Uses of Tradition Exhibition

Uses of Tradition: Arts of Italian Americans in Philadelphia.

This exhibition explores the meanings of some of the beautiful and useful folk arts that Italian immigrants brought to this region over the last one hundred years - from the stonecarving, stained glass and mosaic work that ornament Philadelphia's grand buildings to the family and regional craft traditions carried on in more private settings, like palm-weaving and window displays. This exhibition considers the meanings and uses of inherited traditions in peoples' lives. (1989)



Tradition is that part of the past which we value in the present. By keeping up tradition, we remember where we came from. But tradition is more than just memory. We repeat what is meaningful to give order to our lives. We look back at our experience for solutions to new problems. Tradition is something we are always reinventing.

It has not been easy to maintain inherited traditions in America. Immigration can disrupt the context of transmission of skills, sources, and values. It divides generations who would normally live together, depriving the immigrants of the knowledge of their elders. It presents new occupational and lifestyles opportunities and takes old ones away, so that some village knowledge become useless. And it creates pressure to Americanize and shake off the old ways for the sake of the next generation. Later generations, cut off from their roots, may go looking for their lost inheritance. Not knowing where to find the traditional teachers, or even what they want to be taught, they may reshape Italian village cultures possessed by their grandparents.

Maintaining and transforming inherited traditions, Italian Americans have used folk arts as a source of group pride and identity, as a path toward economic survival and success, as a source of individual satisfaction in artistry, as a means of expressing and confirming community, and as a shared language that ensures effective communication. This exhibition explores some ways in which a distinctive folk arts heritage has been created by Italians making lives for themselves in Philadelphia. As you walk through it, we hope you will think about the uses and meanings of tradition in your own life.

^ top

History and histories - the coming of Italians and their arts to Philadelphia

The simple phrase "Italian American" hides a complex cultural reality. Italy became a nation very late, and its fragmented regions, diverse dialects, isolated hill-towns, and history of assorted foreign invasions all added to cultural variations between social classes and between the sexes. Four major phases of Italian immigration shaped artistic traditions in the city of Philadelphia:

From the eighteenth century on, Philadelphia received a trickle of fortune-seeking professional artists. These adventurers were too small in number and too mobile to establish much of a presence in Philadelphia, but they contributed to popular knowledge of the Italian arts.

In the nineteenth century came craftsmen from regions where temporary migration was a traditional economic survival strategy. Tuscan plaster workers described in this exhibition were regional specialists of this kind, known for their particular crafts. After the American Civil War, these migrants began to remain and bring their families. Their numbers increased with the late nineteenth century building boom and the mass Italian migration.

The mass migration of peasant families from Southern Italy began in the 1880's and lasted through the mid-1920's. New to cities and to industrialization, these immigrants found jobs as unskilled labor in the expanding construction and garment trades. Their presence swelled the new "urban villages" of the city, creating a demand for Italian goods, services, and institutions, and supporting the maintenance of domestic and religious traditions pictured here.

From the end of World War II to the present, the three earlier groups of artists, skilled artisans, and southern countrypeople have continued to arrive in smaller numbers. The steady influx keeps Italian American links with the old country alive, and revitalizes and diversifies the Italian cultural presence in Philadelphia.

^ top

Many inheritances - Three Life Stories

The arts carried by these various migrants fell on rocky or fertile soil depending on factors as diverse as the state of the Philadelphia economy at the time of immigration, the presence or absence of paesani (people from the same village) in the immigrant neighborhood, and American architectural fashions. We cannot speak of a single history of Italian immigrants or their traditions.

Different immigrants brought different kinds of culture and tradition to Philadelphia: regional and folk traditions, family-based crafts, special gender-based skills, and knowledge of the national culture of the Italian elite. Once here, these arts took on new meanings as they were practiced in new surroundings. Traditions served in various ways.

Tradition is a shared vocabulary. Emanuel Utti learned the trade of decorative painting through a traditional apprenticeship, working under a master. Through his teachers, Mr. Utti can trace his artistic ancestry back four generations to locally important Neapolitan baroque painters. Mr. Utti's work, like that of his predecessors, pleases by its familiarity. In the style and content of his church paintings, he commemorates the heritage of parishioners. Mr. Utti's purpose is not to exercise his ingenuity by inventing a style and a subject matter of his own, but rather to practice his skill within an established tradition. The old masters themselves worked by copying and imitating their predecessors. The Romantic celebration of originality still colors our stereotype of the artist, but even the most revolutionary learn their craft by studying other artists.

