How Marian Locks changed Philadelphia

One woman who made a difference

Locks: She knew how to nurture creativity.
Locks: She knew how to nurture creativity.

If you were ever tempted to surrender to the status quo, to throw up your hands while claiming, "What difference can one person make?", think again and include Marian Locks in your deliberations.

Prior to 1968, when at age 54 she opened her first small art gallery on Chestnut Street, no one took contemporary Philadelphia artists seriously enough to try selling their work. Philadelphia had no vital gallery scene; potential art collectors headed for New York or New Hope instead. There was no fun, happening place to meet and greet. Marian Locks, who died earlier this year at the age of 95, changed all that.

How did she do it? To begin with, Locks loved all semblances of the creative spirit—in the visual arts, poetry, dance and music— and this attitude alone gave Philadelphia artists confidence. We could be part of that world just by sharing her faith. New York wasn't the only place to be. Philadelphia could be part of the action.

Marian was a nurturer for her family and friends but especially artists. Upon learning that one of her artists was strapped for cash, she would immediately "create" a sale or make an advance payment to offset framing expenses, telling the artist she would put it in the books for future re-adjustment— books that she never really settled.

She never denigrated an idea or a dream and always remained open to new projects, such as poetry readings or 12-tone music while you viewed the work of her artists. When she moved to a larger space on Walnut Street, her dream of fostering the arts in her community began to be realized. By introducing local artists to national audiences, she developed a core group of grateful Philadelphia painters that included Edna Andrade, Thomas Chimes, Joyce deGuatemala, Warren Rohrer, Diane Burko, John Moore and Elizabeth Osborne.

In the process, the Locks Gallery inspired other art galleries, co-operatives and urban projects. In 1990, the gallery made its final move, to the former home of the Lea & Febiger publishing firm on the south side of Washington Square, where it continues to expand its vision under the aegis of her son, Gene Locks, and her daughter-in-law Sueyun Locks.

Marian inspired artists to try new means of expressing themselves. She taught collectors to make art an important part of their lives and their visual environments. She gave a once-stodgy city the confidence to say, "Art matters, or life will be that much less than it should be."♦

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