cranbrook] were taught everything had to come out of you. We were into textured weaving. That was an evolution, you could say, from the old patterns. The character of the yarn, the color, and how you put it together were the important things. In a sense I brought that to them, but I learned from them too. They would meet at the university museum, and they’d have speakers at the Ladies Tea at Penn.

Cosmic Series (Triptych) , Knotted translucent monofilament, brass, 54" x 36", 1989-2003 (Courtesy of Snyderman-Works Galleries)

Cosmic Series (Triptych), Knotted translucent monofilament, brass, 54" x 36", 1989-2003 (Courtesy of Snyderman-Works Galleries)

LW- In what years did this happen?

YB- This was in the earlier part of the ‘50s. They had Lenore Tawney come in the late 50s, and they asked me to take her out to dinner, so I lucked in! I was so pleased to see her at the Tate. She lived to be 100.

LW- What was it like to be a working female artist in the 70s and 80s?

YB- My mother was much more advanced than many. She went to art school and had a definite aesthetic. I had this dichotomy because it was the ‘20s, near New York – my parents were interested in nudism and vegetarianism. We would be put down in the yard naked. My father had a flourishing cabinet making business, and then the depression killed it, so he went into teaching, and moved from public school to prep school, which was more conservative. Then, my sister and I went to boarding school.

What happened in the ‘70s was that there were more of us, (female artists) and we were allowed freedom. The craft movement was a part of this. There was a group of female artists- the Art Alliance supported them and showed their work. Edna Andrade and Elizabeth Osborne were particularly good – they both have work at Locks Gallery now. They were good, but they were painters, and I was not a painter. What happened was Helen Drutt started the Philadelphia Craft Group. There was a group of women whose children were getting older and they were looking for something creative. So you could see the movement evolving, in all mediums. I had my first rug at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in the ‘60s.

Mrs. Vanderbilt Webb (Aileen Osborn Webb) was – you know, “money,” and she was empathetic. She saw all these people around her – women in the depression having a terrible time. So she encouraged them to make something to sell. So she gathered them together, mostly they were potters but some weavers. She had a gallery on Madison Avenue [where she exhibited their work] and I was in two of those shows. The women had been in the factories and flying the planes, and so there was a new women’s energy, after the war.  There was an exhibit at the Art Alliance for textiles and Mrs. Vanderbilt Webb had exhibits at her gallery. In one of them, I was supposed to be up for first prize, but mine wasn’t practical, because you see, crafts were supposed to be functional, and you couldn’t wash my drapery! Mrs. Vanderbilt Webb was the money behind the new craft museum (The Museum of Arts and Design), and that was really a smash.

There was some intuitive thing within me. I used to walk around the city and I’d see lofts…I had a lovely home but… 

I’m not alone. There were several women who got divorced…I had a friend from Cranbrook who knew a woman with four children – she left them with her husband and went to New York to paint. I could never have done that but I just wanted something new. I remember driving myself to the beach and sitting there alone. I was 49 and I thought, “This is the first day of the rest of my life.” I was feeling it, but I didn’t know quite how to express it. Then when this loft became available, I grabbed it, and I had this commission at a synagogue, and I thought, I could use that for one year’s rent. I had the loft for four years. That was my whole “rebirth.”  I had the teaching job and I had the weaving job, then I took an extra teaching job at the Art Institute. I took [the loft] at $150 a month. Can you believe it?!

At that time women were paid even less than they are now. The woman’s job was to take care of the house and the children and the husband, and if she had any time and energy or cleverness after that then she would do something, and any money she made from that was hers. That’s why I felt like “Well, I’m going to do this.” because I was teaching – terrible money – but whatever. When I got there I decided I didn’t want to weave anything functional. The type of yarn and its scale reflected the evolution of the woman. Big fat thick yarn like this (Bobrowicz gestures at a round, high-pile, red and white rug under her coffee table) – then as industrialization evolved, automation, etc., you went the other way. So that was a polarity within me. Someone said, “DuPont gives yarn away.” because they did the plastic and nylon. They made the first nylon stockings – oh my God, they were so wonderful!  So I got that DuPont monofilament and I thought, “I’ll go man-made instead of natural.”  [The loft] was a wonderful space – it had sun, 5 windows facing southwest, and it had these lights and when you took the monofilament and hung it – my God! It lit up! It lit up my brain!

At that time I was going to Jungian meetings and I read the Tao of Physics. I wanted to express what I was reading, thinking and feeling. I get so excited when I think of the physics of particles, theories of space-time, cosmic energy fields, and how we are all connected through physics. Monofilament allows me to explore these ideas in a dynamic and kinetic manner, through the illumination of the material and the way it moves.


