In Myrna Bloom’s one-bedroom apartment, she hangs paintings that tell the story of her life.
Every morning, Bloom, a 79-year-old painter and sculpture artist, fights the isolation that comes with living alone in the later years of her life, with relics of her past: 157 paintings and prints.
These works include a portrait of her mother and a painting of chairs, made up of Bloom’s written thoughts.
“I like seeing my work,” Bloom said. “It’s me, it’s all part of me and that’s comforting.”
Last December, Bloom, a 1972 painting and sculpture alumna, opened her apartment at The Watermark at Logan Square to the public as a gallery by appointment through her email. Bloom lives on the 24th floor of the Watermark, an independent retirement community in Center City.
After starting with a couple gallery showings on the fourth floor of her apartment building, which was open to the public, she moved her work into her own apartment permanently earlier this year. This was partly because she wasn’t allowed to show her sculptures in the apartment building’s space, as it’s a hazard to transport and display them.
“It’s a lot of work schlepping, taking down everything and putting everything back,” Bloom said. “I thought, ‘Let me see if I can get everybody up here.’”Every wall is covered in her print, acrylic and oil works. Since then, her gallery has become a full-time gig, and many of her sculptures and paintings are available for purchase.
Although retired, she finds time to show her gallery to all those who inquire to see her work, any day of the week, as long as she’s home.
Bloom has lived in the Philadelphia area for the majority of her life, only leaving her home in Dresher, Pennsylvania, for Boca Raton, Florida, with her late second husband, Richard Marcus, in 2009. She moved back to Philadelphia in 2014.
Moving the gallery to Bloom’s apartment has made way for some serious organizing and change in her life, she said. By playing the role of the artist, museum guide and curator, Bloom must also make sure to label, organize and redo her guide every time something sells or she creates something new.
In the apartment, all of the artwork has its place, ordered by theme, importance and other qualifiers — like how the light hits the canvas.
“The light is so important,” Bloom said. “The sky is my favorite part of nature. I get to see the sunrise [out] of this window every morning which is glorious. The way the light hits everything affects it dramatically.”
Bloom said the functionality of a one-bedroom apartment that doubles as a gallery is questionable, but it’s worth it to her because most of her work is about her own personal narrative.
“Sometimes it’s very tiring…[with] running around, cleaning up, doing the dishes,” Bloom added. “But [the visitor’s] response is so wonderful, and that’s thrilling for me. I get tired, it’s tiring, but it’s very happy.”
While Bloom has received fewer inquiries to see her work since opening up her home in December, she has a steady stream of five to 10 visitors per week.
Bloom didn’t start her formal art education until later in life. After her two sons were born, she started going to painting classes in the evening and quickly saw art as a professional career option. She started studying at Tyler School of Art in 1968.
Bloom has only ever worked in the art world. For 25 years, she worked on her craft and sold books about oriental rugs.
After graduating, she spent eight years at the Barnes Foundation, an art museum then located in Merion, Pennsylvania, taking a seminar and eventually presenting a lecture on oriental rugs.
Rina Malerman, a 1953 printing, sculpture and painting alumna, met Bloom while they were both studying at the Barnes Foundation.
“Myrna was very intense, very focused, a wonderful artist and a good student,” she said.
Although the seminar Malerman and Bloom took was not collaborative, the two worked closely outside classes.
“When we visited alone, together, we would discuss the paintings and talk about what we learned,” Malerman said.
Rina and her husband, Newt Malerman, a 1953 sculpture alumnus, continue to support Bloom. Newt Malerman designed Bloom’s website and the couple bought one of Bloom’s sculptures.
Bloom pops up in her own work as much as the little pieces of her life. A massive, circular canvas hangs above her bed of an inversely colored, pixelated portrait of a younger, red-headed Bloom.
A favorite painting among Bloom’s visitors, “The East-West Room,” hangs next to her television. The painting depicts Bloom’s well-decorated living room in her former home in Dresher. Out of all her paintings, she said she most associates herself with that one.
“It took me over 600 hours to paint, so I better love it,” Bloom said. “It was two and a half years of steady work because of the details in the rug.”
The only time she really strayed from the art world was when she needed to take care of her late second husband, Marcus.
“There were years where I couldn’t do art,” Bloom said. “My husband got dementia, which took up a lot of time. But I’m back and I’m happy.
“I hope I can do this for a while, as long as my health holds up,” she added.