The Tiberino dynasty has established an ongoing legacy in Philadelphia. As a familial collective of artists, they have worked together to combat social issues and raise social awareness through their art.
Most recently, that effort was visualized through their African American Museum in Philadelphia (AAMP) exhibit, “Unflinching Eye: Works of the Tiberino Family Circle.” The display opened with an event launch last month and will continue through March.
Before the exhibit came to be, there was their Powelton Village abode.
There’s more than meets the eye at the Tiberino’s Hamilton Street rowhome in Powelton Village. It’s not obvious from the outside but The Ellen Powell Tiberino Memorial Museum has functioned as a live-in art space to the Tiberino family for years. The front porch is covered in tall, overgrown trees. It doesn’t hint at any trace of a spectacularly talented family of artists except for maybe the small collection of stained glass that hangs next to the front door.
The home has served as a staple in the arts community since 1999. Since then, the museum has hosted tours and events for anyone who’s interested in the creative space. There’s a courtyard linking the four homes owned by the Tiberinos on Hamilton and Spring Garden streets.
“It’s actually like eight backyards because some of our neighbors really liked what we were doing so we just took down all the fences and just put artwork all over their yards too,” said the youngest Tiberino, Gabriele.
Patriarch Joe Tiberino’s home looks like a candidate for the TV show Hoarders. Upon walking into the dark, dusty house, visitors are greeted by colorful art and pictures from all sides. There are papers and bottles of liquor scattered throughout. In one area, there are clippings of articles written about the artists spread across a floral couch. Another section is dedicated to religious paintings inspired by their Catholic faith.
After the shock of the clutter subsides, you’ll notice notice there are family pictures everywhere. The centerpiece of almost each one is the family matriarch, the beautiful wife and mother of four, Ellen Powell Tiberino.
Ellen and Joe met in Philadelphia the night before Ellen moved to New York City to study art. A mutual friend invited Joe to Ellen’s going away party. Joe asked Ellen if they could keep in touch and a week later, he showed up at her New York apartment unannounced.
“That was the beginning of our friendship,” Tiberino said.
At the time of their meeting Ellen Tiberino didn’t want to get married. She wanted to focus on her career. After a six-year courtship, the two wed and settled in Philadelphia, where they isolated themselves from the world around them and immersed themselves in art.
“We had no phone, no TV,” Joe Tiberino explained. “We only let people visit us once a week.”
After they got news that they were expecting their first child, they purchased the house that is now the memorial as it would better suit them for raising a family.
Ellen died of cancer in the early ’90s but her legacy continues.
“We got a really cool documentary that’s about to come out,” said Gabriele Tiberino. “I was thinking that we really needed like a real solid documentary, like, a real one just to show people exactly what’s going on and how it all came together. We’ve been working on this documentary for a couple years now.”
The documentary shows how the Tiberinos have influenced the art community in Philadelphia as well as other places. It’s slated to discuss their family history and various artistic endeavors. The film is directed by Derrick Woodyard, an up-and-coming Philadelphia director, with assistance from Joe Tiberino. The project will highlight a 45-year period of artwork.
While art lovers are accustomed to seeing the finished product from artists, this documentary delves deeper, welcoming admirers to see the artists struggle. It allows people to see how producers of art build and create each day, giving spectators the opportunity to appreciate their work even more. Though the film doesn’t have an official release date, it’s in the post-production phase and will be available for viewing in near future.