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Kate’s Place and Capogiro Gelato: The Wonder of 1929 Sansom Street in Philadelphia

Tile at Kate's Place 1929 Sansom Philadelphia
Tile at Kate’s Place 1929 Sansom Philadelphia. Photo by Wayne Stratz.

I was walking down Sansom Street in Philadelphia, looking for Capogiro Gelato, and this tile caught my eye.  Then I turned further toward the courtyard beyond the tiles, and there in an oasis of peace within the buzz of Philly was a statue of the Virgin Mary.  I was intrigued by this building, with textured walls, with bricks standing proud every foot or so, and ram’s head gargoyles.  The bronze plaque named the place “Kate’s Place,” and later I discovered it was affordable housing in the heart of Rittenhouse Square.  If you’ve ever been to the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood, you will know that there isn’t much that is affordable, and to have a building of such beauty renovated for this purpose is a wonderful thing.

Originally, it was Warburton House built in 1926 by Arthur Loomis Harmon, and run by the Emergency Aid of Philadelphia, and the latter’s name is carved in Gothic lettering.  The Dominican Sisters of Elkins Park bought it in 1952 and turned it into a refuge for single women who needed a place to live.  When they could no longer keep it running, they approached Project H.O.M.E. about taking it over.  Kramer + Marks Architects led the renovation, and completed it in 2004.

As I walked on, the very next thing was Capogiro Gelato, which is actually part of the Kate’s Place building. Later, Stratoz and I stopped in for some delicious pineapple mint and orange cardamom gelato, and he took photos of the courtyard, and of course of the gelato:

Capogiro Gelato 20th and Sansom in Philadelphia
Capogiro Gelato 20th and Sansom in Philadelphia. Photo by Wayne Stratz.
Statue of Mary at Kate's Place 1929 Sansom, Philadelphia
Statue of Mary at Kate’s Place 1929 Sansom, Philadelphia. Photo by Wayne Stratz.

Joyce Kozloff Mosaics in Suburban Station Philadelphia

Joyce Kozloff Mosaic of William Penn in Suburban Station, Philadelphia.
Joyce Kozloff Mosaic of William Penn in Suburban Station, Philadelphia. Photo by Wayne Stratz.

Missing my train has led to some wonderful art discoveries, such as when I decided to go in the grand front entrance of Suburban Station while waiting until the next train.  I usually enter via a staircase that rises suddenly out of the sidewalk.  One Penn Center is an Art Deco building with a spacious lobby and I turned a corner to find two mosaic murals by Joyce Kozloff.  The first is Topkapi Pullman, with a juxtaposition of an Art Deco train poster and patterns from the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul.  The second is William Penn holding the charter of Pennsylvania in his hand, inspired by Byzantine churches.

47 75/365 inside the main entrance
47 75/365 inside the main entrance. Close up of Joyce Kozloff’s Mosaic of William Penn. Photo by Wayne Stratz.
Joyce Kozloff and her Son in Soho Women Artists, 1978 by May Stevens
Joyce Kozloff and her Son in “Soho Women Artists, 1978” by May Stevens. National Museum of Women in the Arts. Photo by Wayne Stratz.

By serendipity, when Stratoz and I were on vacation, we saw a painting by May Stevens, Soho Women Artists, from 1978, at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC.  Joyce Kozloff is pictured sitting on the ground facing her son, who is leaning against Louise Bourgeois wearing a sculpture(!)  When I was an undergraduate, I took a class in Feminist Art Theory, and wrote a paper on artists who used text in their work, since I was a poet, and loved words.  May Stevens was one of the artists I featured, and I read about several of the others in this painting.

Kozloff was attracted to decoration and pattern early in her painting career, and by 1977 was moving toward public art installations, including mosaic.  I was intrigued by her quote,

The feminist revelation—that the decorative arts were largely created
by anonymous women and people of color, and therefore degraded in the
eyes of historians and critics—forever changed my thinking.”  Since I began making mosaics, I am drawn to pattern, and at times wonder if I should be doing something representational, as if pattern were somehow without meaning.

I’m glad Kozloff pursued the art she loved, and brought it into public places for everyone to enjoy.

Five Cool Art and Architecture Sites in the Philadelphia Area

Long before I began making mosaics I was drawn to visual wonders, places where art was made, and historic buildings.  Moving to the Philadelphia Suburbs, I found some places that delighted me with their creativity.  I would absorb the beauty through my pores, breathing it in.  Here are 5 to put on your list.


Esherick's Silo
Wharton Esherick’s Silo in Paoli, PA. Photo by Wayne Stratz.

