‘Pup’-lic Art: Philadelphia’s Streetscape Has Gone to the Dogs

‘Pup’-lic Art: Philadelphia’s Streetscape Has Gone to the Dogs

Article and Photos by Dan Sayers. From the April Edition of ShowSight Dog Show Magazine. CLICK TO SUBSCRIBE.

America’s cityscapes are dotted with public art installations. From Seattle to San Juan, civic pride is celebrated outdoors through works of art ranging from the traditional to the avant–garde. Though many sculptures honor pride–of–place or historical figures, more than a few can leave viewers scratching their heads in bemusement. When a giant clothespin was installed across the street from Philadelphia’s city hall, many residents viewed Claes Oldenburg’s work as some sort of colossal joke. However, it didn’t take long before onlookers started to imagine the steel structure as two figures in an embrace. The giant totem has since become a destination where people choose to meet. Thanks to a progressive art commission that requires developers to dedicate at least one percent of total construction costs toward the commissioning of original site–specific works of art, the City of Brotherly Love has become a veritable art museum without walls (or admission fees!) Some of the pieces even honor the timeless appeal of the purebred dog. These works can genuinely be considered part of the city’s “pup”–lic art program.

A Whippet Balcony

In the Society Hill neighborhood, a balcony on the second floor of the Winder House features a pair of hounds that greet passersby on South Third Street. Once part of the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s collection, the “Whippet Balcony” is one of hundreds of early nineteenth century ironworks that can be found across the city. The design for this beastly balustrade appeared in Lewis Nockalls Cottingham’s The Smith, Founders and Ornamental Metal-Workers Director, published in London in 1824. The lively ornamental casting was originally lent to the Episcopal Community Services, owner property when the area underwent significant restoration in the 1950s. The hounds have watched over the street ever since. The house’s original owner, Brigadier General William Henry Winder, was a controversial figure in American history who led his troops in a disastrous campaign during the War of 1812. His Philadelphia neighbors included Samuel and Mary Powell whose Georgian-style home hosted many notable guests, including Benjamin Franklin and the Marquis de Lafayette. George and Martha Washington also lived on the street from 1781–1782 in the home of John Penn, the last colonial governor of Pennsylvania and grandson of the Commonwealth’s founder, William Penn. In more recent years, other notable Philadelphians have called this block of Third Street home. Herbert T. Morris, co–founder of the Tasty Baking Company and Vice President of the Philadelphia Zoological Garden lived here. In 1951, Morris presented the city’s Fairmount Park Commission with a 48–acre tract of land adjoining the Wissahickon Valley. The parcel was once the estate of T. E. Mitten whose son bred English Setters on the property. Dr. A. A. Mitten’s Happy Valley Kennels produced many notable winners, including Ch. Blue Dan of Happy Valley, Best American Bred in Show at Westminster in 1931 and ’33.

A Whimsical Fence

Society Hill is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Among the stylish neighborhood’s many notable public spaces is a “pocket park” located a short walk from the Winder House. Named for William Heathcote Delancey, sixth provost of the University of Pennsylvania, Delancey Street Park provides an oasis of green that’s surrounded by four centuries of residential properties. Among the recent additions to the streetscape is a modern masterpiece that blends seamlessly with the adjoining 18th, 19th and 20th–century properties. The front courtyard of this contemporary house is protected by a whimsical gate that features an array of flora and fauna, each piece hand–crafted in stainless steel. Among the recognizable characters on display is a small Terrier that’s simultaneously greeter and guard. In the few short years that it’s been on duty, the little dog’s surface has taken on a patina that’s given it a recognizable boldness. The Terrier’s most notable neighbor is the Hill-Physick House just across the street. Built in 1786 by Henry Hill, a wealthy Madeira wine importer who provided the libation to the nation’s founding fathers, the house next became the home of Philip Syng Physick, “the father of American surgery.” When the three-story brick building fell into disrepair, it was restored by publisher and philanthropist Walter Annenberg. Annenberg’s daughter, Wallis Annenberg, has taken up her father’s altruism by opening PetSpace in Playa Vista, California. The interactive adoption and education center honors the bond between pets and people as it explores the origin and science of that
eternal relationship.