Tradition is a pathway to the past. In the 1920's, when Vincent Clerico was a child in Gasperina, Calabria, he used to make a presepio, or nativity scene, every Christmas. Competing with other village boys, he gathered cork, cactus and moss to build the setting for bought plaster figures of the Holy Family and attendants. In Philadelphia, most Italian Catholic immigrants managed to have simple nativity scene in their homes at Christmas. But when his son was five years old, Mr. Clerico began to add to a bought presepio, recreating his native village. In his hands, the traditional form has become a form of autobiography, and a way to teach his descendants. By making permanent and nostalgic what used to be a temporary and local form, he has changed the presepio into a memory art.

Traditions are built from community values and needs. Women's arts are often based on work done at home as a part of (or between) domestic responsibilities. As a young woman during the Depression, Yola Savastano worked as a seamstress. But she became a provider of goods for ceremonial occasions, a ritual specialist, through the urging of women in her neighborhood. When she fashioned a pretty First Communion dress for her daughter, other mothers requested dresses for their girls as well. Soon she had a network of customers through the parish. As the girls grew up, they asked for prom dresses, and finally, one insisted she make a wedding dress. Mrs. Savastano protested her ignorance of the art, but the girl said, "Just pretend it's a white prom dress!" Word spread, and Mrs. Savastano kept busy making wedding dresses for the next twenty years, satisfying the local need.

1. Painting of St. Liberata on Emanuel Utti's easel, with holy card and print prototypes, 1987; cibachrome print; Stephanie Kane/ Philadelphia Folklore Project; 19 x 15

2. Emanuel Utti applying stenciled trim to St. Barbara's Catholic Church, 54th and Lebanon Streets, Philadelphia, PA, 1989; cibachrome print; Patented Photos; 12 x 14

3. Interior of SS Cosmas and Damian church by Emanuel Utti, Conshohocken, PA, 1968-70, 1989; cibachrome print; Patented Photos; 19 x 15

4. Vincent Clerico at home with his handiwork, 1989; silver print; Will Brown; 19 x 15

5. Vincent Clerico's presepio depicting his native village of Gasperina, 1989; cibachrome print; Will Brown; 16 x 28

6. Close-up of the loom with Yola Savastano's hands, 1987; cibachrome print; Vicki Valerio; courtesy of the Philadelphia Inquirer; 15 x 19

7. Yola Savastano and Harriet Fry practicing at the loom, 1988; silver print; Jan Greenberg/ Philadelphia Folklore Project; 15 x 19

^ top

Public Arts, unknown artists: occupational crafts

In Italian villages at the turn of the century, the skilled artisan had an edge on economic survival. By providing essential services requiring specialized training, the cabinetmaker, the blacksmith, and the seamstress could live somewhat beyond the general level of extreme poverty common to much of rural Italy. But there was never enough work in the villages to escape dependency on farming. Emigration therefore became a traditional strategy for trained artisans, who carried Italian specialties all over Europe and the Americas.

Traditional artisanal skills became economic assets in the expanding job market of turn-of-the-century Philadelphia. Artisans found niches and were able to prosper. The growing industrial city needed new public and commercial buildings - and these new institutions used the symbolism of historical styles to lend themselves prestige and authority. European craftsmen furnished the significant details: stone gargoyles, painted guiding, iron gates, mosaic tile, plaster pilasters. The artisans who produced this ornamentation generally worked to the direction of an architect. Most of their names have been lost to us, never having been deemed important.

Tuscan sculpture-caster John Casani produced the full-sized plaster cast of William Penn from which the bronze statue atop Philadelphia's City Hall was made. The design and the credit were Alexander Milne Calder's, but the final product was a collaboration in which Casani's role was essential. Other sculptors like Louis Milione and Giuseppe Donato left traces all over the city: producing endless allegorical nudes, egg-and-dart borders, and Corinthian capitals, classical conventions learned through practice.