1)Wharton Esherick House and Museum

Outside Paoli, just west of Valley Forge Park, in the woods, Wharton Esherick’s house sits like a secret waiting to be discovered.  The carved wood spiral staircase, the custom made furniture, the peek inside a sculptor’s mind–it’s all good.  Guided tours of the Wharton Esherick Studio are available by reservation only.

fonthill by paladinsf
fonthill by paladinsf

2) Fonthill

James Mercer, founder of the Moravian Tileworks in Doylestown PA, built himself a mansion entirely out of concrete.  It rises up from the grounds like a fairytale crossed with science fiction.  The inside is covered in samples of Moravian Tiles, and Mercer’s collection of tiles and artifacts.  There are concrete reading tables at strategic windows so he could follow the sun as it rose and set.

fire place
Fire Place by Vilseskogan

3)Moravian Tileworks

This is where Mercer’s tiles were made Doylestown, and it is open for tours, a tile festival in May(which is a tile lover’s dream), a gift shop full of tile goodness, and classes if you are interested in making ceramic tiles.

bryn athyn door hardware
bryn athyn door hardware by shadysidelantern

4)Glencairn Museum
and Bryn Athyn Cathedral

All I knew about Swedenborgians was that Helen Keller was one, but then I moved within driving distance of Bryn Athyn, and discovered the Bryn Athyn Cathedral and the adjacent Pitcairn museum of religious art.  The Cathedral was constructed in a mini reconstruction of the craft guild past with workshops for stone, wood, metal, and stained glass that were built on site by experienced craftsmen.

Stained Glass Light at the Frank Lloyd Wright Designed Beth Sholom Synagogue
Stained Glass “Basket of Light” at the Frank Lloyd Wright Designed Beth Sholom Synagogue. Photo by Wayne Stratz.

5)Beth Sholom Synagogue, Elkins Park, PA

The only Synagogue built by Frank Lloyd Wright!  Just knowing Beth Sholom is nearby makes me happy.

I’d love to hear about more art places in the Philadelphia area!


Related Posts from my Column at Handmade in PA:

A Gathering Together: Collecting Pennsylvania Craft and the Legacy of Henry Chapman Mercer.

Wharton Esherick and the Pennsylvania Legacy of Wordworking.

Over at Stratoz:

The Ambler Theater


Windows That Open Doors: The Stained Glass Project by Germantown High School Students

The Stained Glass Project 1_group_shot_with_windows
The Stained Glass Project, Philadelphia

I had missed my train, and was walking around Philadelphia’s Suburban Station when the Mayor’s Farmers’ Market caught my eye, and on my way over, I saw a sign about “Windows that Open Doors: The Stained Glass Project” at the Love Park Welcome Center.

Unexpectedly, I had come upon an exhibition of 18 stained glass windows made by Germantown High School students, made in the Stained Glass Project of the After School Program of The First United Methodist Church of Germantown for children of Ngcolosi, South Africa.

What a pleasure to see the photos of these young people cutting glass, designing windows, soldering, and enjoying themselves and the craft!  And the windows were an oasis of Love in Love Park.  The exhibit is up until July 31, 2010 at 1599 JFK Boulevard, Fairmount Park Welcome Center at Love Park, Philadelphia, PA, 215-683-0246.  Go check it out!

Go to the Facebook Page for Germantown High School After School Stained Glass Program to see more photos, and also read more in the Broad Street Review’s Germantown’s Stained Glass Miracle.

Terry Tempest Williams: A Mosaic is a Conversation between what is Broken

Interview with Terry Tempest Williams When I found out that Terry Tempest Williams had written a book on mosaic, I anticipated the loveliness of a fluid writer approaching one of my favorite subjects, but I was still awed by how wonderfully she captures mosaic as an art form, and as a way to find beauty in a broken world.  She begins with a quote, “The very language of tesserae tells us that this harmony is only achievable through the breaking and then rediscovery of the mosaic fragments” Natascia Festa, Nittola.  Then she wrote a kind of poetry:

A mosaic is a conversation between what is broken.

A mosaic is a conversation that takes place on surfaces.

A mosaic is a conversation with light, with color, with form.

A mosaic is a conversation with time.

Tempest Williams immerses herself in mosaic, using her eyes and hands to fully experience the process, which then she expresses in her insightful words.  I wrote poetry for many years, and to hear Williams bridging the distance between my love of words and my love of mosaic, is like a homecoming.  She describes a conversation with one of her teachers, Marco De Luca:

De Luca explains the method.  Our eyes are convex, not flat, so curved surfaces like the niche in a church provide a “place to rest our eyes.”  He pauses, “I call this an embrace.  In mosaics, it is in the curve that light is reflected–for me, this translates into a spiritual space.”

See an object is really about listening.  He cradles his hands close to his mouth to explain.  Art, by its nature, is expressive and creates this emotional reaction in the public.  When my eyes are turned outward and inward at the same time, this is where I find my depth.(emphasis mine)

The public is used to figurative mosaics, representational mosaics, mosaics as paintings.  He shakes his head.  “I wanted to find the essential features of mosaic.  I wanted to express my language of desire, making use of tesserae to express my emotions.”

