Brick man makes brick men

Adam brick man maker - 1
This is the story of the brick men. Twenty-five years ago a brick side addition of the big old house in West Mount Airy that Adam Shuman, a retired Philadelphia firefighter lives in, had collapsed, One of his tenants, whom he suspects harbored unrealized architectural ambitions, decided to use some of the bricks to construct a simple human form from the bricks to see if he could get it to balance.

When Shuman needed access to his ladders through the basement cellar door, he moved the brick man to the front. That’s when, he says, it got out of hand. He just wanted to build brick men, more and more of them. So he began to actively collect bricks from burnt out brick-strewn lots in North Philadelphia on his drive to classes at Temple University.

For years now, dozens of brick men have lined the front of the property and also along a side property line with a neighbor. They provide kind of a visual frame for Shuman’s numerous rusted iron and wood sculptures that adorn the yard.

The brick men are very popular, he says, especially with twelve year-old boys who can’t resist toppling them. Every couple of years he finds two or three brick men knocked over.He purposely doesn’t cement them lest they get knocked over and seriously hurt someone. And he has a constant stream of people stopping to take photographs, chat and ask questions. Years ago, TV’s Captain Noah and his wife numbered among the regulars.

If Shuman sees bricks, a brick man may be likely to follow. He made one traveling with family in Namibia in 2007. Near land they have in Mexico, he made one out of adobe but rain washed it away.

Shuman demonstrated his technique for making a brick man; to start, 7 bricks are laid side by side and the middle three removed and then the bricks are layered upwards until the final 16th layer.

In his art studio he has fashioned a brick man out of wood cut into brick-size pieces. He entertains a plans to build a giant brick man made of 500 bricks and standing at 6 feet tall. Now that would seal Shuman’s reputation as the brick man.

Watch the video tour of the brick men with the brick man here.


Emptying coins from parking meters - last time along Germantown Ave?

Emptying coins from parking meters

Coin collecting employees of the Philadelphia Parking Authority (PPA) make one of their last if not their very last appearance along Germantown Avenue in Chestnut Hill, northwest Philadelphia. A small team walks quickly down either side of the street going from parking meter to parking meter. One hand chained by the wrist to the wheeled collection box meteropens the round metal flap with a key and the other hand pulls out the cylindrical coin container, attaches it to the portal atop the box, twists to release the coins with a jingling sound and then inserts it back in the meter. Your correspondent surmised that a thief interested in stealing a box would not need too large a bolt cutter to cut through the chain but would likely be deterred by the physical brawl likely to ensue trying to part the money box from the human collector.

According to Phil Dawson, PPA is expected to begin removing the old meters and installing SmartMeter kiosks on the Avenue on Monday, June 7.  The project is part of a city wide plan to shift parking fee collection to credit cards or through the smartphone app, “MeterUP” which allows a driver to be notified when their parking time is running with an option to refill remotely. The user can stop the time early so as not to be charged for unused time.The meters currently have a slot for some type of card in addition to the one for coins but they seem blocked/non-functional.

Alex Bartlett, archivist of the Chestnut Hill Conservancy located photographs in the Conservancy collections indicating that they were installed at some point between around 1950-1955. He writes , “The Chestnut Hill Development Group (later Business Association) [and] the Parking Company (later Foundation)were very much involved in dealing with issues associated with parking at the time, including the creation of the parking lots behind the stores.

Watch video of parking authority employee emptying coins from parking meters along Germantown Avenue in Chestnut Hill shortly before they are to be replaced by a kiosk system and smart phone app.

 


We build a mudhif

Mudhif building sarah and mohannad
Your correspondent joined U.S. military veterans, Iraqi refugees and other volunteers from the community to break ground on Memorial Day and start work on a traditional Iraqi structure dating back thousands of years called a “mudhif“ on the grounds of the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education in Roxborough, Philadelphia. More photos here. Watch a video about the first day ceremony and building start of an Iraqi mudhif.

