Where to See Art by Friends Select’s Community This Spring

This March, two new exhibitions in Philadelphia showcase art by Friends Select’s students, faculty, and alumni. Sights on Site, which opens at the Free Library of Philadelphia on March 1, includes work from students from all three divisions. And Muses, Guardians, and Saints, which opens at InLiquid on March 4, features work by Friends Select’s art department chair Deborah Caiola, at a gallery and non-profit organization whose founding executive director is Rachel Zimmerman ’85. 

Sights on Site Exhibition at the Free Library of Philadelphia

Sights on Site

Deborah recently discussed the evolution of Sights on Site. “Creating art is a great way for students to learn about the city and to interact with the institutions that surround us at Friends Select,” she said. Last year, the visual arts department created a site-specific exhibition at the Connelly Center at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts titled Form, Pattern, and Material: Reflections on PAFA and Its Surroundings. The exhibition featured work from middle and upper school students focused on PAFA’s history, collection, architecture, and location. “The creative process was so successful for students,” Deborah added, “I began to think about the possibility of turning this site-specific study into an annual event.”

Like last year’s exhibition at PAFA, Sights on Site has enabled students to draw inspiration from the Free Library’s vast resources. After exploring the Free Library’s map collection, for instance, second grade students in Tr. Amanda and Tr. Frankie’s class created their own map illustrating the 9th Street Market, and seventh grade students worked with Tr. Fred on mixed-media mapmaking. Meanwhile, fourth grade students worked with Tr. Dan to illustrate their own interpretations of the Free Library’s mascot, Knee-High, the Safety Dog.

In the upper school, digital photography students created a range of works for Sights on Site that explored narrative, photo manipulation, digital illustration, and multiple exposures. In addition, drawing and painting students viewed the library’s collection of rare wordless novels from the 1920s and collaborated to create a graphic novel in relief prints based upon the life of Julian Abele, the architect who designed the Free Library. Students in Advance Drawing and Painting were also inspired by the library’s architecture to create decorative paintings. Sculpture class students recycled and reconstructed old library books into unique sculptures, and metalsmithing students explored pattern, cultural ornaments, and Art Deco and Art Nouveau design in small sculpture and jewelry.

Muses, Guardians, and Saints 

As for her own exhibition, Deborah said Muses, Guardians, and Saints reflects her decision five years ago to “work only from imagination,” as opposed to painting from life and photos. “What emerged since that decision are characters that I have come to regard as archetypal identities that exist within each of us,” Deborah said. “They are fundamental ways of being human that are passed down through generations and assumed through socialization and memory.”

Deborah explained, “As an artist, a lot of my practice is learning about new materials.” And as a teacher, she and her students are able to experiment with materials and techniques in the classroom. “In recent years we have been transferring images in some of my classes,” she said. “I applied this process on a large scale, transferring 48 x 36 inch drawings to create the base for the mixed media pieces. There are 15 large drawings and mixed media paintings, as well as several small pieces in the exhibition. They are presented in an installation that is meant to provide a context for the characters and to emphasize the organic quality and universality of them.”

It’s fitting for Deborah to be featured as part of InLiquid’s 20th anniversary; she was on the site when it first opened, and she has known Rachel Zimmerman for the past two decades. “Rachel did an incredible job founding and then developing InLiquid as one of the primary artist resources in Philadelphia,” Deborah said. “There are hundreds of artists on their site now as well as innumerable opportunities for artists.” 

InLiquid has served as a vital platform for emerging and established visual artists in the city. It has helped launch the careers of numerous local artists, and has made the arts more accessible to the public. In fact, when Deborah first began teaching at Friends Select in 2010, Rachel returned to school to speak about InLiquid and her entrepreneurial efforts. Rachel said that as a student, she spent a lot of time developing her artwork with Tr. Lynda Greenwade and credits Tr. Janet Goldstein with teaching her how to write effectively. She also spent a lot of time in the dark room that the school had at the time.

The opening reception for Sights on Site is March 5 from 5:00-7:00 p.m., and the exhibition will be on view during the entire month of March. And the opening reception for Muses, Guardians, and Saints is March 12; the exhibition will be on view at InLiquid through April 4.