Artist Robert Woodward, better known as Peanut Butter, has worked from his studio at the corner of 18th Street and Fairmount Avenue since 2000. It was not until this past November that he put up a sign on the front door to make it an official gallery.
“Right now, it’s just evolving,” Woodward said. He said he hopes to hire someone to open the Peanut Gallery to the public once a month.
The nickname Peanut Butter was given to Woodward from a clown act he used to perform on the boardwalk in Asbury Park, N.J. One of his clowns for the act was named Peanut. A child came up to him one day and asked for his last name. “It’s Peanut Butter, silly,” he replied.
Woodward’s clowning career sparked his interest in face painting. When Woodward moved to Philadelphia in 1979, he started a face-painting company with a troupe of employees who traveled worldwide.
Most local residents know Woodward for his work in the Girard subway stop on SEPTA’s Broad Street line. He installed elaborate resin collages on the stair railings. “It’s a trip to go down there,” he said. “People who come to the city, they go to the art museum or go to Barnes, they don’t really make the special trip over.”
However, Woodward said he is pleased with the feedback he gets from those who live in the neighborhood. “What is great is that I get the people from the hood. They say, ‘Man, I recognize your stuff from Girard. I knew it was somewhere…’ and that really means a lot to me.”
Woodward said he believes his proposal for the Girard terminal won because he wanted to involve the community. The art installation included historic photographs of surrounding neighborhoods and incorporated recent photographs of neighborhood children.
“I had people give me things from the neighborhood—things that were interesting, junky crafty things, personal artifacts of people who live in the neighborhood—that meant something to me,” he said.
Woodard studied microbiology at the University of Pennsylvania, a degree he has applied into the creation of his artwork. “I’m always doing experiments, testing stuff—seeing where it would go,” he said.
In fact, Woodard said his Girard installation was the product of a series of experiments. “I started off making little belt buckles with resin and then it went to bigger pieces, and then bigger pieces, and then I did the Girard piece—that’s the biggest piece I’ve done,” Woodward said.
Woodward doesn’t have any definite projects in the near future. “The good thing is that I have a business that makes me money, but the bad thing is that it doesn’t force me to put all this stuff out,” he said.
When asked what keeps his art going, Woodard said it was a confluence of athletics, solitude, his girlfriend and good food—it all works together. “If I didn’t have creative solitude, I’d go crazy,” he said.
Woodward has been staying inside this winter working on jewelry. He will display his latest pieces one Saturday a month at the Peanut Gallery.