Art Deco Widget: Homage to New Beginnings, Or…

Patricia Sullivan, "Art Deco Widget: Homage to New Beginnings, Or..." Chased and fabricated sterling silver, digital photo on archival paper, Plexiglas, 3 7/8in. L x 2in. W x 5/16in. D, 2016.

Patricia Sullivan, “Art Deco Widget: Homage to New Beginnings, Or…” Chased and fabricated sterling silver, digital photo on archival paper, Plexiglas, 3 7/8in. L x 2in. W x 5/16in. D, 2016.

Walking through the neighborhoods of essentially any of the larger-populated east-coast U.S. cities, one may notice how much real estate developers are altering these local neighborhoods. Over the past few years, I’ve traveled mostly between New York City and Upstate NY, from Connecticut through New Jersey into Philadelphia, PA, winding from Baltimore and Washington, D.C. down to Raleigh, North Carolina. Last month, I participated in a group show of small sculpture in the city where I was born, Philadelphia, exhibiting my Kells Widget piece. Frequent trips back and forth brought me into the Frankford Avenue arts corridor of the Fishtown and Kensington neighborhoods in Philadelphia. I couldn’t believe how much this displaced me from my early memories, since the first time I saw this neighborhood I was a young college student. The ordinary has become fancy, and in some cases, downright “glitzy” in its modernist-revival multi-tiered condos.

Continuing with ideas that I started in my recent metalwork, I captured in my travels and digitally manipulated a photo of a typically-historic city townhouse. This one was built likely in the Art Deco period. Its 1920s residential-style of architecture was popular to have the narrow, rectangular windows on the door and of course, flanked by a passively obtrusive gargoyle of a lion’s head on the center-left panel. Similar to how social media platforms (like Instagram) have avatars or profiles who call themselves “Blue Doors” or “Blue Houses” – I selected a rather ordinary-looking urban townhouse and placed it into the same type of photo filters that smart-phone related applications (“apps”) use to flaunt that currently popular blue door aesthetic.

Patricia Sullivan, “Art Deco Widget: Homage to New Beginnings, Or…” (front, closed view in silver) 2016.

Patricia Sullivan, “Art Deco Widget: Homage to New Beginnings, Or…” (front, closed view in silver) 2016.

The attractive fleur de lis chased pattern I created on the silver lid (exterior) fools one into thinking at first this is just another beautiful commemorative box, or a small vessel that holds jewels. However, opening up the flange lid from the body shows the viewer a random east-coast city townhouse, not “fancied up” like so many of the current-day houses and condos being built in these neighborhoods. One might experience a sense of shock or disappointment, seeing this mundane image inside of such an ornate sterling silver exterior. If I may extrapolate one thing, it’s hoping to recreate that same worry that I felt, upon seeing this myself: if builders and developers constantly re-gentrify historic city neighborhoods – what happens to the original residents? While there’s always an acceptable amount of change as generations pass and homes/businesses are sold to new buyers (or investors), to where do all these local folks move, who may not want to leave but cannot afford these changes, whether for better or worse? Questions to ponder and show how this can apply to nearly any urban area one may compare in his/her mind’s eye; or in my case, from own childhood memories to the present day. The image of a door often conjures up a sense of a new beginning: “What’s behind that door?” or “Will life change if I choose this vs. that?”

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23 thoughts on “Art Deco Widget: Homage to New Beginnings, Or…

  1. Very thoughtful essay, and a beautiful widget.
    A month or two ago I walked through Fishtown for the first time, even though I’ve lived in the Philadelphia area for decades. Many Philadelphia neighborhoods (Fishtown, Manayunk, University City, Northern Liberties and others) have been transformed to various extents over the last 40 years, mostly via the efforts and energies of the “young.”

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    • Neil, thank you so much. I can’t say enough how delighted I am that Sandra and you are among my new followers, and I’m completely enjoying following your blog as well. I’d hoped this post (and widget piece) prompted your attention, knowing that you have been a long-time resident of the Philly suburbs (and area) as me. But the issue definitely reaches beyond our locale, since I saw the identical things happening in DC, Baltimore and esp. Brooklyn. I nearly fainted on a visit there two months ago. There were Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s in neighborhoods that I knew would’ve never been approved for zoning way back when I went apt. hunting there!! So much to add here – but I know you already “know” what I mean. Really appreciate your visit and thoughtful comments!

