Wednesday, April 14, 2010

22nd Annual Arts Ovation Awards Luncheon

step right up...the next Arts Ovation luncheon is right around the corner - May 6th at the Holiday Inn Allentown - $35

Monday, January 18, 2010

Antonio Salemme feature in Morning Call

Antonio Salemme, a noted artist whose nude sculpture of actor Paul Robeson shocked the 1930s elite, lived and worked in Williams Township for a third of his life. Now, his art has a permanent home in downtown Allentown.

Bathed in the light from a magnificent 18 foot-wide arched window overlooking Hamilton Street, a half-dozen figure studies stand or sit in repose, the brick façade of the Hotel Americus across the street glowing softly behind them. A life-sized female nude, in the Greco-Roman style of a classic Venus, stands solemnly next to a seated bronze athlete, his muscles glistening. Smaller sculptures surround them -- some in clay, some in plaster, some in bronze.

Along the walls, shelves are teeming with more than a hundred smaller sculptures, in various states of completion. Busts of Albert Einstein, John F. Kennedy and jazz icon Ethel Waters rub shoulders with more abstract pieces. Nearly two dozen paintings, in styles ranging from the elusive spontaneity of Cézanne and the Post-Impressionists to the vibrant colors and seductively distorted perspective of Matisse, hang on the dove-gray walls.

This is the new Antonio Salemme Foundation on the second floor of 542 Hamilton St.. There is so much remarkable about the space. First, it represents the work of a supremely gifted artist.

Antonio Salemme was a prominent sculptor/painter who spent half of his creative life at the center of the teeming arts scene in New York's Greenwich Village from the 1920s through the 1950s, working with artists such as Willem de Kooning and Arshile Gorkey. His most famous piece is a controversial nude sculpture of actor Paul Robeson.

In 1959, Salemme and his wife Martha, also an artist, purchased an old schoolhouse in Williams Township, Northampton County, that the couple converted into a home/studio. He worked there until his death at the age of 102 in 1995, and Martha until her death nine years later.

As remarkable as Salemme was, equally remarkable is that their prodigious collection of art found a home in Allentown. That story goes back to 1982, when the couple formed a nonprofit foundation with the dream of establishing a museum to display their work. 1982 also was the year that Joseph Skrapits, an artist, freelance writer and contributing editor to American Artist magazine, met the couple.

''I first met Antonio through an article I was doing for Philadelphia Magazine on his famous Paul Robeson sculpture,'' says Skrapits, a native of South Whitehall Township. ''When I first met him, I was just bowled over -- here was this very vigorous man, 90 years old, who started talking about Greenwich Village, his friendship with Paul Robeson, and all these people he knew like [Abstract Expressionists] Willem de Kooning and Arshile Gorky. But it wasn't like he was name-dropping -- he was just talking about his life.''

Skrapits also had the itch to paint, and Salemme became his teacher and mentor. ''Over the 11 years I knew him, he became a sort of grandfather/big brother -- a really splendid person. Just before he died, I promised him I would see that Martha was OK. I didn't have any thought of becoming involved in the foundation until she passed away in 2004,'' he says.

The couple had amassed a lifetime of work and had no family or children to bequeath it to, so it went to the foundation. ''There was the house and a studio full of artwork. Some of us -- former friends and students -- looked at each other and asked ourselves, 'Well, now what?' '' says Skrapits, now president of the Antonio Salemme Foundation.

One day soon after Martha's memorial service, Skrapits, who lives in downtown Allentown, discovered there was a small space available at the new Musselman Arts Development Center at Sixth and Hamilton streets. With money from the sale of Salemme's Williams Township property, the space was secured in 2006.

''Basically, our endowment was what we got from the sale -- there was nothing else,'' Skrapits says. ''But I was still looking for other possibilities, and found a bigger space -- 1,200 square feet -- at 542 Hamilton, in what had been the old Empire Beauty School. We moved everything into it in October.''

''This new space is a tremendous advancement in the cultural revitalization of downtown Allentown,'' says Bob Metzger, interim director of the Allentown Art Museum. Metzger had visited Salemme's studio and met Martha. ''Here we have the work of an artist of the first rank, known and respected to many within the art world, but unfortunately relatively unknown to the general public. This long overdue recognition is warmly welcomed, and will give the opportunity to let him be known to his own community for the first time.''

