by Len Lear
The Philadelphia City Archives, which contain countless thousands of city records dating back more than 300 years, including the William Penn City Charter from 1701, moved earlier this month from the old Philadelphia Bulletin building at 30th and Market Streets to its new headquarters at 548 Spring Garden St. in Northern Liberties. The new $10 million facility includes a spectacular mural, “Charting a Path to Resistance,” created by Chestnut Hill artist Talia Greene.
“With this project,” Greene told us in a recent interview, “it has been really gratifying to connect my interests in history, community and art on a deeper level.”
Greene, 42, who has lived on the Hill for 14 years, is an acclaimed artist who was commissioned last year by the city to create a wallpaper mural and interactive app for the Philadelphia City Archives. She has also received grants from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, the Independence Foundation and the Center for Emerging Visual Artists, among others. She has created site-specific installations at Morris-Jumel Mansion in New York City, Ebenezer-Maxwell Mansion in Germantown, Glen Foerd Historic Mansion on the Delaware, The Print Center in center city, et al.
Born in Oakland, California, Greene received her BA from Wesleyan University and her MFA from Mills College in Oakland. She is currently an Assistant Adjunct Professor at University of the Arts (since 2006) in center city and is a member of the Philadelphia collective, Grizzly Grizzly.
“I met my husband when I was in graduate school at Mills and he was at Stanford getting his Ph.D. in Philosophy,” said Greene, whose first name means “dew from heaven” in Hebrew.
“We both graduated at the same time, and then we moved together to the east coast. We spent two years in Baltimore, where he had a post-doc at Johns-Hopkins, and then moved to Philly for his job at the University of Delaware.
“We spent a long time looking for a place to buy before we purchased our home in Chestnut Hill. Initially we were focused on West Philly, but it was difficult to find a house that didn’t need a lot of work. When our realtor took us up to Chestnut Hill, we found some of the things we liked about West Philly — big trees, beautiful architecture and the ability to walk to shops and accessibility to public transportation. The proximity to the Wissahickon and the ability to have a garden were also big selling points.”
“Charting a Path to Resistance” and the app, “Resistance: Philadelphia,” were a commission by the city’s Percent for Art Program, which requires one to two percent of a building’s budget to be dedicated to public art. For each project there is a call for entries, and shortlisted artists are invited to create an in-depth proposal. For the Philadelphia City Archives, Greene applied because “what they were looking for matched my current practice perfectly.
“In looking through the documents at the Archives, the first things that stood out to me were the maps. They are visually beautiful, but I was also intrigued by how they depict the transformation of the city’s geography over time, from streams to sewers and streets, sometimes in the same drawing. The Archives also have many documents related to the Underground Railroad and other aspects of the abolition movement.
“I was interested in exploring that history but didn’t exactly know what form it would take and how I would weave the social and geographic history together. During one tour of the facility I saw the ‘Racial Map of Philadelphia,’ an original red-lining map from the early 1940s. From that point on, the pieces fell into place.
“I have always been interested in patterns and wallpaper, as well as history. I want to create art that gives me an opportunity to research and learn … The idea of creating art in less conventional settings such as historical houses or the City Archives appeals to me because it gives me the opportunity to engage with topics and imagery, as well as audiences in more complex ways … The hardest I have ever worked is definitely this project!”
The best advice Greene ever received came from esteemed feminist art historian Moira Roth, with whom she worked in graduate school. “She told me that as a teacher, you don’t always need to know more than your students. The idea that teaching can be a dialogue that moves in both directions is something I definitely take inspiration from every day at school.”
Which talent that Greene does not have would she most like to have? “I wish I were wittier, but my husband and son make up for my deficiency in spades.”
Greene, who also enjoys gardening and taking walks in the Wissahickon, has exhibited her work in group shows throughout the country, at venues including the Contemporary Museum in Baltimore, MD, The Halsey Institute for Contemporary Art in Charleston, SC, Flashpoint Gallery, Washington D.C., and 516 Arts in Albuquerque, NM, among others.
For more information, visit taliagreene.com. Len Lear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org