Thank you to Yvonne Bobrowicz for sharing her time and stories! Her work will be on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art until summer, 2018­­­.


by Terri Saulin

Purchasing a farm share or “CSA” has developed into the perfect solution for many consumers to maintain a supply of fresh, seasonal food directly from local farms. As a result, Philadelphians have grown accustomed in recent years to a fantastic array of local produce, courtesy of our access to farmers-markets and farm-shares, citywide. 




I was pleased when I found in 2012, that an organization had emerged to accomplish those same goals but that rather than bringing juicy, hand-picked heirloom tomatoes, they were bringing Art! CSA (in this case standing for Community Supported Art) is hosting spirited, creative events that include lively conversation, food, drink and, most importantly, Artists! All you have to do to be part of the party is to buy a share from CSA Philadelphia.


The first iteration of the Philadelphia CSA began as a collaboration between two Philly Artist Collectives: GrizzlyGrizzly and Tiger Strikes Asteroid: Philly (TSA Philly). The 2012 collection included nine artists; Sarah Kate Burgess, Anda Dubinskis, Jacob Feige, Sarah Gamble, Brian Giniewski, Ivanco Talevski, Brent Wahl, Douglas Witmer, Linda Yun


 The current season’s organizers include members of GrizzlyGrizzly and include two former TSA Philly members. The 2017 collection consists of works by six Artists; Grimaldi Baez, Leah Bailis, Marc Blumthal, Julianna Foster, Alexis Nutini, Lucia Thomé


As a member of TSA Philly I had the opportunity to participate in the 2012 launching of CSA Philadelphia. The launch was a transformative experience that opened my eyes to a new and varied array of Philadelphia artists and collectors. I was assuredly not alone in my appreciation of the CSA’s addition to the artistic landscape of Philadelphia. When I sat down to discuss CSA with Cindy Stockton Moore, Anne Schaefer and Jaime Alvarez they only reinforced my glowing admiration of the project.


TS: The three of you have been working together on the CSA since the beginning. Can you tell me about the origin of the program and how the collaboration all began?


AS: Philadelphia's Community Supported Art Program is modeled after the very successful program developed by Springboard for the Arts in Minneapolis, MN (2010). Their model has gained a lot of notoriety and has been replicated throughout the country.  In 2012, GrizzlyGrizzly partnered with Tiger Strikes Asteroid to implement the Springboard model with the goal of cultivating an open, authentic and deep connection between artists and collectors. The program sought to create dialog through a series of events that revolved around local and innovative artwork. This motivation continues with our current CSA program. The 2012 Community Supported Art was supported by a grant from Springboard for the Arts, funded in part by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. It is one of two inaugural CSA programs in Philadelphia. This funding along with our generous local sponsors was instrumental in starting the program and enabling us to move some proceeds from that iteration forward toward the initial funding of the 2017 program. 


JA: What Anne said!


TS: Why is it important for artists to be able to sell their work through the CSA?


CSM:  This economic model works for artists in that it connects them directly to a viewer - and supports their project much like a grant would.  Instead of working solely on speculation, the artists have a clear idea of their recompense before embarking on an edition and can budget their time and materials accordingly.  The organizers also serve as facilitators, so artists can often try out new ideas or materials for their CSA share, many venturing into the idea of multiples for the first time.


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JA: I would second Cindy’s comments. I would also add that artists usually make work prior to being seen in public, or for emerging artists, it may be possible that work that is made will be put out into the public.  With the CSA, they are granted funds that allow them to create works that couldn’t be achieved otherwise. 


TS: Making a large edition/series or works can be a herculean task. How do the artists benefit from participating in the CSA? 


CSM: They are participating in a project that values and compensates their effort and vision.  They are paid for their work in advance of its production, so that's material compensation.  But they are also connected to a new audience, so that's building a community for future involvement and support.  Sometimes that takes the form of potential sales, but often it materializes socially in terms of new connections and access to techniques or material knowledge. 


JA: I would also add that the artists should feel free to attempt something new and different from their usual work, or create something that they couldn’t have afforded to otherwise. 


TS: How does the community benefit in supporting the project? 


CSM:  Shareholders benefit across the board also.  Their contribution buys them six great pieces of art -- which is a bargain from any viewpoint.  More importantly, shareholders have many chances to meet and talk to the artists.  The work that ends up in their homes will contain that extra knowledge and connection -- I know for me that makes the art even more valuable, increasing the daily enjoyment of living with contemporary art.  Also, they should feel good about what they are supporting -- this economic structure is a different way of thinking about supporting the arts, a more accessible way.  The shareholders are making that change happen.  


