The Lancaster County Art Association is a good example of the phrase “the more things change, the more they stay the same”.
In its 85 year history, Lancaster County’s oldest arts organization has seen the popularity of global art movements rise and fall, the invention of new ways to create and present art, and great changes in the town and landscape of Lancaster County.
The Lancaster County Art Association has seen the success of its longtime members, held hundreds of exhibitions, and in 1998 moved from a historic building at 22. E. Vine St. in Lancaster to its current home at 149 Precision Ave. in Strasbourg. But despite all these changes, the organization’s objectives have remained the same: to promote local artists, welcome and encourage professional and amateur artists of all ages, and increase interest in art in the region.
“(The LCAA) is one of the few places where an artist, at any level, amateur or professional, can be a member and sell or not sell their work,” says Patricia Keller, a 78-year-old East Hempfield resident. years and a member for more than 30 years. “It is important to maintain the arts in the region. We have contributed a lot.
The Lancaster County Art Association is celebrating its 85th anniversary with an exhibit titled “Lancaster County Color,” which opened June 12 and is on display in the building’s Kauffman Gallery through July 7. The exhibit features 186 5-by-7-inch artworks mounted on 8-by-10-inch acid-free mats organized on the walls by color groups. For example, pieces that highlight yellow are grouped together on one wall, while those with blue as the main color are arranged on another wall.
“Our gallery is like a giant color wheel,” says gallery director Carol Herr. “Subjects range from landscapes to people to animals. There’s a nice variety of things. I think over the past few years the exhibits are getting better and better. We have a lot of professional artists, but our non-professional category really hits the mark. Often you can’t tell the difference between who is professional and who is not.
The work is available for sale for $55 or two pieces for $100. According to Keller, the group typically puts on about 10 shows a year, and the artists keep 70% of their sales, with 30% going to the organization. But for this exhibition, all of the work was donated by many of the 250 members of the Lancaster County Art Association. Proceeds from this exhibit will help fund the ongoing mission of the local arts education organization with a variety of classes ranging from outdoor painting, pottery, to community development with activities for members and the promotion with exhibitions and sales.
“We’ve had a number of sales,” Herr, 64, said of the fundraiser so far.
And after the challenges presented by COVID-19, the funds are more appreciated than ever.
“The pandemic has hit us really hard when it comes to our class enrollment. It was really down over the last two years.
The Lancaster County Color exhibit celebrates local art and features many works inspired by the area’s natural beauty, but members of the Lancaster County Art Association have also made sure to include a nod to the long and colorful history of the group.
“We have scrapbooks that we put out that have different newspaper articles and photos of different people over the years,” says Herr, of East Drumore Township. “Over the past two years, we have unfortunately lost longtime members, so looking back, I see a lot of members we miss.”
Herr, an oil painter and member of the Lancaster County Art Association for more than 40 years, says the group is made up 50-50 of professional and amateur artists, ranging from seniors to artists in their 20s. Members of the Lancaster County Art Association can talk about their craft during classes, social gatherings, and critique groups.
“It’s great because as artists we’re sort of alone in most cases, painting in our studios,” Herr says. “And it really gives you an outlet, other people you can talk to about art that know what you’re talking about.”
The Lancaster County Color exhibit isn’t the only art exhibit currently on display at the Lancaster County Art Association. True to their mission to support their members, another exhibition, the George Chapman Benefit exhibition, is presented in the smaller Steinmetz gallery. The exhibit features works available for purchase by George Chapman, a member of the Lancaster County Art Association who is in nursing.
It’s this sense of community that Herr says sustains the band.
“I think it’s the members that really get things done,” Herr says.
Lancaster’s colorful art history
Throughout the organization’s 85 years, its mission has always been to enhance Lancaster County’s arts scene, build on local artistic traditions, and support local artists.
In a 1985 Sunday News article, Daniel Witmer, then president of the Lancaster County Art Association, asked, “Why should local businesses travel to New York to buy interior paint for their offices? They could support their own local artists and get artwork.
And more than 30 years before, in a 1950 Lancaster New Era article, Grace Steinmetz, who founded the organization with Mary Black Diller in 1936, dove deep into the art history of Lancaster County and its traditions on which the group wanted to rely.
“The Lancaster County Art Association…aims to foster interest in art in this community,” Steinmetz wrote, then described the area’s rich artistic history.
Steinmetz cited pioneering Lancaster County artists such as Jacob Eichholtz, a cooper, born in 1736, who painted and drew in his spare time and learned portraiture from Gilbert Stuart – the man who painted the famous portrait of George Washington. Steinmetz then wrote about one of Eichholtz’s contemporaries, Robert Fulton. Fulton, best known for developing the steamboat, began his career as an artist. Steinmetz also mentions sculptor and painter Blanche Nevin, who, among other subjects, sculpted a bust of Woodrow Wilson as well as the lion sculpture in Lancaster’s Reservoir Park. Poet and painter Lloyd Mifflin and Charles Demuth were also named by Steinmetz as part of Lancaster County’s colorful art history.
As the region’s oldest arts organization, the Lancaster County Art Association has seen a number of its members such as painters Myrtle Tremblay, Constantine Kermes and others gain acclaim beyond the region’s art scene. The group aims to continue to build on the artistic traditions of Lancaster’s past as it looks to the future.
“Lancaster County is a special place for art,” says Keller. “Whatever your medium, you can never run out of subject. There is always something that can capture your imagination. It’s an artist’s dream here.