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From Seeds to Seeds (detail), 2014
Shelley Spector (American, born 1960)
Courtesy of the artist

From Seeds to Seeds (detail), 2014 Shelley Spector (American, born 1960) Courtesy of the artist


Shelley Spector: Keep the Home Fires Burning

March 7–September 24, 2015

Philadelphia artist Shelley Spector presents a gardenlike installation of colorful sculptures inspired by an evocative work from the museum's textile collection. Shelley Spector has been actively engaged in Philadelphia's arts community for years as a respected artist, innovative gallery owner, and champion of emerging talent. Her inventive use of pattern and salvaged materials intrigued curator Dilys Blum, who invited Spector to explore the museum's collection of textiles and create an installation of new artwork. Spector's response is Keep the Home Fires Burning, a walk-through presentation of sculpture that reflects on the universal quest for hope and home.

The initial inspiration for the exhibition is a lively embroidered work decorated with images of a home, birds, tulips, trees, and couples. More than seven feet high and three feet wide, the homespun piece was designed by folk art historian Frances Lichten and sewn by her mother, Cecelia, in 1943. It was later donated to the museum by artist Katherine Milhous, who was Lichten's companion for four decades. "I use imagery such as flowers, birds, houses, and people to represent concepts—ideas larger than the literal translation of what's shown," Spector explains. "Frances Lichten did that as well, using them as symbols to convey the essence of certain traditions."

Hand-stitched in vibrant shades of green, orange, and gold, the symbols in Lichten's embroidery seemingly float in space, a feeling that Spector has re-created in the exhibition by suspending large sculptures amid freestanding works. She made the objects from discarded materials, including second-hand clothing and furniture, in a studio near Fabric Row, a stretch of family-owned, textile-supply stores in South Philadelphia. Like Lichten before her, Spector enlisted the help of her mother, Anita, who carefully cleaned, deconstructed, and organized the material that the artist transformed into sculpture. The works in the exhibition, which range from large, flower-like structures and a birdcage to tomato-shaped pincushions and wood-and-fabric lions, allude to the Pennsylvania German designs in Lichten's embroidery but also reference imagery seen in Indian and Jewish folk art. Keep the Home Fires Burning, a phrase that Spector found in a letter from Katherine Milhous to her partner, Frances Lichten, includes two works dedicated to the couple: The Egg Tree (a nod to an award-winning children's book by Milhous) and Frances Loves Katherine, which features two figures in front of a house inscribed with the words "give sunshine to others."

Invitation and Inspiration

After receiving an invitation from curator Dilys Blum, artist Shelley Spector discovers a textile in the Museum's collections and creates a personal gallery installation in response.

Materials and Process

Learn how Shelley Spector uses humble materials, such as shoeshine kits and secondhand clothes, to create sculpture imbued with layers of history and meaning.

Main Building

About the Artist

Shelley Spector attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the University of the Arts, where she currently teaches. Her sculptures, paintings, and works on paper have been exhibited in solo and group shows and are part of private and public collections, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Free Library of Philadelphia, Temple University, the Philadelphia Museum of Jewish Art, the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, Human Rights Campaign headquarters in Washington, DC, and the Pediatric Pavilion at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York. Spector lives in her hometown of Philadelphia with her partner and two children.


The exhibition Shelley Spector: Keep the Home Fires Burning is supported by The Pew Charitable Trusts.


Dilys E. Blum, The Jack M. and Annette Y. Friedland Senior Curator of Costume and Textiles; and Laura Camerlengo, Exhibition Assistant in the Department of Costume and Textiles

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