By Shannon Hallamyer
By Catherine Quillman
By Catherine Quillman
By J.F. Pirro
Thru Sept. 12: Hedgerow Theatre’s annual tradition of performing a Ray Cooney farce continues with Chase Me, Comrade! This story of a Russian ballet dancer/defector who moves to the same British city as a top ministry of defense official offers fast-paced comedic confusion. 64 Rose Valley Road, Media; (610) 565-4211, hedgerowtheatre.org.
Thru Nov. 21: Sweet-smelling plants and flowers used to create a world of perfumes take root at Longwood Gardens in Making Scents: The Art and Passion of Fragrance. Visitors might even discover new scents at make-your-own-fragrance stations. 1001 Longwood Road, Kennett Square; (610) 388-5200, longwoodgardens.org.
Thru December: Eakins on Paper: Drawings and Watercolors from the Collection exhibits 10 of Thomas Eakins’ rarely seen figure drawings—crafted while he attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts—and watercolors in Gallery 118. His newly restored masterpiece, The Gross Clinic, can be found in all its gory glory in the Perelman Building at Fairmount and Pennsylvania avenues. Philadelphia Museum of Art, 26th Street and Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia; (215) 235-7469, philamuseum.org.
Sept. 3-18: The 14th annual Philadelphia Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe promises intrepid, inventive and liberated performing arts—not to mention all of the thoughtful conversation that typically ensues. It’s the history of dance in the making. Various locations, (215) 413-1318, livearts-fringe.org.
Sept. 10-12: Choreographed by minimalist Lucinda Childs, Dance reflects the union of movement and art—almost literally. As a 1979 black-and-white film of dancers plays on a stage-wide scrim, 10 new contemporary performers move in time with the film’s footage. Kimmel Center, Perelman Theater, 300 S. Broad St., Philadelphia; (215) 893-1999, kimmelcenter.org.
Sept. 11-Nov. 18: It’s all an illusion in Reality Check: Contemporary American Trompe l’Oeil Painting, a collection of 20 artists’ visually tricky works at the Brandywine River Museum. Route 1, Chadds Ford; (610) 388-2700, brandywinemuseum.org.
Sept. 12-15: The Visual and Performing Arts Festival at West Chester University College of Visual and Performing Arts showcases art, theater and dance presentations, along with musical works by influential living and legendary composers. Madeleine Wing Adler Theatre, West Chester University, West Chester; (610) 436-2266, wcupa.edu/cvpa.
Sept. 12-Oct. 16: Drama takes flight as People’s Light and Theatre Company puts on the amusingly mischievous classic, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. 39 Conestoga Road, Malvern; (610) 644-3500, peopleslight.org.
Sept. 21-Oct. 3: The inheritance of a famous house designed by two talented architects drives Villanova Theatre’s latest play, Three Days of Rain, in which the men’s children are left to sort out a will and a mysterious diary. Villanova University, 800 Lancaster Ave., Villanova; (610) 519-7474, theatre.villanova.edu.
Sept. 23-Oct. 31: It’s football season. Fired up? So is The Philly Fan. In this one-man play, Barrymore Award-winner Tom McCarthy lets off steam about Philly’s all-too-shaky sports history. Kimmel Center, Innovation Studio, 300 S. Broad St., Philadelphia; (215) 893-1999, kimmelcenter.org.
Sept. 24-Jan. 10, 2011: Before its national tour, Art of the American Soldier debuts at the National Constitution Center in a profound assortment of 250-plus artworks created by American soldiers since World War I. A special online gallery features veterans’ artistic reflections of their service. Independence Mall, 525 Arch St., Philadelphia; (215) 409-6700, constitutioncenter.org.
Sept. 29-Oct. 1: Main Line Art Center’s all-mediums gallery show, More Than Just A One Night Stand, spotlights artists ages 21-36. Sept. 30’s special House Party Fundraiser features live music, beer, food, demos and make-it-take-its from 7 to 10 p.m. 746 Panmure Road, Haverford; (610) 525-0272, mainlineart.org.
Sept. 29-Oct. 1: Media Theatre explores the dangerous relationship of good and evil on the streets of London in Jekyll & Hyde. 104 E. State St., Media; (610) 891-0100, mediatheatre.org.
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October: Get with the rhythm at the free, family-friendly Paoli Blues Fest (Oct. 2) as it stages the best of local blues from noon to 6 p.m., and the Media Jazz by Night Celebration (Oct. 16) at 16 indoor venues from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. ($20; $15 in advance). Paolibluesfest.com; statestreetblues.com.