Skrapits, a volunteer like all the members of the foundation's board, is committed to telling others about Salemme. At this time, the foundation space is planned not as a traditional museum or gallery, but as a place to study Salemme's art. It is now open weekends and a formal opening is scheduled for late March. The group also has an impressive Web site.

''Our mission is to preserve the legacy of an American master, Antonio Salemme, and to educate the public about his contributions to 20th-century art,'' says Skrapits.

The Antonio Salemme Foundation now looks more like an artist's studio than an art gallery. In fact, the place is as much a work in progress as are some of its pieces -- bronze, unfired clay and plaster casts representing all phases of the sculptor's trade. ''We're still in an editing phase, having just recently unpacked more than 120 boxes of sculpture -- about 150 pieces, and that's just the small ones -- and hundreds of paintings. Then there's hundreds of examples of Martha's work, which are mostly watercolors,'' Skrapits says.

Salemme's opus is indeed impressive, and represents a bridge between the Impressionists of the 19th century and 20th century Modernism. Born in Gaeta, Italy, in 1892, he moved to Boston with his father in 1904 after the death of his mother. He began studying art when he was 14, and in 1912 a Bostonian patron of the arts, recognizing his talent, sent him to Rome, where he studied classical sculpture. Returning to the United States after World War I, Salemme established a studio in Greenwich Village.

Salemme became a prominent artist in the 1920s through the 1930s, when his Neoclassical style and reputation as a portrait sculptor earned him one of the first Guggenheim Fellowships, awarded in 1932.

''To give you an idea of how important he was at the time, two of the other award recipients that year were Martha Graham and Lewis Mumford. He didn't even have to apply -- he was invited to take it,'' Skrapits says.

One of his most important, and arguably most controversial works of the period, was his 1926 full-figure nude portrait of the actor Paul Robeson in bronze-colored plaster, titled ''Negro Spiritual.'' The sculpture is missing. Notable pieces on display from Salemme's classical period include ''Seated Athlete,'' a life-size bronze not shown in public since it was displayed at the Whitney Museum in 1936; ''Eve,'' another classic life-size bronze of a standing female nude, and a 1926 bust of Ethel Waters, the prominent Harlem Renaissance jazz/blues singer. Paintings from this period are very Post-Impressionistic, such as his Cézanne-like view of Central Park, with its soft colors and carefully preserved perspectives, or his portrait of British novelist Gerald Heard.

But as the 1930s waned, Neoclassicism was giving way to Modernism, with figures and landscapes becoming more stylized and more expressionistic. What Salemme was doing was going out of style.

''By the time he moved to the Lehigh Valley, he pretty much let his ties to the art world go. His focus was becoming less social and more imaginative and visionary,'' says Skrapits.

The Salemmes discovered Northampton County through Manhattan friends who had a weekend place there. On a visit, they discovered an old schoolhouse that was being renovated into a residence, thought it would make a good studio, and bought it in 1959 as a weekend retreat. In 1962 they made the decision to move there permanently.

His change of focus is evident in some sculptures on display from this period, such as fanciful, heavily textured pieces Salemme called ''environments.'' But many works from the period still preserve his classic quest for realism, such as busts of John F. Kennedy, Einstein and Eisenhower. Not one to be modest, Salemme called his Kennedy portrait ''the finest there was of the man, and no one is more qualified than myself to say so.''

Salemme's later paintings show his drift to a more stylized vision. His world becomes more Matisse-like, filled with bright colors and distorted perspective. A still life of a bowl of green tomatoes becomes a surrealistic study with an imaginary background scene. Portraits of women he called ''imagined portraits'' are created from remembered or imagined details, not from the figures themselves.

''When I met him, it was all about color relationships and almost surreal perspectives -- a more modernist approach. He once told me, 'I did my best work after I turned 70,' '' says Skrapits. ''I mean, here was this guy, 90 years old, just churning this stuff out -- it's like he was still trying to tell us something.''


What: Space devoted to the work of the late painter/sculptor, who worked in Williams Township, Northampton County for a third of his life

When: Open 1-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, call first; or by appointment. Grand opening in the spring.

Where: 542 Hamilton St., second floor, Allentown

Admission: Free, donations accepted

Info: 610-433-4150,

Steve Siegel is a freelance writer.

Jodi Duckett, editor


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Arts Ovation Nominations Are Due!

