You can’t help but notice it as you walk around the Fishtown neighborhood. It’s obvious in the clamor of construction vehicles, the multitude of hip restaurants and shops, the new garage and deck endowed four-story homes, the onslaught of young professionals, and the swirl of construction dust. The New is coming to Fishtown, whether you like it or not–and it seems here to stay. Fishtown’s revitalization is a story of progress, mobility, and a unique vision. But underneath all of that construction dust lies hints of the past, of another world back when this was a different type of neighborhood when immigrant working-class families stayed for generations and crowded row homes shaped a true sense of community, and the greedy tentacles of gentrification hadn’t yet reached into every crevasse of this neighborhood. It was an old world, where Fishtown was perhaps quieter, more neighborly, when time moved more slowly, if not as fancy and trendy and clean. This was a world where factory buildings permeated the landscape and the El, a marvel of transportation, was newly built.  And one factory, in particular, stood out, an imposing structure sandwiched between American street and Cadwallader Streets in the heart of Olde Kensington: The Crane Arts Building.
Jennifer Johnson’s image of the Crane Arts Building, made by porcelain tiles mounted on Wedi board and measuring 16 x 43 x1, harkens back to that epoch and honors its history. The building was built in 1905 as Crane plumbing, importing cast iron tubs from Trenton, NJ by train. They were ultimately stored on-site and distributed throughout the Philadelphia area. Interestingly, as a space currently used primarily for artistic events, the Icebox, was an open train shed and then was literally an icebox when a seafood company later came to occupy the building.  The space is now used for weddings and art shows, specifically by InLiquid, which is housed in the building’s third floor. Johnson’s work seems to create a perfect likeness of the building, with turquoise blue sky behind it. It showcases the details of the building, its stature, and breadth in porcelain, an old-world material. As Johnson states: “I create spaces and scenes which are kind of real. Sometimes you can feel them breathe.” And this image of a stately building really does breathe, as does the real thing, full of creative energy and spirit. If you have any relation to Crane Arts, to Fishtown, or to the arts, this work, which relishes in a piece of local history, is definitely worth having.
Jennifer Johnson received her MFA in ceramics at the Tyler School of Art and a BA in Philosophy from Swarthmore College. Her sculptures, The Architecture of Remembering, have been exhibited in Denmark (2017), in the Woodmere Annual (2018) in Philadelphia, and at the Anderson Center (Red Wing, MN, 2019). Currently, she is an artist-in-residence at Glen Foerd on the Delaware for 2019-2020.