A space for sculptors to hone their crafts


By Ellen Scolnic

When sculptor Darla Jackson found herself creating castings of her life-size rabbit sculptures in her upstairs bathroom - mixing plaster in the tiny sink, dripping soapy residue on her toothbrush, and spilling the mess on the floor - she knew things had to change.

Jackson thought there must be other artists out there trying to create in rowhouse bathrooms and basements, praying they didn't ruin yet another rug, or worse, set the house on fire. She dreamed of creating a space where fellow sculptors could use specialized machinery, share inspiration, and work in a safe environment.

After winning a $20,000 Knight Arts Challenge Grant in 2011, Jackson and a group of volunteers raised a matching amount of money, enough to start an artists' collaborative late last year in a former radiator-repair warehouse in Fishtown. They named it the Philadelphia Sculpture Gym (PSG).

For an artist, particularly a sculptor, the costs of putting together a studio can be expensive. How many people can afford a fireproof room for an oxyacetylene welding torch? At PSG, these specialized and costly heavy-duty industrial tools - band saws, drill presses, a metal foundry - are available to members, which is what makes it unusual. Its 23 charter members pay $100 a month ($75 for students), and when all the work areas are completed, PSG plans to offer regular memberships and $25 day-rates for nonmembers.

"It's all here," says sculptor Gustavo Actis, one of a core group of volunteers who help with programming, scheduling, mentoring, and teaching. Just like a regular gym, this is a place where people can make use of heavy equipment, hang out with others who share their interests, and, if they work hard, get results.

The 7,500-square-foot warehouse is divided into a small classroom space, a mold-making and casting area, a wood shop, a metal shop and foundry for pouring metals, and a planned ceramics area.



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