Retrospective of Hill legend's artwork at Allens Lane

by Len Lear
Posted 4/20/23

Allens Lane Art Center will present the first retrospective exhibition of a true Chestnut Hill artistic legend, the late Carole Sivin (1936-2020).

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Retrospective of Hill legend's artwork at Allens Lane


Allens Lane Art Center will present the first retrospective exhibition of a true Chestnut Hill artistic legend, the late Carole Sivin (1936-2020), whose six decades of paintings, prints, ink scrolls, paper arts, ceramics, sculpture and writing will be exhibited from April 22 through May 4.

“We are excited to have such a renowned artist in the gallery and to be able to present her works in a comprehensive manner,” said Janice Strawder, an instructor at Allens Lane with whom Sivin studied ceramics. “Carole approached her work with a spirit of investigation and collaboration, either with other individuals or with the medium materials themselves.”

Sivin, who grew up in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., lived in Chestnut Hill near Pastorius Park for 43 years with her husband of 58 years, Dr. Nathan Sivin, who died last June 24 at age 91. He was a renowned scholar who wrote or edited more than 15 books and numerous essays in professional journals, mostly concerning the history of science in China.

Carole Sivin’s 1986 book, “Maskmaking: Saving Face,” is now in its third printing. Her masks were commissioned by the Harvard Summer Theater, Wilma Theater, Pilobolus Dance Theater and dance companies in Canada and Japan. 

According to Amy Handy, author of several books about art and architecture, Carole's masks are “wonderfully diverse and marvelously creative,” and “theater designers, performance artists, craftspeople and teachers, as well as dedicated Halloween revelers, will find inspiration aplenty in this useful and attractive book.”

Sivin’s extensive travels to China and Japan led her to study with renowned artists in Taiwan, and Kyoto, Japan. She also studied art at the State University of New York, Buffalo, and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Carole taught design at Philadelphia University, was artist in residence at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, MacDowell Colony and the Aegean Center for Fine Arts in Greece. 

Her work has been exhibited widely, including in Hungary, Wales, Japan and Puerto Rico. Her local affiliations included solo shows at Nexus Gallery in Philadelphia, the University of Pennsylvania, St Joseph’s University, La Salle University and Haverford College.  

In a 1998 interview with the New York-based My City Paper, Sivin said about her then-new work, “I wanted joy, color and transfusions of energy and brilliance: flowers, blue sky, the sea, the details of rocks, plants … I've been to Japan seven times and studied pottery there. I did a little bit on the wheel. Like certain folk artists who make saucers for rituals, we pinched round pieces of clay to our elbows and knees. They are very beautiful, with the texture of skin.

“Here in this country, masks are a device used without much thought. In Japan, masks seem to be a necessary part of a lot of rituals and ancient theater. The person becomes the mask ... I'm not a performer, but I could see that certain masks made me want to do something." 

In the same interview, Sivin recalled with regret that "in high school, I ripped up everything I had done as a child. I wish that I could see it now. What I destroyed was a glimmer of something new that I didn't trust, something raw. I didn't know where it came from. When I was going through my mother's house recently, I found some early printmaking stuff that was really exhilarating. Everyone works in a circular way. You go back and work things out again." 

Dr. Marta Hanson, a former resident of Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill who is currently a visiting scholar at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, was a close friend of the Sivins and often had dinner with them at local restaurants. “They were wonderful and eccentric,” she told us. “For example, they did not have a car or even a bicycle, and would walk everywhere they went. Sometimes people would drive them around, and they took the train a lot. Chestnut Hill was perfect for them because they could walk all around the neighborhood.” 

Sivin was a member of the Cosmopolitan Club of Philadelphia, the Clay Studio, Allens Lane Art Center and the Woodmere Art Museum. Her extensive writings in support of her work are presently being archived at the University of Pennsylvania.

Allens Lane Art Center is located at 601 W. Allens Lane in West Mt. Airy. For more information, visit Len Lear can be reached at