A Butterfly Flaps Its Wings

Can recycled art at the Philadelphia Zoo help protect habitat and change habits?

by Heather Shayne BlakesleeNine-foot-tall recycled-cardboard gorilla sculpture created by Canadian artist Laurence Vallieres for the Philadelphia Zoo’s Second Nature: Junk Rethunk exhibit.

The newest animals at the Philadelphia Zoo aren’t in cages, although some of them—including a life-sized alligator sculpted from bubblegum—will remain safely behind glass. Second Nature: Junk Rethunk, an exhibit of whimsical sculptures made from recycled and salvaged materials, features the work of a dozen artists and artist collaboratives from around the world. Among the menagerie is a 900-pound gorilla made from recycled car steel, delicate miniature mechanical birds forged from used machine parts and cast-off electronics, and a majestic silver rhinoceros crafted from old serving ware and dinner plates, created by Philadelphia’s own Leo Sewell. 

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History in the Making

Activist scholar documents, and helps defend, West Philadelphia neighborhood

Patrick Grossi stands in front of the Philip B. Lindy House on Drexel University’s campus. Where he works to preserve history and increase political voice.

Patrick Grossi wields an unusual tool to help solve social problems: history.

The 33-year-old doctoral student of Temple University’s History program specializes in what he calls Public History, explaining that it goes beyond the “walls of academia.”

His interest in history led him to one of  West Philadelphia’s most hotly contested neighborhoods: Mantua, in West Philadelphia. Grossi has studied the neighborhood’s history, from its beginnings as what he describes as a “speculative real estate venture, a peripheral suburb almost,” in the mid-19th century, to its importance as one of Philadelphia’s predominantly black neighborhoods nearly a century later.

What happens next, he says, still resonates with Mantuans today.

“Longtime residents have a memory of what happened in the 1960s, when all three major universities were orchestrating expansion projects,” Grossi says. “UPenn gets the most heat because they did displace a lot of residents from the Black Bottom neighborhood, where University City is now.”

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Let it Grow

Awbury Arboretum’s unlikely stewards let nature—and discovery—run wild

Awbury staff from left to right: Denis Lucey, Karen Flick, Heather Zimmerman and Chris van de Velde.Philadelphians are familiar with the sounds of city life: the laughter of kids walking home from school, bus engines and car horns on the busy streets, music flowing from rowhome windows. Amid the bustle in Germantown, a forest is quietly growing. The people entrusted with the 55-acre refuge at Awbury Arboretum believe that it’s a place to escape the hardscape, wonder at nature’s resilience and power, and maybe to fall in love.

Between a trickling creek bed on the grounds of Awbury Arboretum in Northwest Philadelphia and the abrasive honking of East Washington Lane, Denis Lucey is out on one of his many walks.

He stops to point out a mutated form of a snow drop flower and invites me to have a gnaw on a native spice bush. “It’s got an interesting flavor,” he encourages. “If you’ve ever been operated on, the orange dye they spray you with before they put the bandages on is a glue that originally comes from this plant.”

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