2012_CSA_November event-164.jpg


TS: What might the editioned artworks impact on their collectors be? 


CSM:  I think that impact will vary as much as the shareholders themselves.  For some, it might be the start of a new collection, for others it may blend into their already well-established one.  Our hope is that the connections between artists and shareholder will continue to build over time, and lead to outcomes we cannot begin to imagine.


JA: I see it as a potential to open up a new collection, or to buy something as an investment into their local community, instead of adding something mass produced into their collection.  My personal hopes are that with committing to the CSA, they are also motivated to look into local artists and purchase works from them or other local artists. 


TS: I think there is amazing potential for the CSA, particularly in a city like Philadelphia. We are a hub of generous and diverse creative history that seems to get more energized each year. The city is alive with celebratory events like The Parkway’s 100th Anniversary, Cai Guo-Qian’s Firefly Pedicab service and The Mural Arts/Monument Lab project. The CSA is bound to gain traction and become a strong thread in the cultural fabric. 


TS: My fondest memory of the program was going to visit artists in their studios throughout the city. I remember being awestruck at the incredibly diverse and multi-faceted group of artists I met, it was like a “Philly Art21!” When developing the selection for the CSA, how are the artists chosen?


CSM: For the 2017 share, we asked local arts organizations, curators and collectives to nominate artists -- it broadened our search and introduced us to even more people working in Philadelphia.  I am always surprised by the breadth and depth of the community here.  There are so many interesting people doing interesting things.  Narrowing it down to the finalists was a daunting task! 


AS: Agreed! Seeing the artists in their studios is a real treat. For this selection process, not dissimilarly from the selection in 2012, we were looking for a range of artistic disciplines to be represented through the work of the final six artists. The thought process was through that range, potential collectors might gravitate to something they were familiar with or partial to and then take a risk on something they might not have considered collecting. For example, someone interested in photography might initially be intrigued by Julianna Foster's work and then though the CSA discover they love Lucia Thomé's sculptures - thereby broadening the diversity of pieces in their personal collection. 


JA: The choosing of the artists is probably one of the best parts of organizing the CSA. The first round list of artists usually is composed of artists via many factors.  Personally, I think people are first nominated because of their work within the arts community, their reputation, and the quality of their work.  After a few rounds of pairing down artists to a much more workable list.  From that list, we contact the artists, explain to them the project and schedule a visit if they are willing to participate. After that visit, there is quite a bit back and forth with the organizers in trying to curate a group of artists to make an artist’s share that people would be interested in purchasing. The whole process is really difficult because we would love to work with all of the artists we nominate and provide a venue for their amazing projects. 


TS: The “Pick Up” events are remarkable celebrations that are open to the public as well as subscribers and include demonstrations by some of the artists in the collection. The last pick up in 2012 at Second State Press featured a Printmaking demonstration by Ivanco Talevski. It was lovely to observe the public interaction. I had never been to Second State Press, it was an even more special occasion to meet Ivanco and explore the venue. Can you talk about the relationships the CSA and artists have with the pick up venues?


CSM: One of our goals is to introduce shareholders to organizations and spaces around the city, but we also make a point to host one 'in-house' pick-up, this year at GrizzlyGrizzly.  The pick-up will take place during a solo-exhibition by Brent Wahl, who was a 2012 CSA artist.  For me, it reflects the on-going relationships we are building between the artists, organizers and shareholders. The project is a beginning for these long-term, deeper connections.  October will also be our first month back in the 319 building after the fire [fingers crossed] so it will have personal resonance.




AS: I'm so glad you have a great memory of that event. Not only was that event and venue special as a result of the demonstration that Ivanco Talevski did, but Second State was instrumental in the production of Anda Dubinskis' edition.  She worked with Second State to complete the silk screened portion of her 2012 CSA edition.


This time around we have found other local venues to be just as positive and excited about the project. To preview the work of the 2017 artists, get the current shareholders together for a fun social gathering, and expose new collectors to the program and an exciting local studio building, we had an event at Globe Dye Works. Until recently, my studio was located there and Globe Dye Works is home to so many amazing artists and small businesses - it is a lively mix of dynamic art and commerce. We were able to host a pop-up exhibition of our 6 CSA artists' works as well as many members of the Globe Dye Works community opened up their studios. I created a limited edition print to commemorate the 2017 CSA which is available for our early subscribers to the 2017 CSA (there are some still available).  In upcoming events, a raffle and our three pick-up events, we will continue to partner with venues that complement our mission of making opportunities for our community to come together over local, innovative artwork.


