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Artist Joseph Tiberino, former owner of the Bacchanal, has died at 77

A painter and muralist, and man of faith, Tiberino was the patriarch of a family of artists. He led efforts to create a museum in memory of his late wife Ellen Powell Tiberino in Polwelton

Joe Tiberino was known for his style, his art and his faith.
Joe Tiberino was known for his style, his art and his faith.Read moreClark DeLeon

AMONG THE CLATTER of beer bottles and old acquaintances chatting, the crowd at Dirty Franks raised their drinks "to Joe!" after every speaker shared a personal memory of Joseph Tiberino on Tuesday.

Tiberino, 77, a stylish, well-known artist, died Feb. 19 after a yearlong illness, said one of his sons, Raphael.

"He was always there for me, in good times or bad," said Joe Brenman, a sculptor, who spoke at the Center City bar at 13th and Pine Streets. "To Joe!" the crowd shouted.

Joseph Tiberino, known for his hats and suits, was the patriarch of an artistic family. He and his late wife, Ellen Powell Tiberino, taught art to all four of their children; the family was called the "Wyeths of West Philadelphia."

After his wife's death in 1992, Tiberino, with his children and friends, established the Ellen Powell Tiberino Memorial Museum of Contemporary Art at 38th and Hamilton Streets.

Earlier Tuesday, after a formal memorial service and Mass at St. Agatha and St. James Catholic Church in West Philadelphia, Brenman also spoke of Joseph Tiberino. "He was a spiritual leader for all artists," Brenman said.

He said Tiberino had an ability to gather all kinds of people together.

"He was warm and welcoming," said Marie Holloman.

Much of Tiberino's work took on religious themes, such as his version of The Last Supper.

A documentary on the family, Tiberino: The Art of Life, was shown at film festivals last year.

Tiberino also once owned the Bacchanal, a bohemian bar at 13th and South Streets. From 1980 until 1992, the Bacchanal was a home for artists, writers, poets, and musicians - and bikers, some of whom were also artists. There were poetry readings and artwork of both Tiberino and his wife.

At Dirty Franks after the church service, there was an open mic for anyone who wanted to pay tribute.

The Tiberinos taught art to their children, Raphael, Latif, Ellen, and Gabriel. Three became established artists. Ellen is a ceramics and stained-glass artist; Raphael paints in a figurative impressionistic style; and Gabriel has created several works for the Mural Arts Program. He is also a comics artist and had his first art show at age 8. Latif Tiberino is a minister.

In a brief interview at Dirty Franks on Tuesday, Ellen Tiberino said she studied history in college: "I had not planned to go into the family business."

Her mother, Ellen Powell Tiberino, exhibited in Philadelphia and New York City, and worked in paint and pencil. Her subjects were often women and girls showing self-awareness. Her African American heritage and history were among her themes.

After graduating from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, she won a fellowship that allowed her to tour in Europe. Some of her works are in the permanent collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Joseph Tiberino, an Italian American, graduated from the Philadelphia College of Art, now the University of the Arts. He specialized in murals, and won grants to travel to Greece and later to Mexico to study murals.

The poet Lamont Steptoe, who read often at the Bacchanal, said many people said of the Tiberinos, "They were the Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo of Philadelphia."

Both the church and the bar were packed by people - black, white, biracial, Latino, Asian, and other ethnicities. "This was how the Tiberinos were; they embraced everyone," one friend said.

At the church, there were men in business suits and men who looked like they were living a rough life. There were women whose hair swung down their backs in long, graying natural locks and young women in crisp, corporate attire.

One man, who said his name is "Flakes," was dressed in the vest and regalia of the Wheels of Soul motorcycle club. He said one of his club's members was a sculptor who showed work at the Bacchanal.

At Dirty Franks, Eric Marshall, who grew up in Powelton as a friend of one of the Tiberino sons, said he had come up from a job in Atlanta for the memorial.

Known to most in Philadelphia as "Spanky," Marshall said he lived with the Tiberinos for about six years.

"One day, when I was about 17 or 18, Joe said he wanted to talk to me," Marshall, now 46, recalled. "He said, 'You've got to do something with your life.' He said I should go away and learn a trade."

Marshall signed up with a Job Corps center and learned to pour concrete. He's been working in the trade ever since.

Brad Pierce, co-owner of Dirty Franks, said it had been Joseph Tiberino's idea to start putting art on the bar's north wall decades ago.

Later, the Off the Wall Gallery was organized as a business to show works of area artists.

In the 1980s, when Tiberino opened the Bacchanal, Pierce said there was a group of artists, writers and musicians, who hung out at three bars in the area - the Bacchanal, Dirty Franks, and the now-closed Pine Street Beverage Room.

"It was the same group of people, and we all went from place to place. It was like a carnival," Pierce said. He said Tiberino was the heart of the group.

"Today, we're celebrating his life; we're not mourning," Pierce said. "He was a special person."

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