October: The Chester County Art Association’s national BRAvo…Arts Alive Exhibition raises breast cancer awareness with bras that are ornamented or used as canvas by professional and amateur artists. Oct. 8-Nov. 5: 100 N. Bradford Ave., West Chester, (610) 696-5600. Oct. 2-Nov. 4: Exton Square Mall, first floor, Exton, (610) 524-1925. Chestercountyarts.org.
Oct. 1-3: Chanticleer will hold a Garden Photography Master Class led by award-winning photographers Alan Detrick and Roger Foley, with a considerable focus on digital photography. FYI: This one’s meant for aficionados. 786 Church Road, Wayne; (610) 687-4163, chanticleergarden.org, email@example.com.
Oct. 1-3: Heralded as the nation’s largest exposition and sale of 18th- to 21st-century American art, the USArtists American Fine Art Show & Sale offers more than 5,000 works from 30-plus dealers. Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Samuel M.V. Hamilton Building, 128 N. Broad St., Philadelphia; (215) 972-7639, usartists.org.
Oct. 1-3: The annual West Chester Friends School Art Harvest rolls out art sales, exhibits ranging from watercolors to jewelry, children’s activities, and a $10 brunch with this year’s featured artist, local painter John Suplee. 415 N. High St., West Chester; (610) 696-2962, wcfriends.org.
Oct. 1-15: The Opera Company of Philadelphia opens its season with a passionate Verdi classic, Otello, the tale of a rags-to-riches general who caves to jealousy and much worse. Academy of Music, 260 S. Broad St., Philadelphia; (215) 893-1018, operaphila.org.
Oct. 5: More than 50 artists—including Caldecott-winning book artist David Wiesner and Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Tony Auth of the Philadelphia Inquirer—gathered outdoors in August to create works for this month’s second annual Plein Air for Camphill exhibit and sale. The event benefits Camphill Special School in Glenmoore. 5:30-8:30 p.m. The Rosenfeld Gallery, 113 Arch St., Philadelphia; (610) 469-9236, camphillspecialschool.org.
Oct. 9: A two-time Grammy nominee, Kim Richey headlines at Kennett Flash, gracing listeners with her tender, sincere reflections on love and life. The vocally unique and more poppy Hannah Schneider opens. 8 p.m. 102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square; (484) 732-8295, kennettflash.org.
Oct. 13: Three musicians play their acoustic and steel strings out for the Colonial Theatre’s Guitar Masters show: Eric Johnson (pictured), Andy McKee and Peppino D’Agostino. 7:30 p.m. 227 Bridge St., Phoenixville; (610) 917-1228, thecolonialtheatre.com.
Oct. 13-Nov. 7: In Legacy of Light, a modern-day scientist and the true-life Émilie du Châtelet are both about to be middle-aged mothers—though in different eras. The production explores the curious connections between their lives and passions. People’s Light and Theatre, 39 Conestoga Road, Malvern; (610) 644-3500, peopleslight.org.
Oct. 17: In a concert that features Bach and Ástor Piazzolla, classical music genius Yo-Yo Ma shoots an arrow straight to our hearts with his bow and cello. 7:30 p.m. Kimmel Center, Verizon Hall, 300 S. Broad St., Philadelphia; (215) 893-1999, kimmelcenter.org.
Oct. 21-23: Praised as a genius, choreographer Paul Taylor and his namesake dance company return to the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts with new, ever-powerful works, often addressing knotty issues with poise. Zellerbach Theatre, 3680 Walnut St., Philadelphia; (215) 573-8537, annenbergcenter.org.
Oct. 23-Jan. 2, 2011: The gap between science and art is bridged at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Cruisin’ the Fossil Freeway with Artist Ray Troll and Paleontologist Kirk Johnson, an exhibition of rarely seen fossils and highly imaginative cartoons depicting everything from ancient killer pigs to history’s biggest dinos. 1900 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia; (215) 299-1000, ansp.org.
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November: The Academy of Music sets the stage for the classic war romance, South Pacific (Nov. 23-28), and the ballroom dance spectacular, Burn the Floor (Nov. 12-14). 260 S. Broad St., Philadelphia; (215) 731-3333, kimmelcenter.org.