JA: As organizers that have come from artist collective, or artist run galleries, connecting the new collectors with the artists, and other creative spaces within the city became an integral part of the CSA program.  In the Farm Share analogy, I guess it would be inviting the Shareholders to where the food is grown/art is created.  The spaces that have been involved in organizing the CSA, Tiger Strikes Asteroid (TSA) and GrizzlyGrizzly, are always looking to open up their doors to anyone who wants to know more.  The way that TSA and GrizzlyGrizzly came around, creating spaces that contrasted with commercial gallery spaces, in order to get more artists work viewed. So it seemed natural to bring the buyers into our spaces, and other spaces around the city in order to educate the larger community.  


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TS: Participating in the CSA Program exponentially widened my circle of friends, brought on two new colleagues at Tiger Strikes Asteroid Philadelphia, introduced me to new venues and neighborhoods and literally opened my eyes to the vast talent pool in Philadelphia. Can you speak specifically about “Philadelphia” and how you feel about supporting Philadelphia Artists?


AS: We have already touched on the incredible volume of talented artists living and working in this city and I have been proud to be part of this community for the better part of the last 17 years, so, it has been particularly meaningful to be a part of a program that has Philadelphia artists at its core.  I believe buying artwork is an investment in culture. The promise of our community depends on our commitment to each other and the recognition of the value in what we do.  I think that it is essential that we consider ways in which we can do this beyond the conventional art market as well as find ways to increase the depth and breadth of our community. The hope is that, the Community Supported Art Program is an option toward this endeavor.


JA: While Philadelphia may seem small compared to New York’s vast artist community, being an organizer for the CSA really did help me realize that Philadelphia offers so much more than I originally expected.  At times criticism of how the Philadelphia arts community seemed very compartmentalized, or “cliquey”, but the CSA project, and the Citywide exhibition of 2013 looked to break down those walls by extending invitation to all our contacts, and their contacts in a way to open up more dialogue.


CSM: The great thing about the CSA program is that it helped connect new potential collectors with artists. I remember meeting people who came as far from Cape May and Baltimore to collect their pieces. If we can reach out to those people, and show what Philly artists spaces have to offer to the public. 


TS: The 2012 CSA left me feeling joyful and thoroughly nourished by the community that exists here in Philly. I was thrilled to see the program make another appearance. I understand that the care and development of a project like this is a gigantic investment. What do you see as the future of CSA Philadelphia?


CSM: We are already talking about the next iteration of the CSA - and what local organization will organize the next round. Stay tuned for an official announcement in December!


JA: I hope it inspires other up and coming artists to create their own spaces and programs.  Philadelphia is a great space for the arts and it feels like its growing more every year


TS: TSA Philly purchased a 2012 share as a group. We “shared” the spoils in a random lottery. When I opened my treasure, I found that I received #1 in Anda Dubinskis’ edition Flora & Fauna : Memory & Hope. I had Anda as a drawing teacher when I was a student at Moore College of Art and Design and have long admired her magnificent work. This was a magical moment for me. Can you share some of your magic CSA moments?


CSM:This spring we had a CSA event at Martha in Kensington where we made an insane amount of donuts.  While I was working the fryer downstairs, it turns out that my five-year son was upstairs doing a collaborative drawing with Jaime and 2017 artist, Grimaldi Baez -- this amazing scene with aliens and spaceships.  It showed me that my CSA experience is one small facet of what happens at these events.  Otto will have a special relationship with Grimaldi's work when we get in from the share -- he's met the artist, worked with him, probably climbed on his lap.  That's magic in my book.


AS: In 2012, I was closely involved with helping the artists assemble and package their editions.  It was so special to see the care and attention each put in to this process. The consideration of how shareholders would experience the work from the moment they picked it up through the time they would spend with it in their homes was really lovely.  Many artists included labels or inserts that thanked the shareholders and explained their project. Additionally, I loved being able to see each work in the editions, as nearly all (and many in 2017) were unique or variable editions.  I felt privileged to be a part of this process as I believe I was one of the few to see all 50 of the works by each artist in one place at a time.  Seeing their commitment to the project and their talent manifest in their editions was really magical. 


