Wooden Purses on Walnut

March 22, 2012 |  by  |  Found  |  , ,

 


Walnut Street west of Broad is the land of expensive handbags, of thousand dollar distressed leather clutches and leather and suede messenger bags with magnetic metal mock-buckles. Strange, then, to find a small display of purses made of rough-hewn wood in the side-window of the convenience store at the corner of 15th and Walnut. Dearer to the heart of Hidden City, the purses are made from discarded lath, and some take the shape of houses.

These objects are the work of an artist named Roosevelt Bassett, according to the sign, which is a curious artifact in its own right. It says that Bassett is a self-taught artist who moved to Philadelphia in the late 1960s from his family’s farm in South Carolina. More unusually, the note features a lengthy recommendation of Bassett’s work by his friend Tony Chotkoski, whose praise has an almost biblical sound, thanks to sentences like “now Roosevelt’s eye has fallen upon it and low, he doth maketh things with a new purpose.” The whole thing is odd enough to seem almost like an elaborate hoax, a pop-up installation by a trained artist playing at primitivism.

We called the number on the card and find out what was going on, and sure enough, a Mr. Bassett answered the phone, and said that he couldn’t talk long because he was standing on a ladder. He said that the display had actually been there for a year, maybe two, but had spent six months at the Philadelphia International Airport and had only recently returned. The purses had come to be displayed there when he’d walked into the store looking for a cigar box and got to talking with the owner, who liked what he was doing and offered to put them in the window. They are completely functional, cost less than $100, and even have a silk lining. Who says there aren’t any bargains on Walnut Street?

Peter Woodall is the co-editor of Hidden City Daily. He is a graduate of the UC Berkeley School of Journalism, and a former newspaper reporter with the Biloxi Sun Herald and the Sacramento Bee. He worked as a producer for Radio Times with Marty Moss-Coane and wrote a column about neighborhood bars for PhiladelphiaWeekly.com.



1 Comment


  1. Peter,
    Thanks so much for finding this! Roosevelt is actually my neighbor, who lives right across the street from me in Brewerytown. He has been making this for years now. Have you seen the video documentary that was produced about him a couple years back? It’s wonderful: http://vimeo.com/3529203

    Also, there’s a website that was created about his work: http://www.stanford-creative.com/roosevelt/

    Please get in touch with me if you’d like to meet him, he’s a delightful, humble, hardworking man.

    Thanks,
    Jake

Trackbacks

  1. Brewerytown Folk Artist on Walnut Street | Brewerytown Living | Philadelphia, PA
Recent Posts
My Favorite Place: Carman Garden Skating Rink

My Favorite Place: Carman Garden Skating Rink

September 30, 2014  |  My Favorite Place

Take a peek inside Carmen Gardens, where we'll be celebrating the Hidden City Daily's third anniversary this Friday, October 3rd > more

Demolition of Fishtown’s St. Laurentius More And More Likely

Demolition of Fishtown’s St. Laurentius More And More Likely

September 30, 2014  |  Morning Blend

Chaput decertifies Polish church, how to connect The Circuit, residences coming to 36th & Market Science Center project, and City Council reportedly mulling over selling PGW > more

The Legend Of Midtown Village

The Legend Of Midtown Village

September 29, 2014  |  The Shadow Knows

Chemistry labs, karate, puppet theater, and a prostitution ring? The Shadow strikes again! This week we hear about the Guilded Age real estate mogul Felix Isman and his bay-windowed beauty at 13th and Sansom > more

A Councilman And An Army Of Volunteers Clean Up The Delaware Riverbank

A Councilman And An Army Of Volunteers Clean Up The Delaware Riverbank

September 29, 2014  |  Morning Blend

Over three tons removed from Delaware River, scaffolding goes up around Lit Bros., a petition for better development at Clark Park, and four new homes in Roxborough > more

National Liberty Museum Hopes To Inspire An Appreciation For Freedom

National Liberty Museum Hopes To Inspire An Appreciation For Freedom

September 26, 2014  |  Morning Blend

The National Liberty Museum updates its exhibitions, AAA claims vested rights for Pennsport project, Google to drop “Temple Town” designation, and some surprise storm water management work next to Dickinson Square Park > more

Brewing With Solidarity At Win Win Coffee Bar

Brewing With Solidarity At Win Win Coffee Bar

September 26, 2014  |  Walk the Walk

A cooperative-run coffee and cocktail bar on Spring Garden Street goes deep for the Win Win. Joseph Brin has this story of building a business with consensus > more