Nov. 1-21: Comedians of every sort are prepping their mics for the Philadelphia Comedy Collective’s Comedy Month. First up is the weeklong Philadelphia Improv Festival, followed by the Philly Sketchfest and then acts organized by the Philadelphia Joke Initiative. Funny film, music and stand-up are also slated. Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre, 2111 Sansom St., Philadelphia; (267) 441-4780. Learn more about the Philadelphia Comedy Collective and Comedy Month here.
Nov. 2: Pianist Rudolf Buchbinder dazzles with his performance of Schumann’s Piano Concerto and Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4. He joins the 462-year-old Dresden Staatskapelle orchestra, conducted by Daniel Harding. 8 p.m. Kimmel Center, Verizon Hall, 300 S. Broad St., Philadelphia; (215) 893-1999, kimmelcenter.org.
Nov. 6-Jan. 9, 2011: Ned Smith’s Pennsylvania portrays our home state through the artist’s 15 oil paintings of landscapes and native wildlife. Academy of Natural Sciences, 1900 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia; (215) 299-1000, ansp.org.
Nov. 7: The John Lennon Song Project celebrates the music hero’s 70th birthday through re-imagined Beatles hits by Rex Fowler of Aztec Two-Step and Tom Dean of Devonsquare. Their instruments of choice include acoustic guitar, cello, violin, mandolin, mandola, bass, slide guitar, accordion and chromatic harmonica. 7:30 p.m. World Cafe Live, 3025 Walnut St., Philadelphia; (215) 222-1400, worldcafelive.com.
Nov. 8-11: Roger Waters: The Wall Tour marks the 30th anniversary of the top-selling album’s original release with a played-in-full rock event. 8 p.m. Wells Fargo Center, 3601 S. Broad St., Philadelphia; (800) 298-4200, wachoviacenter.com.
Nov. 9-21: Villanova Theatre delivers The Beaux’ Stratagem, a humorous English play about two poor gentlemen who hurdle human hindrances in pursuit of two wealthy ladies. Villanova University, 800 Lancaster Ave., Villanova; (610) 519-7474, theatre.villanova.edu.
Nov. 11-14: The Pennsylvania Convention Center hosts the 34th annual Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show, featuring decorative, thought-provoking and practical works in various mediums—from metal and furniture to fiber and ceramics—by 195 national crafters and guest artists from Germany. 1101 Arch St., Philadelphia; (215) 684-7930, pmacraftshow.org.
Nov. 16-20: Get swept away by 14 dancers and an 11-piece orchestra in a fiery telling of Argentina’s history and culture with Luis Bravo’s Forever Tango. Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, Zellerbach Theatre, 3680 Walnut St., Philadelphia; (215) 573-8537, annenbergcenter.org.
Nov. 17-Jan. 9, 2011: Befitting all ages, The Three Musketeers: A Musical Panto is local playwright Kathryn Petersen’s original holiday special for People’s Light and Theatre Company, featuring the unforgettable trio of dueling stooges. 39 Conestoga Road, Malvern; (610) 644-3500, peopleslight.org.
Nov. 19-21: Adultery, revenge and redemption are the fuel for Hawthorne’s opera, The Scarlet Letter, illustrated by Philadelphia composer Margaret Garwood’s neo-romantic score. Academy of Vocal Arts, 1920 Spruce St., Philadelphia; (215) 735-1685, avaopera.org.
Nov. 26-Jan. 9, 2011: Golden Impressions of Andrew Wyeth by Donald Pywell showcases jewelry inspired by paintings of the late great artist, who did have the opportunity to collaborate with Pywell on the initial design for each piece. Brandywine River Museum, Route 1, Chadds Ford; (610) 388-2700, brandywinemuseum.org.
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December: The Keswick Theatre has lined up a series of seasonal acts: A Very Merry Doo Wop Spectacular (Dec. 4), starring Herb Reed’s Platters, the Capris and more; Bowfire’s “Holiday Heart Strings” (Dec. 8), which pulls together almost every genre, from classical to bluegrass to Celtic; Go Tell It on the Mountain: The Blind Boys of Alabama Christmas Show (Dec. 10); and the Grammy-winning Manhattan Transfer (Dec. 16). 291 N. Keswick Ave., Glenside; (215) 572-7650, keswicktheatre.com.
