Archives Alchemy

Philadelphia Dumpster Divers at The National Archives

Archives Alchemy: The Art of the Dumpster DiversOpening Reception: January 10th, 5:00 – 7:30pm Artwork will be displayed from Jan. 10 – April 24, 2014. Gallery Hours listed below. Location: National Archives at Philadelphia, 900 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107-4292 (Entrance on Chestnut Street)

The Dumpster Divers of Philadelphia

The National Archives had miles of microfilm and piles of debris from moving records and renovations, doomed for the dumpster. “Call the Dumpster Divers!”  Who? The Dumpster Divers of Philadelphia are a group of over 40 found object artists, their artwork as diverse as the group and materials used. They were officially recognized with a 2012 City of Philadelphia Mayor’s Tribute for “helping to raise the consciousness of art lovers and heightened awareness of taking a creative approach to support a more sustainable city, country and world.”

This show is an unusual collaboration between two very different Philadelphia institutions and demonstrates the infinite possibilities available when we think outside the dumpster. Leslie Simon, Director, Research Services, the National Archives at Philadelphia said, “I challenged the Dumpster Divers of Philadelphia to create art out of the debris from our moves and renovations. Materials included decommissioned ladders and carts, miles of microfilm and readers, aged leather book bindings, as well as decommissioned electronics and displays, posters, photographs, and lots of red tape.”

Ann Keech, Philadelphia Dumpster Divers

Ann Keech, Archives CommemorativeArchives Alchemy: The Art of the Dumpster Divers at The National Archives

As a loosely bound collective of classically trained and self-taught artists the Dumpster Divers’ unique found object artwork has been exhibited at the American Visionary Art Museum, Noyes Museum of Art, Perkins Art Center, Please Touch Museum, the Garbage Museum and many other regional and national exhibitions. They are featured in books such as Found Object Art (Schiffer Art Book), books 1 and 2.  They established South Street galleries that have entranced more than fifty thousand people, while recycling these abandoned storefronts into viable neighborhood businesses. In the words of their founder, Neil Benson, “Trash is simply a failure of the imagination.”

Thus, in a new kind of alchemy, this partnership between the National Archives at Philadelphia and the Dumpster Divers of Philadelphia preserves, conveys and interprets stories of our pasts hidden in words and objects.

Susan Richards, Philadelphia Dumpster Divers

Susan Richards, Home Movies, Archives Alchemy: The Art of the Dumpster Divers at The National Archives

The National Archives at Philadelphia

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is the record keeper of the Federal government. About 2% of all records created are preserved permanently and are available to the public, whether exploring family history, proving a veteran’s military service, or researching an historical topic. The National Archives at Philadelphia, one of 15 research facilities across the country, holds records of federal courts and agencies operating in Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. The records range from hand written 18th century customs manifests to 20th century scientific data.

Calendar Listing:  The Dumpster Divers of Philadelphia are exhibiting their unique found object artwork created for the National Archives at Philadelphia. Opening Reception January 10th, 5:00 – 7:30pm at the National Archives, 900 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107-4292, 215-606-0101. Show runs from Jan. 10 – April 24, 2014.

Gallery Hours of Operation:

M-F:  8:30 am – 4:45 pm. Second Saturday of each month: 8 am – 4 pm. A Photo ID is required to enter Federal Buildings.

Address: National Archives at Philadelphia, 900 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107-4292, 215-606-0101


  • Leslie Simon, Director, Research Services, National Archives at Philadelphia, voice: 215-606-0101, fax: 215-606-0116, e-mail:

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7 thoughts on “Archives Alchemy

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  7. DoN Post author

    VERY IMPORTANT: The FB post and print postcard for this event lists the address as “900 Market” …that’s the address that the Archives cites on their website. But the entrance to the Archive is actually on the BACK of the building, a building dominated by the Post Office. The Archive entrance is on the CHESTNUT STREET side, between 9th and 10th. There’s a funky looking black netting encasing the entrance (because of some construction still in process.)

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