January brings annual “Best Of” lists, and Bob’s Art Blog fondly looks back in reviewing the myriad moments of art in 2021. The intention is to cover as many exhibits and artists as possible in this two-part blog. Categories abound, so I hope you enjoy hopscotching down memory lane. Even the Art of Vegetables, The Art of Making What’s Old, New Again and the Justice League of Art were covered.
Art in the Wild & Blue Yonder
April heralded the return of Wildwood Park’s art opus, “Art in the Wild.” Seventeen installations were created, featuring 21 artists for the ninth edition. Carlisle newcomers came away this year’s winners with art activist Carrie Breschi and fiber artist Carol Reed, both of the Carlisle Arts Learning Center, taking first and second place. Veterans of all nine years, Beau and Jana MacGinnes and Aubrey McNaughton, as well as returnees Eve Gurbacki, Jill Lippert, Brook Lauer, Kareena Stellar, Chip Hitz, Richard and Maria Cary Joel, Lorayn McPoyle, Stephen Reinhart and Isabel Patterson comprised two thirds of this year’s participants.
The year 2021 marked the third edition of Sprocket Mural Works’ Mural Fest that ran from May through November, bringing the organization’s mural count to over 50. Thanks to the Sprocket team led by Megan Caruso and Jeff Copus, as well as over 300 volunteers and the ever-growing roster of marvelous muralists who continue to grace Harrisburg and York’s skylines.
Director, Director: “Action” from the Top
Art Association of Harrisburg: For a Harrisburg landmark institution approaching its century mark, the AAH has benefited greatly from the stellar leadership of Carrie Wissler-Thomas and her 42 years at the helm as CEO and president. When one considers that she has commandeered this “art monolith” for almost half its existence, it becomes all the more remarkable. It is through her vast experience that Harrisburg has been shaped by vehicles of her implementation like Gallery Walk, as well as new initiatives like the Community Exhibition Program.
Susquehanna Art Museum: As Alice Anne Schwab enters her seventh year as executive director of the only dedicated art museum in central Pennsylvania, SAM continues to provide timely and topical exhibitions under her tenure. Drawing upon her richly diverse resume, including institutions like the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra, SAM’s commitment to culturally inclusive exhibits and events has flourished.
Carlisle Arts Learning Center: Executive Director Becky Richeson’s guidance has proved invaluable in steering the Carlisle art scene at CALC to become a leading nonprofit organization. Starting her ninth year at CALC, Richeson has led this art magnet as it proudly anchors Pomfret Street’s corridor of commerce, serving as a cultural hub for Carlisle residents.
Kicking Off Spring in Style
Designer Carley Furlow took the show’s title to heart, “Figuratively Speaking,” at the AAH in March. In a nod to the first full year of the pandemic, she fashioned a blouse out of black COVID masks and a skirt out of newspapers. Whoever said old news is just that hasn’t strutted the catwalk.
Meanwhile the art director at Millworks, Tara Chickey, mounted the first new show for spring on Millworks’ lobby walls with a fab four of female impressionists and a guy thrown in for good measure. This erstwhile group made quite a statement, from Pamela J. Black’s palette gushing garden greens and cherry tomato reds to Tina Berrier’s cultural communiques with wildly imaginative interpretations of indigenous tribes. Amie Bantz paid tribute to her Korean heritage with on-point folk art. She took cues from the past and put her own unique spin on recognizable motifs, making magic happen. Tristan Bond let his imagination run wild with fantasy paintings, incorporating his interest in Manga and comic art. Not to be outdone by her colleagues, Chickey reached for the stars with a sunset-washed palette, simmering in shades of soft pink and turquoise, which follows a dancer’s dream.
Shows of the Year
The Carlisle Arts Learning Center started spring with “I’m Fine,” a community-wide project that addressed mental health. Late summer found a blockbuster again at CALC, both upstairs and down. “Left Behind,” a two-man show from photographer Michael Hower and sculptor Stephen Dolbin, was impactful beyond words. The visual and tactile impressions made by these talented men paid testament to time immemorial, with a nod to society’s decay and discarded past. In viewing “Left Behind,” Stephen’s art made one consider the Native American’s role on this planet in paying tribute to the indigenous tribes as well as the birds of the sky and beasts of the land. Coupled with Michael Hower’s thought-provoking “Abandoned,” a series of photographs, this made for a powerhouse presentation.
