It all began with a sketch of an old house…and a question:
“What do you do with an 1857 house that can’t be saved?”
...you make art.
The Crooked House is a life-size (16.5 ft x 22.5 ft.) concrete sculpture of a historic house. It is only five feet from the sidewalk on a main street in a small Pennsylvania town—bringing a piece of contemporary art to the everyday life of the 1,231 residents. The front preserves the details of the house and the back incorporates handprints and mementoes from the 1850s and today.
- 2004—The property at 204 Market Street purchased at auction.
- 2005—The house begins to lean as layers of wallpaper and interior finishes are removed. A massive stone fireplace is discovered behind a wall. Insurmountable structural issues revealed and restoration is halted.
- 2006–2009—Dreaming, designing and drawing new ideas for the old house, Benjamin also begins a new house to live in at the back of the property.
- 2009–2011— The Crooked House accepted as Benjamin’s Masters of Fine Arts thesis project, advisory committee formed. Project presented to Milesburg Borough Council and a 3-year building permit issued. PA Council on the Arts (PCA) grant awarded and the project wins 1st place in the Penn State Graduate Student project exhibit.
- 2012—Workshop studio opened, regular studies and modeling experiments for the casting process underway. Fireplace restoration studies begin. Community open house visitors contribute their handprints and memories of home. PCA grant #2 awarded.
- 2012–2014—Interior scaffolding built to hold up structure and dismantling begins. Interior walls removed, fireplace made sound. Friend of the Crooked House donate materials, heavy machinery rentals and skilled labor. Grants from PCA (3 & 4) and the Puffin Foundation awarded. Building Permit Extension #1 issued.
- 2015—The house is dismantled with the façade preserved for casting. Fireplace underpinned for new foundation. Building Permit Extension #2 received. PCA grant #5 awarded.
- 2016—FINAL Building Permit extension issued – project must be complete in March 2017. Fireplace is righted and foundation installed, engineering design approved and site prepped. Factory space secured to house façade, molding and pouring of sculpture. PCA grant application submitted. Fundraising for sculpture materials and installation begun.
- Latest—Engineer stamped structural drawing issued and delivered to inspection agency.
it's about home.
Benjamin Fehl | Artist. Architect.
“For me, I’m very interested in ‘home,’ having traveled a lot, not really having places to call home...The questions are: What is it to be homeless? Is home a shelter over your head? What does it mean to go home? These ideas of what home means to the individual vary.”
the short story
I bought this 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 become known as “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—this house belonged to Abigail Miles, a 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's grown to include donating property to create Homecoming Park and salvaging a stone fireplace that was hidden in the walls.
the long story
This community art project grew out of my graduate studies in both architecture and art. In each program I spent a great deal of time exploring the concept of what home means to us and The Crooked House project grew out of this. The real story takes place over a decade of research, planning and hard work. The project involves not only creating a concrete casting of the front of the historic house and repointing the stone fireplace to be a freestanding hearth, but also dedicating the property around where the house stood as a public park—Homecoming Park.
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 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
We have a hard deadline of March 2017 to finish the project. Since 2011 project has been funded with several small grants, donations and discounts, use of equipment, and using my savings to pay for skilled labor and materials. Slow and cheap has meant the good use of project resources…up to now.
The finish line is in sight. We need your help to purchase the materials to cast the sculpture. You can be a patron of the arts and support arts access for rural communities by funding the materials to cast The Crooked House in concrete.