Almost everyone collects something. Some collections are worth millions of dollars, while the sentimental value of others make the contents priceless. “Private Collections: Personal Obsessions.”, a new PHL art exhibit located in Terminal D, features a sampling of treasures from Philadelphia-area residents and members of the airport community—ranging from the everyday to the unusual.
Philadelphian and former graphic artist Robert Perry loaned items from his vintage pomade and hair tonic collection that he has amassed over the last 20 years. His interest in the history of hair care and grooming grew simply from using some of the products himself. “It started out with me using pomades that had been made since the 20s and 30s,” Perry said. “Through tracing their history, I learned that many of the companies were founded by Black barbers, beauticians and entrepreneurs in the early part of the 20th century. I wanted to preserve this history and the artifacts that survived this disposable mass-produced consumer culture that had its roots in handcrafted small batch pomades and tonics.”
A sampling of artist Rochelle “Rockie” Toner’s 50-piece sheep shears collection is included in the PHL exhibit. “I’ve always been interested in hand tools. I grew up helping my father build and repair things and I spent summers, when I was young, living on my grandparents’ farm where
we used hand tools every day,” she said. “The pair of shears I value most was one that I got in Scotland. Temple University's Tyler School of Art had a summer program there and I went over to observe. We were on a small bus in the Highlands and came upon a farmer and his family shearing sheep with power clippers. I asked to stop, and I asked the farmer if he had any old hand clippers that he might sell me. He said he had a pair hanging down in the barn which he would bring to our inn. Later that evening, he gave them to me.”
For the exhibit, PHL Director of Guest Experience and Chief Curator Leah Douglas reached out to individuals she met through the years while researching local artists for other airport exhibits, are PHL staff members or were recommended by other contributors (three of Perry’s friends are featured collectors). In addition to Perry’s pomades and tonics and Toner’s sheep shears, there are:
- Cable cars and Dr. Who Daleks from Joel Spivak
- Beer bottles from the Jeffrey Rosenblum Family
- Superhero pins from Werner Graf
- Hearts from Karen Karuza
- Architectural salvage from Peter Woodall
- Brooches from Bruce Hoffman
- Masks from Adam Wallacavage
- Mail Art by Matthew Rose from Roberta Fallon
- Wind-up toys from Mary Salvante
- Travel magnets from Heather Redfern
“As diverse as the collections are, most have been gathered primarily as a hobby for the collector’s own enjoyment or handed down from one family member to another,” said Douglas. “While the activity of collecting is a universal experience, each collection is personal and unique as each object often represents a specific remembrance or story.”
To learn more about “Private Collections-Personal Obsessions” and other current PHL Airport Art exhibits, click here.
Writer’s note: As members of PHL’s communications team, photographer/videographer Dave Rosenblum and I are used to telling the airport’s stories through pictures, videos, articles and social media posts. We are honored to share our collectibles with PHL guests.
Dave’s contribution is in memory of his father, Jeffrey, an avid beer bottle collector, who had amassed a collection of more than 4,000 before his family started downsizing after his death. The first piece in his father’s collection was a bottle of Whitbread Ale from the United Kingdom. Dave said his father looked at the bottle while sipping his beer, thought it was “pretty neat” and put it on the mantel. “Within months, the mantel was covered with other bottles that intrigued him,” said Dave. “His most prized bottles of the collection were always the older bottles from Philadelphia-area brewers.”
Many of the items in Mr. Rosenblum’s collection were gifts from family and friends, who would bring back bottles from their travels. Although this is the first time, the collection is on public display, it was featured in a 1990 Philadelphia Inquirer article. Mr. Rosenblum enjoyed sipping and savoring beers at the rate of one a night, so that he could enjoy the flavor. "If you can drink two or three beers a night," he told the reporter, "you're drinking junk. A good beer is like a good meal. It has fullness and substance to it."
For me, magnets are inexpensive trinkets that tell the story of where I have traveled, favorite trips and great experiences I have had along the way. Riding a mule around the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, watching the Phillies play at ballparks from coast to coast and in Canada, and seeing one of my favorite actors on Broadway (and waiting in the cold outside the theater after the show for an autograph)—I am reminded of where I have been and where I would still like to go every time I walk past the refrigerator. I am looking forward to adding to my collection again in 2021.