“Al-Mudhif” is the brainchild of Seattle-based artist Sarah Kavage and Mount Airy based designer Yaroub Al-Obaidi who, after attending a lecture Kavage delivered a year ago at Moore College of Art during which she displayed a photo of a mudhif, suggested they build one! It is, perhaps, the first in the United States. The project, sponsored by the Alliance for Watershed Education of the Delaware River, is one of fifteen site-specific installations, six already completed, extending as far north as the Delaware Water Gap and as far south as Wilmington, west to Reading and east to Trenton, all within the Lenapehoking watershed, the home of the native Lenape people.

Building a mudhif, which your correspondent can attest to firsthand, is overlaying and binding together reeds into long columns. These columns are then placed in 32-inch deep, 2-foot wide holes to provide the vertical supports. They are then bent toward one another to form an arched roof. In upcoming days, mats will be woven and set in place to form a thatched roof. Air and sunlight will come through lattice panels to be constructed and attached. Adjacent to the structure, Kavage’s husband, Rob has been busy installing the structure for a large bench for seating and a view from just outside the mudhif.

On day one, we divided into two large teams- the first tasked with digging 10 large holes, 5 opposite 5 to form the length of the rectangular structure. I opted to work with volunteers assembling the columns. We used phragmites, reed grasses, harvested previously. (A non-native form of phragmites is considered invasive and it is likely a plus-side of the project was some invasive control)

From the sidelines, an older man from Iraq who went by “Kam” vividly recalled his father’s large mudhif in Nasriyah near the Euphrates River. His family would welcome guests and travelers to rest, stay, eat and drink coffee or tea in the mudhif, set apart from the main home. At that time, Kam said, people traveled distances by horse and would go from mudhif to mudhif to rest along the way.

A younger man, Hadi al-Karfawi, who left Iraq at the age of nine spoke of his strong emotional connection with the mudhif his grandfather, a tribal leader, had built . As a boy, he was tasked with preparing and serving the strong coffee to guests. He absorbed that the mudhif was community place where people would come to resolve disputes. Everyone was given a chance to speak without interruption. The disputes might be inter-tribal or among families  of one's own tribe.

As your correspondent spoke with al-Karfawi, Mohaned Al-Obaidi, the lead builder and Yaroub’s brother, was having some trouble bending the first two columns of reeds to form the arch at the entrance. Traditionally, al-Karfawi said, the reeds, of a different variety in use here, might be more moisture-filled, perhaps more freshly cut, which would make the bending easier. (The arch is not going to be the traditional rounded one; Yaroub has designed it to be more angular  so winter snow will more easily slide off and not weigh down the roof.) al-Karfawi spoke of helpers being divided into groups, just like us, with specific tasks and he demonstrated how he and others would stomp on mud mixed with hay to form the “cement” to applied inside the roof. He had brought along two of his young children and, as the project was about to get underway, they stood by with child-sized shovels at the ready.

In his opening remarks, Al-Obaidi spoke of how emotional this undertaking has been- recreating a traditional community structure from his homeland. He suspected many of us have only associated Iraq until now with war and suffering. He hopes this welcoming mudhif will bring about a better understanding of Iraq’s ancient and rich culture.

The grand opening of the mudhif is planned for June 24th and according to a Schuylkill Center blog many activities are planned. “We will activate the installation Al-Mudhif with extended programming around exchange of war experience, healing and intercultural encounters from June to October 2021.”

Your correspondent asks, wouldn’t it be wonderful if the dispute resolution aspect of a mudhif could be "activated”? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if representative native Lenape could settle ongoing claims in this mudhif with representatives of the long dominant immigrant community? Descendants of former slaves with descendants of former slaveholders? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Israeli and Palestinian representatives could forge a just and lasting peace in this mudhif? And isn’t it fitting that this peace and justice-making take place on land taken from the Lenape, now in the safekeeping of environmental non-profit, in a traditional structure of a people who themselves experienced recent devastation to their own culture- the swamp Arabs of Iraq? A structure built for community, hospitality and peace-making. Inshallah.

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More videos here

Building Al Mudhif - short version

Mudhif groundbreaking ceremony

Docent tells about Iraqi mudhifs and ancient Sumer

Schuylkill Center Director acknowledges land belonging to Lenape people at mudhif groundbreaking