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Inspired by Philadelphia’s Rich History

Written by in #ClassicNeenah

Mummer’s the Word in Philadelphia

Sarah Jacoby is an illustrator and designer who earned her M.F.A at MICA. Though she’s lived in many places, growing up in and around Philadelphia gave her an appreciation for the city and its history. Particularly interested in the history of the Mummers, and the art of hand cut paper, she saw an opportunity to create her very own Mummers mask for the Future Classic promotion.

What inspired you to use a Mummers mask to represent Philadelphia?

Historically, Mummers are groups of people that disguise themselves in costume and visit houses to sing, jest, and all that during the holidays. It comes from Ireland and Scandinavian countries; it manifests in Philadelphia on New Year’s Day, where there’s a giant parade and competition in the middle of the city. Different factions of Mummers, coming from their own “clubhouses,” compete with choreographed routines and crazy costumes. As I understand it, belonging to a clubhouse is a heritage thing — it’s passed down through the family. The Mummers encapsulate what I love about Philadelphia: its inherent strangeness, irreverence, and history.

Describe the process of creating this piece. How did you approach the concept phase?

I wanted to do something with the Mummers because it’s such a rich subject. Neenah Classic seemed like great building paper, so I imagined I could make a really solid structure. The initial mask design was small, but Neenah sent me a lot of really beautiful paper. I was so inspired by the material that I went nuts. I asked myself, “What would my Mummer Clubhouse theme be?” I did more research into other Mummer and folk traditions, and fell in love with images of the Bulgarian Kukeri festival. Look it up; it’s amazing.

What were the challenges of creating this mask from paper?

The paper stock is thick, so it was difficult to make small and specific shapes. I couldn’t cut out anything elaborate, so I had to stick with simple shapes and make patterns with them. My natural inclination is to make things that are complex and small — I couldn’t do that here.

Did you learn anything new along the way, about working with paper or about your chosen technique?

I was happy that I chose to work with the paper directly, rather than paint or print something on it. I initially asked for a lot of white and eggshell paper and a little bit of color. I had thought about illustrating designs on the paper and making a mask from that, but when I saw how vibrant the colors were, I knew that that was going to be where the color was going to live. Nothing I could draw or paint would be as good. So, I learned, as I usually do, to adapt to the materials that were given to me.

Have you experienced a Mummers parade in person?

You can’t avoid the parade — the whole city goes to it. When you get to Broad Street, there’s an explosion of people, sound, and color. But the best part happens later, with an entirely separate celebration that happens on Two Street. The parade loop comes back around and goes up and down the street for hours. It’s a bit like Mardi Gras — very carnival-esque — and I’ve never figured out the legality of it all.


Give us your perfect “24 hours in Philadelphia” itinerary.

In the morning, I’d walk over to Grindcore House for some coffee, then bike the 11-mile trip around Kelly Drive. I’d grab lunch at Pizza Brain, then spend the afternoon soaking up visual culture at The Barnes, The Rosenbach, The ICA, and The Philadelphia Art Museum. (Don’t forget the Perelman Building!) If there’s time, I’d go to the Mutter Museum to see all the medical oddities there. I’d recover in Rittenhouse Square; then meet a few friends for a fancy dinner at Vedge, the best upscale vegan place. At that point, it would be time to see if there are good bands playing — possibly at Johnny Brendas, Boot ‘n Saddle, at a house somewhere in West Philly, or in a warehouse up in North Philly. Biking home, I’d stop by the soft pretzel place on 8th and Washington to get a pretzel when they open at midnight. Only 25 cents!


Perleman Building

Describe the creative scene there. What do you love about it? What would you change, if you could?

Philly is a great place to start projects; it’s a breeding ground for creativity. It’s not as expensive, so the stakes are lower for risk-taking. There are art collective mainstays like Space 1026, but then there’s usually a new gallery growing up in the Vox Building or in North Philly. There’s a lot of young innovation from places like Tyler and Uarts. It’s very raw, and that’s what I love; it’s easier to see where there is substance and where dazzle camouflage exists. I wish people didn’t feel so compelled to move away, but it’s inevitable when there are thousands of creative jobs available in New York and not that many available in Philly. So, get more art jobs, Philly! Maybe I’ll start my own mask-making business. Watch out.


twitter: @jacobee

instagram: @sjacobee