One of 24 kids in Germantown, now a major force in art world

by Len Lear
Posted 3/5/21

When Pauline Houston McCall told me she grew up on Ross Street in Germantown as part of “a blended family of 24 children,” I thought I'd have to have my hearing checked by a specialist. That could not be possible.

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One of 24 kids in Germantown, now a major force in art world

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When Pauline Houston McCall told me she grew up on Ross Street in Germantown as part of “a blended family of 24 children,” I thought I'd have to have my hearing checked by a specialist. That could not be possible. But when I asked again, the answer was the same.

“I am the sixth child from my mommy and daddy's first family of 12 children,” said Pauline, 56, “but my mother died when I was seven. She was 45. She was super-beautiful and vibrant, and our family mourned her deeply. My father vowed never to marry again, but he did marry again when I was 15. This added 12 more children to our big, beautiful family. But there were never more than 12 children living in our house at once since the older ones had moved out to go to college or moved into their own apartments. It was always a loud, happy affair in the house, although there was no privacy.

“My father, Alexander Houston, and his brothers and sisters went to Germantown High School. He went to many parties and gatherings in Chestnut Hill in the 1950s and '60s and would always drive us past the houses where he attended big parties in his youth … He would drop us off at Wissahickon Park. That became our summer camp. There were too many kids in the family to afford a real camp.”

When her father would take her older siblings to classes at the Art Museum of Philadelphia (PMA), then-6-year-old Pauline would protest, insisting that she would be a prominent artist one day. And she turned out to be right. She went to a private school from first to 12th grade called Faith Tabernacle School. She then trained at both Community College of Philadelphia and Moore College of Art, and she actually wound up teaching art classes at PMA from 1996 to 2001.

Over the years McCall's multi-media representational works have been exhibited at many venues in the Delaware Valley, including the African American History Museum, Painted Bride Art Center, Ellen Powell Tiberino Museum, Stedman Gallery, Camden County Cultural Gallery, etc. Her works have even hung in the U.S. Embassy Gallery in India.

But Pauline's major artistic accomplishment came about by being pushy, or in her words, “being bold right up to and just before the point where you become obnoxious!” 

In 2018 Pauline had found out about a new skyscraper being built in in New York City called 30 Hudson Yards, which was going to house the new corporate offices for Wells Fargo, one of the nation's biggest multinational

financial services companies.

Pauline knew that most new office buildings have a substantial budget for works of art, so she reached out to Linda Foggie, senior vice-president of project management for Wells Fargo, who had previously seen McCall's work in the home of a collector. McCall's work had always been representational, never abstract, and Foggie definitely wanted abstract pieces, but she said that McCall “had the potential to do what I was interested in.”

So McCall took several of her figurative paintings and repainted them as abstract pieces. “I sent them so many different pieces,” she said, “and then I went up there and met with their design team.”

McCall was hopeful that they would want her to do one piece for them but was shocked when they contacted her and said they wanted 11 sculptures and nine paintings from her. Most wound up on the 41st to the 48th floors, but one gigantic painting, “Hudson Blue,” an homage to the Hudson River, is 23 feet wide and six feet long. It is in a conference room on the 63rd floor.

“The whole thing took nine months, and then my works were installed in 2019,” said McCall. “It was so much fun to paint. I was wearing a hard hat and was running from one piece to the next. For inspiration, I returned to the Wissahickon.”

McCall even took one actual curved piece of wood from a fallen oak tree in the Wissahickon and incorporated it into one of her bigger sculptures.

In addition to her own artistic creations, McCall has taught art and music for the past 20 years. She has taught for Raising Art and Raising Music, traveling music and art education programs she co-founded with her husband, Robb McCall, that visit private and charter schools in the area, as many as 20 per week, and Puddle Jumpers, a pre-school music movement and art program.

For more information, visit paulinehoustonmccall.squarespace.com. Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com

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