Benjamin Fehl

During my childhood, my family moved frequently. As an adult, I continued this lifestyle— traveling to new horizons and focusing my artwork on exploring cities, towns and suburbs where population and lifestyles varied greatly, such as Center City Philadelphia, cities and towns in the Czech Republic, mountaintops in Nicaragua, and a rural Pennsylvania community. While living in the town of Milesburg, PA, I narrowed my focus to just one house. This process eventually led me to graduate school in the arts and to this project.

I bought the house at auction intending to restore it. As I removed layers of wallpaper, the house started to lose its internal support and began to lean—eventually taking on enough of a tilt to earn the moniker “The Crooked House.” It only took me 6 weeks of work to realize that it just couldn’t be salvaged. I didn’t want to bulldoze this piece of Milesburg history— the house was built for Abigail Miles, niece of the town founder—but I couldn’t save it as a house. After much worrying, dreaming, and drawing, the idea to preserve the façade in concrete was born. That idea has grown to include donating property to create Homecoming Park and salvaging a stone fireplace that was hidden in the walls.

The Crooked House, approaches this study of places from a new perspective for me; one of engaging the viewer to question what is at the essence of the idea of home, involving the community in the creation process, and utilizing my background in architecture to develop a new type of community space. Inspired by the twin desires to create art and to create for the town that has been my home base for a decade, The Crooked House became a community project. It is a project for everyone, for those with a more nomadic upbringing, such as myself, and those with a more localized family history, such as my neighbors who are relatives of the original town founders.

I started on this journey back in 2006 as an artist with an idea—over the years I’ve had the good fortune of gathering a team of volunteers and community supporters, known
as Friends of The Crooked House. These friends have joined me in 1,000s of hours of work—dismantling the house, preserving the façade, repointing a 160 year-old fireplace and excavating the foundation. They’ve donated their expertise, hard work, money, materials, and equipment to bring The Crooked House to this point. Together, we are creating public art that takes the home out of the context of being a house and allows the viewer to experience the remains of this historic house as a form of art, rather than as its architectural function. Together, we are creating Milesburg’s inaugural piece of community art.

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