by Lou Mancinelli
In 2010 he contracted a number of serious illnesses. After missing work for a period, his employer of 24 years terminated his position.
When he recovered the following year, Bruce Hoffman, who started as director of the Gravers Lane Gallery, 8405 Germantown Ave., launched FiberPhiladelphia 2012 last May. The festival celebrated and promoted the exploration of textile arts on an international level.
“I called every favor I’ve had in 25 years to make it happen,” said Hoffman. He created the festival along with executive director Amy Orr and a group of friends and raised $100,000 in order to make it a reality. Mayor Nutter declared March Fiber Month in Philadelphia, and 61 venues exhibited works from across the globe.
Now a few months shy of his one-year-mark as director, Hoffman has been working to grow the Gravers Lane Gallery with the know-how of a man who served for 24 years as director of the prestigious Snyderman-Works Galleries in Old City. He’s also lectured at numerous museums and universities.
“I’m of the old school where I believe a gallery’s mission is to support a community, to support artists, to educate … without a preconceived notion of elitism,” said Hoffman.
His vision as director is one rooted in community outreach. Last fall Gravers Lane Gallery launched its Sorcerer’s Stone exhibit that featured artists who work with stones, metals and experimental materials to coincide with the Harry Potter Festival in Chestnut Hill.
During February, the gallery will exhibit photographs of the Stained Glass Project: Windows That Open Doors, to celebrate Black History Month. The project takes at-risk youths from Germantown High School and provides them the opportunity to make stained glass windows from donated scraps of glass.
“Hopefully, by doing this people might give them some support because they need funding,” says Hoffman.
The windows created by students have been installed at sites in Kenya and New Orleans. A reception at the gallery will feature student talks and dinner, Monday Feb. 4, 4 to 6 p.m. The students will discuss their work at 5 p.m.
“Life has its patterns, and sometimes you have to take the long road to get where you should be,” said Hoffman about his path — overcoming illnesses, founding FiberPhiladelphia and beginning at Gravers Lane.
Hoffman chanced upon the gallery position online after work associated with FiberPhiladelphia quieted. When he met with owner Ken Goldenberg and discussed the opportunity, he was hired on the spot.
Hoffman is in the process of meeting with last year’s staff to decide if there will be another FiberPhiladelphia. The group has encountered difficulty in their success. Because they were able to raise so much money through their own efforts for the original festival, groups like The Pew Charitable Trusts may have overlooked their applications for grants, believing Hoffman and crew capable of raising the money a second time.
Both Hoffman and Goldenberg envisioned the gallery as able to function in a commercially viable way in addition to serving as something of a community space. They are in the process of rebranding the gallery now through means like the stained glass exhibition. They also plan to schedule exhibits around events like the Chestnut Hill Book Festival.
There are also plans to expand the gallery at 8405 Germantown Ave. into 8403 Germantown Ave. Work is expected to begin this winter on the space that will serve as additional exhibition room.
Hoffman, 49, a long-time Center City resident, was raised in Northeast Philadelphia and graduated from Washington High School in 1981. He studied painting at the Tyler School of Art at Temple University. After graduating in 1985, he started his career at Synderman’s in Old City. There he created The Fiber Biennial in 1998.
Hoffman developed his interests in and became attracted and connected to the decorative arts as his career evolved. “There’s something about the visceral quality of textiles,” he said. “It’s an endless encyclopedia of visual language.”
As gallery director, his taste leads the show, but the market can also decide what is exhibited. “Art is a commodity,” said Hoffman. His role is “to keep it interesting, keep it exciting, keep it fresh, keep it acceptable.”
More information at 215-247-1603 or www.graverslanegallery.com. “Stained Glass Project: Windows That Open Doors” will run Feb. 1 – 24, with a reception Monday, Feb. 4, 4 to 6 p.m. For more information about the Stained Glass Project, visit its Facebook page or email firstname.lastname@example.org.