Thru December: The yearlong Samuel Barber Festival, celebrating what would’ve been the West Chester composer’s 100th birthday, includes the exhibit Samuel Barber: A Musical Life at the Chester County Historical Society and a special Ring in the Season show by the Kennett Symphony on Dec. 4 at Kennett High School, featuring Barber’s Die Natali: Chorale Preludes for Christmas, Op. 37. (610) 692-4800, chestercohistorical.org.
Dec. 1-12: Main Line Art Center’s Holiday Fine Craft Sale returns with unique handmade jewelry, ceramics, glass, wood, fabric and more by local artists. 746 Panmure Road, Haverford; (610) 525-0272, mainlineart.org.
Dec. 2-4: Parsons Dance Company and live singers rock a love triangle between two brothers and the woman of their dreams in Remember Me. Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, Zellerbach Theatre, 3680 Walnut St., Philadelphia; (215) 573-8537, annenbergcenter.org.
Dec. 3-Jan. 22, 2011: Wayne Art Center’s 16th international juried exhibition of contemporary craft, Craft Forms, is a highlight of the year for some of the best crafters and crafts lovers out there. 413 Maplewood Ave., Wayne; (610) 688-3553, craftforms.com.
Dec. 4-5: ’Tis the season for Brandywine River Museum’s much-anticipated Annual Critter Sale of “critter” ornaments, carefully crafted out of nature’s ingredients by museum volunteers. 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Route 1, Chadds Ford; (610) 388-2700, brandywinemuseum.org.
Dec. 16-18: In the family-friendly 3 X 11, the Swiss troupe Mummenschanz takes everyday objects like toilet paper and large white sheets, and silently shapes them into expressive faces, giant balloons and more. This is one fun show, with a slew of unexpected and creative sights. Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, Zellerbach Theatre, 3680 Walnut St., Philadelphia; (215) 573-8537, annenbergcenter.org.
Dec. 22-Jan. 2, 2011: Yes, the Blue Man Group is still a hot ticket, with its odd instruments, high-powered visual antics, and ever-expressionless mysteriousness. Merriam Theater, 250 S. Broad St., Philadelphia; (215) 893-1999, merriam-theater.com.
Dec. 23-Jan. 2, 2011: The gallant gang from Disney/Pixar’s Toy Story 3 hits the ice at the Wells Fargo Center, with Buzz in a galactic battle against Emperor Zurg and Woody boppin’ around a roundup. 3601 S. Broad St., Philadelphia; (800) 298-4200, wachoviacenter.com.
Barbara Attie and Janet Goldwater are sitting in the screening room of their Bala Cynwyd-based film company, Attie & Goldwater Productions. OK, so it’s really a small sitting room off the kitchen in Attie’s comfortably furnished home. And while they’d never be confused with the hip, young things who troll the scene at the Sundance Film Festival, they are the real deal.
For one thing, Attie, 62, and Goldwater, 59, do what counts in the world of documentary filmmaking: They find the funds and they get their films out there—typically on local PBS stations and overseas with outlets like HBO and Cinemax Latin America.
Right now, they’re in the final editing stage of Mrs. Goundo’s Daughter, set for PBS broadcast this winter. And thanks to a small grant from the Leeway Foundation, the pair is about to begin work on a video about the life and art of internationally recognized poet/activist Sonia Sanchez.
Attie and Goldwater were in their 40s and raising children when they launched their production company. But they have learned to manage the kind of successful trajectory traced in their film biographies. They include Maggie Growls, about Gray Panthers co-founder Maggie Kuhn, and Landowska: Uncommon Visionary, focused on the life of pioneering harpsichordist Wanda Landowska.
Even with the down economy and the “struts kicked out from under the independent film market” (as one film industry reporter has described it), Daughter earned the support of several coveted funders, including the Sundance Institute’s documentary division and the Independent Television Service, an arm of PBS that funds documentaries. The 55-minute film is partly set in West Africa and based on the life of a young immigrant who was brought to Philadelphia to marry.
By the time Attie and Goldwater take up her story, she’s married with a young daughter and is seeking asylum. One distributor describes the film as “sensitive and moving”—in regards to not only to the legal issues surrounding immigration but also the controversial African tradition of female genital cutting. Its subject makes it less likely to be shown anytime soon at a multiplex near you. But its success on the independent film circuit points to what two decades of experience will do. “We think that if we find something to be interesting and compelling, other people will, too,” says Goldwater. “We’ve learned to trust our instincts.”
Indeed, in their two decades of working together, only one project failed to get funding. The film’s subject—three 19th-century Philadelphia illustrators known as the “Red Rose Girls”—was hardly controversial. But that generally isn’t an issue.
