The Crooked House: Public Art Explores The Meaning Of Home
“What do you do with an 1857 house that can’t be saved?”
It depends on who you ask. If you ask Benjamin Fehl, who moved to the area to go to Penn State and fell in love with Happy Valley, the answer is clear: You make art.
Fehl, who has a background in both art and architecture, bought an 1850s house in Milesburg at an auction in 2004. At first, his vision was to restore the little house that had belonged to Abigail Miles, the niece of the founder of Milesburg. He uncovered bits of history, from a massive stone fireplace to 150-year-old handprints in the plaster.
But as he got further into construction, it became more and more clear that restoration wasn’t possible. “It was irreparable,” he remembered. “The whole house started to lean.”
Fehl says that he didn’t want to simply tear down the house, losing one more piece of the past. Instead, he put his artist/architect skills to work, and started to brainstorm.
The result was The Crooked House at Homecoming Park project. When completed, the property will be a public art space, with a cast concrete facade of the original house and greenspace for the community to enjoy — something Fehl says that locals can be proud of.
Fehl says that beyond preservation and community, there’s a deeper meaning to The Crooked House. “The Crooked House sculpture examines the meaning of home,” he said. “The concept of home is so personal and at the same time universal. We all have homes, but our home is more than a roof over our heads and somewhere to shelter from the weather. Homes contain our history, our memories and give meaning to our days. We sell and buy houses—we move our home with us wherever we go.
Guests will be able to explore the concept of home, and what it means to them, with the experiential exhibit. “When you enter The Crooked House, there will be a space for you to be at home. You can sit in front of the fireplace and see the history of this house and this town captured in the handprints on the back of the façade. You can build a fire and hang a kettle in the fireplace. While you make yourself at home in a house with no walls and no roof—you can think about what it means to be home. You can trace your handprint onto the wall with a piece of chalk, adding your history to this opened house.”
Over the years, Fehl has dedicated his own time and resources to the project, with help from PA Council of the Arts grants. In 2020, the project was awarded a grant by The Happy Valley Adventure Bureau, and in 2021, it became a Centre Gives organization.
This year, Fehl says that big things are on the horizon for The Crooked House. After delays due to the pandemic and supply chain issues, the project is moving toward completion.
“The finish line is in sight,” Fehl said.
You can help support arts access for rural communities by funding the materials to cast The Crooked House in concrete, visit here.