133 North Allegheny Street Bellefonte, PA 16823
By Serge Bielanko
The short February days drag themselves along, the chains of damp darkness clanging around our necks. December's holiday spirit seems so long ago and the promise of spring is still too distant to seem real. We try to make ourselves celebrate love in February, but there is little to love about the month itself.
Unless of course you love sadness.
But allow me to try and pry open your inner eye just a wee bit here in the middle of yet another endless shortest (LONGEST) month of the year, will you? Indulge me at least. What have you got to lose? Truth is, if we listen closely, February does whisper little secrets at us, tiny roadmaps designed solely for us, to help us endure those incessant late winter blues. And one of those roadmaps she's tossing at me lately is the one that leads directly into downtown Bellefonte.
To 133 North Allegheny Street, to be exact. That's where the Bellefonte Art Museum for Centre County (BAM) has quietly been awaiting your return. Has it been a while since your last visit? Or have you somehow never found the time to walk through the doors of the historic old Linn House? Either way, it's okay. They understand. This month is the absolute perfect time of year to check out...or re-introduce yourself to all that Bellefonte Art Museum has to offer.
Look, it really doesn't matter if you are an art connoisseur of the highest order or still a finger-painter at heart (hear, hear!), this local treasure is designed especially for anyone and everyone who might be art-curious, but is somewhat overwhelmed by the prospects of it all.
We both know that the words 'art' and 'museum' carry heavy connotations that tend to frighten away a lot of potential 'customers', right? Still, in my experience the absolute reality of the situation is this: art museums like BAM are for everyone. Always and forever. But getting the word out can be hard. That's why I'm trying to convince you to put your guard down and take your kids or your weekend date or your better half down there this month. History, inspiration, empathy, beauty, and stories very well-told are what the folks at Bellefonte Art Museum are offering up. And that's a list of things that might just help you forget your yearly dose of post-Groundhog Day melancholia, trust me.
Here you go: my custom rundown of what's going on at BAM this month and beyond. Some stuff is just for a short time, other stuff is permanent; either way, print this article out and magnet it upon the fridge; then take a break from your daily grind this weekend and go feast your eyes, your brain, and your heart on something wonderful.
You probably deserve that at this dreary point.
Art- in all of its magical varieties- is of course the Bellefonte Art Museum's specialty. And there is never any shortage of it on hand for the public to consume and ponder. Once you're through the Linn House's grand Victorian doors, you are swept up into the feeling that you are actually in someone's home! Because in a sense you really are! Historian John Blair Linn, who composed the massive and important, History of Centre and Clinton Counties, once lived and worked here. Which is perhaps why you might feel a rush of the past sweeping you along through the building.
The many rooms of the grand house are now divided up for the sake of art and experience. Included in all of that are the various galleries that highlight whatever works of art are being displayed at the time. Here's what you need to know.
The Sieg Gallery on the museum's first floor and in features 'It's About Animals', an exhibit of State College artist, Christine M. Hill's semi-spontaneous genius. Hill, a native Californian with a penchant for adventure, was inspired by reading about the legendary Salvador Dali's fondness for choosing a frame and THEN painting something that would work within it. Coupling that unique notion with her love of Robert Motherwell's collage work, Christine M. Hill has "filled Victorian frames with abstract images, each collaged with a "hunt to find relationship" to an animal," according to the museum's website.
"My art is rarely pre-thought-out," Hill explains. "I like to think of it as a story that unfolds as I work. And I love being surprised with the story’s conclusion. It is then that the title becomes obvious. It is much akin to automatic writing. To work this way I must have an abundance of collected materials in my studio including photo-images which I have captured and printed over the years. Housekeeping is a real chore!"
Who among us can't relate to that last sentiment?
(It's About Animals through February 23rd, 2020).
Also on the first floor, is the Special Exhibits Gallery, where the focus is on exhibitions of art and objets d’art from cultures and places around the globe. February's special collection treat is the Ritual Masks and Figures of Mexico from the Althouse Collection. The Althouse's are State College residents who happen to have a world-class collection of Mexican art the likes of which are unrivaled, not only here in Central Pennsylvania, but in a lot of other artier hot beds as well! Plus, the story of how the collection all came to pass is a truly fascinating one. Do yourself a favor and read it, then go and see for yourself how often art from the most unsung corners of our planet transcends anything we might have expected.
(Ritual Masks and Figures of Mexico from the Althouse Collection through February 23rd).
The Paulette Lorraine Berner Community Gallery is housed up the gorgeous old staircase, up on the second floor. Right now that gallery is featuring an exhibit of yet another accomplished State College artist, Susan Graham. Graham, a PSU grad and a practicing architect in the area for many years, has dabbled in all sorts of mediums but these days mostly dedicated herself to abstract expressionist painting using acrylics.