“One of the good things about the funding process is that it forces you to sort of pre-imagine the film to sell it to funders,” says Goldwater. “We write up comprehensive treatments. We try to visualize how we are going to develop the story.”
Another aspect of their creative process: They invite friends and acquaintances to Attie’s home to nitpick a work in progress. “If people are uniformly confused about something, it tells us that maybe we need to work on that section,” Goldwater says.
“It’s important for us to create a context in which to see [these] lives,” adds Attie. “There is a historical and cultural motif that runs through a film. But we also want to tell a good story.”
Point of view, as a narrative focus, has always been a strong element of the pair’s films, beginning with their first, 1992’s Motherless, about four people who, as children, lost their mothers from complications after illegal abortions. At the time, neither Goldwater (a graphic designer, photographer and abortion-rights activist with an idea for a documentary) nor Attie (a mother of three attending Temple University’s graduate film program) had envisioned a long-term career. Attie began film school thinking she could work as a cameraperson but realized—in the days before digital technology—that the equipment was too heavy for her to carry.
Then came a life-changing event. Midway through the filming, Attie’s husband was killed by a drunk driver while bicycling on West River Drive. The tragedy could’ve derailed their film partnership. Instead, it marked the beginning of an unusual give-and-take style. On most projects, they serve as co-directors and co-producers.
It also led to the discovery that getting past the big learning curve is made easier by becoming an expert in certain subjects. Counting Mrs. Goundo’s Daughter, Attie & Goldwater Productions has produced six feature documentaries that explore individual rights or abortion issues. “We feel the need to capitalize on our expertise,” Attie says. “And if we can’t, we work with someone who does.”
Their “team” often includes musicians who produce original scores, New York-based editors, and their experienced cameraman, Peter Brownscombe, to whom they generally give free rein—even when a translator is needed.
“The challenge for us is, when we have films in different languages, we don’t know what is being said until we get home and have it translated,” says Goldwater.
Indeed, working alone was never an option for either. “It’s really so hard, and you face so much rejection,” says Goldwater. “You need someone else to absorb some of that sense of failure.”
To view clips from various Attie & Goldwater productions, visit attiegoldwater.com.
Michael Green recalls the exact moment when he realized a 13th-century Persian poet named Jelaluddin Rumi had gone mainstream. “I was reading a review of the Honda Accord, and all of sudden I read that this new feature is very ‘Rumiesque,’” says the best-selling illustrator and author, sitting on the couch in his barn studio near the Chester County hamlet of Ercildoun. “That tells me that Rumi has reached a deep vein in our American culture.”
For more than 800 years, Rumi has been a cultural icon in many Central Asian countries, including Turkey, Afghanistan and Iran. How he became the most widely read poet in the United States today (his work outsells even Shakespeare) is a mystery to Green. But he suspects it’s Rumi’s timeless observations about the nature of the human soul and its desire to reunite, while still in this life, with a divine source.
The life of Rumi—a poet who once “wandered through the vineyards” spouting wisdom and love poetry, Green quips—is only partly recounted in Green’s three books. The first, 1997’s The Illuminated Rumi, remains a publishing phenomenon, with more than 100,000 copies in print. Its success has been credited to what one critic described as Green’s “hauntingly beautiful” illustrations and the translation abilities of Coleman Barks, a professor emeritus at the University of Georgia.
This past fall, taking up the idea that Rumi has become “America’s spiritual guide” to world peace, Green and Coleman shared the stage at a public symposium at Haverford College’s Global Dialogue Institute. The event drew noted religious leaders from the Philadelphia area, including those from the Middle East Center of the University of Pennsylvania.
They gathered to celebrate Rumi as an “ecstatic” who devoted himself nearly exclusively to completing his cycle of work titled “Love Poems to the Divine.” But, true to any event involving Green, there were spill-over activities on other days—like an exhibit of his work at Fortuna Art Gallery in Bryn Mawr, followed by a talk with spiritual philosopher/author Ashok Gangadean and peace activist Jonathan Granoff.
The symposium also featured film and music, and a literal whirl of activity. The Mevlevi Whirling Dervishes were among the performers, and Green’s Illumination Band (a bluegrass ensemble now led by his son) played music set to Rumi’s poetry.
