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Four Elements

Ellen Powell Tiberino

by Synatra Smith, Ph.D. on 2021-07-01T12:00:00-04:00 in Black Artists, Archives | Comments

Ellen Powell Tiberino was an African American artist and graduate of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA). She was born in 1937 and grew up in the Mantua neighborhood of Philadelphia. Influenced by an Afrocentric aesthetic, she worked with her husband, Joseph Tiberino, in drawing, oil and watercolor, mixed-media murals, and mosaics[1]. Tiberino was the first Black woman to win PAFA’s Cresson Traveling Scholarship in 1959, which allowed her to travel throughout Europe. 

In 1986 Tiberino and her husband exhibited a relief sculpture titled The MOVE Confrontation at the Temple University School of Law. The work depicted the 1985 police bombing of a Philadelphia residential home occupied by the Black separatist group MOVE, killing six members and five of their children, and destroying sixty-five houses in the neighborhood. The sculpture sparked a great deal of controversy for its focus on the responsibility of Philadelphia Mayor W. Wilson Goode for the deaths: “Its blazing colors show three people engulfed in flames, while hovering above are the faces of Death, Goode and horrified spectators.”[2] Tiberino responded to the controversy, stating, “I paint life, and life is not always beautiful.”[3]

After she died from cancer in 1992, the family—which includes her children Ellen, Gabe, Latif, and Raphael, who are also artists—launched the Ellen Powell Tiberino Memorial Museum in the Powelton neighborhood of Philadelphia.[4]


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[1] African American Museum in Philadelphia 2013; DiPaolo n.d.

[2] Associated Press 1986; DiPaolo n.d.

[3] Associated Press 1986. 

[4] African American Museum in Philadelphia 2013; DiPaolo n.d.



African American Museum in Philadelphia. 2013. “The African American Museum in Philadelphia Presents ‘The Unflinching Eye: Works of the Tiberino Family Circle.’” PR Newswire. Accessed April 7, 2021.


“Artwork Showing Fiery Deaths Causes Controversy at Temple University.” February 18, 1986. Associated Press. Accessed April 7, 2021.

DiPaolo, Joanna. n.d. “Ellen Powell Tiberino: Visual Artist.” The Ellen Powell Tiberino Memorial Museum. Accessed April 7, 2021.

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