The Ornithopter by Arthur Radebaugh
BY TODD KIMMEL The 90s in Old City were some wild years, but wild like riding a bucking bronco drunk while laughing maniacally and somehow magically staying in the saddle, not wild like driving someone into the Badlands to get straight. It was funny, and central to that neighborhood specific comedy was my company, Mambo Movers. Very Peter Pan and The Lost Boys with skateboards and guitars, directed by Mel Brooks and Wim Wenders.
Loft spaces were shockingly cheap, and we had the 2nd, 3rd and 4th floors of 312 Market for less than $500 per month. Since we weren’t actually allowed to occupy the top two floors, we built a swinging wall on wheels between the second and third floor that spanned the grand stairwell and painted it to look like the rest of the room. Funny thing was it was arts and music action like crazy, but not booze and drugged party scene since I’d given up the bottle at the end of the 80s. No one else had, but I set the tone of the place, and suddenly, sans major inebriates, the 20 somethings roaring through the place were making things happen. It was beehive grand. Eventually, we moved across the street to another huge loft, also less than $500 per, and I opened an archive and research library dedicated to the history of living on wheels and a large exhibition space. My office in the front, with Mambo way in the back, and storage for the tonnage of hunter gatherer material I endlessly and obsessively brought home before such a thing was called ‘salvage’.
Part of that mountain of museum miscellaneous was a stash of medium to large format negs, maybe 12,000 of them, that I’d bought from an old man with a huge photo studio near 22nd and Race. He was the go to when you needed a wall sized photo of Wendell Wilkie to hang at the Civic Center, and had a room that was the inside of a camera, and an enormous camera on small railroad tracks that I desperately tried to give away just as an object d’groove to the various art schools, to no avail. The building came down on top of it soon after.
This collection of commercial work sat for awhile in our Old City digs. C’mon, who has time to go through all that? Then a local kid who needed work and was determined to make some happen pointed to all the boxes and said “Hey, how ‘bout I organize all THOSE?” A few days later he emerged and threw a broad selection of large format negs onto our biggest light table, and there were works by the then forgotten mid century futurist illustrator, Arthur Radebaugh.
The exhibition that came from that, our first and only international smash hit, and where the story goes from there is brought to life by filmmaker Brett Ryan Bonowicz in his current documentary Closer Than We Think. The film is making the film circuit as well as the science and sci fi circuit around the world, garnering awards along the way including Best Documentary at Comic-Con International: San Diego. Yes, THAT Comic Con.
Via the DesignPhiladelphia folks, I’ve been invited to introduce the screenings, but since I’m interviewed and tell at length on how we brought this undeservedly obscure visual visionary back to life in the film, the intro will be short and very much about how funny that scene was and how crazily serendipitous that moment turned out to be, and what we had the surprisingly clear-headedness to do with it all. We just put the ’60s to bed with the 50th anniversary of Woodstock. C’mon kids. Time to spin YOUR yarns.