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Philadelphia Waterfront Paintings: Tour with Map and History

Updated: Nov 16, 2022

My two favorite places in Philadelphia are my studio and Penn's Landing, which is a mile away. The historic ships are gorgeous, unique, and inspire many of my paintings. You can tour the Olympia and submarine Becuna via Independence Seaport Museum; tour, rent, volunteer, or attend events aboard the Gazela via the Philadelphia Ship Preservation Guild; or have dinner aboard Moshulu. In the summer, there are vendors selling tasty treats that you can enjoy while viewing the picturesque waterfront. I am happy to give tours about the history of these ships and how they relate to my recent paintings.

Here's a Redfin article which features me where you can read about more hidden gems to visit in Philadelphia.

A lot of my work from 2020-2022 has been inspired by the Delaware River Waterfront between Penn's Landing and Washington Avenue Pier. I thought it might be nice to share them all in one place alongside some information about the subject matter. I'm going to organize them in a north to south order, since that's the direction of my walk. Here's a map so you can follow along! We start at Penn's Landing and the gates of its marina looking towards the Independence Seaport Museum.

Looking south, the gate for keeping no one out looks fine. Looking north, you can see it drops down an unusually far distance dangling over the river and it’s very smashed. This sort of semi-functional architecture gives me a bit of a chuckle. Someone had to decide this was the best design, then other people had to get funding, approve the design, and build it. Then, someone else had to smash into it with their giant boat because it should not have been dangling there in the first place. I like to imagine this being like when a teen crunches into something while attempting to parallel park, but way worse. All three of these paintings are 24" x 36, oil on panel, and available for purchase.

I'm experimenting with abstract interpretations of a similar composition.

Next, we stop at the Gazela, a 3-masted Portuguese Barkentine from the turn of the 20th Century that used to be employed as a fishing vessel. She's currently preserved by the Philadelphia Ship Preservation Guild and was in the film "Interview With the Vampire."

While volunteering to restore Gazela I've spent a good bit of time contemplating the bow of the ship in different weather conditions and thinking about her physical history. I constructed later paintings in highly textured layers, considering how a ship would gain the patina of rust and scum and the way that the rivets and surface imperfections of metal and wood impact the formation of stains over time. I've written some blogs documenting the restoration process. Here's a brief video of the hull on an overcast day at low tide.

Again, I ventured further into abstraction and continued building up and scraping down highly textured surfaces. I began making a putty medium of linseed oil and marble dust similar to those popularized by Velasquez and Rembrandt to give the paint more body and a stringier consistency.

Next on our walk south, we encounter the submarine Becuna, commissioned during 1944 and decommissioned in 1969. You can tour the Becuna via the Independence Seaport Museum, which I highly recommend. I enjoyed getting to see the interior having spent so much time examining the exterior. I'm working on some paintings from the vantage point of being aboard the submarine looking over the side during the rain.

The painting on the left is entitled "Becuna and Friends" and is 30" x 40" oil on panel. It's one of several paintings featuring the railing. I have gotten fussed at by the guards for getting too close to the edge.

Next on our tour is the Moshulu, a 394 ft. tall ship christened in 1904. It has sailed all around the world carrying cargo, and was permanently docked and converted to a restaurant in 1975.

I'm struck by how vibrant and bold this hull appears and how much it shifts in different weather conditions and lights. I'm also intrigued at how the water in this harbor reveals itself so differently, and how it usually has very little blue, if any, in the area between the ships and their moorings. Wind and currents, combined with a proliferation of submerged obstacles that reveal themselves at low tide change the patterns of the waves in ways that seem nonsensical until you stare at them for a very long time. On days like this, it is a great deal more difficult than painting a relatively calm lake.

We complete our walk at Washington Avenue Pier, which was the Washington Avenue Immigration Station from 1879-1915. During this time, it was the site for processing thousands of immigrants who arrived primarily from Southern and Eastern Europe.

The immigration station was demolished in 1915, and there was a big fire there in 1965, after which the area was reclaimed by nature. In 2014, it was transformed into a public park where people may observe migratory birds and fish off of a restored portion of the pier. It has a nice bike path and is very peaceful, surrounded by trees and native plants. I like to go there to take photos and paint. This particular piece, "Familiar Forms, Washington Avenue Green," (22" x 30" oil on panel) is a meditation on the way that similar species of grass, found in wide distribution across the United States, fall over in the same formations no matter where they are located. It is a return to a line of thought from the Weedscapes series I made several years ago.

I've also made a series of watercolors of these locations.

I hope you enjoyed your virtual walk and that you'll go visit in person!

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