Susan Rutt

Allentown Arts Commission

610.791.3497 Fax 610.433.2446


For more information, please contact:

Charles Kalan 610-791-1257


Allentown Arts Commission’s 22nd Annual Luncheon is planned for

May 6, 2010; Nominations due January 29, 2010

(Allentown PA) –January 11, 2010 – Charles Kalan and Susan Rutt, Co-Chairs of Arts Ovation, announce that nominations are now being requested for awards to be presented at the Allentown Arts Commission’s Annual Luncheon.

The public is invited to submit their nominations in writing or via email in the following categories: 1. OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN VISUAL, PERFORMING OR LITERARY ARTS: may be an individual and/or arts organizations; 2. OUTSTANDING SERVICE OR CONTRIBUTIONS: may be an individual who has had a major impact on the arts through devoted service in a volunteer capacity; an individual, business, foundation or organization who has had a major impact on the arts by contributing financial and/or in-kind resources; or an institution which has had a major impact on the arts; 3. EMERGING ARTIST/SERVICE/CONTRIBUTIONS AWARD: a new award created in 2009 in any of the above categories for emerging talent, service or contribution.

The established guidelines state the eligibility for awards: arts organizations or individuals whose achievements have had a significant and positive impact on the citizens of Allentown and the quality of life in Allentown’s cultural community. Award recipients will be selected from the nominations received by the Arts Ovation Committee of the Allentown Arts Commission.

Nominations must be submitted by no later than January 29, 2010. Each must contain the name, address, phone number and email of the nominee, as well as the specific category of the nominee. A brief summary is requested stating why the nominee meets the qualifications for the award. Name, address, phone number and email of the nominator are also requested. Applications for nominations are available by emailing Susan Rutt at, or calling Susan Rutt at 610-791-3497.





1. Eligibility for awards: arts, organizations or individuals whose achievements have had a significant and positive impact on the citizens of Allentown and the quality of life in the Allentown cultural community.

2. Award recipients will be selected from the nominations received by the Arts Ovation Committee of the Allentown Arts Commission. Only fully completed applications will be accepted for nominations.


1. Outstanding Achievement in Visual, Performing and Literary Arts: May be individuals and/or arts organizations

2. Outstanding Service and/or Contribution: May be an individual who has had a major impact on the arts through devoted service in a volunteer capacity, an individual, business, foundation or organization who has had a major impact on the arts by contributing financial and/or in-kind resources; or an institution which has had a major impact on the arts.

3. Emerging Artist/Service/Contribution Award: A new award given in any of the above categories for emerging talent, service or contribution.

Name of Nominee: _____________________________________________________

Address: _____________________________________________________________

Phone: ___________________________ Email: ___________________________

Category: _____________________________________________________________

(Please indicate only one, based on above categories)

In the space below, please state why you believe the nominee meets the qualifications for the award. Please email, type, or print clearly in dark ink. Please add additional sheet if necessary.

Name of Nominator: ___________________________________________________

Address: _____________________________________________________________

Phone: ___________________________ Email: ___________________________

Thank you for taking the time to participate in the Arts Ovation nomination process. Please return this form by January 29, 2010, to: Tara Craig, Arts Ovation Committee, City of Allentown, 435 Hamilton Street, Allentown PA 18101, or email to Awards will be presented at Arts Ovation 2010, the twenty-second annual luncheon on Thursday, May 6, 2010, at the Center City Holiday Inn to recognize outstanding accomplishments in the arts

Friday, December 18, 2009

Call for Submissions at Touchstone Theater

From Touchstone Theatre:
Dear friends,

The Touchstone Theatre Gallery is accepting submissions for two exhibitions.
One is to be held February 26 – April 30, 2010. The exhibition will complement the performance of Fresh Voices, our annual showcase for our class of apprentices. Submissions will be accepted until January 31, 2010.

The second exhibition will open May 13, and will complement Pan, an original “modern day epic of sex, drugs and rock and roll gone bad.” Submissions will be accepted until April 9, 2010.

Submissions can be e-mailed to or mailed to Liz Wheeler, Touchstone Theatre, 321 E. 4th Street, Bethlehem, PA 18015. Digital images should be jpegs between 72 and 150 dpi, and between 300 x 300 pixels and 600 x 600 pixels. Begin the title of each jpeg with your last name. If you mail a submission and want it returned, include a self addressed stamped envelope.

For more information, visit or call 610-867-1689.

