Cook Forest’s Cultural Beacon

There are certain activities that are synonymous with Cook Forest. Things like camping, picnics, canoeing, hiking, kayaking, bird watching, musicals, art galleries… wait a minute, seriously?

Seriously, indeed. Did you know that in the heart of Cook Forest lies a magical venue that blurs the line between “getting back to nature” and “big city living”? The Sawmill Center for the Arts does just that (okay, maybe a little more on the rural side, you’re still in Cook Forest after all) by bringing musicals, comedies, ballets, local artisans, craft classes and workshops to Clarion County, proving once and for all that Cook Forest really does have something for everyone.


To learn about the Sawmill Center for the Arts, you first have to hear about its founder. Verna Leith was a determined and passionate woman who saw the potential in a great many things. Where you or I might see a rundown old saw mill, Verna saw an opportunity. A businesswoman and an entrepreneur, Verna established the Sawmill Center for the Arts and took it from humble beginnings to the landmark attraction that it is today.

In honor of this pioneer woman, the Verna Leith Theater was constructed in 1984. This award winning theater – the brainchild of acclaimed designer William Snyder – was the first of its kind in the Eastern United States. The hexagonal shape and ties to the natural surroundings are reminiscent of Shakespeare’s infamous Globe Theater in London, and since its construction the theater has only continued to improve its appeal with professional lighting, side decks, a ticket office, and refurbished seats courtesy of the Silver Fox Playhouse in Foxburg, PA. Patrons can enjoy a wide variety of performances from late May through mid September ranging from ballets and musicals to mysteries and comedies. Typical performance times are 8:00 pm sharp on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday with a 2:00 pm matinee on Sunday.

Tickets are available at the door or they can be reserved by calling 814-927-5275, or emailing

Of course, you could always show up early to the show and spend a few hours perusing the craft market. Featuring an assortment of handcrafted items from local artisans, the Sawmill Center’s Craft Market is Cook Forest’s version of strolling through the Louvre. What’s more, sixty-five percent of each sale made at the Craft Market goes straight back into the pocket of the artisans themselves. Royalties like that would make Andy Warhol jealous! Be sure to stop in frequently, as the inventory at the Craft Market is constantly changing.

So now you’ve seen some live entertainment, you’ve witnessed some quality art pieces, and you’re thinking to yourself, “I’d like to flex my own creative muscles.” Lucky for you, the Sawmill Center for the Arts also offers classes on a huge variety of artistic endeavors. Everything from acrylics and acting to watercolors and woodworking can be learned in fun and exciting classes taught by experts in their respective fields. Who knows, you might discover a talent you never knew you had!

The Sawmill Center for the Arts also offers classes for individuals with mental and/or physical disabilities ages 14 and up through their Creative Hearts program. Interested parties should call 814-927-6655 for more information.

Did we happen to mention the list of special events currently scheduled to take place at the Sawmill Center for the Arts this year? They have a Folk Music Contest (May 14th) an Herb and Fiber festival (June 4th – 5th) the French & Indian War Encampment (June 11th – 12th) a Wild Flower Garden Club Show (June 24th – 25th) a Woodcarving Show/Competition (July 16th – 17th) an Art Festival/Quilt Show (August 20th – 21st) a Chainsaw Carver’s Roundup (Sept 16th – 18th) and they are part of the Gingerbread Tour (November 4th – 6th).

For more information about things to do in Cook Forest call (814) 849-5197 or online at


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