Betsy Ross & Elfreth’s Alley

Leaving the ”Keys to Community” in the capable hands, or should I say bust, of Mr. Franklin we followed Arch Street towards 2nd Street, finding some quaint little shops along the way.

To Betsy Ross’ House. Ms Ross was a seamstress, credited with sewing the first American flag – to Mr. Francis Hopkinson’s design, as we learned from his epitaph earlier. While no proof exists of Ms. Ross’ accomplishment, the fact remains that she is a beloved figure and her legend lives strong. And, right across her house, a giant flag. Can you get more patriotic than that? 

Yes, you can – by way of preserving your city’s history for generations to come. Like Elfreth’s Alley. Connecting N 2nd Street with N Front Street, it has been there since the 1700s – the oldest residential street in the United States, only because of the efforts of its very residents. Built by merchants and tradesmen to house their families, later welcoming working class immigrants, today impeccably preserved by its community of artists, artisans, educators and entrepreneurs. A street with its own history, its own architecture and website, a little world of its own.

With the most charming dwellers, indeed.

February 24th, 2017

Philadelphia – Benjamin Franklin

Back in Philadelphia, on to more agreeable sights, starting with Benjamin Franklin’s resting place, in Christ Church Burial Ground. The great man sleeps close to other patriots and prominent figures like Francis Hopkinson, designer of the first official American flag:

And Gerald Connely, a Seaman, Soldier, Safecracker. Wait… Safecracker?!? Was Gerald Connely Philadelphia’s most prominent crook? A quick research showed that actually, Connelly was a world-class locksmith who was cooperating with the FBI whenever his expertise was needed. He was also a very funny guy who knew, when we was writing his parting words, that he would get people looking twice.

Finally, Mr. Franklin. He was just 22 when he wrote his epitaph. I wonder what made a man think about writing an epitaph at such a young age:

On the way out, a fire engine, descendant of the service that Franklin helped create in 1736, the Union Fire Company, one of the first volunteer firefighting companies in America: 

Here is Mr. Franklin again, his bust sculpted by James Peniston, covered with casts of 1.000 keys collected from local schoolchildren. ”Keys To Community” also contains several brass nameplates representing Philadelphia firefighters fallen in the line of duty since 1736: Philadelphia
February 24th, 2017

Atlantic city – Gloom.Revel.Ten

You wouldn’t know it the way its wavy shaped windows shine in the sun. Yet, this enormous structure, built on a once-residential area at a cost of billion, remains closed since September 2014. All the 6,8 million sq.ft., 1.898 hotel rooms, 14 restaurants, spa, concert venues, nightclubs, shops and 130.000 sq.ft. gambling space of it. 2,5 years of operation, then bankruptcy. Now a still, eerie emptiness. 

A lot has been said about what is, what could have been, what should be done. This city, once thriving on speculation, is now suffering from the effects of an overdose. 

A few houses left standing in the vicinity, two in the shadow of the sleeping giant. We have to move on. It may be the emptiness but this area feels unsafe.

Atlantic City
February 23rd, 2017

Atlantic city – Aboard the quiet car to the beach

On the train to Philadelphia, we had discovered the quiet car completely by accident. A great feature, one that trains in Europe would greatly benefit from. Why this has not been implemented on the other side of the Atlantic, is a mystery to me. We now ask the train attendant for the quiet car, every time we’re about to board a train.

Half an hour later and… what a difference 60 miles make!

A brilliant sunshine, a light breeze, unseasonably warm, an enormous beach, no crowds.

“Enjoy God’s gift to humanity!” an excited fellow walker exclaimed…

“Enjoy!” we echoed, smiling back… “as long as you remain under the boardwalk”, we added silently.

Atlantic City
February 23rd, 2017

Philadelphia – around 30th Street Station, waiting for the train

If time allows, a trip to Philadelphia may either be combined with a visit to the Amish Country, to the west or a walk on (better yet, under) the famous Boardwalk of the Atlantic City, to the southeast. We chose the second. Around 90′ by train, the Ocean was beckoning.

Meanwhile, Philly was showing us her cloudy face.

Philadelphia, views from the Schuylkill River Trail.
February 23rd, 2017

Two angry faces – in the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Both belong to Renée, drawn by French artist Jacques Villon.

Villon, also known as Gaston Duchamp, was one of Marcel Duchamp’s siblings but, in order to distinguish himself from them, he started using the pseudonym with which he became known.

Renée was the daughter of Villon’s cousin and the subject of several works by the artist.

Doesn’t she look angry in these drawings? I wonder what – or who – could be responsible for this frown on her face.

Renée. Three Quarter View, 1911. Jacques Villon

Renée. Three Quarter View, 1911 (detail). Jacques Villon
Renée. Full Face, 1911 (detail). Jacques Villon
Renée. Full Face, 1911 (detail). Jacques Villon

Philadelphia Museum of Art
February, 22nd 2017


Philadelphia – Museum of Art

Vast in size, rich in collections with major works from European, American and Asian artists, from paintings and prints to decorative items and furniture, it will require at least three hours for a ”quick” overview – and that includes the main building only. For the museum manages several annexes such as the Rodin Museum and the Perelman Building across the street, which is why your ticket will be valid for two consecutive days – in case you have the stamina to visit them all (which we didn’t).

The images below show a very brief part of what you can expect to see in the museum; I skipped most of the paintings in favour of objects and furniture that got my attention.

