Going Home Again

During the course of the cars and Eastern projects I had found some time to start a project that was inspired by my travels on the elevated/subway lines into Philadelphia. When I was very young, my mother and I would walk to a bus stop a little less than 1/2 mile from our apartment and take it to 69th Street, the transportation hub of Delaware County, to begin our trip to North Philadelphia to see my mother's aunts: Lizzie and Emma. Besides the bus ride, he trip included traveling on two subways, and a 1/2 mile walk to North 13th Street, where they had lived since the late 1930s.

I was familiar with the area, in that may parents and I shared a one room plus kitchen, second floor
apartment up the street from my aunts for 6 months in 1956.

I loved my aunts, and they were kind to me. They save pennies for me...and I could walk to the penny candy store for water ice or a comic book. Aunt Emma always had Pepsi Cola for me (and for her) and they were kind to both of us. I didn't enjoy the long trip nor the conversations which usually centered around our lack of money, but I was with my mother and rarely complained.

Market Street - acrylic on canvas - 16" x 20"
The Row - acrylic on canvas - 36" x 24"
Memories of those early years never really go away, and my trips on the el and subway lines became a daily commute for me when I entered Temple Tech. We then lived only two short blocks from the El, and I studied on the commute when I wasn't watching the upper floors of Market Street houses fly by. So shortly after my exhibition of cars and trucks, I painted few houses of neighborhoods inn West Philadelphia that were so similar to that of my aunts, and those I saw from windows of the El.

With some new Radnor paintings completed, and the West Philadelphia work started, I decided to make a journey back to childhood and into my  life's journey through the places where I had lived, or passed through during the past 60 years. In order to do this I revisited West Philadelphia, and my apartment complex where I had lived from the ages of 9 and 14. I painted the street, Argyle Avenue, where my father was born and my grandmother lived in her later years. I painted the apartment where I had lived in Newtown Square during my separation from my first wife, and I drove through Willistown and painted the gentleman farms, streams and landscapes of the "outer Main Line."

Willistown Winter - acrylic on canvas - 24" x 40"
I convinced, Drew Saunders, a friend and owner of Newman and Saunders Galleries, to provide space for my exhibition. Like other shows, a percentage of the potential sales and all of the money from sponsorships would be donated to the Radnor High School Scholarship Fund. But I added another beneficiary into the mix: the Art Reach Program of Philadelphia. My aim was to provide a real-time trip from Philadelphia to the Main Line, culminating in a personal showing at the gallery of all the paintings. I named the exhibition: "Connections: From the Inner City to the Outer Main Line, " and have the exhibit completed by Mother's Day in 2009.

Studio 7 - acrylic on canvas - 26" x 36"
With some older works like the Media Theatre and Wayne, I was able to fill the gallery with work that illustrated my jagged path from east to west, but also my journey from poverty to a house in Radnor and a business that had last more than 25 years.

I provided $1000 for Art Reach to  hire a bus and fill it with high school students willing to take the journey. The kids were all well behaved, and almost all African American, many of them poor and respectful. But the day was hot, the bus wasn't air conditioned, and we started our journey about 3:00 and didn't arrive to the gallery until about 5:30. I did my best to point out the places I had painted along the way, such as the 69th Street Terminal, a home on Delancey Street and a market on Spruce, but we often had to change a route several times because of traffic, and I was sweating bullets, both for dragging these students on this journey, as well as from the intense heat inside the bus.

7249 Radbourne Road - acrylic on canvas - 24" x 54"
Within the gallery, the teenagers were engaged. They point out homes and buildings they saw along the way, and we had a contest to win a "real" painting of mine. All of them got to take home a signed and numbered reproduction of one of my movie theatre paintings, and we took a photo on the lawn out front with everyone by the Newman and Saunders sign. The bus driver was quite pleased that he got a print along with the students.

69yh Street" Yesterday and Today - acrylic on canvas - 26" x 36"
I heard later that they had passed the Anthony Wayne theatre on their journey home and recognized it from my painting in the gallery. I also learned that the bus didn't arrive back to the school until near 8:00 p.m.

After they left I scored their quizzes and picked a winner of the painting, but after sending it off, it soon was returned to me by UPS as undeliverable. I contacted Art Reach to see if I could get another address, and they said that many of the students didn't have "firm" addresses, or were transient. The prize was never awarded.

Besides the problems I faced from the tour, was an incredibly bad financial crisis that started months before my exhibition and continued to plague the stock market, employment and real estate values for several years.Therefore, my show was not a profitable venture, a fact which lead me into my next "artistic journey."

Click to Chapter 16: Havana ’59