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JA: I worked as the official photographer of the CSA in 2012, and have been working together with GrizzlyGrizzly documenting the 2017 edition, partly because the birth of my son had made me stay at home more than I expected.  They have really done an amazing job putting together a great group of artists and events that people will enjoy.  The Martha event that Cindy mentioned really showed how much of a community can come together to enjoy a good time, and raise some funds for artists. Participating in the 2012, and seeing that collectors from all over came to pick up their shares was something that I felt was magical and that we had hit the goal of getting these artists works out for the people.  Lastly, the friendships made from the experience, of the organizers and buyers, and the events, all was just super amazing. I’m looking forward to the new “Pick Ups” and seeing what people will think when they receive their works. 


TS: Thank you all so much for your dedication to Philadelphia Art, Artists and Collectors and for enriching our community us with this abundant experience! I look forward to the next robust season!



The First Community Supported Art Viewing & Shareholder Pick-up is on Sunday, September 24, 3-5pm at the Esther Klein Gallery, 3600 Market Street, Philadelphia PA. 


Be sure to follow @csaartphilly on Instagram. You will find fantastic in- progress shots and video of all of the 2017 artists’ season and Pick Up dates and events!


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Interview Series: Sarah McEneaney

A Philadelphia luminary discusses her art and life in the city.

By Leigh Werrell

Entering through the tall metal doors into Sarah McEneaney’s large front garden, one is greeted by three lounging cats who bask in the enclosed, sun-dappled space – unless disturbed by a small black and brown dog named Mango. Through the kitchen is a large, bright studio with a table and walls covered by  sketches and works in progress.  One painting captures her living room, including Mango sitting on a chair and walls adorned with works from her large art collection (including work by many local artists). Another, larger painting depicts a view of Philadelphia from above, the abandoned train tracks near her house sketched in red and green.

Sarah McEneaney in her studio

McEneaney’s name has resounded throughout the Philadelphia art world for many years, and her paintings shout back from the rooftops, echoing the history  and character of the city through personal narratives and her distinct perspective. Her recent exhibition at Philadelphia’s Locks Gallery was an earnest and attentive ode to her “Trestletown” neighborhood, her home, and her pets.

McEneaney came to the city from Larchemont, New York in 1973, attending Philadelphia College of Art (now University of the Arts) and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Her colorful egg tempera and acrylic paintings tell her story through direct and sincere marks that chronicle the routine of her life at home and in the neighborhood, as well as her trips to residencies all over the world. McEneaney is on the board of Vox Populi and has also been a great force behind the development of the currently under-construction Rail Park project, an elevated greenway being built on the Reading Viaduct which runs through the Chinatown North/Callowhill neighborhood where she lives. We sat down at her dining room table to discuss her life in Philadelphia and the work that has come from it.

Leigh Werrell: When did you buy this house, and how has the neighborhood changed since you’ve lived here?

Sarah McEneaney: I purchased this property in 1979, right when I was finishing at PAFA. The Vine Street expressway hadn’t been built yet; the viaduct still went across Vine Street.  So, it was sort of industrial - busy during the day, but totally desolate and empty at night. It has changed, although it took a little while to change; it didn’t really start changing until the late 90’s.  I must have been here almost 20 years before it changed significantly.

LW: I’ve been seeing the change even just in the last few years.

SM: Yeah, in the last few years it’s changed a lot - the last 10 years, and even the last 5 years.

LW: Can you speak a little about what the art scene was like when you graduated from PAFA, and how you’ve seen it evolve throughout the years?

SM: When I was still a student, I joined a new artist co-op that was called 3rd Street Gallery – it still exists on 2nd Street. It was originally at 3rd and Bainbridge, and it was originally a women’s co-op. I joined that and had my first show the fall after I graduated from PAFA. I really liked being a part of that and getting to show quickly; it was really important to me. [PAFA] does a lot of student shows...  [including]  the end of the year shows, but they also encouraged us to apply to regional shows, so you got used to putting your work out there early. You might get in and you might not, and you get used to rejection.

Night, 2008, egg tempera on linen, 48 x 48 inches. Courtesy of Locks Gallery

LW: So you went into 3rd  Street Gallery and then what happened?

SM: I had maybe three shows there, over a period of five years, something like that, and then I had a Fleisher Wind Challenge show in ‘85. After that I joined the Charles Moore gallery; it doesn’t exist anymore, [but it was] on Walnut Street for years and years. It was a strong gallery, mostly representational painters. Some sculptors.

Right when I got out of school I was in – it was then called Marian Locks gallery – I was in her [annual summer] show called “New Talent”, but I was doing things like showing in little cafés. I was just sort of doing whatever I could to get my work out there.

