Hidden art world

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One of the wonderful things about Philadelphia, because its art world is so big, there’s always some surprise hiding somewhere.

Last week, I stopped by Philadelphia’s newest glass studio, which deserves our attention for its punny name alone (hey, auslanders, I guess I should explain that the gas company in Philadelphia is Philadelphia Gas Works).

It’s the second such outfit in town, the other being Hot Soup in Old City. I wonder if glassmaking is a trend.

The place, in Powelton Village right off the Spring Garden Street Bridge, has glass-making classes for all levels of skill (a new round of classes is just beginning) and rents out its space to other glass artists. So far, they’ve attracted a crowd from ages 16 to 35, estimates Nate Purcell, the young glass artist whose behind the operation along with his business partner, Ian Kerr.

Purcell’s currently working on a glass skirt (more word play for you) for a fashion show in New Orleans, but he makes a variety of things, including tableware, jewelry and sculpture.

Best of all, though, was the discovery of this block that seems to be artist central. The studio is next door to puppeteer Spiral Q, and another artist lives up the street. While we were talking, in walked still another artist, James Evans, who had space next door on 31st street.

Evans, who’s got the gift of gab, reported that since he discovered real estate, he no longer needs to worry about how he priced his art. “Once you get comfortable, it’s not about money no more.” So now Evans can sell his beautiful wood sculptures, made from wood that the Delaware River offers up on its banks, at whatever price he wants. It allows him room to be “compassionate” some of the time, he said. But don’t think he’s selling these for a song. His prices are justifiably professional.

A spiritual man (shown above, a work in progress of Christ, singing), Evans said of his driftwood pieces, “I find them or they find me.” They find him in more ways than one: “One morning I woke up and knew what one piece was.”

Working with chisels–Evans is a former carpenter–he brings out the shapes that the raw driftwood suggests, and then rubs in paint to highlight the forms. “Putting on a door hings is just like doing a wood sculpture,” he said, in explaining his technique.

Evans conversation is sprinkled with stories about helping a friend find Jesus and helping others from his old neighborhood nearby on Wallace Street give up crack addictions. A graduate of University City High School, he’s not sure how he escaped the hard life that plagues so many of his classmates, but get him talking about his religion, his art work, or his belief in one nation, undivided by race, and he won’t stop. I believe I found a truly happy man.

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