I am interested in now in what my eyes can see, what my fingers can touch, what my hand can know by moving slowly across flesh, or fur, or feathers, or stone.  I trust what I see.  The surface of things is what we see.  I trust what I touch.  The surface of things is what we touch.

After learning about mosaics in Italy with teachers such as Luciana Notturni,Tempest Williams goes on to experience the mosaic transformations of Lily Yeh and the villagers in Rwanda she worked with to build a memorial at a mass grave in 2003.Lily-conducting-mosaic in Rwanda Lily Yeh started to work with the power of public art in 1986 Philadelphia!  She brought together residents of  neighborhoods in North Philadelphia to transform vacant lots and abandoned buildings with mosaic and painting, often transforming the lives of the residents as well, with the Village of the Arts and Humanities.

Lily Yeh in North Philadelphia

Beauty…comes to us with no work of our own; then leaves us prepared to undergo great labor.

Elaine Scarry, On Beauty and Being Just.

Tempest Williams includes the above quotation from Scarry, and encourages us to take courage in beauty, to turn inward and outward at the same time.

Arshile Gorky in Philadelphia: Get there by January 10th, 2010

Arshile Gorky at the Philadelphia Art Museum

Stratoz and I greeted the New Year by going to see the Arshile Gorky Exhibition at the Philadelphia Art Museum.  I was moved by the persistence of Gorky’s life, beginning with his childhood in Armenia and witnessing the massacres by Turkish forces, his mother dying in his arms out of starvation, fleeing to the United States and painting, painting, painting.  The Artist and His Mother by Arshile Gorky His two portraits of himself with his mother were intensely somberly sorrowful.  Art critic Ed Voves in an intriguing article points to the influence of the Eastern Orthodox Icon image of “The Mother of God who Shows the Way,” Theotokos Hodegetria.  Gorky’s icon of mother and son is heartbreaking as Arshile stands leaning toward his mother, as close as he can get without actually touching her.

Gorky had a circle of friends including Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning in New York at the beginning of the Abstract Expressionisim.  One artist mentioned on a title card was the mosaicist Jeanne Reynal, which of course caught my attention.  I will have to find more about her.

Hodegetria_hilandar_12v_mosaic Walking through the gallery, in a giant circuit, we followed Gorky from his first studies of Cezanne, his trying on different styles like garments, and finally emerging as himself, full of emotional power, and yet plagued by depression.  Stratoz and I were both sobered by the end of the exhibition, with Gorky’s struggle with cancer, his studio burning, and the painting that emerged, Charred Beloved, breaking his neck in a car accident, and finally committing suicide.  At the same time I felt gratitude that he did find something he loved doing in this life, that somehow he created in the midst of destruction. He died very near my age, a relatively young man who had lived several lifetimes of suffering.

The exhibit is at the Philadelphia Art Museum until January 10th, 2010.  Go see it if you can.  And while you there, be sure to check out the Wrought and Crafted: Jewelry and Metalwork 1900-present.

I was fortunate to find photos by Roberta Fallon from the Gorky exhibit, and to learn about her groundbreaking artblog.  So many cool arts happenings in Philadelphia!

Related post:

Stratoz on the Gorky evening.

Philadelphia’s Jacob Reed Building

Reed Building Philadelphia
Reed Building Philadelphia via harpo42 on Flickr.

I had a few minutes before my train in Philly, and I was walking down Chestnut Street, and suddenly my eyes fell upon this building. I looked up at the graceful arched doorway, and there were mosaics! I recognized the work of Mercer’s Moravian Tileworks, and wondered how they got to this street.  The building houses a CVS, but when I went across the street, I could make out an original sign for Reed’;s, set into mosaic medallions at the the top of the building. Mosaic spotting is one of my favorite activities.

When I got home, I did a search, and discovered it was the  Jacob Reed’s Sons Building, built for a clothier in 1903 by local architect William Lightfoot Price.  The tiles are indeed by Mercer, and the ones inside the arch represent crafts related to clothing, including spinning and weaving.  Mercer was a great reviver of handmade tile in the United States, and visiting his home, Fonthill, for the first time was quite an experience.  Picture a cement castle, lined with tiles from all over the world, plus samples of just about every tile line Moravian Tileworks produced.

Then I looked up William Price, and discovered that he was the founder of the Rose Valley Association, just outside of Media, PA.  I had heard of this utopian community, but didn’t expect to stumble across a connection while among the many athletic shoe stores of Chestnut Street.  Rose Valley was modeled after William Morris’s Arts & Crafts Movement ideals.  The houses are still there, and someday I want to see them.

Spinning Mosaic by Henry Mercy Moravian Tileworks
Spinning Mosaic by Henry Mercy Moravian Tileworks by tiz_herself on Flickr