Artistic youth

Ben­jamin Rush Arts Academy stu­dent’s Kim Neubauer and Cath­er­ine Car­doza paint­ing’s of John Frus­ci­ante and Steve Jobs were fea­tured at the Glen Fo­erd Man­sion on Wed­nes­day, Decem­ber 7. Kev­in Cook / for the Times

Per­haps more than any­one among Glen Fo­erd’s ex­clus­ive lin­eage of former res­id­ents, Florence Fo­er­der­er Ton­ner made the greatest per­son­al im­pres­sion on the 18-acre river­front es­tate.

Prom­in­ent Scot­tish-Amer­ic­an fin­an­ci­er Charles Mac­alester built the ori­gin­al house on the site in about 1850, but he lived there less than a quarter-cen­tury be­fore his 1873 death. Mac­alester’s daugh­ter, Lily, then took over the es­tate, but she passed away in 1891.

Two years after that, Ger­man-Amer­ic­an tan­ner Robert H. Fo­er­der­er and his wife, Car­oline, bought the prop­erty and began to en­large the main house. But he died in 1902 and nev­er saw the renov­a­tions in their com­pleted glory. Her death fol­lowed in 1934.

Their daugh­ter, Florence, on the oth­er hand, spent much of her youth and her en­tire adult life as res­id­ent of Glen Fo­erd. She lived with her hus­band, Wil­li­am Thomas Ton­ner, in an outly­ing cot­tage un­til her moth­er’s death, then she moved in­to the main house, where she re­mained un­til her own 1972 passing.

Dur­ing those 70-plus years, Florence turned the es­tate in­to a beacon and a sanc­tu­ary for a full ar­ray of cre­at­ive arts, ran­ging from the mu­sic­al to the visu­al to the lit­er­ary.

Last Wed­nes­day, the es­tate’s cur­rent care­takers partnered with North­east Phil­adelphia’s pub­lic arts academy to re­kindle Mrs. Ton­ner’s cul­tur­al leg­acy with the in­aug­ur­al Young Artist Show­case.

Dozens of stu­dents from the Arts Academy at Ben­jamin Rush per­formed mu­sic, dis­played their ori­gin­al paint­ings, draw­ings and pho­to­graphs, and re­cited their own po­etry to an en­thu­si­ast­ic audi­ence of fam­ily, friends and ad­voc­ates for the his­tor­ic­al Glen Fo­erd site.

“It’s really the story be­hind Glen Fo­erd and Florence Fo­er­der­er. She really sup­por­ted young, emer­ging artists in the Phil­adelphia area,” said Meg Sharp Walton, ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the Glen Fo­erd Con­ser­va­tion Cor­por­a­tion. “We carry on that leg­acy.”

The part­ner­ship has been sev­er­al years in the mak­ing, as is one that Walton hopes to rep­lic­ate with oth­er cul­tur­al or­gan­iz­a­tions in the com­munity.

The Rush Arts Academy is at 11081 Knights Road in the former Ben­jamin Rush Middle School. The middle school closed in 2006. The Arts Academy ac­cep­ted its first fresh­man class in 2008 and has ad­ded an ad­di­tion­al grade each year since.

There are now 503 stu­dents in the school, grades nine through 12, ac­cord­ing to found­ing prin­cip­al Jes­sica Brown. This year’s seni­or class will be the first to gradu­ate from the academy.

Mean­while, Walton ar­rived at Glen Fo­erd in Janu­ary and has been try­ing to forge more loc­al part­ner­ships ever since.

“We wanted to make con­tacts in the com­munity and (found that) only a few miles away is an arts academy,” Walton re­called.

“Meg reached out to us in the sum­mer,” Brown said. “The fam­ily that lived here were art col­lect­ors, so she really wanted to fo­cus on arts in the com­munity. We’ve talked about not only ex­hib­i­tions, but do­ing work­shops with pro­fes­sion­al artists in the area — some kind of arts ex­change.

“This is the first time we’ve com­bined stu­dent writ­ing, mu­sic and art (in one set­ting) and the first time we’ve col­lab­or­ated with Glen Fo­erd.”

The or­gan­izers built the event around an ex­hib­i­tion of about two-dozen stu­dent art­works, all in the por­trait format. The pieces in­cluded draw­ings, paint­ings, pho­to­graphs and mixed-me­dia works fea­tur­ing the artists’ class­mates, re­l­at­ives and se­lec­ted celebrit­ies, like Apple founder Steve Jobs and mu­si­cian Trav­is Bark­er.