A Northern Star

The William Penn Annex Post Office at 9th and Chestnut Streets was a sleek, state–of–the–art communications
center when it opened in 1937. For more than 80 years, its 42 aluminum–trimmed service windows have greeted customers in a long, streamlined retail hall with a soaring ceiling and geometric Art Deco floor. Visitors to the post office have also been welcomed by four bas reliefs that flank the building’s entrances. The granite carvings by sculptor Edmond R. Amateis, titled, “Mail Delivery—North, South, East, West,” were created in 1941 with funding from the Treasury Section of Fine Arts. Each relief features an American mail carrier at work. To represent the North, Amateis carved a man wearing a hooded parka and a pair of Spitz-type dogs—likely Alaskan Huskies—pulling a sled. The sight of the man and his dogs must have seemed very exotic to Depression-era Philadelphians. However, the figures were not entirely unfamiliar. On February 2, 1925, the headlines of every major American newspaper announced the arrival by dog sled of an antitoxin that saved the small town of Nome, Alaska, from an outbreak of diphtheria. Twenty mushers and 150 dogs traveled a total of 674 miles over five days in a relay race from the town of Nenena to Nome, an isolated outpost located just two degrees south of the Arctic Circle. The successful run made celebrities of the men and their dogs, none more so than Gunnar Kaasen and his lead dog, Balto. The pair even starred in a 30-minute film titled, Balto’s Race to Nome. So popular was the picture’s canine lead that a statue of his likeness was erected in New York’s Central Park.

A Scottish Immigrant

The origin of the United States Marine Corps and the Masonic teachings in America took place where Tun Tavern once stood at the intersection of King Street and Tun Alley. Though neither the tavern nor the street names remain today, the institutions that began in that long-gone meeting place remain cherished institutions to generations of American families today. Another organization founded in the tavern was commemorated in 2011 when the St. Andrews Society of Philadelphia unveiled the National Scottish Immigrants’ Memorial Statue on a small patch of ground just steps away from the site of the old watering hole. Created by local sculptor Terry Jones, the bronze memorial consists of four larger–than–life figures representing a family of immigrants. The clan’s patriarch appears to stride confidently, staff in hand. His wife walks behind, carrying their infant child, as does his rifle-toting son in frontier garb. Nearby, several “standing stones” tell the story of the contributions the Scots have made to the development of a new nation. It is noteworthy that a Deerhound appears alongside the older man. The position of the hound acknowledges the high esteem with which the breed has been held since the 1st century AD. By the time of Scottish immigration to America, the Deerhound had become highly-regarded by poacher and nobleman alike. Many accompanied their masters across the Atlantic in search of a new home in the New World. As for Philadelphia’s bronze Deerhound, he enjoys nearly two acres and a nearby dog park where four-footed friends come
to play.

A ‘Utility’ Group

Like many modern American cities, Philadelphia’s colonial era streets are bestrewed with utility boxes that efficiently deliver electricity even as they desecrate the landscape. To combat the blight, the Washington Square West Civic Association teamed up with the University of the Arts in a joint venture that’s turned street corner eyesores into free-standing objets d’art. Since 2011, the drab and inconvenient boxes in this historic area have been transformed through the installation of colorful film wraps depicting everything from fantastic figures to inspirational messages. For dog lovers, the most memorable utility box is located at the corner of Ninth and Lombard Streets where several dozen pairs of eyes keep watch. The canine-inspired design is the work of artist Jackie Kloog.

“I am definitely a dog person,” Jackie shares when asked about the inspiration for her piece. “I’ve had dogs my whole life and I’ve always considered them family,” Jackie says that many of the images that appear in her design were inspired by friends’ and family members’ dogs. Even her own dog makes an appearance. “Some of them were dogs I grew up with and, of course, Godzilla is on there.” Jackie notes that she wanted her design to include as many different breeds as she could fit while making it fun and interesting. Her design includes characters that are easily identified as a Bloodhound, Bull Terrier, Beagle and Boston Terrier. And just like those familiar purebreds, Jackie’s illustrations are playful too. The whimsy in her work is due in no small part to Jackie’s limited use of color. “I wanted the viewer to have fun searching through the different breeds, not by their typical coat color, but by my line-work,” she explains. The green dogs with their orange noses are a welcome addition to the concrete and asphalt that all but defines the intersection. “I wanted there to be a really fun pop of color,” she says. “So, not only are the noses orange, but they were also sculpted out of Play-Doh and digitally added to the image.” Jackie’s wish for her monochromatic menagerie is only that someone’s day may be brightened by her dogs. In the artist’s words, “With how crazy and busy life can be, it’s important to smile and enjoy the little things.” Thanks to Philadelphia’s collection of “pup”–lic art installations, the city’s dog lovers have plenty of reasons to smile. 

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