"In this medium," the BAM website points out ,"She can explore and expand her strong interest in the interplay and mutual reinforcement of color, light and free form. Her paintings provoke a strong interaction between the intent and imagination of the artist, relative to that of the observer."
And my personal guess? Her paintings also help you feel better on a crappy winter's day. Just sayin'.
(The Art of Susan Graham through February 23rd).
Also up on the second floor is the museum's notable Photography Gallery. In this day and age of cell phone cameras, we have paid little mind to the fact that the very art of photography itself has become more commonplace and firmly entrenched in our daily lives than probably anyone ever thought possible not very long ago. So it would make sense that each and every one of us, budding amateur photogs that we are (like it or not!), might find ourselves quite enamored when stood in front of the work of a true camera artist. Which is exactly what you will find when you check out BAM's gallery dedicated to the art and beauty of the photo.
This month, through February 23rd, the Photography Gallery is exhibiting the work of David L. Trumper, an outdoors aficionado who has used his love of hiking and rock climbing to help him get closer to nature. And nature is one his camera's subject, along with man-made objects, in this showing of his work that looks at color and shape. Trumper, according to the museum's exhibit webpage,"is drawn by the color range and in variation from crisp details to color washes in the out of focus areas."
So go gaze upon the photo images of some truly remarkable shooters, why don't you? This month and every month. Then you'll probably start noticing you're getting better at that old iPhone photography yourself before long.
(Photography of David L. Trumper through February 23rd)
Last but not least, perhaps the most eclectic and notable gallery that the Bellefonte Art Museum maintains is one you can't even experience from inside the building at all. I'm talking about the most recent gallery addition, and secretly my favorite, known quite simply as the 24/7 Display Window. Situated on the exterior of the building's west side, the 24/7 Display Window is an entirely renovated 30-plus foot glassed-in part of the museum overlooking the Judith O'Donnel Sieg Fountain that has been permanently repurposed as an art exhibit that never closes, never goes dark, and never turns it's proverbial back on even the loneliest midnight stroller looking for solace or inspiration.
This month, Life Size: Everything is Connected, is a playful and intriguing display of recycled materials molded into life by the artist, Manya Goldstein. Go look at her 'Boho Dancers' as she describes them, and try not to smile. This is a must-see stop whenever you're in the area, especially with kids. Have lunch on one of the benches, steal a few moments to yourself, walk back out onto Allegheny Street feeling inspired by the art you just met.
Children's Creativity Center
The museum's founders, staff, and supporters are all big believers in letting children experience art rather than just seeing it. And because of that, one of local kids' favorite reasons to visit BAM is the Children's Creativity Center, aka..THE LEGO ROOM! This is a place where the art and majesty of imagination and creation are lived out with the help of good old fashion LEGOS. There is even a LEGO wall that kids can utilize in their inspired endeavors.
Aside from all that though, the center also has tons of art supplies on hand so that budding crayon artists and construction paper masterpiece-makers can get their hands into some real artistic stuff, especially after being inspired by their journey through all of those galleries.
And every 'First Sunday' of the month at the museum, kids are offered free art lessons by a local artist.
Staying with the art/kids connection, parents and grandparents and nannies and mannies, whoever has kids legally in their possession, you need to be sure to check out the museum's annual Imagination Celebration each summer! This drop-in camp for kids of all ages (yes, that means you too) is a self-described, "interactive art program that encourages community members to participate and contribute to several co-creative art projects." What that means is this: huge parts of the museum, including entire galleries, are set aside for artist of all ages to wander in and contribute to a work-in-progress artwork that is always exciting and kind of far-out.
It's a fantastic addition to any kid's summer, so be sure to keep an eye out for more news about the 2020 Imagination Celebration soon.
Other BAM Stuff You Need to Know About!
In addition to all of these galleries and offerings, there's actually more.
First off, if you visit the museum and enjoy it, why not consider becoming a member? Memberships are available for as low as $10 a year for students, and all levels include benefits and discounts that benefit you and also help keep the museum going! This is a tried and true way for individuals, families, and businesses in the Centre County area to ensure that this very special place, this art museum for everyone, remains strong and vibrant.
While I'm at it, did you know that BAM has an Art Library of over 300 books available to the public for research. If you are a Museum Member, you can even borrow many of them, take them home with you for a spell. Still, if you're not but you still want to look into a certain artist or artwork or maybe ever discover things you never knew about....the Art Library is there for you.