Best regards,

Liz Wheeler
P.S. Please pass this message on to any interested parties!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Spontaneous Combustion

Last night's gathering of artists and culture mavens at House of Chen, organized by Mrs. Dottie (see Lehigh Valley Somebody) was pure joy. It was inspiring to meet and listen to so many intelligent, creative people, from so many diverse backgrounds, who are eager to move Allentown's arts scene to the next level.

As Nolan LeBlanc commented over at Mrs. Dottie's blog, this is how community happens--by spontaneous combustion. It jives with the feeling I've had over the last several months that a new wave of creative energy is about to break over Allentown. For many years, Allentown was exporting much of its creative talent to other places; now it seems the tide has turned, talent is gravitating back to the city. Last night I met people who have moved here from New York, Jersey City, Miami--even Bethlehem! And of course some people who never left physically are "returning" in another way: returning to their creative vocations after careers spent teaching, parenting, working in business. This growing pool of creative energy is going to be our most valuable resource in the coming years, as we transform Allentown into a vibrant, friendly, arts-rich, sustainable 21st-century urban center.

After dinner some of us walked down Hamilton St. to the Arts Park. It was a beautiful spring even, and on the way we passed people sitting at outdoor cafe tables in front of the Federal Grill and Crocodile Rock--this is Allentown?!! At the Arts Park, we stood around and gabbed, not wanting the evening to end. Listening to Alfonso Todd, I could feel the future blossoming with the cherry trees in the park. A hospital administrator's job brought Alfonso to the Lehigh Valley from Miami. "I told myself I'd stay two years," he said. "That was six years ago." After three years with hospitals in the area, he decided to become a full-time community organizer. Single-handedly, he's putting together a multi-cultural community event on Hamilton St.--"Upward Bound in Allentown"--scheduled for July 12 (gotta get this guy on the arts commission!).

Alfonso sees the future here--he's already living it. It will take only a slight cognitive shift, a different slant on things, for others to see it. It's the job of artists to produce that cognitive shift for the wider community who don't yet "get it." When that happens, the spontaneous combustion will take over. Imagine!

Thanks to everyone involved for a wonderful evening. It's Saturday morning and I'm still high (hey, I only had one beer!)

Let's do it again!

Monday, April 14, 2008

A Vision for the Americus

There's a buzz going on over at Mrs. Dottie's blog about our visions for the Americus Hotel. The following is a vision statement I presented to Mayor Pawlowski and the city's economic development team over a year ago. Their response was enthusiastic; the problem is the building is still in the hands of Mark Mendelsohn, and until it can be transferred to a sane owner, nothing is going to be done. As for the Neuweiler Brewery, Symphony Hall, etc., I look forward to talking about these things at the House of Chen on the 25th.

My apologies for being a neglectful blogger--too busy attending meetings and trying to earn a living.

Let me know what you think of this vision.

Americus Design Center

Restoration of the landmark Americus Hotel and its conversion into a high-style design center, catering to the trade in the fields of interior design, decoration and architecture, will create an arts-related commercial anchor for the Allentown arts district, bringing design professionals and their clients into downtown Allentown to do business in a sophisticated atmosphere of historic elegance.
Americus Design Center will offer manufacturers and design professionals a glamorous venue for displaying and marketing their products and services, comparable to design centers in New York, Philadelphia and Washington, but with the added attractions of substantial savings in rental cost and a convenient, easily accessible location—close to a large, high-income client base but outside the increasingly congested business districts of the major cities.
Product showrooms, featuring upscale home and office furniture; fabrics and textiles; wall and window treatments; art and antiques; kitchen and bath fixtures; and other architectural and interior-design accessories, will be open exclusively "to the trade," allowing customers of registered design professionals access to an array of products unavailable to the general public. This exclusivity, and the convenience of a central location, will encourage design professionals, as well as manufacturers' sales staff and service providers, to locate their offices in the building. Some might even wish to live there; one or more floors could be devoted to apartments/condominiums.
In contrast to the showroom areas on some upper floors, the hotel's grand ballroom, roof-top restaurant and street-level storefronts will be open to the public, creating a regional entertainment and shopping destination related to activities at the Americus and nearby cultural institutions such as the art museum, symphony hall and the historical society. Design-themed public events, such as fashion and flower shows, will bring back to downtown Allentown the stylish ambience formerly associated with Hess's department store. The basement movie theater will once again screen films. Arts-and-design-related retail and service businesses—galleries, bookstores, clothing stores, restaurants—will open in the street-level spaces and in nearby buildings to take advantage of the traffic generated by trade professionals, buyers and their clientele. The Center will also be a stimulus to the revival of design-related manufacturing in the city.
In short, Americus Design Center will be the Lehigh Valley's most beautiful and exciting location to do business, host a conference (or wedding reception), entertain corporate clients, and even reside. It will transform the image of downtown Allentown, restoring the grandeur of its largest and most architecturally important commercial structure, and signaling the completion of the city's comeback as a vibrant cultural and business hub.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Patterns of Our Future

