Kensington: Sculpture Gym Provides a Resource for Artists of All Kinds

Owner Darla Jackson (left) and project manager Jenny Welsch (right) in front of artwork in the studio.

The Philadelphia Sculpture Gym may appear to be just a warehouse of mixed tools, loud rap music, boisterous drilling and machinery scattered throughout the large room.

Owner Darla Jackson (left) and project manager Jenny Welsch (right) in front of artwork in the studio.
Owner Darla Jackson (left) and programs manager Jenny Welsch (right) in front of artwork in the studio.

However, PSG is a creative haven in progress in which owner Darla Jackson said she hopes will one day be a refuge to artists of all kinds.

PSG is a workspace primarily for woodworking, molding and casting. Artists can come and learn a particular trade or work on their newest project, with a section of the studio specializing in one type of art.

The studio also offers classes for people of all skill levels. Jackson focuses her own teaching on animal sculptures, but added that she plans to be inclusive for instruction on all forms of art that she can find a teacher for, including bookbinding.

“It’s really just a place where people can learn about anything,” said Jackson. “ I want it to be a place where people are like, ‘I want one of these.’ And I can be like, ‘Who knows how to make this thing?’ and five people raise their hands.”

Although PSG has been located at 1834 E. Frankford Ave. for nearly a year, the inside of the warehouse is still in the final stages of being built by volunteers. The warehouse holds several classes each month. Jackson said she plans to increase that number when the building is complete.


Jackson found inspiration for the shop as someone who had loved to weld, but never had the space to do it in.

“It’s very expensive if you’re taking it to a commercial foundry, so being able to do small scale works here is nice,” said Jackson.

The workshop was funded by the Knight Arts Challenge, a competition in which applicants submit their idea for a culturally beneficial project. In return, winners receive a grant to help fund their dream.

After becoming a finalist and later winning the grant, Jackson went from making molds and casts in her bathtub to working in a centralized location.

Programs manager Jenny Welsch said her favorite part of the studio’s formation was the wide variety of people that showed interest in the classes.

“We’ve had experienced people and people who haven’t done [sculpturing] in 10 years,” said Welsch. “Then we have people who are not artists and work in an office, but live in Fishtown and just want to learn.”

As Jackson works to put the finishing touches on the workshop, she said she plans to sponsor the Kensington Kinetic Sculpture Derby in May. Her studio also has ties with the East Kensington Neighborhood Association and held a special event for First Friday.

Jackson said that she chose the location because of its proximity to a beckoning arts scene and because it was inexpensive for the amount of square footage, as compared to similar warehouses in Port Richmond and Fishtown.

Jackson said she had high hopes for the expanding art scene in Kensington, as well as the future of the Philadelphia Sculpture Gym.

“I think people are definitely excited about it,” said Jackson. “And I’m happy to be a part of it.”

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