Ironworkers at the Samuel Yellin Metalworks exemplified the position of most Italians in the building boom: the hands who executed the designs of another. Lou Boccanera, second-generation ironworker and long-time manager of the business, explains that "you'd never know that twenty hands or forty hands went into making that piece." Many of those hands belonged to emigrants from the same village who followed one another in a chain of migration, keeping alive relationships and regional crafts traditions.

Lucchese plaster workers ran as many as two dozen factories in the first half of the century, producing plaster saints, casts of antique statuary, decorative figurines, archaeological reproductions, "Nipper" dogs for the Victor Talking Machine Company, and even Kewpie dolls for Atlantic City carnival prizes. Production easily shifted to whatever the market demanded, but business fell off in the 1950s for a number of reasons: the resistance of both the medium and the workforce to mechanization, the development of new plastics, and above all, Vatican II, with its de-emphasis on external religious forms, which discourage excessive attention to religious images. Skill did not always ensure a living.

8. Giuseppe Donato working on the west pediment of the Philadelphia Municipal Court building, 1940; silver print; courtesy of The Historical Society of Pennsylvania; 15 x 19

9. Alexander Milne Calder and workmen with plaster cast of the William Penn statue, from F. Faust, The City Hall, Philadelphia, 1897; silver print; courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia; 24 x 20

10. Gargoyle on the University of Pennsylvania Dental School, 40th and Spruce Streets, Philadelphia, by Felice and Giovanni Sabatino, 1989; silver print; Will Brown; 15 x 19

11. Blacksmiths at the Yellin forge, with Luigi Boccanera on the left, ca. 1940; silver print; courtesy of the Samuel Yellin Collection; 19 x 15

12. Yellin workmen after a job, ca. 1920s; silver print; courtesy of the Samuel Yellin Collection; 20 x 24

13. Raymond Allegrini among the saints in the showroom of the Pennsylvania Statuary Company, ca. 1946; silver print; courtesy of Pietro and Natalie Carolfi; 14 x 12

14. The workshop of the Pennsylvania Statuary Company. From left to right: Antonio, Fiorino, Pietro and Joseph Allegrini, 1920s; silver print; courtesy of Pietro and Natalie Carolfi; 12 x 14

15. Mansueto Petrucchi preparing statues for painting in the Catholic Statuary Company, 1989; silver print; Jan Greenberg/ Philadelphia Folklore Project; 15 x 19


^ top

TRAditional goods & services: specialist provisioners

The growth of the Italian community was a bridge to the larger Philadelphia market for specialist provisioners. A pastry- or instrument-maker with limited English and American experience, however expert, found it difficult to set up business among native-born Americans. But as more and more immigrants came and began earning good livings, the Italian neighborhoods began to create a demand for traditional goods and services. Later, as Italian Americans moved into the Philadelphia mainstream, Italian businesses built reputations in the community at large.

Vincent Dell'Osa Jr.'s father began fixing horns in South Philadelphia around 1930. His customers were the Italian bands which played at saint's day festivals and funerals. As Italian American brass players began to move into American orchestras and big bands, they spread the word about Dell'Osa's fine hand-machined brass mouthpieces. Now his son takes care of the repair needs of the entire brass section of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

The small shop changed the Italian craftsperson's relationship to the public. In a family business with a name on the door, ethnicity was more visible than in the factory or the construction crew. The craftsperson was no longer anonymous.

Being an Italian was, of course, an advantage in selling well-known Italian specialties: it lent credibility to pastries, paintings, and musical instruments. But an Italian name was also a constraint on Italians wishing to expand beyond the same ethnic specialties.

Vincent and his son Amiel De Luccia came from a family of violin makers in Casigliano, Salerno. They were well-known and successful in Philadelphia, providing stringed instruments to many members of the Philadelphia Orchestra. With the advent of the folksong revival in the 1950's, they expanded their business in guitars and mandolins. But there were limits to the adaptability. They introduced and had great hopes for a new line of five-string banjos. Nobody bought them: the name was wrong.

In the 1920's and 30's, a visit to Termini Brothers' Pastry offered immersion in a familiar and welcoming Italianate atmosphere. Joseph Termini's Sicilian expertise also furnished the community with the holiday specialties necessary to celebrate fully: zeppoli for St. Joseph's day, bone-shaped ossimorti for All Soul's, pastiere and braided egg breads for Easter, torrone and cassata siciliana for Christmas. Termini's continues to lure Italian Americans down Philadelphia's South 8th Street, especially at holidays, but the bakery today purveys to the city as a whole, having expanded beyond South Philadelphia to other locations. They celebrate their roots in the immigrant community, filling the 8th Street store with photos of the old days.

