‘The performance of thoughtful melancholy’: Glen Foerd estate presents its resident garden hermit

The historic Glen Foerd mansion and estate in Northeast Philadelphia once had everything its residents might need for elegant living: a water tower for pressurized plumbing, a gashouse for energy, and a chapel for worship.

There was an art gallery upstairs, a bar downstairs with wine cellars, and a marble-lined family crypt outside. The servants lived onsite in rooms above the kitchen.

But it never had its own hermit. Until now.

The historic Glen Foerd mansion and grounds is home to a hermit, portrayed by artist in residence Alex Tatarsky. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Alexandra Tatarsky is currently an artist-in-residence at Glen Foerd, which is now a public historic site. This weekend they will be acting as a living ornamental hermit.

Tatarsky, a clown by training, will guide visitors on a short walk through the grounds as part of a fluid, partially improvised performance, “Gnome Core,” a quasi-comic rant sliding in and out of the character of a sullen hired gnome.

“His name is Bone Legend Worm Wizard,” Tatarsky said. “He is really open to ideas of transcendence and ways that we can learn from the underground mycelial networks of the earth. But he’s also a bit skeptical and a bit grumpy about his situation in life.”

Artist in residence Alex Tatarsky strikes a contemplative pose in the stone water tower at Glen Foerd. Their perfomance uses the historic grounds to bring her audience to the 18th century, when wealthy Europeans hired ornamental hermits to live in their gardens. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The modern gnome — the whimsical cast-stone statuary you find in garden shops — is believed to have its origins in the real-life garden hermit. A fad amongst wealthy British and European estates in the 18th and 19th centuries, landowners with palatial gardens would hire individuals to live on their property as a form of living decoration.

  • August 4, 2023
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