Portrait of the Artist

Anna Fine Foer

Philadelphia's History in Stone

By Noelani Kirschner | September 11, 2017
Ben Franklin's Bridge, Kite and Key, collage on paper, 2017, 21 x 23 inches
Ben Franklin's Bridge, Kite and Key, collage on paper, 2017, 21 x 23 inches

After a career as a textile conservator for museums around the world, Anna Fine Foer now focuses her talents on creating collage. Here, she describes the inspiration for one of her seven pieces about Philadelphia’s cityscape that will be featured in an upcoming exhibition. Titled AnachroniCity, it will appear at the Gershman Gallery this September. 

“I grew up in a home of intellectuals with no television. My mother taught Latin and Greek in high school, and my father was a Spanish and French professor. When I was 11 years old, they went to study at the Alliance Française to be more conversant, so we lived in Paris when I was a little girl. I knew the work of Kandinsky, Sonia Delaunay, Braque, Picasso, and Chagall—I could tell you who all those early 20th-century artists were. I had absolutely no interest in traditional representation, and those artists were my main influences.

The university that I went to, the Philadelphia College of Art, was a Bauhaus school, which meant that no matter what discipline you were in, you had a very strong underpinning of aesthetics and you could apply it across platforms. If you were in fibers, you took ceramics classes, and you developed your style not necessarily depending on your medium. I’m trained as a textile artist—the repetition, the patterning, and the aesthetics are important to me. But the last semester of my senior year, I took a painting class. The teacher wanted us to do collage—she thought people were going to just rip up colors as a way of forming a color field, and it would be a pathway to get things started. I immediately started using maps. I realized after the first or second class that it could be political at the same time as being aesthetic, so I started doing things about Israel and reorganizing the United States. She said to me one day in class, ‘Are you going to paint?’ and I said, ‘No.’ Not in a disrespectful way, but this was that kind of school. She could see that I had something going, that there were huge possibilities. And low and behold, that’s what I’m still doing to this day.

My work is extremely anachronistic; I like to think about the beginnings of things. I’ve always been interested in the most authentic, the real—going back to the beginning. I got the idea for this series after touring the city with the curator of an upcoming exhibition. The curator decided after teaching a class about the history of the architecture of South Broad Street to do a show about this part of the city. She took my son and me on a walking tour of Philadelphia one freezing January day about nine months ago. The curator started talking about the Franklin Bridge. My son, who attends my art school and goes everywhere on his skateboard, said, ‘Mama, we go there on our skateboards all the time.’ After we had done this walking tour, I knew Ben Franklin’s Bridge, Kite and Key was going to be the first one in the series.

When we were in art school, you know, we were right downtown—we didn’t pay attention to the rest of the city. We didn’t like to explore. We went to the art museum, Fairmount Park, the Italian market—but we didn’t know Philadelphia like I’m getting to know it now. I started thinking about the bridge, and I started thinking of Ben Franklin. You’re occupying a space where all those things happened; you’re walking in his steps when you’re downtown in Old City. Later, when I was doing my exploration of Philly, I went up around U Penn. There’s a block with all Italianate houses—it’s like an oasis—and low and behold, one of the architects was the one who designed the bridge. I’m getting this huge appreciation for Philadelphia. You get those connections to a place, you know?”

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