As you cross over the Green Lane Bridge into Manayunk, you’ll notice a collection of unique iron and bronze sculptures displayed underneath the arches of the Manayunk Bridge. Behind them stands Artesano Iron Works & Gallery, an enormous property wrapping around the entire corner that serves two primary roles: an elegant showroom for one-of-a-kind home décor and a breathtaking, multi-purpose event space.
By Leo Dillinger
Photography by Susan Beard Design
The Evolution of Artesano
Since 2000, Artesano has resided in the neighborhood in some capacity. But in the last ten years, owners Jaime and Mildred Kaplan along with partner Ivan Roa have operated out of their current space at the block of Green Lane between Main Street and Cresson Street. Ivan has been instrumental in the evolution of the business since the Kaplans first opened Artesano on Gay Street 18 years ago.
“I find it fascinating how when you have an ambition or purpose in your life, you want to keep moving it forward. You start to see how to connect the dots.” Ivan said. That is one of the things that has made me feel so comfortable in this company.”
Jaime and Mildred Kaplan moved to America from Venezuela in 2000 to pursue their very own business. They heard about the “designing district” known as Manayunk and seized the opportunity to bring their Latin roots to the community. After finding the right location, they opened a retail space filled with custom wood furniture and sculptures.
At that time, Ivan (who is also from Venezuela) had been living in the Philadelphia area for nearly 13 years operating his own flower shop in Blue Bell. As fate would have it, Mildred and Ivan’s mothers happened to be in the same social circle back in Venezuela when they learned both of their children were operating businesses in the Philadelphia region. Mildred’s mother instantly called Ivan to ask for help on floral arrangements for Artesano’s grand opening.
Ivan visited Manayunk for the first time to meet the Kaplans and go over what sort of arrangements they were looking for. Upon arrival, he immediately became intrigued by their operation.
“When I got there, the Kaplans were really lovely,” Ivan said. “I fell in love with the concept of what they were trying to do. The furniture was reminiscent of my life. These Latin culture, Spanish-style things were packed all over the space.”
Ivan was so enamored with the couple and their space that he left his flower shop to become a partner in the Artesano company. By that point, the Kaplans had received such a positive response from their clientele in the area that Jaime was ready to expand the business. Originally from Colombia, Jaime had a lot of knowledge in the craftsmanship of iron and bronze. Within a few years, the business phased out of the custom woodworking to focus on designing unique iron and bronze pieces for clients.
By 2007, Artesano had expanded beyond the partners’ wildest dreams. They established a design and production headquarters in Bogota, Colombia to forge the custom orders, an assembly and storage center in North Philadelphia, and brand new showrooms in New York City and at 4446 Cresson Street in Manayunk.
The following year, the Kaplans decided to host their son’s bar mitzvah party inside their Manayunk showroom. As they looked around their beautiful space, the couple realized there was an opportunity to branch the company out into uncharted territory.
“Since I had first met them, the idea for an event space was always in the back of my head,” Ivan said. “After we hosted the bar mitzvah, they asked me ‘Can you help us with this?’”
Without hesitation, Ivan rose to the challenge of transforming Artesano from a décor showroom and office space by day to a sophisticated event venue by night. In the time since that bar mitzvah, Artesano slowly acquired their neighboring properties, effectively claiming the majority of the block for their very own. By 2015, the space was completely remodeled with hallways and lobbies connecting all sections of the property, making it a very complex 20,000 square foot, one-of-a-kind venue decorated with one-of-a-kind Artesano iron pieces.
Forging the Future
The Artesano name comes from the Spanish word for “artisan” or “craftsman” reflecting the idea that if you commission a piece through Artesano for your home or commercial space, you will never find another one like it in the world. From inception to delivery, Ivan said the entire iron-working process could take from 10 months up to a year. It starts with a visit to one of their showrooms, where the back-and-forth dialogue begins.
