Philly’s Freedom exhibition at National Liberty Museum in Old City, Philadelphia explores what freedom means to 50+ artists as they use stories, reflections and images to inspire us to see freedom and liberty as an ongoing human quest we all share.
Gallery installation view of Chelsey Luster’s “Invasion” oil painting (center) and Patricia Sullivan’s “Upcycled Reimagined Gemstone Objects” No. 1 and 2 (pedestal, left.) Photo: P. Sullivan

Philly’s Freedom: Artists Speak Out opened this past weekend in downtown Philadelphia as the first exhibition to re-open the National Liberty Museum in historic Old City. Imagine my excitement to be in the company of 50+ Philly-area artists sharing such relevant, socially-engaging and moving artwork. I attended the artist-only preview event last Tuesday to see works displayed in two galleries within the museum: a lower-level gallery with awe-striking works to equally match the upstairs gallery, known as the Live Like a Hero gallery.

Artist Chelsey Luster, a fellow Temple University alumna, has one of her two paintings exhibited adjacent to my own Upcycled Reimagined Gemstone Objects (see gallery install photo.) Invasion, oil on panel, 3′ x 6′, depicts a woman reclining in a claw-foot tub, only her extended fingers and portion of her face exposed, but for the repetitious pattern of yellow painted stripes, almost hiding her. Luster utilizes bathroom scenes in her work to explore queer black womanhood with regards to lack of privacy, invasion of the black queer body and feelings of isolation.

Chelsea Luster, “Defend Black Girls,”, oil on panel, 42 in H x 42in. W.

Defend Black Girls is Luster’s call to empowerment of the black female. She chose to use oil on panel, a quintessentially historic-laden format for painting that hearkens back to medieval and early Renaissance art. In Luster’s piece, the female subject is staring straight at the viewer, her head surrounded by the early medieval style of the flat, behind-the-head halo. Her arms are folded tightly across her torso as she appears adamant, almost commanding to her audience to wake up and heed her call for justice.

Luster was formally trained as a painter at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia. Based on my own experiences studying art and music history at Temple U. – Luster most likely was immersed at some point in the study of early medieval, Byzantine or Renaissance art as part of the array of studies that Tyler art students are required to take as university curriculum.

Female Saints: medieval mosaics at Santa Prassede, Rome, c. 9th C. Photo used courtesy of Agnes Crawford, architectural historian.

Whether it is subliminal or deliberately part of Luster’s masterful plan here, she ennobles this woman in the same artistic fashion as medieval artists ennobled images of female saints. A prime example of this is the mosaic pieces of female saints at Santa Prassede in Rome, sporting the same style of flat, behind-the-head round halo Luster employs in her portrait of black womanhood. The women portrayed in the Santa Prassede mosaics are looking out at their audience with a similar eye-engaging, straightforward glance as Luster’s painting of a contemporary female living in the twenty-first century Americas.

Justin Tyner. “All I Think About is You.” Stained glass (upcycled and repurposed glass), lead, illuminated light source.

Another unique approach to the “flattened halo” mystique found in historical stained glass art can be seen in Justin Tyner’s All I Think About is You, one of two pieces of Tyner’s work in the exhibit. The silhouette of the model in this piece is delicately created yet one cannot assume Tyner is representing a female here, nor objectifying her. The “bejeweled” halo itself is created so meticulously and even more so a challenge Tyner gives himself by using only found/discarded pieces of historic glass from churches and/or glass shards found on the city streets. Yet, he painstakingly cuts them apart and redraws a new reality of his subjects using repurposed glass shards and stark black lines of lead to delineate his carefully-crafted objects. 

Patricia Sullivan, “Upcycled Reimagined Gemstone Object No. 2.” Fabricated upcycled sterling silver, plexiglass, digital drawing on archival paper. 3.75 in. L x 2.125 W in x .3125 in. D. Photo: P. Sullivan

Utilizing upcycled sterling and fibrous material reclaimed from soup bowls, I created both of my Upcycled Reimagined Gemstone Object No. 1 and No. 2 (pictured.) In looking at the social issues that pervade my artistic practice – I create one-of-a-kind objects that prevent waste materials from entering landfills and trash receptacles to help preserve the natural beauty of our city’s notorious parks, historic landmarks like Old City, Boathouse Row, the Delaware River and more. My items are hand-sawed, pierced, scored into geometric forms, delicately sewn with thread and connected by recycled sterling elements to create a lasting object. With these new objects designed and cut by hand, I hope to transform them into useful objects and thereby prevent their disposal. The 2-D elements are created digitally in Adobe Illustrator software then printed in color onto archival paper. 