It was a lot to take in, but Green likes the idea of absorbing new ideas without too much thought—that is, without prejudice and preconceived ideas. “We didn’t always have this vision of Islam as practiced by typecast terrorists,” Green says, “In fact, at one point, we had this really romantic vision as conveyed by artist Maxfield Parrish.”
Green has more than 2.5 million copies of his books in print, including The Velveteen Rabbit, A Hobbit’s Journal and Zen & the Art of the Macintosh. The subjects of these and other works—unicorns, dragons, hobbits, among others—may explain the cult-like adoration Green enjoys, though it doesn’t mean fans actually seek him out. That’s partly because many of his books are centered on a medieval tradition in which artists—toiling monks in monasteries, for instance—“were conspirators,” and there “were no superstars who must express themselves,” Green says.
Green’s most recent book, The Unicornis Manuscripts (Amber Lotus Publishing), is especially vague in its source of authorship. It continues the premise of his first book on unicorns, published by Running Press 25 years ago. Green insists that he’s not the author, only a receiver of a worn, leather-bound journal “filled with notes and jottings.” He wrote the book to quell the “tons of letters” he received from readers the first time around. “In the original, there’s a conceit about a found manuscript,” he says. “But what I discovered is that many people took it at absolute face value.”
For Green, his Rumi-related work is merely another phase of his 30-year interest in sacred culture, and how art is often born out of what he calls “an intuitive archaic response to spiritual need.”
Given his interest in obscure texts and sacred dialogues, it seems fitting that he wound up in a region where landmark designations tend to be simple and unofficial. “You can always prove that something exists, but it’s very hard to prove something doesn’t exist,” says Green, who grew up in the Hudson Valley region of New York.
Green’s decades-long stay in Chester County has included living in a former bottling facility of Highland Dairy. Then there was the former goat shed that served as his studio during the years he and his wife, Sally, were raising their son and living on a communal property near their present home.
Today, Green and Sally live in a rancher. Driving onto the property, visitors notice not the house, but a massive barn made of green tin. Its hayloft now serves as a spacious gallery that houses giclée prints, original paintings, sculpture, handmade instruments and talisman-like objects that Green made years ago. His latest plan is to stage a grand-scale traveling exhibit in hopes of bringing Rumi’s “benign vision of Islam” to even more Americans.
“Rumi is a Muslim whose teaching has seeped into our consciousness,” says Green. “The average person on the street might say, ‘Oh yes, I know that line. I love Rumi.’”
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Most potters work in their studios in isolation. So whenever West Chester’s Suzanne Kent has the opportunity, she participates in community firings.
“It’s one way to get back to the original way pots were fired,” she says. “There’s something about the craft that brings people together in these firing communities. And because of that, there’s something that goes beyond being an object maker. I wouldn’t call it religious, but it makes me rethink how important making pots has been in my life the past 35 years.”
Shows and festivals are also a communal experience. Many of this region’s best potters exhibit at the storied Stahl Pottery Festival in June in Powder Valley, Pa., and some again at Stahl’s fall show in October.
For almost 100 years, Stahl’s Lehigh County site once served as the home of three generations of redware potters—Charles, the father, sons Thomas and Issac, and grandson Russell Stahl. In 1987, descendants purchased the site and founded the Stahl’s Pottery Preservation Society, which maintains the historic site and museum, while hosting the two festivals and other events to promote handcrafted pottery’s history and the work of current artisans.
“We have electricity; they didn’t,” says Phoenixville’s Tom Longacre of Longacre Pottery. “They dug their own clay; I buy mine.”
CLAYBODY, a group of Chester County artisans, formed three years ago with the intention of showcasing their work and increasing the awareness of fine handcrafted work in and around Chester County. CLAYBODY has already had several shows at places like Historic Yellow Springs, the Phoenixville Art Center, the West Chester Art Trust and the DaVinci Gallery (as part of the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts).
“The handmade pot’s task is to nourish,” says CLAYBODY founder Nell Hazinski. “Objects that are made thoughtfully and carefully ritualize and enhance the food we eat, quietly nourishing us as they accompany our daily tasks. The pleasure of a well-formed bowl or a balanced mug is not a small thing. With each use, there’s a life-sustaining celebration of the human connection between everyday objects, the spirit of the maker and user, and the food.”
Hazinski’s home base is Milkhouse Studio in Phoenixville, but the potter has had studios in Colorado and taught at several Pennsylvania art centers, SUNY Binghamton in New York and a Seisen International School in Tokyo. Hazinski has owned and managed a cooperative craft gallery, and was a resident at the Clay Studio in Philadelphia.
