Betty Leacraft (ACG '16, '14, '09, LTA '11, WOO '99) and Denise Valentine (WOO '04) are featured in this Inquirer article about Philadelphia Assembled, an exhibition on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Perelman Building’s galleries through December 10. Participating artists include many previous Leeway grantees and community partners.
Denise Valentine, a Philadelphia storyteller who focuses on neglected African American histories, led the Reconstruction team, which includes artwork about gentrification and displacement.
As a reenactor, she has portrayed abolitionist and women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth and Phillis Wheatley, the first published female African American poet.
Valentine, who founded an ancestral remembrance day to recall Pennsylvania’s role in the slave trade, believes any neighborhood conversation should have as much to do with its past as its present.
“It’s all based on finding, preserving, and sharing the lost histories from these changing neighborhoods,” Valentine said. “As neighborhoods disappear, so do their stories, their histories.”
For Assembled, Valentine researched the origins of street names around the city, many of which were named after slave owners.
Also on display will be a 6-by-6-foot quilt, Kensington Memories, with photos from 70 years of neighborhood life. There are maps and photos of a 1951 baby parade, a shuttered factory in the 1970s, and an image of people waiting in line for affordable housing in 1981.
Betty Leacraft, who created the quilt, knew little about Kensington. When she was growing up, she said, black people didn’t go there.
“I learned something all these years later and I think the lesson is, ‘Ok, if people don’t understand anything about each other, they’re never going to be able to come together because there’s a lot people can find in common, but if you start with differences you may never get beyond that.’ ”
Leacraft was born and raised in West Philadelphia, where her grandmother introduced her to sewing. She lived there until about a year and a half ago, when a series of issues, including spiking rent, forced out of her apartment. She now lives near Temple University.
“I was sad, but I’d been there a while. It was probably time for a change,” Leacraft said. “I think what’s important is that we talk about these changes, what’s happening, to who and why.”