Fresh drinking water was a precious commodity in 19th century Philadelphia, its lack posing a real threat to the city’s working people and animals especially during sweltering summers. Horses were an especially important aspect of the city’s everyday life prior to the widespread availability of the modern-day combustion engine. Luckily for both man and beast, the burgeoning temperance, humane, and sanitary movements began to find purchase and it became en vogue for reform-minded elite to donate curbside fountains and troughs. Groups such as the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, Womens Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (WPSPCA), and the Philadelphia Fountain Society paid to install drinking fountains and water troughs and, at their height, there were over 100 dotted throughout the city. As times changed, fountains were removed or demolished, and only a small number, including the present lot, remain today as reminders of a bygone era.

New Hope Modernism

The Collection of Martin Brooks

Rago is honored to present an important collection of works by Paul Evans and Phillip Lloyd Powell from the Powell-designed home of Martin Brooks.

Born in 1931, Martin Brooks grew up with parents who were gardeners and he developed a passion for horticulture from a young age, eventually choosing it as his life’s profession. He earned a degree in ornamental horticulture at Delaware Valley Agricultural College in the 1950s and by the end of the decade had established himself as a well-respected landscape architect, designing major projects for Ed and Audrey Sable (owners of NFL Films) and award-winning landscaping for over two dozen public businesses. Brooks had a unique talent for recognizing the value of rare and unusual plants and he became particularly popular among the rich and famous crowd in The Hamptons.

The collection for Martin Brooks comprises some of the very best designs by two of the most important craftsmen working in New Hope in the 20th century.

Brooks first met Phil Powell around 1955 at the Philadelphia Convention Center, where Powell was selling DIY furniture sets. The two quickly struck up a friendship. Brooks loved Powell’s furniture, and Powell needed landscape work done, so they came to a mutually beneficial agreement. As Brooks recalls, “Phil designed my house and the furniture, and I did his gardening, mowed his lawn, and even put in a waterfall.” They became close friends and Brooks often supplied Powell with wood that he found during his landscaping jobs. It was through Powell that he met Paul Evans—“I met Paul through Phil. I always had a cigar, and Paul always had a cigarette”—with whom he struck up a similar arrangement: in exchange for landscaping, Evans designed furniture for his home. 

The collection for Martin Brooks comprises some of the very best designs by two of the most important craftsmen working in New Hope in the 20th century.