16. Musical instrument-maker Vincent DeLuccia's workbench, 1940s, silver print; courtesy of Mrs. Margaret DeLuccia and Phyllis Virga; 18 x 24

17. Vincent Dell'Osa testing trumpets in front of his memorabilia, 1989; silver print; Will Brown; 15 x 19

18. Master bakers Joseph and Gaetano Termini with their ovens, 1930s; silver print; courtesy of Termini Brothers Pastry; 15 x 19

19. The opening of Termini's new bakery on 8th Street, Philadelphia, 1938; silver print; courtesy of Termini Brothers pastry; 15 x 19

20. Easter at Termini Brother's Bakery with traditional braided egg breads, 1988; silver print; Jan Greenberg/ Philadelphia Folklore Project; 15 x 19

21. Joseph Termini putting the finishing touches on his own wedding cake, late 1920s; silver print; Will Brown; 24 x 20

^ top

Transforming everyday Life - festival traditions

Festival traditions invite the participation of the full community. When people come together not for the sake of work, but only for the sake of sharing an experience, they remember the history and the values which unite them, and strengthen themselves through holidays.

In a multicultural society, a group recognizes and displays its own distinctiveness through celebrations. Ethnicity, religion, and other point of difference become most obvious to outsiders on such occasions, as normally private values are publicly proclaimed.

The Italian patron saint's day festival creates a community based in devotion. The neighborhood around an Italian parish is cleaned up and decorated, the statues of saints in the church basement are dusted off and hung with ribbons, and local restaurants or community organizations set up booths with holiday food. On the Sunday nearest the saint's day, there is a procession after Mass. Statues are carried or pulled through the streets of the neighborhood, outlining the boundaries of the parish. Residents come out of their houses to pin offerings onto the ribbons and follow the procession back to the church. The activity of many people both in preparations and in participation is needed to make the festival a success, and their work is a kind of offering to the saint and to the community.

Raised sacred symbols - cross, statues, and banners - link the participants vertically to the divine. Carried through the streets, they draw a circle around the neighborhood with its center in the parish church. Individuals declare their allegiance to this definition of community by stepping in behind the saint of their devotion.

As Italians became established in Philadelphia neighborhoods, they became integrated into local celebrations. After World War II, large numbers of Italians began to participate in Philadelphia's annual New Year's Shooters and Mummer's Parade. "When the Italians came in, the parade got a lot more artistic," claims Phil Hammond of the Hammond Comics. The Italian Market Festival, held since the 1970s in the Ninth Street neighborhood that has long been a center of Italian settlement, mixes ethnic pride with traditional symbols of abundance, inviting the public to be Italian for a day.

The arts of celebration are arts of exaggeration and intensification typified in the uncountable beads of the wedding dress, the swagger and strut of the Philadelphia mummers. The everyday becomes extraordinary, with special foods, fancy clothes, and decorations. There is always more than enough food, music, or activity to make the day memorable. The center of the celebrations, in the midst of this abundance, has loud noises announcing it, ornamentation enhancing it, or just plain size to make its importance known. Celebrations transform everyday experience by presenting an alternative style of life where every detail carries meaning.

22. The Our Lady of Mount Carmel procession on Gray's Avenue in Southwest Philadelphia, PA, 1929; courtesy of the Balch Institute of Ethnic Studies Library; St. Anthony Society Collection; 15 x 19

23. The decorated neighborhood: St. Donato procession, 66th Street in Philadelphia's Overbrook section, May 1987; cibachrome print; James Abrams/ Philadelphia Folklore Project; 12 x 14

24. Carrying the Blessed Virgin through the streets at the St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi May Procession, 1988; cibachrome print; Jan Greenberg/ Philadelphia Folklore Project; 14 x 12

25. SS. Cosmas and Damian procession, Conshohocken, PA, September 1988; cibachrome print; Patented Photos; 12 x 14

26. Pinning money onto the saints as an act of devotion, Feast of SS. Cosmas and Damian, 1989; cibachrome print; Jan Greenberg/ Philadelphia Folklore Project; 14 x 12

