“This is really nice. It’s meditative to ring a bell. Nice and chill.”
–Christopher Powell, Director of Exhibitions and Public Programs at Temple Contemporary
On September 4, 1980, the John B. Stetson Hat Factory in Philadelphia, PA went up in flames and burned to the ground. In the remains was the charred, 2500-pound clock tower bell that was originally installed in 1892.
Throughout the 1920s, the Stetson Bell would chime at the Hat Factory at the start of the day when it was time to work, and at the very end to send the workers off. Since the days of the accident in 1980, the bell had remained at Atwater Kent Museum. This is where Temple Contemporary’s director of exhibitions and public programs, Robert Blackson, came across the historical bell. Blackson, a teacher at Tyler School of Art and Architecture, has since salvaged the bell, had it released from storage, and brought it to the Temple Contemporary Gallery to have it installed in its very own exhibit.
Ambrose Rigging Company in Montgomreyville, hung the bell in place 6 feet and 8 inches off the ground, on gallery ceiling hooks with thick steel cable. And for the first time in 39 years the bell would ring thanks to percussionist Christopher Powell. The bell, which was manufactured by Mcshane Bell in 1889, gave off a deep, clear tone.
Powell then used a stick to make a rhythmic sound and proceeded to pull a kaleidoscope from his bag and held it up inside the bell while he tapped it with the mallet. The kaleidoscope was able to record the rhythm which Powell was then able to play back in a series of flat tones.
Amidst all the joy of the 19th century bell ringing, there was still one question remaining – what happened to the clapper?
Richard Tyler, who at the time of the fire was the Director of the Philadelphia Historical Commission, told the Philadelphia Inquirer, that a teen had offered to return the clapper for $150. Tyler didn’t take him up on the offer.
The Stetson Bell holds a lot of history for those who use to work there. Blackson’s hope is that this exhibit will bring former members of the Statson Factory, who might still live in the neighborhood, together – and to the gallery.