The trip began on an airplane. From Vancouver to Minneapolis, and Minneapolis to Philadelphia, the seat beside me was empty. My banana got to fly in comfort.
Soon, I was in Philly marvelling at its architecture for the first time in my life.
June 11-15, 2003
The view from my hotel window, downtown, looking southeast. That's the corner of Walnut and 13th St. below.
This little tree germinated at the bottom of a sidewalk service well. This picture doesn't show it, but the tree had grown six feet to reach this grate and the sunlight beyond. For all but the last foot of that distance, the tree was a slender, leafless, twig.
I was in town for "Furniture 2003", the annual conference of The Furniture Society, an association of studio furniture makers, like myself.
Whenever I was walking, however, I was soaking up the architecture. Such as this view of early 20th century construction.
Or (shot from the same location, in the opposite direction) this view of mid-century buildings (with post-modern public art).
Or (a few blocks away) this view of end-of-century building.
More public art - this time in tribute to Art Nouveau.
Philadelphians are an approachable, talkative bunch like most Americans I've met. But they have a confident gentility that, as you might imagine, struck me as colonial. They jaywalk with a passion, and if honked at, they honk back louder.
Branding of all kinds.
Yet another brand.
Table by Dan Jackson, 1959. The conference included a Jackson retrospective. It was my first exposure to his work. He worked and taught in Philly in the 60's and 70's. I love how relaxed and fluid his work is. It inspires me to get out the rasps and get curvy. He studied for a time in Denmark.
Renwick Stool. David Ebner, 1975.
Hammer Handle Chair. Wharton Esherick, 1940. Esherick is the grandaddy of American Craft Furniture. This piece was part of an exhibition that included other giants of the craft such as Sam Maloof and George Nakashima. It was overwhelming to see their work in person.
This is the famous "Slant Step." It was found in a junk shop and adopted as a talisman of the 60's art scene. It would go missing, trade hands, and mysteriously find it's way to key events and into famous photos. It inspired an exhibition, a book, and numerous prints, paintings and replicas. No doubt part of its appeal to the conceptual crowd is the fact that, although it appears very well used, its function is a mystery.
  continued above
Standing in J.F.K. Plaza looking down Ben Franklin Parkway, a turn-of-the-twentieth-century urban renewal project that created a wonderful boulevard between City Hall (next photo) and the Philadelphia Museum of Art (centre).
I moved around the fountain pictured above to take this shot of William Penn standing atop City Hall. (Trivia nuget: this is the largest statue to adorm any building in the world.)
Logan square, in the middle of the boulevard, en route to the Museum of Art. It was a hot day.
The museum. I was equipped with a map highlighting the furniture collection, and was excited to visit the Marcel Duchamp installations too. Sadly, I spent so much time with the collections of modern art that the museum closed before I got to see their Shaker furniture.
Lots of famous chairs. L-R:  Sitzmaschine 670. Josef Hoffmann. 1908.  Two bentwood chairs by Michael Thonet. c. 1850.  Wertheim chair. Peter Behrens. 1902.  And one of my favourite chairs, Chair for a Music Room. Richard Riemerschmid. 1898.
  The Fire that Consumes All Before It. Cy Twombly. 1977-78. Oil, oil crayon, graphite on canvas. Part of a series of 10 or so huge 20 foot canvases retelling the Trojan War entitled Fifty Days at Iliam. I cowered and nearly cried before the force of this painting.
The City. Fernand Léger. 1919. Oil on canvas. Compare left.
Architectural study. Raymond Duchamp-Villon. 1914. Plaster. Although this detail highlights an art nouveau motif, another section of the model is cubist. Yes, Raymond was Marcel's brother.
Chair. circa 1800. Engraved and stained ivory. Made in Vishakhapatnam India for the British market.
Art Nouveau chair.
The Thinker. Auguste Rodin. 1880. Bronze. This was a 27" casting. Rodin didn't give the thinker any genitals.
Torso of a Young Man. Constantin Brancusi. 1917-22. Maple, limestone block.
Satyr and Nymph.I didn't note the artist.
Something about this piece (the veneer? the flash? --ignore the cameo) reminded me that contemporary studio furniture differs little from guild furniture of the past. We like to think that we're designerly, artistic and modern, but in reality our work chases the same oppulent effect as this neo-classical table. We serve the same market today as these makers did in their time.

I wandered around town a little more before leaving. I avoided the Liberty Bell, but enjoyed the Old City.

One evening as I sat reading in Rittenhouse Square, a lovely 19th century park full of trees and broad paths, a street person approached me for money to make his way to a shelter that he said would turn his life around. He didn't ask for money, however, until after he had earned it by regaling me with many old-fashioned riddles - the kind that used to keep us entertained before TV.

The only thing I didn't like about Philly was the smell. Some noxious stench from the river and the industry on it, creeps through the underground ways of the city and escapes, from time to time, into the streets where it wafts its dank, steamy way from ankle to nose.

Bring on the margaritas!
The red tag reads, "fragile." It is now stuck to the conveyor.
© Jeff Hohner