Eastern State of the art

Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site unveils three new art installations.

Art on display: Three new art installations are now on display at Eastern State Penitentiary: Doris Jean, An Electric Kite and Solitary Watch. Source: Jeff Fusco

Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site last week unveiled its three newest art installations.

The former prison, at 2027 Fairmount Ave., debuted its art program in 1995.

This year, Eastern State received about 85 art proposals. In the end, according to senior vice president Sean Kelley, three were selected. They join 11 existing pieces of art.

The new installations, which opened last Friday, are:

• Doris Jean, which consists of removable vinyl lettering and images on the glass pane of Eastern State’s greenhouse, a 1930s-era structure that has been restored.

• An Electric Kite, which features a handmade radio transmitter in one cell that transmits to portable radios in the cell directly opposite. Al Capone had a radio when he was jailed at Eastern State in 1929. The broadcast includes, among other things, Johnny Cash’s famous 1968 concerts at Folsom State Prison in California.

• Solitary Watch, which includes a slide show and a range of requests by prisoners in solitary confinement for a picture of anything they wish.

Rachel Livedalen, who created Doris Jean, came in from Texas for Eastern State’s press preview last Thursday. Doris Jean Ostreicher was a recently married 22-year-old Food Fair heiress who, in 1955, decided to have an illegal abortion. She went to an apartment at 927 N. Franklin St., home of a husband and wife who worked as a bartender and a beautician. Ostreicher died during the abortion. Milton Schwartz, the bartender, pleaded no contest and was sentenced to 3 to 10 years in prison at Eastern State. He was paroled after 11 months.

“It was soap opera-esque,” Livedalen said of the public reaction to the death. “It got national coverage.”

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, about 80,000 American prisoners are in solitary confinement.

Eastern State had prisoners in solitary confinement when it was open. In fact, artist Jean Casella called Eastern State the “birthplace of solitary confinement.”

Casella was joined by Johnny Perez, of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. Perez, of New York, served three years in solitary confinement, recalling the cells as being the size of an average bathroom.

Casella, co-director of Solitary Watch, said her group has about 5,000 prisoners in solitary confinement on its mailing list. She encourages people to visit www.photorequestfromsolitary.org to see a list of photo requests. Members of the public are encouraged to take a picture and upload it to the website. The image will be printed for inmates to hang in their cells.

“We get a lot of nature requests and family themes,” Casella said. “And the prisoners want to see how the world has changed.”

Eastern State is open every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. except Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Tickets bought online cost $14 ($16 at the door), $12 for senior citizens ($14 at the door) and $10 for kids ages 7–12 ($12 at the door).

For more information, call 215–236–3300 or visit www.easternstate.org ••