First Friday on Frankford

There are a little more than three weeks un­til the next First Fri­day, and the event has taken off in the River Wards. Even the rain can’t stop it.

A crowd of people at 3rd Ward on First Fri­day stand be­fore artist Emily Erb’s “Garden of Earthly De­lights.” SAM NE­W­HOUSE / STAR PHOTO

Frank­ford Av­en­ue has be­come known as one of the places to be on First Fri­days – a night when gal­ler­ies across the city open up to show off new art ex­hib­its, in a tra­di­tion that is unique to Phil­adelphia. 

But as Kens­ing­ton and Fishtown grow in repu­ta­tion as artist­ic neigh­bor­hoods, they are be­com­ing more and more the home of the best, most in­ter­est­ing and most am­bi­tious art shows in the city.

“First Fri­days here are ab­so­lutely great,” said Ted Mosh­er, an artist at High­wire Gal­lery in Fishtown – even though heavy rain­fall last Fri­day had chased most ped­es­tri­an foot-traffic off Frank­ford Av­en­ue and his gal­lery was ba­sic­ally empty on the night of its fun­draiser.

“This was our big fun­draiser, we wanted to sell cheap art off the wall, we got a keg from Phil­adelphia Brew­ing Com­pany, we got Pizza Brain pizza — we had plans, dude,” Mosh­er said. 

Whim­sic­al line draw­ings, ab­stract oil paint­ings, and a plush stuffed eye­ball were among the pieces for sale at High­wire for un­usu­ally low prices, in the $10 to $40 range.

“A night like this, where the rain es­sen­tially can­cels the event … even with that, this First Fri­day, we’re still mak­ing money on it,” Mosh­er said.

High­wire Gal­lery, which is co­oper­at­ively owned by mem­ber-artists, was formerly loc­ated in Old City on Second Street. Since mov­ing to Frank­ford Av­en­ue sev­en years ago, Mosh­er said that the gal­lery has really taken off.

“This place, with the store­front onto Frank­ford Av­en­ue and the en­gage­ment of the loc­al com­munity, has been the most en­joy­able and pro­duct­ive for us as artists,” Mosh­er said. “Be­cause we’re right here on the street, we know the loc­al com­munity of artists, we’re in­teg­rated in­to that com­munity.”

Staff at High­wire Gal­lery said they would be hop­ing for bet­ter weath­er at the gal­lery’s pic­nic on June 22 from 12 to 3 p.m., when staff will draw raffle win­ners.

A few blocks north on Frank­ford Av­en­ue at Fjord Gal­lery in Kens­ing­ton, which is a re­l­at­ively new gal­lery and has been open for just a year, an­oth­er crowd of art-view­ers were in­vest­ig­at­ing the mean­ing of the gal­lery’s new show of ab­stract and ex­per­i­ment­al paint­ings, en­titled “A coun­try road. A tree. Even­ing,” which was cur­ated by Sean Robert FitzGer­ald.

“We very spe­cific­ally kind of co­ordin­ate our shows for First Fri­days. It seems to bring around quite a large vari­ety of people,” FitzGer­ald said. “Sev­er­al artists who knew each oth­er primar­ily from study­ing at Rhode Is­land School of Design opened Fjord. After liv­ing in Fishtown for a few years, they were look­ing for a group stu­dio and found the Fjord build­ing for sale for cheap – so they de­cided to start hold­ing their own shows, something that wouldn’t be pos­sible for young artists in Old City.

“I think there’s a young­er and more ex­per­i­ment­al crowd up here,” FitzGer­ald said. “For us to have our gal­lery in Old City would be not only cost-pro­hib­it­ive, it would also at­tract a dif­fer­ent crowd, that may or may not be as in­ter­ested in very ab­stract and very con­tem­por­ary works.”

A few blocks away from Frank­ford Av­en­ue, but alive with the same cre­at­ive spir­it, is 3rd Ward at Fourth and Thompson streets, which opened all three floors on First Fri­day. 

Be­ing far lar­ger than most gal­ler­ies, 3rd Ward is cur­rently hold­ing one of the most am­bi­tious shows Fishtown or Kens­ing­ton has seen in a while – more than 100 pieces by Emily Erb, Mar­cella Marsella and Sab­rina Small, in a show en­titled “Wo­man In­her­its the Earth.”

“I just feel so for­tu­nate to be able to show a lot of the large pieces that I’ve made in the last five years,” said Erb, whose work-in­tens­ive silk paint­ings in­clude pieces that are 20 to 60 feet wide and can rarely be shown in gal­ler­ies.

“A pro­fess­or of mine came in, she’s 70 years old, she’s been paint­ing her whole life. She said she hadn’t been to a show that was this am­bi­tious in a long time. And I thought that was the best com­pli­ment I’d ever got­ten,” Erb said. ••

Vis­it frank­for­ to learn more about the First Fri­day events in your neigh­bor­hood.

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