First Sundays are a Bellefonte Art Museum original idea in these parts... and they're as fun now as they were years ago when the idea first took hold. Each month the museum hosts a First Sunday kick-off event for a new exhibit or exhibits that feature artists on hand to meet you, answer questions about their exhibits, and maybe even pick you out to be the subject of their next billboard-sized painting to be displayed in Times Square!!! Okay, maybe not that last part, but you never know. Point is: these events are open to the public, including kids, as there is always a free Art Lesson given to the young 'uns. Plus: snacks!!!
The Twiga Museum Gift Shop is, in the museum's own words, your one-stop shop for "fine hand-crafted items created by our museum registry artists, along with a select group of artists from outside the area. From wall art, jewelry and pottery, to wearable art, cards and books, you can find most anything for any occasion." So if you're hunting for a one-of-a-kind gift for someone, pop in and check out everything they have to offer. You'll end up with something way more unique and local than anything from the darn mall.
Calling all artists from our neck of the woods! Did you know that the Bellefonte Art Museum boasts like 175 artists on their Artist Registry?
"We live in an area which is filled with amazingly talented and creative individuals," the museum website explains, "And we‘re excited to share them with you. From our monthly rotating galleries to our gift shop and display window, we provide several opportunities for artists to show and sell their work."
That means that they are offering an extraordinary opportunity for qualifying creatives to possibly be included in a veritable Who's Who of Art in Central Pennsylvania! As a matter of glowing fact, BOTH of the featured exhibit artists I mentioned earlier, Susan Graham and Christine M. Hill, are Registry Artists with BAM. So if you think you'd be interested, contact the museum here.
Underground Railroad Exhibit
As it goes, every museum has its own treasure. Some have many, others just one or two. It might be a Rembrandt. It might be a Norman Rockwell. So much depends on the way the wind blows when you run a museum, I would imagine. Certain special works come fluttering into your life unexpectedly at times, and those are the ones that doubtlessly stay with you the longest. And for the general public, for the artists and art lovers and just plain curious who walk through your doors once, twice, or hundreds of times, there always remains that one thing about YOUR art museum that stands out to them. A painting. A sculpture. A photo. It can be anything and it often is different for everyone.
However, in the very unique case of this little powerful museum we call our own, there is something that will most likely strike you as amongst the most incredible things you have ever seen in your life. The funny thing is, I'm not referring to a painting or a statue or any of the usual suspects here.
What I'm talking about is the attic. A simple room high above the streets of Bellefonte that amounts to one of the most magnificent treasures any museum on Earth could ever lay claim to. And it is part of the very building itself. An exhibit displaying this museum building's very distinct connection to the Underground Railroad, helping slaves flee captivity to freedom, is lurking in the museum's attic and it is breath-taking.
According to the museum's brochure on this permanent exhibit: Bellefonte residents, Mary Beth Wilson, who occupied Linn House in the 1840's, and Jacob Valentine Thomas, who called it home in the 1850's, are both widely believed to have been active in the Underground Railroad during their time in the home. And so what you see up there is the fruits of their labor from a time when our nation was in the grips of crisis and change. From a time when Bellefonte proudly gave shelter to those who most needed it.
Now, let me be clear here. This isn't something you should consider seeing at some point. I'm not saying that at all.
I'm saying: you need to go see this NOW. TODAY. Or as soon as the museum is open again. This weekend, I guess. For real. There is more art and beauty and sacrifice and human study built into this one exhibit than anything I have ever crossed paths with in just about any museum I have wandered into in my scattered travels.
I saved this for last because I knew you would understand.
Don't let me down. Go. And spread the word.
We are lucky to have a museum like this.
Friday, Saturday & Sunday 12:00-4:30
While at your visit to BAM, head up to the 3rd floor to witness Underground Railroad: A Journey to Freedom exhibit. That permanent feature highlights the escaped slaves who sought safe passage to freedom in the north via a secret network of people who wanted to help abolish slavery altogether.
*This exhibition is supported in part by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a state agency fund-ed by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.
The Bellefonte Art Museum is supported by the Happy Valley Adventure Bureau. Learn more about the HVAB by visiting www.visitpennstate.org.
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The new exhibit honors twenty-four local women who are making important contributions to the quality of life in our community.
The story of why and how Logan Fire Company and Undine Fire Company both rose up out of the ashes of yesteryear to help keep Bellefonte and her citizens safe is a long and lovely one.
Two Centre County women who have taken it upon themselves to bring something to the streets of Bellefonte that is long overdue.
Remembering a Bellefonte Pennsylvania African-American soldier who served and died in the Civil War.
There's a real movement around here to embrace the future while never forgetting all of our past.
Over the course of a 130-year lifespan, the school sent a dizzying array of lads out into the world, quite a few who were destined for great things.
Maris guides us from one historically unique site to the next as he does all the legwork for us.
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