The desire to make beautiful things is innate, as children remind us with their bold and vivid depictions of the world around them.  The American caricaturist Al Hirschfeld said that artists are just children who refuse to put down their crayons. For only a handful of us, however, does that creative urge survive beyond childhood. Creativity doesn’t wait for you to go shopping or brush your teeth or write a report; it’s an immediate sort of thing, which – once pressing itself upon you – needs to be set free.  With the demands of a career and raising a family, exploring one’s creativity and making art are often put on the back burner or viewed as a luxurious indulgence.

Fortunately for us, many long-time and recent residents have returned to their youthful love of art or discovered the joy of creating beautiful things in retirement or after the nest is empty.  Inspired by the beauty of the Allegheny River Valley Region, making art has become a necessity of life for them and sharing that with others, a mission. The Red Brick Gallery’s Artistic Director, botanical artist Donna Edmonds, moved to Parker, returned to her love of painting and created the Foxburg artist cooperative after retiring from a corporate career.    

Two similarly dedicated artists and cultural leaders from Tionesta – Julia McCray and Nancy Yergin – are presented in the Red Brick Gallery’s next exhibit, “Vistas and Vignettes: Pencils, Paper and Pastels”, from Friday, August 25 to Sunday, October 1 at 17 Main Street, Foxburg.  You can meet the artists in a reception at the Gallery on Sunday, October 1, from 4 to 6:00 PM after the chamber music concert, “Debussy and Schubert on the Allegheny” featuring members of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and ARCA’s favorite program host, Pianist David Allen Wehr.

Julia McCray is known for soft realism, depth, and detail that draw you into her pastel landscape and colored pencil still life paintings. Her inspiration is the natural landscape where she lives, the flowers from her garden, vegetables from the farmer’s market, and time-worn household items.  Paper collage is Nancy Yergin’s preferred medium. Using a combination of cut and torn tissue, opaque and hand-crafted Asian papers on stretched canvases, her colorful works are held together with acrylic medium, built layer by layer, and then finished off with pen and ink.

McCray and Yergin also are co-founders of the Forest Area Arts Council, and the “From the Forest Gallery”.  According to McCray, “Nancy Yergin and I co-founded the Forest Area Arts Council in 2001 because we saw a lot of local talent that was going un-recognized. We wanted to help promote the artists, draw more of them out of their “closets”, and encourage them to think of themselves as artists.

Nancy and I also wanted to provide access to affordable art experiences and education opportunities for everyone in Forest County. FAAC has sponsored events, performances, workshops, residencies, field trips, and many other arts activities that otherwise would not have been available.”

Their efforts also have had an economic impact on their community.  Mc Cray continues, “Tionesta is becoming a creative community – the basis for its recent economic growth – which probably wouldn’t have occurred without formation of the arts council and its art gallery.  The creation of the gallery was prompted – in part – by the fact Forest County had almost no participating artists/sites on the PA Wilds Artisan Trail.  The gallery was also a way to give visitors access to local artists.” 

Their vision and generous contribution to the cultural life of their community is rooted in their personal journey as artists.  Nancy Yergin, a retired cooperative extension agent, had had no formal fine-arts background.  She learned the basics of collage in a small workshop in 2004 and has continued to develop her own style and application.  

Yergin says, “When I arrived in Forest County in 1995, I had no sense of myself as an artist – I was a registered dietitian; a county agent for Penn State Cooperative Extension; and a resource in a five-county region on topics that didn’t include art.  By my second year on the job, I discovered that I was good at teaching people to learn and utilize concepts to improve their lives. Perhaps now I could improve my own.

What I really wanted to do was to make beautiful things. I already knew I was creative enough to knit, to build a flower/vegetable garden, and raise a child to adulthood. I admired fine art in galleries but couldn’t afford to buy it. I wanted to make my own art. I needed art education. In Forest County, art instruction was available to public school students but not adults.  In 1999 Julia McCray and I put our heads together and began working on an idea to build some sort of organization that would bring the Arts to a rural community.”   For more on their artistic journeys, go to www.alleghenyriverstone.org.

Carve out a moment in your busy lives to plan a trip to Allegheny RiverStone Center for the Art’s Red Brick Gallery and Gift Shop in Foxburg to see their beautiful work – perhaps as a touchstone to your own artistic urges just waiting to be expressed or as a reminder of the importance of supporting the cultural life of our beautiful Allegheny River Valley.  Gallery Hours are Fridays 1:00 – 5:00 PM, Saturdays 11:00–7:00 PM, and Sundays 12:00–4:00 PM.

Find more information to plan your trip to the PA Great Outdoors region online at VisitPAGO.com or call (814) 849-5197.

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