FringeArts: Display tells story through clothing

Two artists teamed up for an interactive workshop display at the Fringe Festival to help women share their stories.

Susan Turkel works on a craft during the workshop at The Book Trader. PATRICK CLARK | ASST. PHOTO EDITOR

When Linda Dubin Garfield first attended the Fringe Festival in 2005, she knew she had to be a part of it.

With the 2016 Fringe Festival kickoff last Friday, Garfield, a 1982 educational psychology alumna, put on her 11th show, a recurring workshop called “Clothing: Stories From the Closet.” Garfield is collaborating with Philly artist Susan DiPronio at the Book Trader in Old City.

The show focuses on how each person has a story to tell through the clothes they wear.

Participants can come to any of three workshops held throughout the month, where art supplies are provided to make and decorate a 5-by-7-inch portrait as well as write a memoir piece on the back.

The portraits can either be taken home or kept as part of the display. The display will consist of Garfield’s mixed media projects, DiPronio’s photography and the handmade portraits.

Garfield and DiPronio hope that through the freedom and simplicity of the crafts, participants can share their stories and grow from the experience.

The pair of artists encourage anyone to wander into their workshops, like Phyllis Barsky, who moved to Center City last June and saw the exhibit listed in the weekend paper under free Fringe Arts events. Barsky used the materials to recreate a dress she recently bought.

“As I’m making it I’m realizing that I’m making it in the style of a drawing that I made for my parents when I was a child,” Barsky said, recalling seeing the drawing pinned on the closet door of her mother’s bedroom everyday.

“I wasn’t expecting this,” Barsky said of the interactive workshop. “It’s getting in touch with a certain creativity that I don’t exercise all the time … and just being reflective is something that in the rush of everyday life we don’t always have.”

The artists view the display as a group activity rather than just individuals making their own projects, which creates a sense of community and fuels discussion that helps participants work through their problems.

Garfield noted the diversity of people that can come together under shared experiences.

“One of the things I love about it is … here you have six or eight or 10 strangers sit down and start doing arts and crafts and it’s so relaxing,” Garfield said. “People start to talk about … real things … and they never would have crossed paths.”

“Personally I think it’s always good to know that there are other people who have the same issues,” she added.” “It gives you some support and it’s really a great tool for helping people get to know each other. … There’s a lot of power in art.”

This year’s display is not the first time the duo have worked together, collaborating first in 2006 on a workshop titled “Invisible/Invincible Women: Portraits and stories of women of a certain age,” which won the pair an Art and Change Grant from the Leeway Foundation to continue their work.

Each year at the Fringe Festival, Garfield puts on a different themed workshop, the proceeds of which are donated to a different organization pertaining to the theme. This display benefits the New Day Drop-In Center, which provides clothing and basic needs to victims of human trafficking. The artists have managed to donate over $1,000 to the center so far, hoping to receive more donations during the workshops and throughout the festival.

“Everyone has a certain amount of baggage that we deal with,” DiPronio said. “When you use art to express that and relive it it’s very cleansing and it creates a place where you can grow out of whatever negativity you’re in.”

“If you ask kindergarten kids how many people are artists, everybody in the class raises their hand, but if you ask 12th graders how many people are artists, you’re lucky if you get one,” Garfield added. “Having people interact and do art … it touches that spark of creativity in them.”

Emily Thomas can be reached at

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