Philly’s Freedom curated exhibition runs from October 16th, 2020 through April 25th, 2021 in two galleries within the historic National Liberty Museum, located at 321 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Many of the works on exhibit in Philly’s Freedom are available for purchase through the museum. Timed tickets must be purchased either online at the museum’s online portal or upon arrival at the front desk. New hours are Friday through Sunday, 10 am to 5pm, with the 10-11 am hour reserved for seniors and immuno-compromised individuals due to new protocols in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Face coverings are required.

Images used are courtesy of the artists and the National Liberty Museum, except where noted.


Posted by:artdoesmatter

Patricia Sullivan is a metalsmith and studio artist – living in the suburbs of Philadelphia across the great Delaware River in Southern New Jersey for the past 15 years. She spent seven years prior, living in both New York City and the Hudson Valley, New York, studying at Parsons School of Design, moving onward to receive a second degree (post-graduate) in Fine Arts/Metals at SUNY New Paltz. A Philadelphia native, Patricia was exposed to the arts and music of this region since a young age, receiving her first Bachelor's degree at Temple University in Philadelphia before her sojourn to New York began. Patricia has exhibited her artwork nationally. Recently, Ms. Sullivan was one of only thirty-four artists worldwide to exhibit her work at the Center for Craft, Creativity & Design as part of being selected for Metalsmith magazine's prestigious annual "Exhibition in Print - Moved by Metal."

12 replies on ““Philly’s Freedom” Exhibit Opens a New Portal into Freedom Defined

  1. Hi Patricia, I enjoyed reading your perceptive and erudite review of this exhibition. Over here many of us watch with dismay as events unfold in the USA. I take hope from writings like yours, as I do from the ethos which underpins your craftwork. For myself, pottery has been on the back-burner for several years following a house move to the southwest and a burgeoning interest in woodwork. I trust you and those close to you are well during these trying times.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Pete, it is so wonderful to hear from you!! Especially across the miles and time! So far, I am well, and hope you and yours are doing equally as we live in these trying times. I am so thrilled to hear you are interested in woodwork; a beautiful and fulfilling medium with which to create! I see you posted recently – going there to check it now. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Wonderful exhibition and pieces! And weird that I was following you but just discovered today I wasn’t. Following again, now. I thought I had gotten your new posts by email before, so not sure how that happened but it’s fixed now.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Patricia, your pictured gemstone is lovely. Delicate and precise. Congrats on being in this show. And, on a related note about freedom: Tonight my wife and I watched The Trial Of The Chicago 7. It’s on Netflix, and is very good.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh! I was just reading about that movie! I’ve been a Sacha Baron Cohen fan for ages. Seeing him portray Abbie Hoffman (as well as some of the others cast in the roles) will be fun. Definitely will check this out, Neil. Thanks so much for your fantastic comments!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Jan! Was not easy to choose just a few works to discuss in-depth but that’s how I like to write! Thanks so much for dropping by today and commenting!


    1. Lu!!!! I was soo hoping you’d stop by! I have not yet visited Rome (despite both my mother and grandmother who have travelled there.) But I think I added the Chapel at Santa Prassede to my ‘must-visit-one-day’ list! The amount of imagery of saints, martyrs, angels and more was overwhelming to family and friends I know who’ve visited or studied in Rome. Both Luster and Tyner really created a fascinating modern-day spin on the halo in their respective works, I believe. Thanks so much again for coming by and commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Your sterling work is beautiful, Patricia. You’re so very talented as an artist and writer. I enjoyed the fact that we both had halos on the mind at the same time.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Candace, for your generous feedback! I have to tell you how much I enjoyed your “Escape to Scottsdale” post. Your photos of these beautiful birds within their natural surroundings are just incredible. Looking forward to seeing many more!!


Comments are closed.