All were cre­ated this school year as the school’s visu­al arts ma­jors com­pleted a unit on por­trait­ure.

Event or­gan­izers then de­cided to em­ploy Rush’s tal­en­ted Jazz En­semble for a mu­sic­al in­tro­duc­tion. The 12-piece group per­formed fam­ous com­pos­i­tions by B.B. King, Duke El­ling­ton, Lee Mor­gan and Sonny Rollins. The set las­ted about a half-hour.

“It was great. I like per­form­ing, but I nev­er per­formed out­side of school with the jazz band,” said ju­ni­or pi­an­ist La’kee Pow­ell of Holmes­burg.

Typ­ic­ally, stu­dents host winter and spring con­certs with their vari­ous en­sembles at school, along with an an­nu­al stage mu­sic­al pro­duc­tion. Sim­il­arly, the visu­al art stu­dents gen­er­ally ex­hib­it only with­in their own do­main.

The teens ap­pre­ci­ated the elab­or­ate and his­tor­ic­al Glen Fo­erd set­ting, with its gran­di­ose gold and sil­ver sea­son­al d&ea­cute;cor. The 15-foot il­lu­min­ated Christ­mas tree in the house’s main par­lor offered a spec­tac­u­lar back­drop for the jazz per­form­ance.

“When I first walked in, I could feel this pres­ence, the his­tory,” said seni­or Wil­li­am Smith from Brides­burg, who was a fea­tured sax­o­phon­ist on sev­er­al of the num­bers. “It’s like I was back in the 1800s. It was like a gi­ant melt­ing pot of art and his­tory.”

The even­ing cul­min­ated in po­etry read­ings by six Rush stu­dents, who dis­played pre­co­cious lit­er­ary tech­nique, amus­ing ima­gin­a­tion and cour­ageous in­tro­spec­tion in their writ­ings.

Lit­er­ary art is not con­sidered a ma­jor course of study at Rush, but it is taught lib­er­ally and thor­oughly in the school’s Eng­lish classes.

Fresh­man Dani­elle Berntsen is primar­ily a visu­al artist, but last sum­mer she took part in a writ­ing work­shop with Rush Eng­lish teach­er Lor­raine Ustar­is and penned a poem, The Wire.

“It’s a gi­ant meta­phor for what I was scared of hap­pen­ing, like if I get older and fail as an artist,” said Berntsen, a North­east res­id­ent. “But it could re­late to any­one who has a big goal in life.”

“Of­ten­times, our stu­dents write won­der­ful pieces and it’s nice to share them pub­licly,” Brown said. “Writ­ing is an­oth­er form of art, really. It’s em­phas­ized throughout the cur­riculum.”

Pub­lic col­lab­or­a­tion and per­form­ance may be­come more em­phas­ized, too, con­sid­er­ing last week’s re­sponse.

“The prin­cip­al, I don’t think she was ex­pect­ing such a big crowd,” Walton said. “It was great to see the kids in their fancy out­fits, and the (Glen Fo­erd) board was very proud.”

Florence Fo­er­der­er Ton­ner would’ve been very pleased too.

“I was speak­ing with her grand­daugh­ter and she felt that her grand­moth­er would have ap­proved. So the house is happy,” Walton said. ••

Re­port­er Wil­li­am Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or

Glen Fo­erd tree light­ing

Glen Fo­erd on the Delaware in­vites hol­i­day rev­el­ers young and old to vis­it the Gil­ded Age man­sion on Wed­nes­day, Dec. 14, from 4 to 7:30 p.m., for a grand Christ­mas tree light­ing, car­ol­ing, tours, live hol­i­day mu­sic, bal­let per­form­ances, par­lor games, fresh-baked cook­ies and pastries, and fun activ­it­ies for chil­dren.

Glen Fo­erd is at 5001 Grant Ave. in Tor­res­dale. Vis­it­ors should enter the es­tate via Mil­nor Street. Ad­mis­sion is $5 for the gen­er­al pub­lic or $4 for Glen Fo­erd mem­bers and chil­dren 3 to 17. The out­door tree light­ing and car­ol­ing be­gin at 7 p.m. and are free to at­tend.

Call 215-632-5330 or vis­it www.glen­ for in­form­a­tion. ••

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