Husband's sculpture inspires first-time Hill author, 85

by Len Lear
Posted 3/10/21

Joe and Kathy Winter lived in three different Chestnut Hill houses over a period of 60 years, but they still described themselves as “newcomers.”

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Husband's sculpture inspires first-time Hill author, 85

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Joe and Kathy Winter lived in three different Chestnut Hill houses over a period of 60 years, but they still described themselves as “newcomers.” They lived at 20 W. Willow Grove Ave. (“We bought it for $7,500 and sold it 10 years later for $24,000. It recently sold for $409,000”), then at 210 W. Highland Ave. for 13 years and since 1984 in a converted carriage house/art studio on Meade Street.

The Winter Art Studio is a treasure trove for those who love representational art. It is filled with Kathy's lovely paintings and Joe's tiles decorated with colorful birds as well as busts, bronze athletes in action and animal sculptures — bears, birds, octopus, springbok, llama-like vicuna, guinea pig, kangaroo, etc.

“We moved to Chestnut Hill so our kids could go to Our Mother of Consolation, which is a wonderful school,” said Kathy, 85. “This neighborhood has been such a gift. We have made so many friends here. I just can't say enough about this community.”

Sadly, last July, after 64 years of marriage, Joe died of cancer at age 85 after a distinguished 50-year career as a sculptor. From 1967 to 1983, Joe was a sculptor-engraver for the U.S. Mint who had several of his designs chosen for medals during the American Revolution Bicentennial and Marine Corps Bicentennial.

But Joe's most beloved work was created in 1966, the life-sized “Family of Bears” in a pocket park, “Three Bears Park,” at 3rd and Delancey Streets in Society Hill (formerly known as the Delancey Street Park). For 55 years children have been climbing on the bears and being photographed having fun on the sculpture, which won a design award from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Joe, an Ohio native, also created sculptures for churches and other cities, and his works were exhibited at Woodmere Art Museum, among others. The iconic bear sculpture “is a beloved work of art, and it has brought joy to generations of Philadelphians,” said William R. Valerio, director and CEO of Woodmere, after Joe's death.

But for three years Kathy (nee McKenna), a talented painter and Williamsburg, Virginia, native who met Joe in 1953 when both were students at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in a collaborative program with the University of Pennsylvania, had wanted to produce a children's book based on the Three Bears sculpture.

“Since Joe was a sculptor and I'm a painter, we complemented each other very well,” said Kathy. “If we had both been painters or both been sculptors, it would not have worked out so well. There would have been too much competition.”

After Joe's death, Kathy was strongly motivated to bring the book to fruition to honor Joe's memory. Then she saw an article in the Local about a local graphic artist, Bethany DiLello, whose specialty is working with authors to produce eye-catching self-published books. So Kathy contacted DiLello.

“I had contacted writers about helping with the book, but they all said no,” recalled Kathy, “so I finally decided to write it myself. And Bethany was so wonderful. I cannot say enough about her. I recommend her to everyone. I am delighted with the book we produced.”

The self-published children's book, “How the Bears Got to the Park,” is absolutely charming and delightful. The whimsical illustrations, which had been created by Joe, perfectly bring to life Kathy's story about a family of bears who leave their home in the woods to come to Philadelphia because “Little Bear wanted friends to play with.”

The bear family also visits iconic Philly attractions like the Liberty Bell, Betsy Ross House, Independence Hall, etc., and there is a section in the back filled with black and white drawings of the bears that kids can color in. Kathy is hoping that these tourist sites and the downtown tourist center will want to carry her book in their gift shops.

Kathy, who specializes in portraiture but also has done landscapes, flowers, still life in oil, pastel, watercolors and stained glass (she designed the stained glass windows for the chapel at Shore Memorial Hospital in Somers Point, NJ), has three children who all live in or near Philadelphia — Kathy, 62; Joe, Jr., 60, and Genienne, 58.

For more information, visit winterartstudio.com or email sjwinter00@comcast.net. The book can be purchased for $12 on amazon.com. Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com

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