Artist In Residence: Penelope Harris

There’s a good chance that if you stop by the Gross McCleaf Gallery in Center City Philadelphia, you’ll see the work of local artist Penelope “Penny” Harris. If you can’t make it to Center City, don’t despair; Penny’s work is also part of a permanent collection at Woodmere Art Museum.

In fact, this past October, Penny was honored by Woodmere along with two other artists for their involvement in the Collections Management Committee for the museum over the past 10 years.

“We celebrated them because of their extraordinary contribution to the life of this museum and their contribution to the astonishing growth of this Museum’s collection,” said Bill R. Valerio, CEO and director of Woodmere Art Museum. “All that they bring to Woodmere we are able to share with others as a result of their involvement and their generosity.”

For Penny, Woodmere Art Museum is more than just a cultural hub for the art community in Philadelphia; it also served as a launching point for her professional painting career. Penny was born in New York to artist parents Audrey Buller and Lloyd Parsons, but never imagined having her own career as a painter. In college, she studied interior design, and it wasn’t until getting married and settling down in the Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia that Penny decided to take painting classes offered at Woodmere.

“I always knew I needed to be in the arts,” says Penny. “Taking those painting classes at Woodmere taught me so much. And the more I learned, the more knowledge I had, the more confidence I had in pursuing painting in a more serious way.”

Penny went on to enroll in a four-year program at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA), where she was awarded a prestigious traveling scholarship. She managed to continue her studies and travel, while also raising three children.

“Thanks to my husband, it wasn’t too hard to balance painting and motherhood,” says Penny. “I attended classes at PAFA during the day when my kids were at school. My family was always very supportive.”

Her paintings have grown and evolved over the years, just as her life has. She painted on and off during the years when her children were still in the house, and stopped painting altogether later in life due to life circumstances beyond her control. Eventually, she ended up back where she had started: taking drawing classes at Woodmere.

“At age 70, I decided to start all over again,” says Penny. “I signed up to take classes at Studio Incamminati in Philadelphia and spent four years there, five days a week, and even took night classes. I was fully immersed. I loved it. I learned so much there.”

Around this time, Penny took up studio space on 12th and Callowhill streets in Philadelphia. After five years, the commute became tedious, and she wanted to find space closer to her home base in Chestnut Hill. The Terraces at The Hill at Whitemarsh proved to be the perfect place for her new studio.

“I went to look at The Hill with a friend, and I ended up falling in love with it! I love the building, the location, the space, the beautiful light—and it’s all very private,” says Penny. “One of the main attractions here is having the farm to look at. It’s so beautiful. I spotted a white Snowy Owl perched on a tree the other day from my window. That would never happen in my studio space in the city!”

Penny credits her relocation to The Hill with helping her creative process tremendously.

“I feel so free. I’ve done more work in the past few months than in the past year. I hope my work shows joy and vitality—it’s all very inspiring right now.”