“We’re never in a rush because these pieces will last a lifetime in our clients’ homes,” Ivan said. “They take the pieces with them when they move. They’ll even pass them down for generations. Iron is something that lasts for generations so we have to make sure that we are precise.”
Once the idea is conceptualized, the graphic designers in Bogota begin sketching the blueprint for the piece. From there, they mock up 3D renderings on computers to give the buyer a sense of what the final outcome will look like. The iron, bronze, and other metals used for their projects are then forged into multiple pieces before they are shipped from Bogota to North Philadelphia for assembly and finally delivered to the client.
Artesano also performs restoration work on historic pieces for architects who are looking to refurbish an old piece or building structure that has gone through wear and tear over many years. These projects are usually more demanding, making Artesano one of very few businesses within the United States that can compete in the industry.
“Today, Artesano is one of the leaders in design of hand-forged iron works and bronzes,” Ivan said. “We have worked very hard for this since day one.”
A Hidden Gem In Manayunk
Ivan’s primary role within the company is to oversee every aspect of events within the gallery. From the moment you request a walkthrough of the venue up until your big occasion, Ivan assures every client they will be taken care of and have the convenience of strictly dealing with him alone. Though they’ve hosted many different types of events, their primary use is for weddings.
What makes Artesano different from other wedding venues is that they can accommodate up to 300 guests while hosting the entire wedding within different wings of their building. There is an on-site bridal suite, a room for the ceremony, another room for the cocktail hour, and a spacious upstairs reception area for dining and dancing. This natural event flow from room to room lets the Artesano team showcase their stunning and diverse décor, giving couples the unique wedding experience that so many crave.
“Working with brides and selling a wedding is very difficult because girls grow up with an idea in their head; a dream,” Ivan said. “When they walk in here for the first time, what you are selling is a dream for them. You hear a little bit of their conversation and ask a couple of key questions, and from that moment, you only have one opportunity to sell them their dream. To me, it’s the toughest work you can get: to sell a dream and deliver it.”
Ivan notes that in addition to ambiance and music, a memorable event also needs memorable food. Artesano’s internationally trained chef Kelly Cook can accommodate virtually any ethnic and dietary needs, but her specialties embody the character of the venue: Latin flavors with an American twist. Ivan attributes 90% of Artesano’s online reviews to Kelly’s consistent and exquisite cuisine.
One glance inside the space and you’ll realize this is Manayunk at its finest. The Artesano team meticulously designed every aspect of the building (from the lighting to the flooring to their pieces covering the walls) to give the space an aura unlike any other.
“Sometimes when I stay here for a wedding, I’m so amazed when people come to me to complement the venue,” Ivan said. “They had no idea we even existed. We call this place the Hidden Gem of Manayunk.”
For Jaime, Mildred, and Ivan, Artesano has effectively become the primary gateway into Manayunk. As neighborhood stakeholders, they’ve strived to keep their space looking fresh both inside and out. Many times, their clients have held rehearsals in the space followed by dinner in one of the local restaurants. In some cases, local clients have even held Manayunk-themed weddings with practically every aspect of the wedding having a tie to the community.
Now, the Artesano team has their eyes set on a brand new project right across the street at 114 Green Lane: The Manayunk Substation. After recently settling on the space earlier this spring, Ivan says the company is planning a second event venue. If all goes according to plan, the new space will feature a roof deck overlooking the neighborhood and even an outdoor elevator with access from Main Street to the top of the Manayunk Bridge. You can expect to see some of these plans unfold sometime this summer.
Once this project is complete, it will be nearly impossible to avoid Artesano’s impact on the Manayunk community.
“We like the idea of being the gatekeepers of Manayunk,” Ivan said. “We really love the town and we’re constantly investing and believing that Manayunk will be the place. We’ve been through all those ups and downs, but we’ve stuck to our guts and beliefs that Manayunk will be the place to go. The more I get involved with the community, the more I really start to feel it. Right now, Manayunk has that momentum. We can start to see the results.”