The Greek Revival facade.
Diana, 1892-1893, in gilded copper sheets by Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Diana is arguably the best-known work of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, who was recognized at the turn of the century as the country’s finest sculptor. When installed in 1893 on the tower of New York’s Madison Square Garden to serve as a weather vane, Diana ruled the highest point in Manhattan. The sculpture’s gilded form caught the sun during the day and was illuminated at night by the city’s first electric floodlights. Madison Square Garden was demolished in 1925 and the Philadelphia Museum of Art adopted the sculpture in 1932. Diana has reigned as the goddess of the Museum’s Great Stair Hall ever since.
From a Tapestry showing Constantine Directing the Building of Constantinople, 1623-25. A composition designed by Peter Paul Rubens. Detail showing that some things never change.
High Chest of Drawers, 1740-50. Curly maple, red pine. Armchair, 1745-55. Walnut. All made in Philadelphia.
Butaca Chair, 1730-70. Mahogany, original leather upholstery and brass. Probably made in Mexico.
Fireplace, Doorway and Pair of Andirons, ca. 1936-37. Carved oak, stone, copper hearth, iron. Made by Wharton Esherick, American 1887-1970, in Pennsylvania.
White oak and seed beads from the Mandala Series (on the wall), 2013 and 2016. A collaboration between David Ellsworth and his wife, Wendy Ellsworth, a seed bead artist. Burned and pained ash spheres (on the floor), symbolizing form in motion, from the Solstice Series, 1990-91. David Ellsworth. All made in Pennsylvania (Quakertown).
Window. Created for Magee Rehabilitation Hospital, installed 1983. Forty porcelain tiles washed with copper salts, each handcrafted and applied to frosted glass; wood frame. Made in Philadelphia by Rudolf Staffel.
Line Ascending #5, #10, #11, from the Emergence Series 2013-15. Oak burl, black ash burl. Made by David Ellsworth in Pennsylvania (Quakertown).
Furniture, part of a lavishly ornamented suite made in Philadelphia for the house of merchant William Waln and his wife, Mary Wilcocks Waln. Imitating ancient Greek and Roman furniture, sumptuously painted, gilded and upholstered in the latest style of the time. Designed in 1808 by Benjamin Henry Latrobe and made by John Aitken.
Furniture, part of a lavishly ornamented suite made in Philadelphia for the house of merchant William Waln and his wife, Mary Wilcocks Waln. Imitating ancient Greek and Roman furniture, sumptuously painted, gilded and upholstered in the latest style of the time. Designed in 1808 by Benjamin Henry Latrobe and made by John Aitken.
Secretary Bookcase, 1827. Mahogany, mahogany veneer, stained burl ash, white pine cedrela, red cedar, yellow poplar, dark wood stringing, brass, gilt decoration; glass doors and pulls; brass lock. Made in Philadelphia by Anthony G. Quervelle.
The Clinic of Dr. Agnew, 1889. Oil on canvas, by Philadelphia’s very own, Thomas Eakins.
The Japanese Aesthetic was introduced to Americans following Japan’s opening to international trade in 1854. Favouring asymmetry, flat patterns and unfamiliar materials and colour harmonies, it presented a refreshing alternative to that of the West. Here, the reflection of Eakins’ Clinic of Dr. Agnew is a harmonious bridge connecting the two aesthetics.
The Concert Signer, 1890-92. Oil on canvas by Thomas Eakins. Determined to suggest the sound of her voice and the emotions it invoked, Eakins asked his friend, soprano Weda Cook, to pose for hours while repeatedly singing the same few notes from ”O Rest in the Lord” by Felix Mendelssohn. Upon the painting’s completion, Eakins had these notes carved into its fame.
The Annunciation, 1898. Oil on canvas by Henry Ossawa Tanner.
Follette, 1890. Oil on cardboard by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.
Oh, look!… another Fourteen-Year-Old Little Dancer, by Edgar Degas. If I don’t see one in a major museum, I will begin to worry.
When the room becomes the canvas.
The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass) by Marcel Duchamp. A work of art to be looked both at and through, prompts the Museum of Art Handbook – and I made sure to follow the instructions. Duchamp started working on it in 1915 and stopped in 1923 stating that it was ”definitely unfinished”. A few years later, while in transit from an exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum in 1926-27, the two panels were shattered. Ten years would pass before Duchamp repaired the glass. Satisfied with the result and appearance of the eerily symmetrical cracks in the upper and lower sections, he declared the work finished!
Marcel Duchamp’s alter ego.
Homage to Juan Gris, 1953-54. A box construction by one of America’s most intriguing artists, Joseph Cornell.


I hope you enjoyed this very brief and – admittedly- subjective tour of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Coming up next, two angry faces.

February 22nd, 2017

Philadelphia – The Steps, The Men, The Tune

How many times I heard the tune, I couldn’t possibly tell – I lost count halfway to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It had been in my head all along and seemingly everyone – myself included – got in synch as soon as The Steps appeared on the far end of the long stretch between Logan Square and The Oval.

Everyone, except Washington that is, seeing how he faces away, his back turned to the steps.

The rest of the world goes the Rocky wayLike this Donut Man
Or this Reenactor Or the Man himself

And, finally, The Tune:

The Rocky Steps, Philadelphia
February 22nd, 2017