As someone who lived through the 1960s as a teenager, I sense an eerie similarity between that tumultuous decade and the current state of affairs. History doesn't repeat, but it rhymes, and the times, as a famous folk balladeer put it, they are a'changin'.
The essence of the sixties lay in the crumbling of authority, the break-up of long-established patterns, from segregation in the South, to gender roles, to the conduct of war in Southeast Asia. Socio-political factors—i.e., human beings, individually and en masse, in the streets—seriously challenged the impersonal forces of technology, economics and bureaucracy. There was a lot of fear, a lot of hope. Not coincidently, the sixties were a period of unusually rich creative ferment in the arts.
Today, that rumble you hear in the background is the sound of idols crashing, from Washington to Wall Street. Despite the happy talk of the corporate consumer culture, the reassurances coming from the White House and the Fed—institutions are "sound," the problems are "contained"—the voices of authority sound increasingly shrill and, well, unbelievable. The levees have broken; old, established patterns are eroding; in the words of W. B. Yeats, "the center does not hold..."
Not surprisingly, we are also experiencing a resurgence of activity in the arts, both among the young and among the aging boomer generation who've gained a "second wind." The stimulus, I think, comes from the primordial, shamanic role of the artist as a pattern-recognizer and pattern-organizer. The construction of a poem, a dance, a song, a painting, a film, involves the organization of experience into a pattern that is emotionally meaningful and satisfying. The creation of beauty—for the artist it is really a moment of discovery—is a profound, multi-layered ordering of experience that rings true.
In the old days, when established patterns broke down—when, for example, game animals inexplicably disappeared from ancient migratory routes to follow some new, unknown pathway—hunting groups turned not to their political and military leaders for guidance, but to their shamans, who journeyed within themselves to discover the new patterns of survival. It didn't always work; no doubt some groups starved. But enough endured that successful shamans—good artists—conferred a selective advantage to their groups, which passed on the genetic impulse for art-making to modern humans.
Now, when professional arts advocates assert the value of the arts for education and the revitalization of our cities, they are really talking about a sort of selective advantage. The arts aren't frills or window-dressing, and the difference between communities that actively support creative artists and those that only pretend to, is like the difference between the flush of life, and make-up on a corpse.
I'm not a professional arts advocate; I'm an artist who left his studio—rather reluctantly—to get involved in my community, Allentown, because I sense that our world is changing. The old patterns, the old life-ways, are breaking down; in particular the late-20th-century American lifestyle predicated on abundant supplies of cheap oil and global military power is no longer supportable. In fact it is bankrupting the country.
The new pattern has yet to emerge. We have arrived within Dante's "dark wood where the straight way was lost." A number of shadowy paths lie ahead, and only a few things seem clear: first, the "authorities" are probably wrong; second, as in the sixties, socio-political factors—human relationships—will prevail over techno-economic fixes; third, the cities are key. As suburban escapism becomes unachievable for the majority, we will have to face long-ignored urban challenges; we will have to learn to live with one another, to feel secure in ourselves in the midst of diversity.
We are lucky in Allentown right now to have a mayor, a city council and an economic development team who really understand the selective advantage to the city of having a vital arts community here. As we proceed with a new arts development strategy, I personally would like to see most of our limited public resources for the arts devoted to expanding opportunities for emerging creative artists.
Museums and art schools are wonderful amenities, but we can actually get more bang for the public buck by investing in artists rather than institutions. Artists are masters of making much out of little. They know how to build with creativity and imagination and not just with machinery and money. And their creations, while often physically fragile, can work uncommon magic on a community's pride and spirit. We need to get artists into the neighborhoods, into the schools. Most of all, we need to allow young artists to risk the creative inner journey, to dream the patterns of our future.