Philadelphia artist Sam Maitin’s studio and home have been sold


It’s never easy to sell your childhood home, but imagine if it contains the studio of a man once known as the “Mayor of the Arts” in Philadelphia.

For more than 40 years, artist Sam Maitin worked on the 1810 townhouse near Seventh and Pine and lived upstairs with his wife, Lilyan, son, Izak, and daughter, Ani.

Sam died in 2004 and Lilyan in 2019, and next month the house will have a new owner. Ani and Izak sort through a lifetime of memories and work to move their father’s collection.

“I didn’t want to sell the house, but, as you can imagine, it’s very expensive to maintain,” said Ani, 53, who lives in Chestnut Hill. “The story of all the people who have been there – to me it has almost museum qualities.”

Maitin, known for his abstract murals and collages, is credited by many for bringing color to Philadelphia.

“From his sculptures and public art murals to his posters and prints, Sam was able to share his message of color, beauty and justice with an extremely wide audience,” said artist Craig Stover, assistant to Maitin of 1992 to 1999 and former director of the Allens Lane Arts Center in Mount Airy. “As soon as you become aware of his work, you realize he is everywhere.”

Indeed, hospitals, universities, private homes, synagogues, and community centers in Philadelphia have Maitins, as do art museums in the United States and Europe. Prominent local works include murals at the University of Pennsylvania‘s Annenberg School and Academy House on Locust Street. Maitin’s last commission was an interactive piece for the relocated Please Touch museum.

Also a community activist, Maitin has championed artists, protested injustice, and volunteered for non-profit organizations. As a working-from-home dad, he served as an emergency contact for neighborhood children attending McCall’s School.

“He had a unique civic spirit,” said William Valerio, director and CEO of the Woodmere Art Museum in Chestnut Hill. “He believed that a big city should have a big cultural life.”

As a young artist, Maitin shared a studio with five other people for $60 a month near 12th and Walnut streets, often sleeping on a cot. He longed to have his own space on the ground floor.

He bought the dilapidated row house on Pine Street in 1961 for $9,000 (it would be around $84,000 today). When he and Lilyan got married in the studio shortly after, they had to cover holes in the floor so guests wouldn’t fall.

The Maitins arrived at the advent of government-led “urban renewal” in the diverse, working-class immigrant neighborhood – three years before the completion of IM Pei’s now iconic Society Hill towers.

“The neighborhood was really different back then,” Ani said. “There were actually a lot of empty lots and abandoned buildings here.”

There was a “friendly little bar” that Sam loved at Eighth and Lombard – “a ramshackle old place where blacks and whites, rich and poor, could hang out and share ideas over 15-cent beers”, a- he told The Inquirer in 1979. And just behind Maitin’s house was an auto shop, where they often pushed their VW microbus for repairs.

Sam hired his older brother Irving, a Penn and Harvard-trained architect, to renovate and credited him with creating a beautiful home from “a dilapidated heap, years before the address became la fashion”.

Irving raised the roof 10 feet to create a loft suite, divided by a gigantic rolling barn door. He hollowed out skylights and transoms and strategically placed windows to maximize natural light.

In contrast to the Federalist exterior, Irving chose mid-century modern decor inside with bright pops of color, not unlike Sam’s paintings.

» READ MORE: A revolutionary-era house with a modern interior in Society Hill

The bay window in the kitchen overlooked what would become a courtyard when the Maitins purchased adjacent land in the 1970s. Sam laid “every brick and every Belgian block,” said Ani, salvaged from demolitions and repaving streets in proximity.

The house’s high ceilings and white walls proved ideal for displaying Sam’s work, and to save on gallery fees, the Maitins often held art exhibitions there.

Home shows “never had much success,” Ani said, “but they were a lot of fun.”

A painter, printmaker, sculptor, muralist and graphic designer, Maitin was a prolific artist, sometimes to the chagrin of his dealers – and his wife.

He has had major exhibitions in London, Paris, Frankfurt, Tel Aviv and Tokyo, and his work is in the collections of the Tate in London, the National Gallery in Washington and MoMA in New York, as well as Philadelphia. Museum of Art. and Woodmere.

But he also dedicated hours creating posters, invitations and emblems for non-profit and civic organizations such as the YMHA. He once designed decorative ceiling tiles for a radiotherapy room for cancer patients.

