philadelphia: the unexpected city

The other day I wrote about being a little kid in the Society Hill section of Philadelphia. The mid 1960s through to the mid 1970s.

Today I picked up some things from a storage locker sale I had purchased. One thing was a limited edition book published in 1965 when I was a year old. Philadelphia: The Unexpected City by Laurence Lafore and Sara Lee Lippincott. The publisher was Doubleday. It was a copy of the “Philadelphia Edition.”

I don’t think too many people would be as excited to see this book as I was. But it was a book I remember people having in their homes when I was growing up, especially people that lived in Society Hill because there was so much of Society Hill in the book.

And there’s one thing that’s a picture of when they were raising the houses around Front Street to basically put in the highway. And I remember when they were doing all of that because it took a while to build and my mother’s friend Margery Niblock the artist had done a wood cut of it that I have the artist’s proof of.

So again, unless you live there during this time this probably wouldn’t mean anything to you. But it means something to me because there are so many pictures in this book of what Society Hill looks like when people like my parents came in and bought house is dirt cheap and started to restore them.

And the restoration of Society Hill is still a historic preservation triumph even with all of the houses that were in such bad condition they had to be demolished.

I guess that’s why sometimes I wonder why municipalities let people say “Oh we can’t possibly fix this, it has to be taken down!” I look at what happened then when I was a kid, and the technology wasn’t as advanced and so on and so forth, yet the historic preservation actually happened and restoration actually happened.

So I wish people would look at examples like this, and then look more towards preservation where they live. It is possible. Communities just have to want it. And if communities want it, they need to make that known to local government.

People have to realize you can save pieces of the past and people will love them and will live in them.

This section of Philadelphia when I was growing up was a sea of construction and scaffolding. I remember the contrast of going to neighborhoods where other people we knew lived and then coming back to our own. But it was exciting to see. Even then.

Hopefully someday when I am no longer around, someone else will happen upon what is now my copy of this book and love it as much as I do.

buy art that makes you happy

I found myself a small treasure today. “Society Hill” by Margery Niblock.

I have written before about family friend and artist Margery Niblock. She was a New York transplant who lived in Philadelphia for many, many years before heading north to Maine.

Margery has been a printmaker artist of woodcut and linoleum since 1958. The 1972 UNICEF Engagement Calendar had one of her woodcuts, “Fantasy,” chosen for inclusion, and her work was used as a cover and feature story in the then “Today Magazine” of the Philadelphia Inquirer She also taught private classes for both adults and children. (Yes, I was one of her students!)

Margery was commissioned by many organizations to do special pieces during her many years in Philadelphia — The Institute of Pennsylvania Hospital, Ars Moriendi, Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO), American Friends Service Committee, Pearl S. Buck Foundation, Developmental Center for Autistic Children, and Support Center for Child Advocates.

In 1989 Margery moved to Maine, where she has had solo exhibits as well as illustrating quite a few books. In Maine, her drawings and woodcuts appeared in Greater Portland Magazine and the Maine Times. For a while she also produced beautiful jewelry made out of found beach objects – like shards of pottery and beach glass.

Margery, or Margie as I have grown up calling her, is a family friend. I have many memories of her and being in her home as a little girl which was across the street from St. Peter’s where I went to grade school. We are still connected today and I treasure her.

As I had already mentioned, she taught me how to do woodblock and linoleum cutting and printing. I still have the scar on my right wrist from when she warned me how to hold my tools when cutting and I did not listen. As a creative medium, I loved wood block and linoleum and I did some of it throughout high school.

To this day, Margery is still one of my favorite artists.  If I see her work anywhere (and it’s affordable), I buy it.  Her work represents very happy memories to me. (I see it and I smile.) I can still see her prints as well as the work of other artists fluttering on clotheslines held by clothes pins during the craft fairs of my childhood at Head House Square, known also as “the shambles”.

Circa 1974. That is me on the left watching a quilter at the Head House Square Craft Fair.

One time when we were little, Margie used my sister as a model.  My sister was sitting on the beach in Avalon playing with my mother’s wide brimmed straw hat and playing in the sand.

And during the holidays, Margie would also create these fabulous Christmas-y wood cuts. I have several of those framed and hanging in my home now as an adult. My mother saved them for me and a few years ago I framed my favorites.

When I stumble across her work now, it is referred to as “mid-century modern” . This inexplicably makes me giggle and I wonder since a lot of what’s out there was created when I was growing up, I guess that make me mid-century modern too?

Art brokers and gallery owners alike probably wouldn’t like me saying art doesn’t have to be rare or priceless to hold value to us. But that is a very simple truth. Art should make us happy, evoke a memory, provoke a memory, cause a new memory to happen. Or when all else fails, you just like something. And no one else has to like it. Only you.

So many people love art yet live with blank walls. Sometimes I think it’s because they do not know what to buy. Or are afraid. To them I say: what do you like? What would make you happy?

Living in Chester County, we have so many amazing artists living here among us. And the art these artists create are at so many price points, so there is literally something for everyone’s budget.

