Powelton Village: Green Line Cafe Owner Opened a Studio to Showcase Local Artists

Douglas Witmer is the co-founder of the coffee shop chain Green Line Cafe, with seven locations sprinkled throughout Philadelphia. However, he’s also an artist at heart and runs the Green Line Workspace art studio at 4218 Lancaster Ave. just down the street from the Powelton Village location of Green Line Cafe.

Three years ago, Witmer, with the help of business partners, bought the building that now houses the studios, hoping to open a new Green Line Cafe. After struggling to install a kitchen, they decided the building wasn’t right for a cafe and looked for other options. 

“When it became clear that it wasn’t going to work for our original cafe concept, we then decided to make our art studios,” Witmer said. “Since I’m an artist, I have my studio and we’re also renting out the other spaces. I’ve become the landlord.”

The studio has been open for use the past six months with local artists working in the space and displaying their work.

“There is a lot of need for an art studio space like this,” Witmer said. “There’s not a lot of this kind of space in West Philadelphia, and there are a lot of artists who live in West Philadelphia. We had all the spaces rented even a year ago before the building was officially done.”

“Photography is made with light,” Schlesinger said. “It requires light to take photographs. When you turn off the lights, the work in the room disappears. The light is required to be able to see this work.”

John Schlesinger is a sculptor whose light installations hang in a room on the second floor. His art is displayed in a dark space, the only light emanating from his neon-light sculptures. Bright yellow, blue, pink and purple streaks dot the walls of the gallery where Schlesinger’s works hang. 

Schlesinger’s light sculptures, with curved lines reminiscent of the parts of cells and microbes, are meant to represent viruses.

“It would be like a virus that adapts a good virus,” Schlesinger said. “It can adapt too just about any condition and any antibiotic.”

Schlesinger’s work also includes rebar from an old building that has been knocked down. He said it is meant to represent that when old life is gone and knocked down, a new thing can be built out of it.

The first floor of the studio mostly displays the paintings and sculptures of Virginia Maksymowicz and Blaise Tobia, a married couple who live in Powelton Village and were among the first people to get set up in the studio,

On a guide to the exhibition, Mary Coss, a curator at METHOD Gallery in Seattle, Washington, described Maksymowicz’s work as combining “the anatomical with the architectural, creating metaphorical and real relationship.”

One piece Maksymowicz was eager to show from her display was of multiple drawings of American flags with the caption, “This is not a flag.”

“We got the idea from an old debate when people used to discuss what constitutes the American flag and what does it represent,” Maksymowicz said. “We took the idea of an old French painting of a pipe that says ‘This is not a pipe’ in French. It’s not an actual pipe, it’s just a painting of a pipe. Just how these are not actual flags, they’re just a painting of flags.” 

The French painting Maksymowicz referred to was The Treachery of Images by surrealist painter Rene Magritte. Created in 1929, the work contains the caption “Ceci n’est pas une pipe,” which translates to: this is not a pipe.

The studio is occasionally open to the public where patrons can come and view artwork throughout the studio.

“On the Philadelphia open studio tour days, you get a real cross section of people like us,” Witmer said. “Artists, who focus on different specific types of art, but also just people who are interested in art in general. So it’s really a mixed group.”

Witmer’s specialty is abstract paintings of minimalist geometric shapes. His own workspace and display area is in a backroom on the second floor of the building. He enjoys people coming into his space on the open public days so he can talk to them about his work and genres of art.

“I can remember showing my first piece of art when I was in eighth grade,” Witmer said. “I’ve now been showing my work professionally for 25 years. I’ve always enjoyed doing it.”

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