27. Touching the saint, Feast of SS. Cosmas and Damian, 1989; silver print; Patented Photos; 19 x 15

28. Robert Pandola working on a frame design for a Fancy Brigade costume for the Mummer's Parade, 1988; silver print; Patented Photos; 19 x 15

29. Armand Pandola in "Jokers Go Wild" Handsome Costume suit in the Philadelphia Mummers' Parade, 1967; cibachrome print; courtesy of Robert Pandola; 12 x 14

30. Robert Pandola in an old-style Handsome Costume suit, "Pennies from Heaven," at the Mummers' Parade, 1972; cibachrome print; courtesy Robert Pandola; 12 x 14

31. Climbing the greased pole during the Italian market festival 1988, silver print; Patented Photos; 19 x 15


^ top

Ritual arts & devotion - woven palms

Catholics around the world have developed local folk variations of the blessed palms distributed on Palm Sunday in memory of Christ's passion, ranging from greens bound on a stick with ribbon in Northern Europe to olive branches in parts of Italy and different styles of weavings in areas where palms are native, such as Spain, Mexico, and the Philippines. In Philadelphia, "decorated palms" most often take the form of a "spray", a stalk of young fronds separated at the top and woven into a pattern resembling a bouquet.

Frances Roccia learned how to make the palms when she was ten years old, from her father William Rocchetto. Now, almost sixty years later, she and her husband, daughters, and grandchildren make about two hundred and fifty palms a year. It takes three weeks of working on nights and weekends, and dominates their lives for that time. Their bathtub is filled every morning with the palms for the day, which must be sprinkled regularly with water to prevent drying, and their back balcony is heaped with bundles waiting to be opened.

The Roccias treat the palm-weaving with humorous resignation. "This is our penance for Lent!" observes Barbara Roccia . But they also take it seriously. Mrs. Roccia always said that she would give up palm-weaving after her father passed away. Instead, she makes the palms in his memory. "And naturally all the children and grandchildren are still making them. Complaining, but they make them."

Trish Ciliberti and Betty Ann Mongelluzzo are sisters who make palms at home and sell them out of Mrs. Mongelluzzo's dress store on Ninth Street, the Now Shop. They learned to make the palms as girls in St. Paul's School, but continue to experiment, introducing innovations in palm weaving that attract new customers: shoppers and passers-by.

At Our Lady of Consolation Church in the Tacony section of Philadelphia, parishioners assemble for two weeks every year to make palms for the church. The palm-weaving is a parish social event: the process of making them is designed to let everyone participate in the tradition. The palms, blessed by the priest, are sold in a large display on Palm Sunday to customers who drive in from all over the city.

In Europe, palms are primarily kept in houses to bring luck. But in Philadelphia they are used socially, as gifts. Palm Sunday visiting calls for an exchange of palms as an exchange of friendship. People say that a gift of palm is used as a peace offering after a quarrel: "You go to their house with a piece of palm and it's forgotten," says Tina Agresta; "A piece to keep the peace," says Trish Ciliberti.

Just as gifts of palm mend links between the living, palms in the cemetery restore ties severed by death. On Palm Sunday, scores of Italian Americans visit cemeteries such as Holy Cross in Yeadon, where most South Philadelphians are buried, to visit the graves of their relatives and lay palms and flowers on the graves. The traditional practice temporarily reunites the dispersed ethnic community, as far-flung suburbanites return to the graves of their parents.

32. The Roccia family making woven palms: Frances Roccia, Barbara Roccia, Brian Vile and Mary Ann Vile around the kitchen table, 1987; cibachrome print; Joe Solowiejczyk; 15 x 19

33. Brian Vile on the balcony with the finished palms, 1987; cibachrome print; Joe Solowiejczyk; 12 x 14

34. Mary Ann Vile at work on a plait, 1987; cibachrome print; Joe Solowiejczyk; 12 x 14

35. Mary Ann Vile making a "bell" of woven palm, 1987; cibachrome print; Joe Solowiejczyk; 15 x 19

36. Betty Ann Mongelluzzo selling palms to a customer, 1988; cibachrome print; Patented Photos; 15 x 19

37. Betty Ann Mongelluzzo weaving palms in front of her shop, 1988; cibachrome print; Patented Photos; 15 x 19

38. Parishioners of Our Lady of Consolation church weaving palms in their parish hall, 1988; cibachrome print; Patented Photos; 12 x 14

