Bright and colorful pottery in the windows of The Expressive Hand greet all passing by the corner of 9th and Bainbridge streets.
What may be surprising for many to discover is that The Expressive Hand is more than just a place to paint pottery. It also doubles as an American Sign Language studio.
Marcie Ziskind, a South Philadelphia resident and owner of The Expressive Hand, uses her passion for American Sign Language to try bring two different communities together.
“I encourage people to try and communicate,” Ziskind said. “You just have to embrace the communication that you can do like anybody else who speaks a different language.”
When she turned 45 years old, Ziskind decided to give herself the birthday present of learning American Sign Language. This was something that she was always interested in.
“When I was a little kid, I saw some deaf people signing and I was really fascinated. But when I was growing up, people who didn’t have a reason to learn sign language just didn’t learn,” Ziskind said.
Ziskind enrolled in classes at the Community College of Philadelphia and fully immersed herself in deaf culture. She volunteered for a deaf nonprofit organization where she met the previous owner of The Expressive Hand and soon became the bookkeeper.
In October 2009, the business went up for sale and Ziskind seized the opportunity to continue sharing her passion with South Philadelphia.
“I encourage them to come to American Sign Language night on the first Wednesday of every month, take our adult beginners class or bring their kids to the Read, Sign and Paint program and try to introduce them gently to a new language,” Ziskind said.
The Read, Sign and Paint program is one of the more unique ways The Expressive Hand has used to introduce sign language to hearing families.
Every Wednesday morning, Zinskind and her employee, Michelle Goodwin, read a book which is American Sign Language interpreted. After the children learn new signs, they paint a piece of pottery that is related to the book.
Goodwin, who has deaf parents, saw when growing up how the deaf and hearing communities tend to shy away from each other. The Expressive Hand tries to break that barrier by offering something fun and creative.
“It’s nice to know sign language because you can communicate with people who are really kind of closed off from the hearing world,” Goodwin said. “Deaf people are just the same as everyone else. It’s just that they speak a different language.”