Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Bob’s Art Blog: A Year in Art

Part I – January through June: Artists, Exhibits, 3rd in the Burgs and Social Relevance

The New Year started “on the sunny side of the street—grabbed our hats and left our worries on the doorstep.” We headed to the first art shows of the season on Jan. 10 to the Wild West (Shore).

The year began with art activist Carrie Breschi at Carlisle Art Learning Center (CALC), who kicked off 2020 with another healthy dose of social relevance in her merry-go-round of “Untamed Color,” an amalgam of art addressing seasonal affective disorder (pictured). With colorful sunburst stations set up for kids of all ages to create eye-popping art, Breschi enlisted a company of color consultants featuring Thomas Oakes, Cathy Stone, Deb Allen, Aron Rook and Carol Reed, who converged in the upstairs gallery at CALC. So bright and eclectic, you needed sunglasses indoors.

Meanwhile, miles away in Mechanicsburg, Metropolis Collective held an after-party all night long featuring 20 artists who held fast to the notion there are no rules in art. Under the watchful eyes of owner Richard Reilly (aka Rock-it Man) and Hannah Dobek, gallery director and artist in residence, Metropolis mapped out mayhem in the gallery as the Huckle Buckle Boys, Zack Rudy and Garrick Dorsett unleashed their brand of outsider art, taking no prisoners.

January’s 3rd in the Burg featured two art exhibits that started with an “S,” Scottish landscapes at St. Stephens Cathedral’s Riverfront Gallery from the Art Association of Harrisburg’s CEO Carrie Wissler-Thomas, featuring sacred sites rendered in rich oils that lined the cloister gallery walls. The lure and lore of Scotland came alive under her ethereal brushstrokes.

“Kildalton Cross Sheep, Islay” by Carrie Wissler-Thomas

At the Susquehanna Art Museum, a radical “Shift” took place in the lobby gallery. The technology-tempered paintings from Tiffany Calvert and Alex Kanevsky created a new paradigm. Prominently featured in American Art Collector magazine, the exhibit brought national recognition to SAM, as well as to the artists’ works. To top that off, SAM at the Marty celebrated its fifth birthday in Midtown on Jan. 23 with a party and grand announcement of reaching its $3 million goal for future development and programs, due to the successful “Bridge to the Future” capital campaign.

With February designated for lovers and Mardi Gras partygoers, a 3rd in the Burg-timed event at the Art Association of Harrisburg featured a dual show, “Hear Me?”, an art exhibit featuring deaf artists from around the state downstairs, while upstairs, Charlie “Bootleg” Feathers and Reina “R76” Wooden took over the gallery rooms with a surprise behind every door. As the deaf artists created the connective tissue of disability disavowing any impact on art, likewise upstairs the dynamic duo left no doubt their art was aimed at social relevance too, addressing mental health awareness (Feathers) and the Me Too Movement (Wooden), in an artistic avalanche (pictured, “Me Too Mannequin”). The language of art is universal, be it spoken or signed.

The road trip to spring took us to the Milton Art Bank, where else but in Milton, Pa.? Their “Black/White” exhibit stole the show with a who’s who of A-list artists, past and present, sharing their diverse works across all mediums in black, white and even gray. Museum founder and curator Brice Brown of New York, created a visual tour-de-force for the art-loving public to appreciate in a six-month run. With the pandemic closing down businesses by mid-March, the edition of 3rd in the Burg became my take on “Outsider Art” scenes of nature’s art with a glorious sunset on the Susquehanna River, Italian Lake and an early peek at the eighth edition of “Art in the Wild,” which filled the void for the first look at springtime.

Spring’s return brought sad news when the art community lost local poet, Joe O’Connor, who succumbed to the coronavirus on April 13. One of Harrisburg and Camp Hill’s favorite sons, Joe left behind indelible words for all of us to live by in these uncertain times. Joe is sorely missed. The 50th Earth Day celebration took place behind shuttered doors at St. Stephens Riverfront Gallery, which featured the fine oil paintings of John McNulty, whose studies on the trees of the forest and glens were masterfully created with their inner-play of light and shadow. It is no wonder that McNulty is one of the area’s Seven Lively Artists.

“Conversation” by John McNulty

Meanwhile, at Elementary Coffee Co.’s temporarily closed North Street location, artist Katelyn Buchan achieved her “own personal Nirvana” with an introspective look at what drives her art and fuels her passion, an overlying principal of a deep and abiding love for nature. And to finish off the Earth Day celebration in neighborly fashion, our friends and artists Brandi and daughters Madden and Kendall with our very own granddaughter, Kiwi, created rainbows and stars chalked on the cul-de-sac for all to appreciate, lifting quarantine spirits.

The annual rite of spring known as “Art in the Wild” got moved back from its usual April opening to mid-May due to the pandemic. Established artists who create for the love of art pushed new entrants to grand heights. At the vanguard of installations were previous back-to-back winners Beau and Jana MacGinnes, as well as Eve Gurbacki, who inspired newcomers Suzanne Pagel and Jill Lippert, among others, in creating landscaping legerdemain (pictured, “Kindred Spirits” by Eve Gurbacki).

When June rolled around, I sought out the ancient art of rug-making. Our journey took us to Modern Rugs on the 1400-block of N. 3rd Street in Harrisburg. With their art gallery presentation, owners Zachary Nitzan and Tahirih Alia provided a rich history of rugs and romance, of exotic locales and enchanted people. Their lives are as fascinating as the exquisite rugs they produce. We were entertained and enlightened, regaled with high sea adventures and traveled to distant lands, all in search of the finest materials to create one-of-a-kind works of art. In the end, we realized rugs share the story of life, and we were hooked.


Additional Artistic Achievements

By mid-March, quarantine began as central Pennsylvania found itself in lockdown status. In response to a growing concern for her neighbors, Carlisle photographer Nicole Dube took it to heart and started a photographic journey, through social distancing, of over 100 family portraits. “Alive and Well” became not only an archival record but served as a time capsule of the pandemic to be valued even more in the years to come. Viewed at CALC over early summer, it served to define the heart of an artist and a community at large under stay-at-home orders. Dube’s exposé captured a place in time for posterity.

By April 2, just three weeks into restrictions, artists Nikos and Terra Phelps of Christmas Decor festooned an ordinary sycamore tree with 15,000 lights, providing Harrisburg with a Tree of Hope lighting, a way for city residents to rally behind local small businesses and restaurants experiencing hardship due to the pandemic (pictured). Their 17 hours of trimming the tree was a labor of love, which served as a fundraiser with its goal of raising $25,000. Twinkly Pro generously donated the lights, and the Tree of Hope at the base of the Walnut Street Bridge lit the way for other organizations to follow suit.

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