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Into the Making of ‘A Peaceful Moment”  – The Autumnal Installation 

As the days got shorter and the temperature began to drop, the Spruce Street Commons team joined the rest of Philly in mentally preparing for the next “new normal” on the calendar: the holidays amidst a pandemic.

Like many others, it was hard for us to look forward to the changing seasons and upcoming holidays. Amidst normal circumstances, this time of year would be full of workshops and markets where our resident community could learn new things and make real connections with local creators and leaders. 

During this unconventional year, the Spruce Street Commons team tried something new: commissioning a semi-permanent art installation at the Touraine. While this was not the same as the unique happenings of holidays past, bringing “A Peaceful Moment” to life proved to be a memorable way to support local artists and spread a bit of joy during an unfamiliar time.

The Artist

As big proponents of local artisans, Spruce Street Commons has worked with many different Philly creatives on unique pieces for our properties. For this project, we were seeking an artist to create an autumnal installation that would be captivating and resonate positively with a large audience. For this project, we entrusted Ashely Powell, a sustainable floral designer and the proprietor of Ashn Earth Florals.

“Ashley felt like a perfect collaborator for this project,” said Spruce Street Commons Design and Project Manager Ali Hitchcoff. “She is a local artist that makes beautiful installations, wreaths, and seasonal projects. Ashley also uses found elements that she forges, which will be composted after.”

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The sustainable nature of Ashley’s work not only aligns with our environmental values but also our conscious effort to minimize waste while many in our nation are going through difficult times. 

Along with Ashley’s artistic talents and sustainable practices, we also enjoyed her viewpoint on seasonality:

“The way the seasons completely change these landscapes is so incredibly awe-inspiring,” said Ashley, speaking of the northeastern landscapes where she both sources her materials and derives her inspiration. “ I love a blooming field of wildflowers as much as one full of deadheads and seed pods.  I wanted to be able to transfer these landscapes into my design work, and thus my style was kind of organically formed.”

Ashley’s admiration of the changing seasons and her positive interpretations of all the resulting outcomes (even typically negative outcomes such as dead flowers) made her the ideal artist to create our autumnal installation. 

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Creative Planning

Upon selecting Ashley Powell for the piece, the creative team met at the Touraine to begin the creative planning and ideation process. The exterior of the Touraine was easily selected as the location as it would allow the greater community to experience and enjoy the piece.

Once the location was selected Ashley created her initial sketches of the installation and shared her vision for the piece – one that strongly aligned with Spruce Streets Commons:

“My vision was the idea of taking our natural seasonal landscape and transplanting it into a dense urban setting,” said Ashley. “Autumn carries so many sentimental overtones, so I came up with the concept that incorporates everyone’s seasonal favorites; gourds and pumpkins! I thought it would be something fun for everyone, no matter your walk-of-life.”

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Ashley’s choice of positive, widely loved design elements during the planning stage aligned perfectly with SSC’s goals to create a positive, tasteful installation. Designing the installation to be somewhat of an urban escape was another thoughtful addition and ideal for the city audience which was most likely limiting their outdoor time due to the changing seasons.

Following the location scouting and subsequent planning meetings, a sketch of the installation was approved along with the following description: 

“Large-scale, site-specific sculptural installation will be inspired by a wild autumn landscape; rich with texture and pockets of muted fall colors, the piece will create a unique and welcoming presence for residents and passersby to enjoy. The semi-permanent installation will be created to asymmetrically frame the entrance, giving the appearance of wild growth around the left and right benches at the front of the building.

The base of the installation will feature a collection of gourds/pumpkins, of varying sizes and shapes, in a muted fall color palette entwined within wild vines. Growing up the installation, red and yellow berries of bittersweet vines will burst throughout, while pockets of soft and muted red staghorn sumac will create focal points. The installation will also feature moments of autumn oak and beech tree branches, as well as other complimentary foraged materials.”

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On installation day, Ashley arrived at the Touraine with a ton of wild material spread out between large vans. The raw materials for this project were almost entirely foraged by her and her partner with any additional materials sourced from her close-knit community of local growers. In terms of the Spruce Street Commons installation, A Peaceful Moment, Ashley shared that the source for the pumpkin base was her close friends at Greenflash Farm in Skillman, New Jersey.

From set up to break down, the entire installation project took 12 hours. This was largely because of the detailed design and the fact that each piece needed to be sculpted and assembled on-site at the Touraine

However, while the day will certainly be remembered as busy, it will also be remembered for the passion of everyone working on the project and their pride when it was finally complete. Most of all it will be remembered as being worth it.

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Looking Back

“I am so happy with how it turned out,” said Ashley of her finalized piece. “It’s always nice when pieces transform flawlessly from rough doodles on paper to the final product.”

This was a sentiment echoed by Ali Hichcoff of Spruce Street Commons who said “We feel ecstatic and so does our community.”

Watching the community enjoy the piece has been nothing short of art itself. From photographers who come to capture its fleeting existence to the pedestrians who stumble upon it and simply smile, we see our goals of breaking up the monotony of pandemic life, encouraging a conversation between residents, or simply brightening a person’s commute to work achieved every day.

“Ashley’s installation is important to us at SSC because it is a breath of life and artistry into these times,” said Spruce Street Creative Director Liz Solms. “We always like to think of ourselves as folks who want to shine a light on local artists and folks who take care of our residents. We thought this would be a really nourishing combination and we are happy to see that it was.”