Art impresario, Amie Bantz mounted “Lunchbox Moments” in the upstairs gallery to an overflow crowd of patrons. Bantz took literal quotes from the Asian and Pacific Islander communities and presented them on lunchboxes to share the potent and poignant views that many from this population dealt with as kids in the school cafeteria. Often, heartbreaking and hurtful barbs were directed at them. Having grown up with years of negative comments about her traditional lunch fare, Amie knew that the feelings of shame were shared community-wide and the hundreds of lunchboxes mounted on the wall attested to that. The artist herself stated, “The only way to reduce hate is if we find common ground.”
St. Stephen’s Riverfront Gallery produced a heavenly body of art, receiving commissioned works from 28 artists throughout the country for its show, “Decolonizing Christ.” The art depicted Christ as a person of color and demonstrated individual interpretations both of this realm and beyond our earthly grasp. Lori Sweet, artist of distinction, won the Bishop’s Award for her beatific painting, “The Healer.”
At the same time, Kelly McGee Curran mounted her “Purify” show in a series of paintings for the Millworks exhibit that was a year in the making. The spiritual tribute to her native heritage shown forth as her journey resulted in a spiritual quest to obtain a level of purity in spirit.
The Art Association boldly brought “lowbrow art” to its main gallery walls with a quartet of four “artistic gunslingers” who shook up the status quo with the exhibit, “Nothing Pretty.” Desperadoes Krissy Whiski, Tina Berrier, Sean Arce and Ted Walke faced off with sheriff Carrie Wissler-Thomas and gallery curator, Rachel O’Connor. Who was left standing at the end? They all rode off into the sunset together.
Curator, Wherefore Thou Art?
Shows of the year become just that under the skillful hands of the gallery curator and in the unique paring of artists and themes. In recognition of Black History Month, the Susquehanna Art Museum’s director of exhibitions, Lauren Nye, continued the museum’s tradition of showcasing the legacy and breadth of the African American experience, with art pertaining to the history of the African diaspora. From Romare Bearden and Alma Thomas to the museum’s “Sun + Light” exhibit in February by South Carolinian artist Charles Edward Williams, Nye featured the cultural contributions of the Black community.
Rachel O’Connor, curator at the Art Association of Harrisburg, was cooking on all four burners at the city’s longstanding art institution. She started with the 93rd Annual Juried Exhibit, then came “Nothing Pretty” at the AAH, and she closed out the year in grand style with “Situated: Confronting Identity.”
Cathy Stone, curator at the Carlisle Arts Learning Center, waited over half a year before the first artist reception was held, but it was well worth it. A blockbuster doubleheader at the gallery, both upstairs and down, opened in August to a packed house. “Left Behind” and “Lunchbox Moments” made for an over-the-top visual knockout punch. Stone is adept at creating unique parings, often juxtaposing disparate artists to create a frisson that complements each other perfectly.
Masters of the House
Gallery owners Vivian Sterste and Jackson Boyd celebrated eight years in Midtown at their Vivi on Verbeke art haven. There is a balance between the two partners, with Vivi’s pottery and paintings seesawing in tandem with Jeb’s photography as the gallery’s main focus. Vivi’s “River Series” mugs pair perfectly with Jeb’s images of bridges and the Susquehanna River. A highlight of the gallery has been community paintings completed by neighbors and friends that are part of the Broad Street Market.
Gallery at 2nd reopened for July’s 3rd in the Burg for a four-month run and will resume hours sometime in April. Owners Ted and Linda Walke filled the studios with the art of sculptor Chad Whitaker, mixed media artist Keegan Beinhower, cartoonists Sean Arce and Rance Shepstone. Adding a female trio of Johanna Martin, Angelica Rios and Ashley Russo helped to bring a different perspective to the fall season.
An important addition to Harrisburg’s gallery scene, Nyeusi opened the day before Gallery Walk in September, and its reception has been overwhelming. Partners Dr. Dale Dangleben and Michelle Green have dedicated the gallery to African, Caribbean and African American art. The upscale gallery features many local artists as well as global contributors to this sparkling gem. Cultural events are a mainstay on the calendar monthly.