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  2. Beautiful work, Patricia and, as always, very thought provoking. This widget as well as the Kells widget are just stunning in their simplicity and strength. I do love the contrast between the hand made and machine (photo). I often think what will be the future of hand made things? And, what you are describing in the Philly area is also happening around Chicago. But, anyway, everything changes. When I was little, the northern suburbs of Philly (specifically Jenkintown where I grew up) still had some farms. And definitely Horsham area was very rural. Now it’s all developed… very sad but inevitable. Anyway, great post!

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    • Anita, Your visit today has completely made my morning!! I am soo very curious to see how these changes are manifesting also in Chicago. My husband lived in Chicago also for several years, and we talk incessantly how he wants to show me “around” downtown where he lived. However, I think since this was 10+ years ago, he will be in shock when he sees all the R.E. developments. Likely, so will I!! Funny you should mention the Horsham area of PA; I worked FT in Horsham for three years when the single home builders’ boom just exploded! I never knew it had been farmland – but it must have been so serenely beautiful.

      Want to add how much I love the direction your latest paintings are taking!! And your recent post w/ the glimpse of your studio-work setup was inspiring. I love seeing the “behind the scenes” glimpses of how other artists work in their studios! Thanks so much for dropping by and sharing your fab comments w/ me! ❤️

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      • Patricia, I used to have a horse and stabled her in Horsham at Valhalla Farms… long gone…this was in the ’60’s. It was gorgeous rolling farmland then and I used to ride my horse around the farmers’ fields. She is buried there… probably under somebody’s house! Thank you for your comments about my new work. I love your new direction also… and so happy to hear about your inclusion in more shows! Yay!!

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  3. Patricia, the process you describe happening in your old neighborhoods must be occurring in cities throughout the country. I certainly see this in Louisville and like you wonder where the displaced people go? Affordable housing is in short supply. I do marvel at your ability to take your metalwork which I normally associate with things intimate and precious and turn it into a vehicle for social consciousness. Well done!

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    • Al, I’m thrilled you stopped by and weighed in on this situation of affordable housing and its unnatural displacement of others. Seeing how this is a nationwide issue, I’ve noticed from colleagues I know that reside there that Louisville has “sprawled out” faster than most cities in the Midwest U.S. It pleases me to hear that you continue to follow the social engagement aspect to my artwork. Because I choose objects to make at a petite scale, other people may not take notice, since it also aspires to be an intimate or somewhat precious “hand-holdable” item.

      Want to mention also how impressed I am w/ your recent commission for your assemblage re: objects from the Falls of the Ohio; everything about the idea, incl. the final installation at the Interpretive Center is magnificent! TY for sharing your thoughts on my blog here today!

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  4. Louisville is such a livable place with a generally good quality of life, but it is facing some environmental issues including a loss of trees and a rising “heat island” effect during the summer. We are trying to address that, but there is much work to be done.

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  5. A beautiful piece Patricia and topics close to my heart. I was blessed with the ability to see “the big picture” and it occurred to me in the 80s that land and oil were finite resources so inner city land next to beautiful creek beds and public transport would be worth a lot of money in the future even though it was worth nothing then. I was right but I had no idea how ridiculously expensive it would become. I invested in it thank God. Unfortunately the prices for high rents have driven the most socially and eccomically vulnerable people out of the old rooming houses creating more social problems. The big picture is greed and the business model of never enough is not sustainable and we are going to see interesting times ahead. Forever an optimist I believe humans have the ability to work it out I am working on a book involving some of these topics this year. Love your piece so much and excited to think it will generate thought on what gentrification really means. As an aside I just got rid of my car. Car free I am.❤️

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    • Sharon, what an incredibly moving and thoughtful commentary!! I talk frequently w/ friends who live in the outer suburbs of Melbourne; they are constantly at odds w/ the cost of home purchasing vs. the escalating rental prices. I feel the same as you re: how we both knew “to buy” when and where we did. In my case, I worked like a dog to purchase my first place when I was still unmarried (and very young!) In my case, I had an outstanding role model of a parent, who pushed me into learning how to save my $ and live “smarter”. While you’re across many oceans and continents, the situations are scarily similar in buckling down at the right timing. I’m envious that you recently have been able to give up your car – one of the biggest drawbacks of moving into New Jersey is that the roads are not designed for ANY pedestrians, at all. If one tried walking anywhere, they’d be mowed down by the onslaught of SUVs and highways. My sanity is being within 30 minutes of downtown Philly, where I can walk around and enjoy all the culture + sights. Hearing what I know of Melb, though, you have about the most vibrant arts culture, food, sights and friendliest people imaginable. Thank you for your visit this morning; I always look forward to hearing your absolutely provoking (and really honest!) comments.

