A weekly series about the ordinary people who make Philadelphia extraordinary.
Nearly every day for 17 years, oil painter Mark Campana has hauled his easel from his home in South Philadelphia to Rittenhouse Square to paint scenes in and around the park.
As a result, he’s faced a bit of typecasting.
“People try to pigeonhole me as the Rittenhouse painter, but I do paint other places,” he said. “I just paint here a lot.”
Campana, 62, was born and raised in South Philly. He worked various retail and office jobs, but gave that all up 17 years ago to become a full-time artist.
“It was a fun leap, because I hated every job I ever had in the past,” he said. “I’ve never looked back.”
A self-taught painter, Campana said he recalls asking a man he saw painting in the square nearly two decades ago how to get started.
“He got a little tired of me questioning him and he said, ‘Man, just get an easel and come out,'” Campana said. “And that’s what I did.”
In the beginning, passersby were not so kind.
“When you first start, the paintings can be a little off, and people would see that and I’d get some weird comments,” he said. “You have to have a tough skin to paint outdoors.”
But as time went on, the criticisms were slowly replaced by compliments.
“I think the paintings reached a certain level now where there aren’t too many mistakes people would spot,” Campana said. “Now people say ‘It’s wonderful,’ or, ‘You’re so talented.’ It’s part of what keeps me going.”
Aside from landscapes, Campana said, he enjoys painting portraits and figures. His first commission was a pastel drawing a woman wanted of her daughter. The job paid only $50, but the note of gratitude the mother included with her payment was priceless, Campana said.
“I always say the note was better than the check,” he said. “I’ll always treasure it.”
“I was born and raised here.”
What’s your most Philly moment so far?
“Getting into the Rittenhouse Art Show was a milestone for me. That was something I really looked forward to accomplishing. It was like a big goal.”
If you had a wish for the city, what would it be?
“Just for everybody to get along better.”
Know someone in the Philadelphia area whose story deserves to be told — or someone whose story you’d like to know? Send suggestions for We the People profiles to Stephanie Farr at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 215-854-4225. Send tips via Twitter to @FarFarrAway.
Want more We the People?
- Last week’s profile: Haircuts 4 Homeless barber Brennon Jones continues to serve people who are homeless at his new barbershop, which was given to him by a stranger who was inspired by his mission.
- From Nov. 8: Street performers Eli Capella and Seraiah Nicole create music in real time that’s inspired by the people who pass them on the streets of Philadelphia.
- From Nov. 1: John Sebastian, the maintenance director at Reading Terminal Market, was a steel drummer who toured with a Caribbean orchestra and jammed with Jimmy Buffett.