“The dealers tell me not to make posters. It makes your work available to everyone for free,” Maitin told the Daily News in 1993. “Well, I despise elitism in art. … Art is an attempt at giving. It is an offering. »

Maitin never made a lot of money, Ani said. Over the years, her mother held administrative positions at SmithKline, Hahnemann Hospital and the city school district “to keep us at home.”

Maitin was born in 1928 above the grocery store run by his Russian-Jewish immigrant parents in 18th and Oxford in North Philadelphia, and grew up there. He attended Simon Gratz High School and won an art scholarship to Philadelphia College of the Arts (now University of the Arts) and also attended the University of Pennsylvania.

He then taught at both alma maters, as well as Moore College of Art and Fleisher Art Memorial. Among his students was award-winning children’s book illustrator Jerry Pinkney, who died last fall.

Maitin liked to collaborate. While designing a mural for a wing of Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia, he abandoned his original design after brainstorming with a dozen patients, ages 4 to 14.

“The idea of ​​submitting my work to children is not new to me. I’ve always done it with my own children,” Maitin said in 1991. “Children are honest and sometimes I need their help.

Izak, now 55, who works for the city and lives in Pennsport, remembers his father frequently stopping him on the way out to ask a dealer for advice on parts to show. “He would have everything lined up in the hallway, or maybe the studio…and you’d end up being late for school.”

Once, Ani recalls, she was annoyed that she had been turned away, so she told Sam she didn’t like a painting he had been working on for weeks. When she returned home, she was mortified to find that he had painted the entire background black to start over.

“So every time I see that one, I feel a little sick,” she said, “because I really thought it was beautiful, but I was just mad at him.”

In the 1970s, Maitin used “his talent as an engraver and his penchant for writing sentences” to turn his protests against war, poverty and injustice into an art form, the historian wrote. Willard Randall in an Inquirer article titled “Is Philadelphia ready for Sam Maitin?

Maitin has weighed in on everything from the Vietnam War to Philadelphia’s support for the arts to the gentrification of Society Hill.

The Maitins helped Dorothy Miller – Miss Dot, their beloved corner crossing guard – in her 10-year battle to retain affordable housing in Society Hill.

The city’s redevelopment plan, championed by famed urban planner Edmund Bacon, broke with the widespread demolition that characterized many post-World War II redevelopments. Instead, homes would be preserved and greenways added to create a more livable neighborhood.

“At that time,” Sam recalled in 1979, “it wasn’t surprising to attend a civic meeting and find yourself sitting next to a prominent historian, a young banker, a former mayor , a scholarly professor… and young people like me with no extra dollars in our pockets or dreams of killing real estate.

While more Society Hill buildings were preserved than was typical for urban redevelopment, many residents could not afford to refurbish their homes to the strict standards required, and nearly 600 families were displaced, 20% of them were black and many more from Eastern Europe. descent.

Miller, a lifelong neighborhood resident, sued to block evictions and include low-income housing.

“When we were fighting for these houses, you know who was with me all the time? Sam,” Miller told the Preserving Society Hill oral historians in 2006. “You better believe it. I liked it. Sam was my buddy.

Ultimately, 14 rental units were built on Sixth Street, and Miller and his daughter moved out.

READ MORE: When did Society Hill become a full-fledged city-state? | Inga Saffron

In time, Maitin withdrew from neighborhood meetings, describing himself in 1979 as “tired of listening to debates about bricks, trees, and property values. That’s not what brought me to here.

He lamented that artists in the region are priced by “their psychiatrists and their doctors, followed by their lawyers and accountants … followed by their bankers and brokers” – a problem that artists face today in neighborhoods such as as Northern Liberties and Kensington.

In 2021, homes in the Maitin ZIP code sold for between $160,000 and $3.1 million, with a median price of $416,000, according to Bright MLS. His home sold for just under the list price of $1.55 million.

Ani Maitin had dreamed of keeping the house on Pine Street to create a museum and an educational institute there.

Although the sale was “completely heartbreaking”, said Ani, who works in health care and is married with two teenagers, “I wasn’t ready to dedicate my life to doing something like this”.

Instead, with Stover’s help, the family held a final home art show last weekend to celebrate Maitin’s life and raise funds to preserve his collection for future generations. Friends remembered the intellectual parlor debates that had taken place between the walls.

Stover called working with Maitin “an immense privilege”, filled with joy and exposure to hundreds of artists.

“Sam showed me there was more than one way to live your life as an artist,” Stover said. “It was possible to have a giant impact on the world by finding new ways to share your vision.”


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