Written by Danielle Taylor | Photos courtesy of Sylvan Heritage Council

Parker Jackson worked as a porter for Emporium’s Warner Hotel for more than 50 years starting in the late 1800s. Emma Newton wrote a women’s magazine, founded the local Women’s Chamber of Commerce, helped fundraise for the clock atop the courthouse, and counted author Mark Twain among her many friends.

As you drive through downtown Emporium in northern Cameron County, keep an eye out for smiling faces. More than two dozen prominent individuals from Emporium and nearby are memorialized through the Cameron County Canvas project, a series of murals found on downtown buildings that highlights people who played a significant role in this town or represented it honorably through their military service.

In the late 2000s, several members of Emporium’s Sylvan Heritage Council (SHC) began taking notice of public art projects across the state, and the work of State College muralist Michael Pilato caught their eye. A small Pennsylvania Partners in the Arts grant and a sizeable private donation allowed them to commission the first mural, which illustrated local citizens Charles “Peach” and Wilda Schwab on the side of the Aroma Cafe. The community received lots of positive feedback on the public art installation, so SHC pursued grants to fund additional murals for the town. A $20,000 grant from the George A. and Margaret Mee Charitable Foundation and a number of other donations allowed them to commission Pilato and his partner, Yuri Karabash, a classically trained Russian artist, to do a series all over Emporium.

SHC requested names of service members from the community to honor, and submissions poured in. After SHC finalized a list of 10 names, Pilato and Karabash got to work, along with more than 100 students and community members who helped create the paintings of active and past service men and women spanning generations from World War I to the conflict in Iraq. Many of the volunteers contributed handprints to the paintings, a Pilato trademark. This first installation can be found on the east side of the brick Masonic building on Fourth and Broad Streets in Emporium.

Dorothy Pifer was known as “Slugger” and ran Pifer’s Cab service in Emporium. Andrew Brady organized Emporium Iron Company, which provided many jobs for the area.

SHC put out a call for other significant community members to honor, and they chose 16 additional people living and dead for the next round of murals. These included a former teacher, a founding businessman, religious figures, a musician, an artist and outdoorsman, a longtime Boy Scout leader, a former taxi driver, a dedicated borough employee, a longstanding mayor, Emporium’s oldest living couple, and a porter from a historic hotel.

After the Cameron County Canvas project concluded, SHC turned the project over to the Cameron County Chamber of Commerce, which helped one family commission a private piece (below right). More murals may be forthcoming. Today, 20 paintings dot downtown Emporium, and each offers a glimpse of the rich characters who make up this town.

Flight Officer Thomas Rogers was shot down over the Mediterranean during World War II, and his family privately commissioned this piece, also by Michael Pilato, which hangs outside the local Veterans of Foreign Wars Hall.

“This was a wonderful project that has helped beautify our community, helps depict some of our local history and establishes an art tourism asset,” says Michelle Clark, SHC board member.

Learn more and find other interesting places to visit in the Pennsylvania Great Outdoors region by going to or calling (814) 849-5197.

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