Philadelphia artist Joseph Tiberino passed away on Friday, February 19, 2016 in his Powelton Village compound, an oasis of artistry nestled in West Philadelphia. He was 77.
The local art legend was born to Ernest and Cecelia Tiberino on July 8, 1938, in the Kensington area of Philadelphia.
After attending Saint Boniface Parish School and Saint Joseph’s Prep, Tiberino entered the Philadelphia Museum School of Art (now the University of the Arts), where he cultivated a passion for mural painting, studying the works of Michelangelo to Diego Rivera.
On a fateful evening in the early 1960s, Joe’s artistic fervor further prospered when he met fellow artist Ellen Powell at her going away party after finishing her studies at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.
“My father decided that night that was the woman he wanted to spend his life with,” said the couple’s eldest son, artist Raphael Tiberino.
After marrying in May of 1967, the creative couple settled in a single home in Powelton Village before acquiring three more houses that eventually became the Tiberino compound, encompassing a garden of murals, mosaics and their four children.
Despite Powell suffering an illness, Raphael recalls his parents’ efforts in creating an “idyllic and artistic lifestyle.”
The oldest son also recollects a childhood ceaselessly immersed in raw crafts. As Ellen painted all night with Joe taking over the studio all day, technique was passed down to the next Tiberino generation.
“We had a full art class all the time, which was much more superior than art schools,” Raphael said. “The real art school came from mom and dad. … We worked alongside him and that continued when we were older.”
Joe’s craft was not confined by the parameters of his compound. For half a century, his work as a muralist, easel painter, print maker and filmmaker ensued his stature as a protest painter in Philadelphia.
As Joe instituted his artwork throughout the city, obtaining such recognitions as the Abbey Austin Fellowship, he concurrently built a venue for fellow Philadelphian artists. From 1980-1992, he was proprietor of the Bacchanal, a cultural hub showcasing the work of artists from painters to playwrights.
“(The Baccahnal) was such an artistic mecca,” Raphael said. “It was dad’s artistic playground.”
In October 1999, Joe transformed the family compound into the Ellen Powell Tiberino Memorial Museum, following her passing in February of 1992 after a 14-year battle with cancer.
Joe referred to this courtyard of canvases as a “Living Museum,” where patrons could observe live painting and drawing on a large or small scale.
The Tiberino children will continue the living museum in the wake of Joe’s passing.
“Keeping what he started is important,” Raphael said. “Our love of art is keeping his and mom’s legacy alive.”
Joe is survived by his children Raphael, Latif, Ellen and Gabriel, along with four grandchildren, a great grandson and a host of many friends.
Memorial services for Joseph Tiberino will be held on March 8th at 11 a.m. at St. Agatha-St James Catholic Church, 38th and Chestnut streets.
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