Jean Broden took a big leap.
In June, she quit her job as an art teacher at St. Hubert High School for Girls to pursue her dream to be a full-time painter.
Last week, Broden’s first solo exhibition opened at Muse, a chic Old City gallery. Dubbed “Past // Passed, scenes of an ordinary life,” the show includes oil paintings featuring street scenes, everyday objects and iconic Philadelphia landmarks.
“This is what I always wanted to do,” Broden, of Fox Chase, told the Northeast Times hours before her exhibition opened July 3. “The goal was always this.”
But life got in the way. Broden, who grew up in Burholme, studied illustration at Moore College of Art and Design after graduating from Cardinal Dougherty High School.
She wanted to become a children’s book illustrator but didn’t want the hustle-and-bustle of traveling up to New York all the time. Broden did design work for a bit but took a break when she started having kids.
Later, Broden fell in love with teaching and went back to school to get an education degree. She landed a job as a seventh-grade teacher at St. Cecilia School when she went to see the principal to restructure her kids’ tuition payments.
She had been teaching at St. Hubert’s for the past nine years. Previously, Broden taught at Lansdale Catholic High School in Montgomery Country.
Stepping away was hard. Some of Broden’s students cried when she broke the news a week before summer break, she said.
“It is weird. I’ve done it so long, teaching, it’s weird stepping away,” Broden said. “It’s scary. I don’t know. Maybe nothing will sell.”
Broden’s work will be on display at Muse, 52 N. 2nd St., until July 28. The gallery is open from noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, and admission is free.
Prices for Broden’s work generally range from $400 to about $800. The most expensive, a massive painting of City Hall from Benjamin Franklin Parkway, is listed for $1,400. She also sells prints on her website, www.jeanbrodenart.com.
Stylistically, Broden is a contemporary realist and models her work partly on Edward Hopper, an American painter perhaps best known for his famous work “Nighthawks.”
“I like to push colors,” she said. “I like to play with reflections.”
Broden likes to paint objects, especially older things, like a 1950s-style toaster or a rotary phone. She’s captivated by early- to mid-20th century industrial design. Everything nowadays is built to look like an iPhone, she quips.
At St. Hubert’s, she would always ask her students what objects in the classroom were made by an artist. Broden said she would point out the tables and the floor tiles, much to the students’ surprise.
“Every single thing that is manufactured starts with an artist who designed it,” she said. “They had to think about it. They had to decide what colors and what shapes and where it will bend and where it will go.”
Broden got into doing street scenes after painting the intersection of Hope and Norris streets in a rapidly gentrifying area of North Philadelphia just west of Fishtown. There’s an abandoned lot, old houses and brand-new construction all in the same image.
“That got me thinking more and more about trying to preserve old architecture in paintings,” Broden said.
She loves old architecture and is worried about the future of neighborhoods where the push to build could wipe away the area’s historic character.
Broden takes photos of anything she finds interesting as she goes about her day. She paints at home, a process that she said averages out to about 20 hours for a single work. Her husband, Tim, frames the paintings with repurposed wood.
Muse will host an artist’s reception for Broden’s exhibition Thursday, July 11, from 5 to 9 p.m. ••
Jack Tomczuk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.