LW: So have you seen a big change in the way that people think about art in Philly in the transition between those galleries and the new galleries?

SM: Well, I would say that the artist collective scene has grown exponentially and become very strong.  Like when 3rd Street Gallery started, Nexus was already in operation, and of course Nexus ended a couple of years ago, but they had a good long run. I think that’s the way these things tend to go, they sort of have a life span.  Vox Populi is going to be 30 next year, which is interesting to think about.  The presence on the scene varies, like 3rd Street Gallery doesn’t have a huge presence on the scene but I’m sure it provides an outlet for artists. I think the artist collective scene has grown in really good, strong ways, and the commercial gallery scene is probably not that different from what it was back in the day. You know, I think it’s always been a bit of a struggle in Philadelphia for commercial galleries.

LW: Have you seen the art actually change though, because of those galleries?

SM: I don't know that the gallery scene has anything to do with how art changes. I think the kind of art that’s getting made is related more to a much bigger world. You know, what’s happening in the rest of the country and the rest of the world, especially today with everything being so accessible.

LW: Do you think it’s important for Philly to have a diverse set of galleries- in terms of commercial, co-op, or those in-between galleries?

SM: Sure, I definitely think that makes for a healthier scene, healthier environment, but I think at commercial galleries it’s really hard. You know, you have Locks, which is great, a sort of blue chip standard, and then you have galleries like Gross McCleaf, but it’s unfortunate that galleries like Gallery Joe don’t have a physical space anymore.* It’s hard, the commercial scene.

Our museum scene is strong, I would say, and that’s getting stronger with the Barnes being in town and doing contemporary shows as well as the collection, and the ICA (Institute of Contemporary Art)…

LW: So what do you think that that does for artists in the community, to have that diverse set of spaces?

SM: Well I think it’s important for a lot of things. For one, I think that one of the jobs of an artist is to see everything that is going on, and to be out. So the more there is to see, from commercial galleries to collectives to museums, the better. It’s great that there’s a lot to see and engage with.

LW: To many in the Philly art scene it seems clear that there has been a recent influx of artists and collectors from different places into Philadelphia. Do you believe that this will impact the artist community that is here already?

SM: Yeah, I guess it would have to. I think it’s great that people move here because they see this as a good place to live, work and show as an artist. I’m not familiar with new collectors coming to town but I’m thrilled to hear you say that!

LW: Well, I do think that a lot of people with money might be moving to the city…

SM: Exactly, people moving to the city, and younger people starting out, and because there are opportunities to become a collector on a starting level because of these artist collectives. People are really “do it yourself” getting their work out there. That’s a really good way to build or grow collectors.

LW: You’ve been showing at Tibor de Nagy since 2005. What’s the most outstanding difference you’ve noticed between the New York community and the one here?

SM: Well, the sheer number of galleries is something, and collectors, and  because there are more people there are more artists in New York.   I think more work sells in New York, but in terms of the sort of dialogue and community of artists, I don’t think it’s that different - and that’s a good thing. I see a lot of conversation between Philadelphia and New York (and Philadelphia and other cities) among artists.  I think that the artists are really fluid in terms of how they move around in different cities and worlds.  The economy of New York is so different than Philadelphia. I don’t know that Philadelphia would ever catch up in terms of collectors and art sales.

Trestletown, 13th and Noble, 2012, acrylic on linen, 48 x 36 inches. Image courtesy of Locks Gallery

LW: It’s clear that your environment is very important to your work. Can you tell me about how the city of Philadelphia affects your paintings as opposed to other environments you’ve worked in such as Ireland or Texas?

SM: So even when I was a student, I was starting to make autobiographical work by sort of looking around me and painting say, portraits of fellow students in their studio - as well as self portraits of myself in my studio - and the things happening in the school. Then, when I graduated and was just working in my home studio, I continued that for a while -  like visiting other artists in their studios. [Eventually,]  it became more and more focused on the world that I live in. My home, my studio, my neighborhood. So then over the years I realized, oh, I’m really doing something here that’s specific, but I also see it as something like - it’s a story that has similarities to other people’s stories, and people can bring their stories to it.

When I do residencies I do the same thing, but it’s for a short term so it’s different in that way; it doesn’t have the sort of history behind it. It’s kind of like a snippet. A chapter. Whereas, what I’ve done with my own life in Philadelphia,  you can see the changes - like in this neighborhood - painting the neighborhood over the years, painting the progress on the rail park…  I think of all the work as being connected, and that the travel and residencies are kind of like chapters away.