In Chester County we not only have galleries and studio tours, we have the Chester County Art Association. Their gallery in West Chester and their outpost in the Exton Square Mall. (You can find some of my friend and artist Catherine Quillman’s work there, for example.)

Art is everywhere around us.

My friend Sherry Tillman who owns Past*Present*Future in Ardmore, PA started First Friday Main Line years ago to literally put art in unexpected places. The whole thing was about making art accessible to everyone, and to make the process less intimidating.

Sherry is so right. So many are intimidated to go into a traditional gallery setting even if they should not be. But because art is everywhere, you can find art at consignment boutiques, thrift stores, rummage sales, fairs, and so on.

Today I stumbled upon the wood block I opened the post with. It’s one right out of my childhood years and the location is also right out of my childhood years. It’s value is I like it. It made me smile as soon as I clapped eyes on it.

I am literally really lucky that I have quite a few friends who are artists. I feel connected to their work in part because I know them.

Yet on the flip side, there is art I feel connected to just for the subject matter. I don’t know the artists at all.

So here we are in the season of giving so why not something homemade? Like art? Buy a piece of art even if it’s just a little print for yourself. And if you need something framed I will gladly direct you to Framer’s Market Gallery in Malvern. (They also represent quite a few local artists, so make sure to check it all out!)

Thanks for stopping by.

My perfect Thanksgiving card from my friend and artist Catherine Quillman

unexpected memories of childhood past


I saw the notice of a house sale on a Facebook yard sale group page for West Chester. What caught my eye was the print above.

The subject is now a man not far from my age named Mark. They were done by his late father when we were all kids in Society Hill.   It’s a set of four originally, there were three available.

The artist was Harry Niblock. He and his former wife also a tremendous artist, Margery Niblock, were dear friends of my parents and Margery is still a friend of mine. Our whole family has pieces of their art, and a lot of memories attached to the art especially because as a child I remember when a lot of it was actually created which is really cool.

So I went to the sale. What I wasn’t expecting is I would know the person whose house was having a house sale. She wasn’t there, but she was a woman I knew from the time I was a little girl. 

This lady was widowed twice. Her first husband I knew as a little girl and her second husband I also knew for a lot longer, because he had been married to one of my mother’s closest and best  friends and my mother had introduced the lady and this gentleman when they were both widowed. They subsequently married and he died.

So walking around the sale was a little emotionally loaded. I saw items from the households of two different couples, and their years together. I think what really upset me the most was the fact that there were items that belong to the second husband’s army career. Even a baby picture of the son, his namesake.


 Seeing his various stages of career Army uniform is hanging on a rolling rack actually brought tears to my eyes and upset me. This man did some time in Vietnam. A couple of tours my mother said, and she also said she only ever remembers him talking about it twice. Ever. He was a great guy, a true soldier who loved his family too. I have really fond memories of him.


So I bought some things, namely Harry’s prints and one of Margery’s I didn’t have but remembered fondly. The Margery Niblock prints for sale or the series of prints her friends received every year in lieu of a Christmas card for years. I have quite a few framed and hanging on my own walls. I don’t know how valuable they are, but they are extraordinarily sentimental. Margery taught me as a girl to do linoleum and wood block.

Now I’m sitting in my car before I go home writing this down because it was  almost a surreal experience.  Flashback memories of two different families and my own childhood.
I hope the lady who is moving enjoys her new home. What a morning for memories.

it’s a pear thing

Yes, in my garden menagerie inherited from previous owners are also a couple of pear trees.  I am really frustrated right now because I need one of those picking poles (don’t knopw what else to call them).  At the tippy top of the trees are the best pears.  And I am in a race with birds and bugs to get to them…probably squirrels too.

One summer when I was growing up and I went to Strasbourg, I will never forget the visit to a pear orchard.  There pears were growing into bottles placed at the ends of limbs when the pears were teeny-weeny.  These pears later became an eau du vie Poire William.

Also, my parents had a friend when I was growing up named Harry Niblock.  He was an  artist (he passed away a few years ago) and he loved to paint and draw pears.   Of course the amusing thing about Harry’s pears is they almost reminded you of people when he was finished.  Some (like at left)  were more traditional still lives.  But some of those pears? Odd to say but they were downright sexual in nature.

His ex-wife Margery Niblock is also an artist.  She taught me how to do woodblock and linoleum cutting and printing. I still have the scar on my wrist from when she warned me how to hold my tools when cutting and I did not listen. The mini photo of a woodcut of geraniums is one of her pieces that I actually have – found it at a flea market and it took me back to when I was a kid.  To this day, she is still one of my favorite artists.  If I see her work anywhere, I buy it.  One time when we were little, she used my sister as a model.  My sister was a little thing sitting on the beach playing with my mother’s wide brimmed straw hat and playing in the sand.  And during the holidays, Margie would also create these fabulous Christmas-y wood cuts.

 

 

So I thought of both of them today as I was trying to get a few pears down to photograph and this is the result.

Like I said, it’s a pear thing.  And a memory.