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  6. Here in Australia we have a similar trend with inner city suburbs that were once populated by immigrants and lower socio economic groups who needed to be close to employment, etc
    Many of these groups have now moved on to “better” housing as they saved and accrued the dollars, and another generation moved in, younger yuppy types, who renovate and gentrify – they want to live close to the city as “inner city living” has become trendy
    This began happening about thirty years ago, and of course, why didn’t I invest in a house then!! These suburbs are now outrageously expensive…

    Also, interesting concept for your artwork, it does invoke the theme and thoughts you are communicating 🙂

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    • Dawn, I can so appreciate what you’re saying here. A long time friend and spouse completely renovated their Philadelphia house to the point of complete restoration to its incredibly spectacular Victorian-era style, only to do exactly that you said. They moved into the deep suburbs and when I recently told them that the Philly neighborhood where they left are now pricing like (not joking) in the 900K range, I thought they were going to faint! The re-gentrification of this particular part of the city just exploded since the late 90s. It’s walking distance to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the walk-up style of townhouses are just magnificent. But there used to be dilapidated, abandoned homes next to “the yuppie” ones; now the development has made that area only realistically available to the blue-chip artists that exhibit in the Phila. Museum!! Ok, a slight exaggeration but it’s just gotten out of control for any young couples or single buyers to get even close to this neighborhood in the 2010s. I’m not surprised to hear that the situation near you is precisely same. I really hope that the new piece I’ve made at least gets one to thinking about the whole housing debacle. Thank you for visiting here today and sharing such fantastic observations with me!!

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    • No worries – so glad you read about my piece and shared your honest comments. I do not recall WordPress allowing comments on individual photos before this latest post?! Yet another ongoing “change” to embrace – just like the topics I’m hoping to bring to light in my new piece. 😉 So happy to hear from you, Philippa! Thanks so much for stopping by. 🙂

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  7. My father in law’s old farm was in the now Philly suburbs, we used to drive to the now developed area and my husband would find the spots where the house was and where his father “drove the tractor to the creek”. Interesting to try to imagine when you are there withing all these suburban houses and lawns. I was never a big history fan, but because my husband is so much into it I enjoy these drives when he tells me how something used to be there and what it looked like. We’ve lived in Maine for a few year now but he loves the old neighborhood in Philly and wants to move back to one of those houses with the “door”. I can’t wait for some new historical driving excursions!

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    • Eva, I really enjoyed reading your post! Yes, since leaving the Philly side of our area to live in southern New Jersey – my husband also enjoys taking me for drives through the more rural parts of where he grew up in Jersey! He is also a huge “history buff” so I’m always learning more about this place! I’m sure adjusting to life in Maine after the excitement of Philly was a drastic change – but must be gorgeous. I just adore what you said above: “….move back to one of those houses with the door.” It’s great!! There’s so many thriving Instagram profiles based on this. Just do a simple Insta search on #bluedoors – a def. influence on my Widget in this article. Thank you for dropping by today and esp. for sharing your fab comments!

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    • Thank you, Gina! Leave it to your exquisitely innate photography-eye to appreciate the doors + windows. I agree – it’s why I stopped dead in my tracks to capture the entrance while out “city-spectating.” The actual colors of the doors were much less vibrant in reality – but those integral deco-styled thin rectangles are just perfect. I’m soo happy to hear from you and am continuing to enjoy both your blog and Instagram feeds. 🙂

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  8. Patricia, your post really resonates with me. We are dealing, here in Vancouver, BC, with out of control development and gentrification – so many beautiful old houses demolished, people displaced, neighbourhoods lost. Yes, the questions you pose are important. And as usual, through your jewellery, you make us think and wonder. This new edition of your “widgets” is poignant and intimate and also quite thought-provoking. Very strong work, Patricia, I’ve enjoyed it very much!

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    • Dominique – it is fantastic to hear from you! While it pleases me that you can appreciate my ideas about this “Art Deco Widget” – it saddens me that this same issue exists in the Pacific Northwest. Vancouver BC, from what I know is a gorgeous place – with such a history of its own. No doubt its incredible beauty, waterways and esp. cultural/arts accessibility has made Van too irresistible to developers. AND over-modernization.

      As one of my all-time favorite jewelers and metal artists, you really made this dreary snow-covered Monday much more happier for me, by interacting and commenting so articulately (as usual!) Thanks again!

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