LW: Some of your most recent visions of the city include the abandoned railway line that runs through your neighborhood. You've been a driving force behind the upcoming construction of the rail park. How do you feel this park will affect the local neighborhood and artistic community that is already here?

SM: Well, I’m super excited, and looking forward to the park opening. Now it’s supposed to open in December, this first small section- it’s only a quarter mile of the whole three mile vision. But I think it’s going to be great for the neighborhood because this neighborhood has more and more residents - more and more people out walking their dogs like I do several times every day. It’s going to be a gathering place, and I also think it’s going to draw people from other parts of the city and visitors to the city. In terms of artists specifically, I don’t know, I mean there’s going to be art happening on and around the rail park. That’s been our goal. In fact we [the Friends of the Rail Park] have already been working with mural arts on some temporary things that happen near the site to help draw attention to it and talk about its history. For instance, in phase one there’s going to be a 1% for art project – Brent Wahl and Laynie Browne – he’s a sculptor, she’s a poet; they’re collaborating on a piece, it was through the city’s 1% for art program. Through a series of jurying they got the commission. Even the Incamminati school at 12th and Callowhill contacted us years ago saying that they wanted to do plein air painting out there, and that was when it would be illegal to be up there. But they thought about it as a way to raise funds, so we might revisit an idea like that - why not?  You know... have a day of painting on the rail park.

LW: What paintings are you working on now?

SM: I’m, working on a large neighborhood painting, from one of the last neighborhood buildings that I hadn’t gotten on the roof of. And I’m working on an interior of my house and a couple of exteriors of the yard. There was one painting that started out with snow in it and now it’s a spring painting because I couldn’t hold on to the snow in my head.

LW: Where is your next exhibition?

SM: I’m going to be in a two person show in Los Angeles at Zevitas Marcus in the fall with an artist named Ann Toebbe, who also recently started showing with Tibor, whose work is really interesting.

Trestletown from the Wolf, 2016, acrylic on wood, diptych, 35 3/4 x 95 5/8 inches. Courtesy of Locks Gallery

View more of McEneaney’s work by visiting the Locks Gallery or Tibor De Nagy websites. Keep up with the Rail Park events on their Facebook page.

Thank you to Sarah McEneaney for agreeing to this interview, and to Mango for being so darn cute!



*Correction: Gallery Joe does have a physical gallery space with rotating exhibitions, openings and artist's talks. The setting is at 2 St James Court. The gallery is open from September through May by appointment. Becky Kerlin the director continues to promote her artists from Philadelphia and elsewhere both here at the gallery and at fairs internationally.


A Visit to Spiral Q

by Kristina Centore

It’s easy for me to get lost in the Philadelphia of 2017, even after living here for the better part of a decade. The construction downtown creates new labyrinths each day, cordoning off familiar walking paths with scaffolding and yellow tape. Condos and luxury student housing developments are replacing West Philadelphia single-family homes at a rapid rate, creating looming precipices that box in the sky.  Yet, as a city with over one-fourth of its residents living below the poverty line, Philadelphia seems at cross purposes with itself, a giant puppet with its strings being pulled in opposite directions that threaten to rip it apart.


Spiral Q is an organization that has been broadcasting these concerns for over 20 years by distilling them into the form of impossibly huge puppets that are paraded down the streets of Philadelphia. According to the organization’s website, Spiral Q was established in 1996, “to promote social and political change through giant puppetry, pageantry and direct action that told powerful stories and lifted up community voices.” A quick look at the organization’s history proves the point.: At its inception, Spiral Q worked alongside ACT-UP (the AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power), helping to raise awareness of the AIDS crisis in particular. Perhaps the organization’s most notorious moment was when, in the year 2000, 75 Spiral Q “puppetistas” were arrested for creating puppets in protest of the Philadelphia RNC (the charges were later dismissed). Over the years, Spiral Q has solidified into official nonprofit status, and now hosts an array of workshops that benefit marginalized communities. Spiral Q also continues to hold its annual Peoplehood parade in West Philadelphia to celebrate community voices.


I attended a Spiral Q pop-up open house this past April and, while it was in a temporary gallery space and not in the warehouse that currently houses the puppet collection, it was a fascinating experience to see many examples of the puppeteers’ craft and learn firsthand about the organization and its work.

We saw “The Giant,” a puppet that takes a village to create and manipulate. The Giant holds a hammer that represents the force of all of the good things a community can create, and during a performance uses it to smash a boulder of repression.