39. A young girl making a palm cross in Our Lady of Consolation hall, 1988; cibachrome print; PATENTED PHOTOS; 12 x 14

40. Statue and blessed palm stalk, Holy Cross Cemetery, Yeadon, PA, 1988; cibachrome print; Patented Photos; 15 x 19

41. Palms (stapled cross and heart) in Holy Cross Cemetary, Yeadon, PA, 1987; cibachrome print; Joe Solowiejczyk; 15 x 19

42. Large woven palm, Holy Cross Cemetery, Yeadon, PA, 1988; cibachrome print; Patented Photos; 18 x 24

43. Palms in Holy Cross Cemetary: the Amato grave, 1988; cibachrome print; Patented Photos; 24 x 18

44. Palms in Holy Cross Cemetary: elaborate woven cross, 1988; cibachrome print; Patented Photos; 15 x 19

45. Palms made at Our Lady of Consolation parish: as they are used (Altomari grave), 1988; cibachrome print; Patented Photos; 15 x 19

46. Women placing palms at Holy Cross Cemetary, 1988; cibachrome print; Patented Photos; 15 x 19

47. Man at grave, Palm Sunday, Holy Cross, 1988; cibachrome print; Patented Photos; 15 x 19

^ top

A Womans art of assemblage - dressed windows

Perhaps the most widespread folk art tradition in Philadelphia Italian neighborhoods today is the "dressed window", an assemblage of ornaments in a street-level rowhouse window. Objects valued for their beauty - porcelain vases, flowers, Neapolitan Capodimonte figurines, and lace curtains inherited from mothers and grandmothers - are placed in the front window and arranged in a satisfying way.

Dressed windows reflect a community aesthetic. Dennis Creedon, a Philadelphia schoolteacher living in the rapidly gentrifying old Italian neighborhood of Bella Vista, relates that a young couple bought a house on his block and decided to remodel the inside. They put the kitchen in the front, with the stove under the main window, and the woman hung hanging plants and spice racks there. Soon she was taken aside by an older woman from the neighborhood and told, "You can't do that. Your front window is for beauty."

Windows are recognized and evaluated as art. Neighbors know who does a pretty window, and they imitate each other's innovations. Sculptor Anthony Visco reflects, "A lot of people love to make fun of all those crazy statues in the window, but I think if it came down to it, those people, could they afford a small bronze by Bernini or Giambologna, they'd love to have one. But this is the closest thing to it. Or it's a reminder. It's actually a symbol of it."

Women in Italy had traditionally assembled niches and altars in their homes for holy images, family mementos, and one or two beautiful things. They filled windows in Philadelphia with similar arrangements.

Women arrange objects in the window with a firm sense of what "looks right". In fact, South Philadelphia windows have much in common from house to house, demonstrating the unspoken "rules" or folk aesthetic for this art. Making a dressed window, artists place the most important or meaningful piece in the middle, with decorative elements supporting it on either side. Windows are carefully symmetrical, and the number and shapes of front windows influence a woman's design.

The family presents itself to the neighborhood through its front window. The front window, the only glimpse that outsiders get of a home, is a way to show both the family's individuality and its acceptance of neighborhood standards. Kay Caccamo described it: "Her windows reflect my windows. But the nice thing is, they each have a little something different."

Dressing the windows is a sign of participation in the life of the neighborhood. Anthony Mancuso told us, "Showing an object in the window tells the people passing that a warm person is living in the house." Conversely, the absence of anything in a window suggests people to be avoided: children are told not to go trick-or-treating at houses without Halloween decorations. Windows are also not dressed when a family is in mourning.