Other area potters include Chadds Ford’s Joan Gale, whose work at Swamp Fox Pottery combines interests in nature and art. When a neighbor, Jean Salter, opened a greenhouse and pottery studio in her home, Gale visited as a child, and the two made horticultural pottery. Gale, who has an Applied Science degree in ornamental horticulture, is also an instructor at Chester Springs Studio. She’s been a juried member of the PA Guild of Craftsmen since 1994, and her work has been displayed at Longwood Gardens, the Brandywine River Museum and the Philadelphia Flower Show.
Phoenixville’s Longacre developed an interest in pottery as a biology major at the University of Wisconsin in the early 1970s. When he returned home to West Chester University for an advanced degree in secondary education, he took an introductory pottery class. “I only got Bs because I never asked questions,” he says. “But I used ceramics as a reward system (to balance math and sciences).”
There’s a lot of science to his “cone 10” gas-fired reduction process, which heats his pots at 2,350 degrees. He also mixes his own glazes, while creatively and constantly developing new shapes for the 18 shows he does each year with his wife, Carol, whose knack for selling complements her spouse’s love for his work. “She knows how to sell,” says Longacre. “Artists are a bit on the negative side. We’re always especially afraid that the customer might not like it.”
Recently, when he had trouble getting raw materials (something to do with closed mines), Longacre made a positive from a negative. He compensated by focusing on his glazes and creating a unique line of multiple-poured glazes.
“Awesome” is his favorite word to describe his inventory—signed with a capital “T” and a lowercase “l”—as he sets up his booth at the Stahl’s Festival in June. Here, he exhibited his new electrified lamps for the first time. And, of course, his prices are “great”—and they really are. Longacre says his work is driven equally by his love of the craft and the need to sell. “I still have to pay the electric company, which doesn’t care how artsy my work is,” he says.
Eagle Gallery in Eagle, Whole Foods in Kimberton, Art Fx in York and Hardcastle Gallery in Centerville, Del., carry his pottery—which, he maintains, is one of the most individual of art forms.
A ceramics instructor at the Valley Forge Christian College in Phoenixville, Longacre has a line of durable, functional stoneware mugs, fruit and chowder bowls, utensil holders, casserole dishes, plates, teapots, vases and pitchers, among other things. “They’re for your countertop—I ask [customers] to use them,” says Longacre.
Some of his best work is “hand-built” from slabs not thrown on the wheel. The key to those—or any piece, for that matter—is trusting yourself. It’s a massive responsibility when you’re going through 4 tons of clay a year. “The garbage man hates me,” says Longacre. “Consistency is the big thing with any potter. We try to reduce the number of our mistakes.”
Kent also began studying pottery at West Chester University while completing a degree in education. For the past 25 years, she’s been a full-time studio potter in West Chester, making utilitarian pieces fired in wood, gas and electric kilns. She, too, teaches pottery—at Chester Springs Studio—and is a member of the Wallingford Potters Guild.
Since she never took any undergraduate art classes, it wasn’t until she was 26 years old that she dug in. “I became hooked on the process and the discovery of something new that was pleasurable,” says Kent.
She experimented for seven years while also working part time at a West Chester nursery school—then opened her first studio. “It’s been very good for me to have been in the same geographic location,” Kent says. “I’ve become the town potter and, through the years, built a group of relationships with those who began as customers but have since become friends.”
While Kent sells at boutiques, she prefers dealing directly with buyers—even if the liberal buyer is a thing of the past. Now people are more in tune with purchasing a piece because they either connect with the object or with the artist. With age, even Kent is more inclined to make what she wants—and not necessarily what sells best.
“I feel more experimental,” she admits. “I won’t be here forever, so I have to do what I enjoy. I’m fortunate that I’ve picked something I can do for an occupation. Each year, this becomes more of a lifestyle choice. Most of the important people in my life I met through pottery, and I feel more secure in who I am.”
For more information on the potters profiled here, visit:
• Chester Springs Studio at yellowsprings.org
• CLAYBODY at its Facebook page
• Longacre Pottery at longacrepottery.com
• Milkhouse Studio at phoenixvillefarmersmarket.org/artists
• Stahl’s Pottery at stahlspottery.org
• Swamp Fox Pottery at swampfoxpottery.com
• Wallingford Potters Guild at thepottersguild.com