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Trans Heaven, Pa.; Gritty pinup; and Target famous

Plus, a commonwealth crime against candy?

Welcome to PA Local, a free weekly newsletter about the great people, amazing places, and delicious food of Pennsylvania.
Your Postmaster: Tanisha Thomas

October 13, 2023
Inside this edition: Out in New Hope, menu immortality, Gritty of the month, and Duende textiles. Thanks for checking in. It's Friday the 13th. Boo!
🏆 QUICK QUIZ: Did you stay on top of Pennsylvania news this week? Prove it with the latest edition of the Great PA News Quiz: Shapiro's climate quandary, election FAQs, and Stoneman Willie's name.
A Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.

In honor of LGBT History Month: One of the nation’s first LGBT sit-in lunch counter-demonstrations happened in Pennsylvania in 1965: True or False?

(Keep scrolling for the answer, but don't miss all the good stuff in between. Like what you read? Forward this email to a friend.)

Our five favorite Pennsylvania stories of the week.

» One series worth knowing: Five LGBTQ+ filmmakers were chosen to highlight queer stories in New Hope, per Out Magazine, including Trans Heaven, Pennsylvania, which centers on the "legendary weekend-long parties that saw hundreds of transgender women ... take over the town."

» One story worth sharing: Curious about how to get a dish named after you at your favorite local restaurant? The Inquirer (paywall) spoke to a few local spots to get the scoop on achieving menu immortality — an honor the paper learned is "rarely doled out willy-nilly" in Philly.

» One place worth remembering: Get a sneak peek at David Rullo’s Gen X Pittsburgh book with an excerpt on the shuttered Bee Hive Cafe, which boasted a colorful clientele of neo-beatniks, college students, "out-of-work ne’er-do-wells and those still trying to find their way."

» One pinup calendar worth buying: Now you can have Gritty donning your wall for a good cause. The lovable orange mascot’s calendar is on sale, Axios reports. Proceeds benefit Philadelphia Flyers charities.

» One candy worth researching: This may upset Pennsylvanians who dislike candy corn, but PennLive reported the treat was created by George Renninger in Philadelphia in 1888 under the name "chicken corn."

The top stories published by Spotlight PA this week.
» Future murky for a Pa. climate change plan

» Penn State hire piques conflict of interest concerns

» Pa. town gets help from Harrisburg after years of hardship

» A complete guide to the 2023 municipal election

» New tool helps you understand importance of judges

» Pa. Supreme Court: What it is, why it matters, and more

» Your guide to Pa.'s Supreme Court candidates

» Superior Court: What it is, why it matters, and more

» Commonwealth Court: What it is, why it matters, and more

» Your guide to Commonwealth, Superior Court candidates
Textile artist Richie Lopez is seen operating a loom-like device.
Richie Lopez at work. (Photo submitted)

Richie Lopez’s sanctuary is a room in his Mt. Airy home where sunlight beams brightly through the window. When the self-taught weaver and embroiderer moved to Philadelphia from North Carolina three years ago, he immediately knew the space would be where his visions would come to life.

The 35-year-old now runs Duende, his textile company, from the room, which serves as his studio and storage space for yarns, cloths, and other materials he works with.

PA Local spoke with Lopez during a time of new visibility. For Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15 - Oct. 15), Lopez’s designs were featured on merchandise in Target stores as part of the “Mas Que a Month” (More than a Month) campaign.

His colorful designs of flowers, sea plants, and tropical leaves adorned mugs, t-shirts, and journals.

The project was in the works for over a year, Lopez said. A friend of a friend who worked for Target asked Lopez about being a featured artist. The opportunity thrilled him.

“It was kind of surreal … I was proud, happy, and excited. The response I have gotten online tagging me in the products is super cool.”

Lopez said the job was challenging because Target didn’t specify which designs would go on the various kinds of merchandise. He drew on his hometown in Puerto Rico for inspiration.

“I went back to what it felt like living on the island and how much the jungle is a part of your life. It is literally in your backyard. You can smell it and feel it. How beautiful that is,” he said.  

Before the Puerto Rican artist threaded yarns, he was interested in spinning them. He majored in creative writing in college but dropped out the last semester of his senior year because of financial issues. During that time, he loved writing short stories, especially ones involving magical realism.

“I really enjoyed the idea of what if magic was mundane and a part of the world,” Lopez said.

A Richie Lopez original. (Photo submitted)

He continued writing after college, but during the pandemic, his relationship with fiction began to shift.

“Writing was becoming painful, taxing, and emotional. It took a lot of strength and energy to create those characters and explore those feelings. I couldn't write anything during lockdown,” he said.

So he started drawing instead, which led to stitching. He felt his creative drive come back with intensity. He began devouring YouTube videos and books about embroidery. The more he learned and weaved, he realized textiles resonated with his Puerto Rican heritage and his upbringing.

“I realized it was helping me tell stories in a different way. The way I wanted to when I was younger. It was the accessibility of having needle and thread in your home,” he said.

The hobby eventually became a business. A friend commissioned him to stitch a portrait of her dog, then posted the finished result on social media. Requests began to flow in.

Lopez was ambivalent despite the projects putting money in his pockets.

“I didn’t want to stitch people’s pets because it didn’t feel important to me,” he said. “I started exploring subject matter that resonated with me.”

His interests are in Puerto Rican folklore and the plants of the island, which he incorporates into his artwork.

His work shifted when a hotel commissioned a hand-embroidered piece depicting flowers in bloom, which he made using blue cotton threads. The project prompted him to explore different types of fiber arts, which helped him figure out his style.

A key element of his work, he learned, was color, which is featured prominently in his woven bowls and tapestries, many of which resemble landscapes.

“I need color. It makes me feel happy and grounded … That feels like a part of my culture and upbringing. You go to Puerto Rico and all the houses are painted bright colors. …  You are constantly celebrating life with color,” he said. 

Through Duende, he hopes to share that spirit of celebration with the world. The company’s name, which Merriam-Webster defines as the “power to attract through personal magnetism and charm,” channels both Hispanic folklore and Lopez’s relationship to the arts.

“It’s like when you put your keys down and then they're gone or the exhilarating feeling you get when you’re watching a play and the art speaks to you,” he said of the term. “It reminds everyone there are bits of magic in the world.”

As Hispanic Heritage Month winds down, Lopez has another busy period ahead. He’ll be leading weaving workshops with the Norris Square Neighborhood Project and be featured at the Commonweal Gallery in Philadelphia in November.

“It is super cool to be a Latino person that has found a little success in this art world,” he said of his journey, “and to have someone else resonate with it is a special part of it.”

Tanisha Thomas, newsletter writer / reporter

Our favorite quote about Pennsylvania — or from a Pennsylvanian — this week.

“To have someone have faith in you and follow you through your journey is something that I think a lot more displaced and homeless young people really do need in this world.”

Cherylanne Davis on the mentorship she’s received through volunteering at a Philadelphia shelter that pairs at-risk youth with at-risk animals

Our favorite reader-submitted photo of the week.
Riding the Ghost Town Trail (Ebensburg to Saylor Park) with Patricia S. Have a Pennsylvania photo to share? Send it to us by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
person riding through trail of leaves
The answer to this week's Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.

True. In April 1965, protestors staged a sit-in at a Dewey's restaurant in Philadelphia after reports of LGBT patrons being denied service. 

According to the Greater Encyclopedia of Philadelphia, it was the first known LGBT demonstration in the city, and one of the earliest in the U.S.

Thanks for reading PA Local. We'll see you back here next week. But first ... send us your feedback. What did you like? What didn't you like? 

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