48. One of South Philadelphia's many Blessed Mother windows, 1987; cibachrome print; Jan Greenberg/ Philadelphia Folklore Project; 15 x 19

49. Kathleen Familiare's Easter window on Medina Street, 1988; cibachrome print; Dorothy Noyes/ Philadelphia Folklore Project; 14 x 12

50. Jennie Rosaldo in front of her grocery store on S. 7th Street; cibachrome print; Jan Greenberg/Philadelphia Folklore Project; 19 x 15

52 (a-d) Angela Alberto Haykel and Sarkis Haykel: dressing a window and seasonal displays (Halloween 1987, Christmas, 1988), four cibachrome prints; 15 x 19; Stephanie Kane/ Philadelphia Folklore Project (Halloween display); Jan Greenberg/ Philadelphia Folklore Project (all others)

53 (a-d). The symmetry of dressed windows: 4 windows and their logic, 1987-9; four cibachrome prints with accompanying graphics; Jan Greenberg/ Philadelphia Folklore Project (photographs); Tracy Baldwin (graphics); 27 x 19

54. Two traditions combine: a Christmas presepio, center stage in a dressed window, 1988; cibachrome print; Jan Greenberg/ Philadelphia Folklore Project; 20 x 24

^ top


The fortunes of Italian traditions in Philadelphia have been complex and various. Some old arts, such as the woven palms, show new range and richness as the community using them expands and prospers. New arts, like the dressed window, show the influence of a centuries-old aesthetic. And arts presumed long dead surface in the most surprising places, as when Neapolitan baroque putti ornament local churches. It is never safe to make predictions about the death of folk art.

As long as people are there to remember it or objects to witness to it, a tradition remains a potential resource for its inheritors: usable in commemorating history, making a living, making art, bringing a community together, communicating with others. We capture here a few moments of Italian American traditions in their historical and geographical wanderings. But tradition does not live on these walls, where our respect freezes it. Tradition lives in transformation: heritage is to use.

Dorothy Noyes, curator
Philadelphia Folklore Project, 1989

^ top


The Philadelphia Folklore Project documents, preserves, and presents the folklife traditions of Philadelphia. From 1986-9, the PFP undertook research into the background and present state of the arts and traditions of Italian Americans in Philadelphia. This work culminated in a major exhibition (from which this traveling show is drawn) curated by Dorothy Noyes and organized in conjunction with the Samuel S. Fleisher Art Memorial.

Photographers represented in this exhibition include Philadelphia Folklore Project staff researchers Dorothy Noyes, Jan Greenberg, James Abrams, and Stephanie Kane. Work of other Philadelphia photographers is also included. Joe Solowiejczyk is a working photographer; his photographs of people from the Philadelphia Cambodian community were exhibited at Level Three Gallery. Vicki Valerio is a staff photographer for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Pat Armenia and Ed Seiz (patented photos) have been active in documenting the local performing arts community. Exhibitions of their works have been displayed at the Port of History Museum, the Painted Bride Art Center, and the local banks and restaurants. Will Brown has been a photographer since 1973. He is widely and extensively published; major clients include the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Boston Museum of Art, Rizzoli, Time Magazine and more.

We are happy to thank those lending to the original show, or pictured in this exhibition: Raymond Allegrini, Joan Arthur, the Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies, Joseph and Louis Boccanera, Pietro and Natalie Carolfi, Marie Cascenza, Trish Ciliverti, Vincent Clerico, Dennis Creedon, Vincent Dell'Osa, Margaret De Luccia, Kathleen Familiare, Aurelia Folino, Anthony and Joanne Gatti, Sarkis and Angela Alberto Haykel, The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, the Library Company of Philadelphia, Betty Ann Mongelluzzo, the parishioners of Our Lady of Consolation parish, Robert Pandola, Frances and Barbara Roccia, Jennie and Carmen Rosaldo, Yola Savastano, Joseph, Vincent, and Barbara Termini, Emanuel Utti, Mary Ann and Brian Vile, Phyllis Virga, and Clare and Marian Yellin.

It gives us pleasure to acknowledge those funders whose support made this project possible: the National Endowment for the Humanities, The Pew Charitable Trusts, the Pennsylvania Historical Council. This travelling exhibition was originally funded by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

A book by Dorothy Noyes, also titled Uses of Tradition, provides more detailed examination of themes and artists represented in the exhibition; videos about palm-weavers and mummers are also available. See our store for these titles.

^ top


View Exhibition

Exhibit Links:
History and histories
Many inheritances
Public arts, unknown artists
Traditional goods & services
Transforming everyday life
Ritual arts & devotion
Women's art of assemblage

  • For information about renting this exhibition, call or write the Philadelphia Folklore Project, 735 South 50th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19143. 215.726.1106