Louise Taft, owner of Curio Philadelphia

Louise Taft, owner of Curio Philadelphia

by Jeremy Jones

“I found this horse lying down on its side. He was dirty and dusty, without a home. I had to take him and clean him up. Now he gets a chance to be shown again.”

And what was the fate of the poor neglected horse? Clue: “I made a stand for him. I had a welder build a post. I put him on wheels so he has a means of transportation.”

While all this may sound like an imaginary dream-telling sequence, it’s how Curio Philadelphia owner Louise Taft typically describes the unique items she finds, fixes, makes or hand-selects from around the world, so they may live in her shop at 8113 Germantown Ave. until they are discovered by a new friend.

“I like to take compromised things and not let them go, not let them end up in the trash,” said Taft, protectively. She rescued the forgotten carousel horse, reposed in dirt, at a sale in an old hotel in Schwenksville. She spoke of this prized fellow and all her “found, redefined and repurposed” treasures with the eyes of a child and the loving whisper of a mother. “Have nothing in your home that you don’t love.”

Again, like a dream weaver or fortune teller looking into the future, Taft sees things no one else sees.

“Every object has a story,” Taft said. “While in Italy I see fragments of the Roman Empire coming out of the earth. All the things here in the shop are fragments; what represents me or someone else.”

With the heart of a self-described “survivor,” Taft is called to see the potential of the whole, where others see the uselessness of the broken.

From fragments and shards, Taft creates a new version of what was once intact; and so was born a portrait of Rosa Corletti. Rosa was from an old Italian community in Santa Barbara, Calif. When she died, items from her home were put up for sale at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.

“This woman had kept broken, torn, damaged textiles, tapestries and things,” Taft explained. “I gathered it all and made an assemblage.”

In other words, she arranged fragments and pieces that once belonged to Rosa into an image on a tablet. From that, she drew a portrait of Rosa in colored pencil.

Colored pencils served as a staple of play and self-expression in Taft’s early childhood. Her father, a child psychiatrist, had a clinic in Philadelphia where, on weekends, Taft and her siblings would dive into the art supplies. “

My father fostered my creativity and always told me to ‘use my inner resources,’” said Taft, who has an intensely accomplished background in art, printmaking, lithography and intaglio, and taught upper-school painting and drawing at Germantown Friends School.

Currently, a favorite piece Taft rescued and restored is a portrait of a young woman leaning against a full foliage tree, c. 1910, painted on tin. She found it at a flea market, dirty and dried out. Although she only cleaned it lightly, added a bit of glaze and made a new frame, Taft has hands that seem to endow a spirit of light into a discarded piece of art work, a light that may not have been present in its original state.

“Louise takes things that have value and adds an artistic twist to it,” said Kathy Wilde, an avid Curio customer from Lafayette Hill who recently purchased antique heart-shaped chocolate molds for a wedding shower. “It’s a hybrid shop, which is a relief to have around these days.”

“It’s balm to my nerves to step inside and be surrounded by the beautiful old things that have been arranged with almost museum-like care,” wrote interior designer Mel McDaniel, of Curio, in Best of Philly. “Even if you don’t think you are a lover of old things – you could be surprised. I never leave without at least one treasure to bring home or to a client.”

An aspect of that “surprise” is how pieces with such storied histories serve to complement and enhance contemporary interiors. Taft builds furniture from spalted maple and local street trees – their centuries of rings and rivets inspiring conversation and adding character to a modern design plan.

“Are you curious?” asks the sign on the front door at 8113 Germantown Ave. What do you do with half of an old grandfather clock? Clue: Visit Curio Philadelphia and you will see. It’s like falling down the rabbit hole into Wonderland, where things get curiouser and curiouser!