Rittenhouse condo elevates art collection

The large, open living space of Etta Winigrad’s condo in the 1706 Rittenhouse building, with art all over the walls and sitting on pedestals. Clem Murray / Staff Photographer
The large, open living space of Etta Winigrad’s condo in the 1706 Rittenhouse building, with art all over the walls and sitting on pedestals. Clem Murray / Staff Photographer
Posted: April 13, 2012

The best time of day for Etta Winigrad is sundown. From the expansive windows at her condominium, she watches the sky change colors. It’s never exactly the same, but it’s invariably spectacular.

Winigrad used to see the sky from her longtime family home in Cherry Hill, where she and her late husband, Allen Winigrad, raised four sons. More recently, she saw sunsets far from Center City when they lived as empty nesters in a ranch house in Paoli.

But in May 2010, Winigrad made the leap from country to city, moving into the elegant 1706 Rittenhouse Square Street, whose name is also its address.

“I love being higher up than I’ve ever lived but close enough to the ground to see people and street life,” says the native Philadelphian whose family company, Parkway Corp., partnered in the development and construction of the high-end high-rise.

Winigrad had some unusual ideas about the 4,200-square-foot space of her condo. A well-known ceramic sculptor whose works are on display in private and public collections, she wanted this urban home to have an open gallery feel. She wanted space enough to display her own favorite works and some of the photography of her husband. And she definitely needed a studio space within the unit, complete with a kiln for firing her work.

She got it all.

Step out of the elevator and you’re in Winigrad’s foyer (with a few exceptions, the building has one condominium per floor), with a stunning view of a curved half-wall of masks that have been collected from places all over the world.

On the other side of that wall are yet more masks, but these face a living space with wall-to-wall windows. Sculptural pieces rest on pedestals. Walls beckon with photographs, more sculptures, and shelves that hold treasures from other artists, many of them local.

Yet this is clearly a home, inviting and somehow at once calming and vibrant — a rare blend.

“I like curves because curves invite people in and enclose spaces. Harsh angles separate people from spaces,” says the artist.

Indeed, the off-white leather sectional, the handsome side chairs, and the showstopping, glass-fronted breakfront all have curves in their design. So do many of her clay sculptures, the true scene-stealers in this dramatic space. When people ask what Winigrad’s sculptural pieces mean, she flashes an enigmatic smile; she’ll leave it up to each viewer to decide — and there’s no lack of debate.

The pieces seem to mix joy and sorrow, whimsy and the fantastic, animal and human. There are several pieces that actually change moods. In Mom, a prominent piece in the living room/great room, the mother figure actually has two faces — appearing happy from the front and visibly troubled from the back.

Many of Winigrad’s figurative sculptures and portraits have been exhibited throughout the region, from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, N.J., to the Stedman Gallery at Rutgers-Camden and the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia.

Her path to ceramic sculpture wasn’t a direct one. After she graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a bachelor’s degree in applied arts, Winigrad applied for a job at an architectural firm, thinking she’d at least qualify for work as an interior designer. Instead, she was offered glorified secretarial work, which she rejected.

After a brief stint teaching art in the Philadelphia public schools, Winigrad began raising a family (she now has 10 grandchildren) — and pursuing art in whatever spare time she had. Along the way, Winigrad experimented with various forms and media, but the moment she had clay in her hands, it was like Helen Keller finding her voice. “The piece seemed to emerge by itself — I instantly loved working in three dimensions, and I’ve never looked back.”

That passion, combined with an eye for design, has created a successful contradiction: a mix of the spare and the decorative.

Along with the sculptural art, which is set against plain off-white walls and pecan flooring, there are collections that seize attention. With the masks, many from Mexico and from various American Indian tribes, there are Judaica, glassware, and crafts.

“Allen and I would buy pieces because they appealed to us, not to fill a gap in our ‘inventory,’??” explains Winigrad, who prefers the random over carefully planned and more formal collections.

In the condominium’s dining room, a fine wood table that anchors the space can easily seat 12. It was built by her husband, who was gifted in carpentry. He also created the chairs with iron backs that are in harmony with the table’s twin pedestal bases.

Several of the photographs by Winigrad’s husband are of visiting maestros in rehearsal with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Studies of Leonard Bernstein, Itzhak Perlman, and Artur Rubinstein hang prominently in a hallway; the remainder of his photographic portraits are in the Eugene Ormandy Collection at the University of Pennsylvania Library.

The state-of-the-art kitchen is used more by caterers for hosting arts and culture benefits than for Winigrad’s own cooking. “I admit it — cooking is definitely not my thing!”

But amenities are secondary.

“When I look around me at the things I cherish within these walls, and the city lit up beyond these walls, it feels like I’ve entered a whole new world,” says Winigrad. “I’ve rediscovered the city where I was born.”

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