Studio Incamminati enjoying new setting at BOK Building

Student Annalisa Shanks takes part in a drawing exercise at Studio Incamminati on the seventh floor of the Bok Building in South Philadelphia. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

Studio Incamminati is being seen in a different light — Some might even describe it as the perfect light.

Now occupying the seventh floor of the historic Bok Building at 9th and Mifflin streets, Studio Incamminati gets the unobstructed golden sunlight peeking through all of its windows to enhance artistic initiatives. It’s one of the main reasons the art school moved to its new home in South Philadelphia after 18 years at its former establishment at 12th and Callowhill, which is being converted into condominiums.

“We teach contemporary realist art, which doesn’t get taught in a lot of places,” said Studio Incamminati president James Savoie. “That’s all we do here. So we were really focused on light being such a big deal here. I think if you went to other art schools, you wouldn’t find that. Light is really important.”

Studio Incamminati is a private school for contemporary realist art, which was founded by the late Nelson Shanks in 2002 and is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design.

Once the light brought Incamminati into the Bok Building in March, the renovations began.

The exterior of the Bok Building on 9th Street in South Philadelphia. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

It was built in 1936 as the Edward W. Bok Technical High School to accommodate 3,000 students for the School District of Philadelphia. In 2013, the massive building closed to students and was redeveloped into a hub of more than 100 businesses, with the seventh floor originally purposed for storage space for furniture.

The lower levels are filled with businesses, artists, makers, entrepreneurs and nonprofits. It includes fashion designers, filmmakers, glassblowers, architect practices, woodworkers and even a wholesale bakery. Bok is also home to a daycare, hair salon, tattoo parlor, coffee shop, butcher shop and rooftop bar.

The limestone-trimmed yellow brick remains in the hallways, but an illustrious art studio now thrives on the top floor with several compartments for drawing, sculpting and painting. Walls were eliminated to open up double-sized classrooms to accommodate the teachings, which often include live models. And a state-of-the-art skylight system has been installed to capture an abundance of natural light.

Six months later, the chaos of the move has settled down and it feels like home for Studio Incamminati.

Sculptures of human hands. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

“It’s calming down now so we are at the point of just letting the instructors do what they do,” said Daniel Mahlman, operations manager and graduate of the program. “We just wanted to get it to the point where all they had to think about is teaching the artwork.”

Modeled on the traditional Italian accademia and French atelier, Studio Incamminati provides programs to produce highly skilled artists who can call upon their abilities to create art with depth of purpose.

Much of the focus is on the human form, which is challenging to duplicate, especially if conditions are not ideal.

Student Nikki Harris takes part in a drawing exercise at Studio Incamminati on the seventh floor of the Bok Building in South Philadelphia. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

“When you’re drawing the human figure, you’re drawing something that is moving and changing very fast,” said instructor Rachel Pierson, who was teaching a first-year class. “This is more of a slow, careful study of the way light falls on form. Light is a physical thing and it behaves the same way all the time. This is a way to slow down and focus and study the behavior of light.”

About 45 students, ranging from recent high school graduates to senior citizens, currently use the space to learn the fine arts. The hope is that more will follow with the additional room in the new setting.

Sculptures of human hands. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

“We just launched an articulation agreement with Rowan University, so we’re hoping that will grow our student body,” Savoie said. “It’ll change the demographic a bit and shift it a bit younger, although I hope not too much. I do like the intergenerational quality, as one of our older students is 79. It’s great to see that kind of chemistry. The older students are really committed to the four-year program.”

A Bachelor of Fine Arts program is offered as well as an Advanced Fine Arts Program, workshops, continuing education and open studios.

Studio Incamminati just announced its fall in-person art classes, starting in early October. Classes range from oil painting, watercolor, Renaissance principles and working with metalpoint. All levels are welcome. Find information at