At the end of October, Julia exhibited at an illustration show in Pennsylvania, which gave us a chance to explore an area neither of us had visited before, and do some sketching. We flew to Philadelphia and stayed at an airport hotel, before attending the show in Reading, a town 1.5 hrs drive from Philly. Passing by the strangely beautiful Limerick Nuclear Power Plant along the way.

Limerick Nuclear Power Plant, Pennsylvania

ILLUXCON has a nice ‘vibe’. Not a job fair for students, nor a place for media corporations to promote their IP, this show is focussed 100% on the art & artists who make it. Julia had a good show, and got to meet many online art-friends in person for the very first time. Putting faces to names/artwork admired online is one of the things that makes exhibiting at such shows enjoyable. ILLUXCON is in two parts –  during the day, THE MAIN SHOW is held in an arts centre, and in the evening, the SHOWCASE is held in a large hotel, where we stayed. Julia exhibited in the evenings, so we went back and forth between the two venues everyday. With body-clocks still on California time, we always missed the morning shuttle, and had a 20 minute walk through town. The show itself is great, but Reading felt like a once-great town that has seen better days.. When the show wrapped, we headed back to Philly, staying in a cute & quirky hotel in the Old City area, a location that can’t be beat for exploring the city where the USA was born.

Carpenter's Hall Philadelphia

Philadelphia was the nation’s original capital city, until 1800 when it moved to Washington DC. We ranged far & wide walking around the Old City area, visiting as many historic sites as possible in the time that we had. We’d assumed that it would be colder, and in fact rain was predicted in the long range forecasts. However, we arrived in a sweet spot of absolutely beautiful mild weather, with clear blue skies contrasting with the vivid fall colours out in full finery. We barely needed all the flannel and parkas that we’d brought, and the weather was perfect for strolling the cobbled streets of Old City, going from historical buildings to museums. 

Museum of the Revolution, Philadelphia

There were many sites of historic interest within easy walking distance from our hotel:

Museum of the American Revolution. This is laid out as a walkable timeline, with dioramas illustrating events from the early brewing of rebellious sentiment, to the declaration of Independence, war and nationhood.

The Liberty Bell. Yes, it is smaller than most people imagine, but my main impression of it was the heightened security we had to pass through simply to view it. Thanks a lot, nutjobs..

George Washington’s House. Nearby is the outline of what used to be the home away from home of the USA’s first President. The exhibit doesn’t shy away from the the irony that he, and other signatories of the lofty words “all men are created equal“, had slaves.

Independence Hall. Where the both the Declaration of Independence and US Constitution were debated and signed. The tour guide enjoyed the sound of his own voice so much that I wandered away to explore the details of the beautiful old Georgian building instead.

Ben Franklin museum. Near the foundations of Franklin’s House are many exhibits & demonstrations exploring Franklin’s life as a printer, scientist, statesman, and founder of the US postal service.

Mere blocks from our hotel was the beautiful old Christ Church. It isn’t very big, almost a chapel, but is very beautiful inside. 

Christ Church Philadelphia

One quirk of the area where we stayed was that restaurants & bars closed surprisingly early, and many places weren’t open at all on Mondays (which was when we arrived). However, we ate well over the course of our stay, and (among other things) had several of the famous Philly Cheese Steak sandwiches. I was surprised to discover that the variant made with Cheese Whiz (which I normally abhor) was actually pretty damn tasty. It liquifies on contact with the hot meat and becomes a permeating sauce, whereas the ingredients stay seperate in Cheese Steaks made with real cheese (also delicious). We had a hard time finishing either version of these huge & tasty sandwiches (they are definitely best when shared) and I’m still digesting them a week later.

Christ Church burial ground, Philadelphia

The site where William Penn (the founder of Pennsylvania) first arrived in 1682, is now a waterfront recreation area called Penn’s Landing. I’d heard several rave reports of this area as a ‘must see‘ attraction in Philly. As it was not far from our hotel, it seemed worth a visit, but was strangely empty when we visited. Lots of closed food stalls and the Seaport Museum was a deserted ghost town. Weird. Maybe there was fun area somewhere beyond where we’d explored? But after a day looking at some old 18th century ships moored at the pier, and exploring a WW2 submarine, we walked back to our hotel wondering what all the fuss was about..

USS Olympia

Certain areas of Old City reminded me of neighbourhoods in European cities, such as Paris or London. The streets in Old City are narrow and cobbled, and many of the historic buildings are narrow too. We rarely crossed a threshold that didn’t have steps up, or narrow staircases within (so doddery old shuffle-pants got plenty of physical therapy). Elfreth Alley is the oldest continually inhabited street in the USA, and is still lived in today. Unlike most of the preserved historical buildings in Philadelphia, nobody famous ever lived there. It was simply an alley inhabited by working class craftsmen & craftswomen. Two of the houses are preserved as they were in the 1700s, as a museum of the way average citizens lived..

Elfreth Alley Philadelphia

On our last day in town, as an extra bonus, I had a reunion lunch with an ex-colleague from Colossal Pictures who now lives in Philly, Keun Hicks. Julia & I met her for a tasty lunch. It was a great end to a lovely trip. Later, that evening, having dinner at a sidewalk cafe near the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, Julia & I agreed that we’d enjoyed our visit to this great city with so much history. We’d like to go back. Despite our best efforts, we barely scratched the surface of all the things to see & do there.

8 thoughts on “PENCILvania”

  1. Nichola and I visited Philadelphia for the first time in September and loved it. We as well want to go back as we were only there one full day and barely scratched the surface. You have added some more to my in the mind agenda. Great pictures as well!

    • Hey Eric, great to hear from you!
      Yeah, I knew next to nothing about Philadelphia either. “Rocky” and “the Philly sound” and that’s about it. So it was a revelation.
      Thanks for commenting!

  2. Dear Mr Baker,
    We would be honoured if you will allow us to use your exemplary account of Philadelphia (The City that loves you back) in our next edition of LP.
    Yours faithfully,
    The dudes from Lonely Planet

  3. Even though I’ve been here approximately 5 months, I think you know more about Philadelphia and Pennsylvania than I do! I have yet to truly roam around aside from the boroughs I’m closest to. Lovely writing as usual! Please come back sooner than later!

  4. I’ve never been there, but have a friend who lived in Philly for a bit. He loved it.

    I love the sketches. Sketches in general are one of my favorite things, and travel sketches and paintings always seem to have little sparks in them that I love. Of course, I think you already know I hold your art in high regard…and not just because you drew one of my all time single favorite panels! (The kid falling off the bunk bed in the ship entry.)

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Thank you so much. Drawing nowadays is never easy, and I’m constantly aware of what I can no longer do, but I still get a lot out of it just the same. So your words of appreciation mean a lot to me.

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