First Friday on Frankford

A crowd of people at 3rd Ward on First Friday stand before artist Emily Erb’s “Garden of Earthly Delights.” SAM NEWHOUSE / STAR PHOTO

Frankford Avenue has become known as one of the places to be on First Fridays — a night when galleries across the city open up to show off new art exhibits, in a tradition that is unique to Philadelphia.

But as Kensington and Fishtown grow in reputation as artistic neighborhoods, they are becoming more and more the home of the best, most interesting and most ambitious art shows in the city.

“First Fridays here are absolutely great,” said Ted Mosher, an artist at Highwire Gallery in Fishtown — even though heavy rainfall last Friday had chased most pedestrian foot-traffic off Frankford Avenue and his gallery was basically empty on the night of its fundraiser.

“This was our big fundraiser, we wanted to sell cheap art off the wall, we got a keg from Philadelphia Brewing Company, we got Pizza Brain pizza — we had plans, dude,” Mosher said.

Whimsical line drawings, abstract oil paintings, and a plush stuffed eyeball were among the pieces for sale at Highwire for unusually low prices, in the $10 to $40 range.

“A night like this, where the rain essentially cancels the event … even with that, this First Friday, we’re still making money on it,” Mosher said.

Highwire Gallery, which is cooperatively owned by member-artists, was formerly located in Old City on Second Street. Since moving to Frankford Avenue seven years ago, Mosher said that the gallery has really taken off.

“This place, with the storefront onto Frankford Avenue and the engagement of the local community, has been the most enjoyable and productive for us as artists,” Mosher said. “Because we’re right here on the street, we know the local community of artists, we’re integrated into that community.”

Staff at Highwire Gallery said they would be hoping for better weather at the gallery’s picnic on June 22 from 12 to 3 p.m., when staff will draw raffle winners.

A few blocks north on Frankford Avenue at Fjord Gallery in Kensington, which is a relatively new gallery and has been open for just a year, another crowd of art-viewers were investigating the meaning of the gallery’s new show of abstract and experimental paintings, entitled “A country road. A tree. Evening,” which was curated by Sean Robert FitzGerald.

“We very specifically kind of coordinate our shows for First Fridays. It seems to bring around quite a large variety of people,” FitzGerald said. “Several artists who knew each other primarily from studying at Rhode Island School of Design opened Fjord. After living in Fishtown for a few years, they were looking for a group studio and found the Fjord building for sale for cheap — so they decided to start holding their own shows, something that wouldn’t be possible for young artists in Old City.

“I think there’s a younger and more experimental crowd up here,” FitzGerald said. “For us to have our gallery in Old City would be not only cost-prohibitive, it would also attract a different crowd, that may or may not be as interested in very abstract and very contemporary works.”

A few blocks away from Frankford Avenue, but alive with the same creative spirit, is 3rd Ward at Fourth and Thompson streets, which opened all three floors on First Friday.

Being far larger than most galleries, 3rd Ward is currently holding one of the most ambitious shows Fishtown or Kensington has seen in a while — more than 100 pieces by Emily Erb, Marcella Marsella and Sabrina Small, in a show entitled “Woman Inherits the Earth.”

“I just feel so fortunate to be able to show a lot of the large pieces that I’ve made in the last five years,” said Erb, whose work-intensive silk paintings include pieces that are 20 to 60 feet wide and can rarely be shown in galleries.

“A professor of mine came in, she’s 70 years old, she’s been painting her whole life. She said she hadn’t been to a show that was this ambitious in a long time. And I thought that was the best compliment I’d ever gotten,” Erb said. ••

Visit frankfordavearts.org to learn more about the First Friday events in your neighborhood.