Metropolis Collective of Mechanicsburg is often considered the alternative gallery whose reputation is synonymous with the avant-garde and cultural cognoscenti who march to a different beat. Its discordant rhythm comes from Richard Reilly, rock and roller, as well as Hannah Dobek, gallery director and artist in residence. Together, they unleash musical performances, artists a plenty and their own brand of hipness. 17 W. Main St is the address for finger-snapping beat approval.
Maestros of Midtown
Anyone who lives in Harrisburg knows there is only one true maestro and that is Stuart Malina, long-time conductor of the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra. I affectionately named a contingency of emerging artists the “Maestros of Midtown.” The diverse group, always in flux, occupied the venerable Civic Club four times over the course of the year with seasonal art shows. Initially led by Reina Wooden and Charlie Feathers, the leader’s baton got handed to Brad Maurer of The Cercus insect cartoons.
The consistent core group was comprised by Harrisburg Magazine’s co-artist of the year, Bethany Nicholle, painter Grace (colorursoul) Robinson and mixed media artist, Nora Carreras. The full roster included no less than 31 members, equal to, say, a small symphony. There were a number of repeat performers in the orchestra including Claudie Kenion, sculptor Chad Whitaker, painter Jonathan Frazier and photographers Larry Washington Jr., Jelani Splawn and Jemar Sweets. Entrepreneurs Darius Davis, Quincy Yates and Jamie Earle all enhanced the mix of products offered.
Keegan Beinhower and the HuckleBuckle Boys, Zack Rudy and Garrick Dorsett, brought their own unique brand of art. Douglas Beard created artisanal lamps, and painter Tyler Minnich demonstrated his work in progress. Beyond the aforementioned female artists, the other mainstays were Carrie Feidt, painter, Jeannine Marie (savagehabitexchange.com) and her upcycled clothing, Nicole Herbert and her ceramics, Lily Roque and Ghost Bae tattoo artists and painters, joined by artist Ruby Doub. A special guest appearance was made by “La Petite,” Estella McNaughton with her one-of-a-kind clay bead bracelets.
3rd in the Boro: Forecast; A Wintry Mix VI
The letters “HD,” the abbreviated form for “high definition,” also are the initials for Hannah Dobek, gallery director for the Metropolis Collective in Mechanicsburg. In her case, HD means highly detailed as she is always thinking of the slightest ingredient needed to complete the bigger picture. For the Metropolis upcoming annual event on Jan. 21, the entire frame almost comes into focus for a 3rd in the Boro evening at 17 W. Main St., from 7-11 p.m. And yet due to her penchant for holding back surprises, the art previews for “A Wintry Mix VI: Tangled Up In Blue” only reveal portions of the art selected. Hannah shrewdly shared “glimpses as in detail shots only…because if we show the entire piece people have no incentive to come see the work in person.” For this Friday’s event, masks will be required with social distancing strongly urged. The show’s title borrows from Bob Dylan’s 1975 hit song “Tangled Up In Blue,” the featured cut from his 15th studio album, “Blood on the Tracks.” The attention to detail in framing the event in its entirety is what sets Ms. Dobek apart from other gallerists. Her partner in chime is the musical half of the duo, owner Richard Reilly, who commandeers the backstage. Performing her poetry and song ballads is the modern folk singer, Donna Jean Foster. She has produced an album rich with high production values showcasing luminescent lyrics with a voice that puts the message and mood across in perfect harmony for the uncertain times we live in.
“Tangled Up in Blue” offers the clue that the show’s theme centers around the color and, knowing Hannah, it will cover all the bases. Beyond the color, there is feeling blue, turning blue in the cold, nothing but blue sky and ocean blue, with all artist submissions needing to address an aspect of the color or mood. Creatives featured in the show include local artist of renown, Paul Nagle, and also throughout the continental U.S. They include Alexis Manduke, Emily Paige, Jude Screnzi, Jamison Eckert, Nina Rubin Mantione as well as artist-in-residence, Hannah herself. Ms. Dobek often finds herself in the universe of David Lynch, so will she be wearing “Blue Velvet” for the show? The original song was released in 1963 by Bobby Vinton and covered recently by Lana del Rey. Very possibly, when the doors open at Metropolis on Friday evening, perhaps blue velvet curtains will be drawn back to reveal art that is “tangled up in blue.” Don’t be left out in the blue as there may be a sense of loss for missing out on a surefire way to start 2022.
Stay tuned for Part II coming soon.
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