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

Leave a Reply

Comment moderation is enabled, no need to resubmit any comments posted.

Recent Posts
L&I An Overlooked Asset To Historic Preservation Efforts

L&I An Overlooked Asset To Historic Preservation Efforts

November 16, 2018  |  Vantage

Dana Rice looks at "demolition by neglect" and the potential of the Department of Licenses and Inspections as an unlikely ally in the fight to solve Philly's preservation crisis > more

The Making & Breaking Of The Philadelphia Commercial Museum

The Making & Breaking Of The Philadelphia Commercial Museum

November 14, 2018  |  Vantage

Edward Duffy takes us back when industry, commerce, and foreign trade flooded the halls of the Philadelphia Commercial Museum, the first institution of its kind in the United States > more

Rare Books Department At FLP Examines A City In Transition

Rare Books Department At FLP Examines A City In Transition

November 9, 2018  |  News

Affordable housing, displacement and gentrification, demolition for redevelopment--sounds a lot like today's local headlines, but Philly has been dealing with these issues for decades. This and more is addressed in the new exhibition, "Philadelphia: The Changing City," now on view at the Free Library of Philadelphia. Ali Roseberry-Polier has the review. > more

Dispatch From the Dolomites: Lamenting the Loss of Northern Italy's Philly Twin

Dispatch From the Dolomites: Lamenting the Loss of Northern Italy’s Philly Twin

November 7, 2018  |  Vantage

Contributor Ann de Forest dials home from Italy where she visits a little chapel that, until recently, had a sibling on Christian Street > more

Secluded Stone Stairway On Lincoln Drive Revealed

Secluded Stone Stairway On Lincoln Drive Revealed

November 2, 2018  |  Vantage

A mysterious set of stairs next to Monoshone Creek leads Sharon Barr on a path to uncover its origins > more

The Ghastly Tale Of South Philly’s Cult Of The Holy Ghost

The Ghastly Tale Of South Philly’s Cult Of The Holy Ghost

October 30, 2018  |  Vantage

A secretive cult dedicated to the worship of a Swiss woman met a horrific end in 19th century South Philly. Ryan Briggs unearths the grim details > more