There was also a larger-than life representation of the Honduran environmental activist Berta Cáceres, who was assassinated in 2016 because of her work. The puppet, with outstretched arms and a thoughtful expression, honored her memory at protests following her death.


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In addition to being works of art, the puppets are monuments to creative problem solving. Most of the puppets are made of materials that you could find for free, like cardboard, scraps of fabric, and bottle caps. But they also must be functional, and have complex armatures that are designed to find the right balance of sturdiness without being too heavy for performers to handle.

I also learned about Spiral Q’s “rent a puppet” program, which has allowed some of the puppets to be exhibited at institutions such as the Atwater Kent Museum, Temple Contemporary, and the Philadelphia International Airport. Spiral Q is aware of the need for preserving and conserving their unique collection and the organization is searching for a permanent home for its array of countless puppets that have accumulated over the years. Preserving a collection like this is a challenge, since the puppets themselves are performative creations that are meant to be moved by many hands, not kept hidden away or only displayed in a vitrine. But like many ancient relics that were once used ceremonially, there is still a need to preserve these objects and take note of their status as an important part of history. 


Hopefully, the legacy of these puppets will continue to travel far and wide.





Spiral Q

Shaffer, Gwen. “ Curtain Call for the Puppet Show.” The Nation.  17 Sept. 2002. Web 11 June 2017. 

Pew Charitable Trusts, The. “A Report from the Pew Charitable Trusts.” The Pew Charitable Trusts. March 2016. Web 11 June 2017.



A Momentous Hoard

The Life and Times of an Iconic Philadelphia Art Collection

by Heath Ballowe

Much has been written about art collectors, and much has been said about the long-time Philadelphia Collectors Vicente Lim and Robert Tooey. In 2004, Helen Drutt English wrote in American Craft Magazine, “Like collectors before them, Vicente Lim and Robert Tooey hold the reigns of history, as they pursue an affinity with the art of their time.” Thirteen years later, their commitment to preserving the legacy of 20th century American Craft still has not waned.


With the media’s constant coverage of the record breaking auction prices being paid for contemporary art it is hard to maintain the frame of reference that the vast majority of art collectors are real people, with real jobs, that live average lives. That case rings even more true when it comes to the demographics of art collectors in Philadelphia. Vicente, a graduate of Thomas Jefferson University who works in an area hospital, and Robert, now a retired US Postal Supervisor, have never been grouped in with the high society collectors tripping over themselves to pay a record breaking price for a work of art. They are, and always have been, modest collectors that understood the important cultural legacy of visual art and saved their pennies for the opportunity to live with beautiful handmade objects. 


In the early 1980s Lim and Tooey started their collection small, collecting inexpensive prints and drawings, but it wasn’t long before they were both seduced by the potentially endless possibilities of art in clay. Vicente in particular, was taken by the work of Viola Frey. So, when he made a trip to her studio he brought back one of her masterpieces, ‘Woman With Orange Hands’, not even stopping to consider that the small home they lived in at the time wasn’t equipped to display it. Vicente and Bob didn’t panic when the ceilings in their home weren’t high enough to fit her massive 8-foot scale. They simply made the obvious choice to them at the time - they modified their home to fit the sculpture. 



Eventually, Vicente and Robert saved up enough money to purchase a home that could accommodate ‘Woman With Orange Hands’, which also made it possible for them to grow their collection even larger, as well as allowed their interests to expand further than just the work itself. Their ferocious desire to understand the history of the art they had surrounded themselves with drove them to read every magazine, visit every exhibition and read every book about contemporary ceramics they could get their hands on. What started out as merely documenting the provenance of the Lim/Tooey Collection has become a massive collection of ephemera, cataloguing the history of American Craft. It has also given Vicente an encyclopedic comprehension of ceramics history. In a field of study that often seems separate from the rest of the art historical cannon, Vicente’s extensive body of knowledge has become a valuable resource for ceramics historians and artists. This has garnered him a substantial social media following, as a result.


In recent years, as square-footage in their home has seemingly evaporated, Vicente and Bob have greatly decreased their rate of collection. They continue, but choose to add only a few pieces here and there comprised mostly of works they believe managed to slip through their fingers the first go round. Their role as “contemporary collectors” has shifted to “stewards of a historical collection.” They have generously chosen to become mentors to the next generation of Philadelphia art collectors by employing the legacy they have acquired as a teaching tool by loaning works for exhibitions and using their experience to teach aspiring collectors how to begin. As a person gets to know these two incredible men, it is difficult to not become inspired by their passion and commitment to the art community in Philadelphia. We can all be certain that they, and their collection, will continue to inspire for generations to come.