From Seeds to Seeds (detail), 2014 Shelley Spector (American, born 1960) Courtesy of the artist
Philadelphia artist Shelley Spector presents a gardenlike installation of colorful sculptures inspired by an evocative work from the Museum’s textile collection.Shelley Spector has been actively engaged in Philadelphia’s arts community for years as a respected artist, innovative gallery owner, and champion of emerging talent. Her inventive use of pattern and salvaged materials intrigued curator Dilys Blum, who invited Spector to explore the Museum’s collection of textiles and create an installation of new artwork. Spector’s response is Keep the Home Fires Burning, a walk-through presentation of sculpture that reflects on the universal quest for hope and home.
Invitation and InspirationWatch Video >>
Materials and ProcessWatch Video >>
The initial inspiration for the exhibition is a lively embroidered work decorated with images of a home, birds, tulips, trees, and couples. More than seven feet high and three feet wide, the homespun piece was designed by folk art historian Frances Lichten and sewn by her mother, Cecelia, in 1943. It was later donated to the Museum by artist Katherine Milhous, who was Lichten’s companion for four decades. “I use imagery such as flowers, birds, houses, and people to represent concepts—ideas larger than the literal translation of what’s shown,” Spector explains. “Frances Lichten did that as well, using them as symbols to convey the essence of certain traditions.”
Hand-stitched in vibrant shades of green, orange, and gold, the symbols in Lichten’s embroidery seemingly float in space, a feeling that Spector has re-created in the exhibition by suspending large sculptures amid freestanding works. She made the objects from discarded materials, including second-hand clothing and furniture, in a studio near Fabric Row, a stretch of family-owned, textile-supply stores in South Philadelphia. Like Lichten before her, Spector enlisted the help of her mother, Anita, who carefully cleaned, deconstructed, and organized the material that the artist transformed into sculpture. The works in the exhibition, which range from large, flower-like structures and a birdcage to tomato-shaped pincushions and wood-and-fabric lions, allude to the Pennsylvania German designs in Lichten’s embroidery but also reference imagery seen in Indian and Jewish folk art. Keep the Home Fires Burning, a phrase that Spector found in a letter from Katherine Milhous to her partner, Frances Lichten, includes two works dedicated to the couple: The Egg Tree (a nod to an award-winning children’s book by Milhous) and Frances Loves Katherine, which features two figures in front of a house inscribed with the words “give sunshine to others.”
Go behind the scenes with artist Shelley Spector.View Slideshow >>
Related Installation: Tomato Intervention
Keep the Home Fires Burning features dozens of handmade sewing tomatoes to evoke themes of home and hearth. Shelley Spector also created eight sewing tomatoes to decorate various fireplaces throughout the main building. These site-specific works reference the Victorian custom of placing a fresh or fabric tomato on the mantel of a new home to bring good fortune to its owners.
Download the map to explore all eight tomato locations in the main building.