Tacony LAB Community Arts Center is coming up on a full year of being a community arts center and offers free artistic classes.
Leaning over a table and surrounded by 11 attentive women, Pat Gallagher vigorously rubs at a canvas covered in black muck.
“You want to go fast,” she says, telling one of the women to feel the bowl of muck beside her. “See how it’s already harder?” It’s grout, typically used to seal gaps between tiles or to help pre-cast concrete.
Here, it’s taken on a different role. As Gallagher rubs the grout away from the canvas with a rag, a dark green color slowly emerges from the material underneath. Soon, the image beneath is clear. It’s glass shards from an old plate formed to shape the Eagles mascot, reading “LII” along the bottom.
Once the presentation is over, the women get to work on their own mosaics, created from drywall and shattered dishes. They follow Gallagher’s advice to taper the edges first and make sure the surface on the top is even.
It’s just a typical Thursday night at Tacony LAB Community Arts Center.
The lab at 6918 Torresdale Ave. is coming up on its first full year of offering community arts programming. Before last year, it shared its space with the Tacony Library and housed resident artists. The incoming resident artist, Alice Thompson, works with kites with different printmaking and decorative techniques.
Mural Arts Philadelphia expanded the center once the library moved out. Barbara Baur taught classes and stepped up to the role of coordinator after the expansion.
“I love teaching people things they never thought of before, and encouraging them to want to do it on their own,” said Baur, who also teaches jewelry making, lost wax and enameling classes.
Walking in to the center, there’s a workshop room on the left and a studio display space on the right. House-made artwork, including drawings, paintings and a hanging display of paper fish, decorate the display room. Art supplies and completed works line the studio space, and footprints immortalized in purple paint mark the floor.
Art originating from the center has leaked out into the surrounding neighborhood. The mural Our Tacony: Yesterday and Tomorrow at Disston and Torresdale avenues was created by former resident artist Mariel Capanna, and is just one example.
Baur is at home in the center. Wearing a pin made out of felt and vaguely reminiscent of a question mark, she knows the artist and story behind every piece of work on display. Baur is on the forefront of arts in the Northeast — she also started the Art on the Avenue series that introduces local artwork to local businesses.
Baur’s forte is jewelry making. Her style often blends different colors in wavy shapes. She spent 12 years living on a boat, and said her work is largely inspired by water and wind from that time.
“I miss being able to go out,” she said. She’s landlocked now as a Tacony resident. “It’s really a nice feeling to move about just moving the wind and be able to control where it goes.”
It’s been a successful first year for the center. On a weekly basis, the center offers five or six classes, including open studio time on Tuesday mornings and kid’s club Saturday mornings. Baur said the secret is spreading beyond the Northeast — people from all over the city and beyond are making their way over for classes. All programming is free to attendees.
“We’ve had classes with 40 people on the waiting list and only 12 spots,” she said.
Classes change each season. The fall will see courses offered in painting, renaissance drawing, beginner and intermediate drawing, jewelry making, ceramics, stop motion animation, fiber portraits, mosaics and sewing machine basics, in addition to open studio time and kid’s club. There will also be a homeschooling group starting in September that will give kids who are homeschooled a chance to socialize and invent creations.
The full schedule will be finalized soon and registration will be available on the center’s Facebook page.
Baur said her favorite part of the center is teaching residents to do things they never imagined. She recounted a moment when she was teaching needle felting, the method her question mark pin was created from.
“During the class, a few of the students said these free classes are starting to cost a lot of money,” Baur said with a laugh. “They keep going out and buying their own supplies.” ••