I found myself standing in front of Emma Baldwin’s He Gave Us His Hands. The painting was an intricate and complex series of interwoven, upward climbing hands. Its composition perfectly encapsulated the spirit of the performer who vogued so expertly he gave Madonna a run for her money and who loved Philadelphia enough to record some of his most well-known songs here.
In capturing his hands, Emma Baldwin captured the man: David Bowie.
Heroes for more than one day
The connection between Bowie and Philadelphia dates back to 1974, when Bowie recorded his first live album, David Live, at the Tower Theatre in Philly-adjacent Upper Darby. He then returned a month later to record Young Americans at the Sigma Sound Studios on North 12th Street. It was here that local fans were among the first to hear what would become some of his most well-known recordings. And it was 42 years later that one of these fans, Patti Brett, would be responsible for spearheading “Philly Loves Bowie Week.”
The National Liberty Museum is honoring that enduring connection to Philadelphia this year with its curated We Can Be Heroes exhibition.
The City of Bowie Love
The exhibition is a living testament not only to Bowie but to the artistic talents of emerging and established artists, many of them Philly locals. Before creating the exhibition, the National Liberty Museum put out a call to artists asking for submissions of work related to Bowie and his importance to the City of Brotherly Love. From that, the museum compiled a collection by diverse artists working in a variety of mixed-media figurative and abstract techniques.
After I pulled myself away from the hands, I studied the rest of the works while feeling the almost palpable spirit of Bowie. The dynamism and diversity of representation was a testament to the talent of the curators and the abilities of each artist. A few of the striking pieces that stood out to me were Electric Blue Tumbleweed by James Akers (a 3D neon printed piece that is a clear nod to “Sound and Vision”), You’re Face to Face by Meegan Coll (a portrait of a young Bowie that evoked his essence), and Bowie Forever (a striking piece that draws its inspiration from the iconic Philly LOVE letters). These works and others filled the GlassAccess Gallery, a tribute to the unbreakable bond between the legend and our love for him.
The We Can Be Heroes exhibition even includes a display of artwork by Philadelphia fourth- and fifth-graders and a mural by Philly-based muralist NT3L. Although “Philly Loves Bowie Week” officially ends on January 12, We Can Be Heroes will remain open through Monday, February 3. Select artworks will be available for purchase, and a portion of the proceeds will go to support the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
What, Where, When:
We Can Be Heroes is open through Monday, February 3, at the National Liberty Museum, 321 Chestnut St., Philadelphia. Call (215) 925-2800 or visit online for more information.
The National Liberty Museum is a wheelchair-accessible venue.