Philadelphia-based artist Drew Leshko is creating a sculptural archive of the city’s most at-risk architecture with his detailed scale models. Working primarily in paper and wood, Leshko produces these miniatures with love and care in order to preserve the history of Philadelphia’s grittiest neighborhoods. From local dive bars to pawn shops and convenience stores, each commercial space is transformed into an artistic sculpture that is filled with nostalgia.
The artist also works on scenes of other cities with deteriorating architecture, such as New Orleans. Regardless of the specific city or state, Leshko prefers to prioritize his attention and skill on rapidly changing, or gentrifying, neighborhoods. He selects the most vulnerable pieces of architecture as his focus, as these historic storefronts will soon transition over to slick corporations that push out the individual merchants who had once defined the area. In this way, Leshko’s work is a push to ponder the history of buildings and how they inform our lives. “It’s great to have brand new, shiny buildings but let’s not completely erase our architectural heritage,” he tells My Modern Met.
Leshko’s creative process is exacting, as he uses both personal observation and photography to accurately render every detail of a building. While the scale he works on—12:1—is typical of dollhouses, Leshko’s results are wildly different. By eschewing premade items, kits, or pieces cut from computers, the artist’s sculptures are a true testament to his skill. Paper is the primary component of each miniature, which is cut to exact sizes and then painted using small brushes. A medium-sized building can take up to 120 hours of production time, which shows his dedication and commitment to getting every detail correct.
Looking at the sculptures is a lesson in urban architecture. By including accessories like wood pallets and dumpsters, Leshko reminds us of how these accessories help shape our cities. And in viewing the buildings, many of which no longer exist in real life, one ponders the development of our cities and gains a renewed vision of what is considered derelict.