Local artist creates mosaic tapestry to help heal the heartache of 2020

Ellen Tiberino and Alvin Tull before Opposing Forces PHOTO A.D. Amorosi
Artists Ellen Tiberino and Alvin Tull collaborated to create “Opposing Forces.”
A.D. Amorosi

As the daughter of the late, legendary local artists Ellen Powell Tiberino and Joseph Tiberino, and one of the keepers of the family’s now-21-year-old Tiberino Museum in West Philadelphia’s Powelton Village, sculptor, mosaicist and stained-glass artist Ellen Tiberino’s life and work bears the weight of responsibility and the truisms of tradition.

Yet, as witnessed in her most recent exhibitions and a brand new collaboration with Mural Arts Philadelphia, the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services, and their Color Me Back project, Tiberino is thriving all on her own.

On Thursday, Oct. 7, at 1 p.m., below 15th and Market streets at Suburban Station, Tiberino will debut the brand, new “Opposing Forces” mural created with fellow mosaic artist Alvin Tull. Also debuting that same morning is “Lovely Day” – a painting project covering 200 columns in the SEPTA concourse along the Broad Street subway line, between City Hall and Walnut Street, with a brightly-colored vision designed by Philadelphia artist Lauren Cat West and painted by the participants in the program.

“I received the commission through Mural Arts, their Porch Light-Program and their Color Me Back project sponsored in part by the City of Philadelphia,” says Tiberino who—along with being a teaching artist through Jane Golden’s Mural Arts Philadelphia—explained that this new project pays its participants for learning and helping with art projects, as well as collaborating on in-depth workshops.

“Through these workshops that lasted through February and March (2021), I was able to form relationships with the participants and get ideas and inspiration for the mural. And the idea that Alvin and I came up with together—after a year of turbulence and distress due to racial unrest and COVID—was to create a beautiful oasis in art, of nature and tranquility in the middle of this concrete and steel subway structure, so that people could look at it and momentarily be provided escape from their problems and trauma. Here, the opposing forces of the dark and light come together in harmony.”

There are images within “Opposing Forces” of a sun setting and a moon rising as a reminder of each day’s dawn and sense of renewal. Nature has forever been a wide-ranging influence in all of Tiberino’s work, so the “Opposing Forces” vision fit wonderfully with her own mosaic artwork.

“Me and Al Tull have very different styles. His design for this painting being very abstract bright and geometric, while mine was more figurative and flowing. We came to a nice compromise of blending the two styles, or “opposing forces,” as we decided to call it.”

Tiberino’s colorful, yet subtle stained-glass portion of “Opposing Forces” is resplendent with iridescent and specialized glass, hand cut and ground before creating the mosaic. A vision such as this is individual, yes, but along with Tull, Tiberino is quick to credit its completion and installation with a team including Gail Scuderi, Maddy Scuderi and Belo and Emily Crane who run the “Color Me Back” project site in Suburban Station, one in collaboration with the Porch Light program which focuses on achieving universal health and wellness among Philadelphians, especially those dealing with mental health issues or trauma.

“I am so pleased with the collaboration and our end result,” says Tiberino.

Beyond the beneficence of her healing public artwork, several of Tiberino’s own mosaics and sculptures will soon to be on display as part of Overbrook-native and producer Will Smith’s reboot of the 90’s comedy, ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.’ This new dramatic retelling of the story of a wild West Philly youth moving to an opulent Los Angeles neighborhood for a better way of life is currently being filmed for the Peacock NBC streaming network with Philly-native and recent University of the Arts graduate Jabari Banks in the lead acting role of Will.

Several weeks ago, a Peacock production crew filmed outdoor location shoots for the ‘Fresh Prince’ update and contacted Tiberino about the use of two of her pieces, “I am a little broken,” and “Am I Blue,” in the Smith produced drama.

“I was contacted a few months ago by a set designer working on the new show for Peacock NBC, a dramatic re-imagining of the 90s sitcom,” says Tiberino. “They contracted two of my works for the first season to be displayed in the background.  I’m very excited to be part of a major network TV show and one that has its roots in my hometown of Philadelphia.”