Borough OfWest ChesterPennsylvania

Art, Art, Where Art thou?

Posted September 04, 2015 by Catherine Quillman in Quillscripts

west chester artists , mural , church street gallery , artist john suplee , art exhibits , art

By now it’s a good bet that you have seen one of the replica paintings about town. It is part of a grant-funded project of the  Philadelphia Art Museum. I was surprised that the Chester County Art Association was not honored with one of the paintings, but that’s probably because the museum's “Inside/Out” program is designed to bring art to “unexpected places.”

It would have been fun to see the replica Frederic Edwin Church painting on Church Street – it’s found at Marshall Square Park –  but I suppose the art museum wants to avoid any ironic commentary. I think it’s so typical of the museum’s professionalism that they even included fake gold frames to highlight that these masterworks on not “inside” a museum but “out.”

Lucky West Chester – the borough is one of only five communities in the Philadelphia region to be selected for the Inside/Out display, which continues through mid-November.  (The other sites are Wayne, Norristown, Ambler, and Fishtown.) Judging from the museum press release,  West Chester has a tad more paintings than most communities:   a total of 13 different works in twelve locations. The twelve is not a typo  –  West Gay and Church has a picture frame with two paintings, front and back.

Other art news in historic West Chester: the Church Street Gallery.   It’s been open for more than a year now and it continues to amaze me with its diverse art exhibits and solo shows. I suspect the diversity has to do with the owners:  John  Suplee and his wife Carol Giblin. That’s not a duh! statement.  Yes, as owners, they would of course be responsible for the art work they display.  But they also have a mission with their diversity.

They call their venture a “traditional gallery” but that may be because much of the art they display is representational.  But as a well-known professional artist, John, in particular knows how the art world has been turning, and I suspect he’s going to try to change the axis or at least get people to see how art can change your life, not just your décor.
John and Carol’s “secret” mission can be found in the Thoreau quote posted on the gallery’s home page: "It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see."

Of course, West Chester has another great gallery, Visual Expansion Gallery, on North High.  You can’t say that a gallery that has been in business since 1975 hasn’t influenced the course of Chester County art.   In fact, when I worked in the Philadelphia Inquirer office next door,  I needed only to walk by the gallery's windows to see the next artist who would be in the news.

Great news that the Visual Expansion Gallery has expanded – it’s now located next door, in the former Penwick Design shop, which now runs its custom invitation and stationary business  at the museum shop at the Chester County Historical Society.  (There  has been a lot of  business changes of late in downtown West Chester !)

Visual Expansion’s owner, Mary Manning, framed for several years at the gallery when it was owned by Lorraine Waughn,  wife of the gallery's founder, the late Bill Waughn. Manning is also very community-minded and supportive of local artists.

I recently learned that Mary brought a national trend to the borough: she maintains the free lending library, “Little Free Library,” housed in a bird-house-like structure in front of her gallery.   Shown here is a typical  shop window display in which Mary highlights the work of one or two artists.  The photography is by Fred Weyman, whose talent for digital photography continues to impress.

Fred provided me with the photos shown here of an “artist talk” at the Church Street Gallery  that I missed because of another borough engagement. (The photo below is by Carol.)

Earlier this summer John Suplee called me up to personally invite me to the opening reception of Terry DeAngelo’s solo exhibit.   One of Terry’s works was  inspired by a real-life  mural that is now “decaying” and “flaking,” as the Daily Local News described it,  off Middle Alley and North Walnut. The Local’s account of the art talk is here:
Local resident, Diane LeBold, shown here, was also part of the art talk since she once knew the muralist, John Howard.

Apparently, so did I.  John Suplee discovered that I had written about Howard in the mid-1990s and wanted me to share any stories with Terry, who incidentally, is one of the featured artists in my art book, 100 Artists of the Brandywine Valley.
The Local explains that how Terry discovered the mural, but I wasn’t surprised. Terry has long been the type of talented artist who may explore a territory much like Andrew Wyeth (whom he knew) in order to discover his painting subject rather than deciding on a subject and then going to it.

Howard was an American who had just arrived from Brazilian city of Sao Paulo when I interviewed him in 1996.  (I still like his description of the contrast between his old home and new, noting that West Chester was almost like a "toy town" in its quaintness and charm.) 

I include an excerpt here of my Inquirer profile only because it illustrates Howard’s  take on what he called “graffiti art."  How insightful of Terry to realize that the mural that inspired him was by another devoted artist.
Howard, 57, a native of Detroit, demonstrated his technique on a back wall of his house, where he already had painted a giant angel.
Pausing to shake a can of spray paint vigorously, Howard summed up his technique. "It's sort of like a minuet," he said. "It takes moments to do, but years of practice."

Catherine Quillman - Quillscripts

Catherine Quillman has been a freelance Arts journalist since 1985 and was a suburban staff writer at the Philadelphia Inquirer from 1989  to 2007.  Her last years with the paper were spent incognito - she was the "Spy Diner," covering a broad restaurant scene in the Philadelphia suburbs.

As an illustrator and artist, she loves exploring West Chester and painting its garden-filled backyards and the carriage houses along the alleys. She also enjoys researching and  writing about West Chester's former 19th-century residents (who are as diverse as "Buffalo Bill" Cody and painter Mary Cassatt).  Her research and writing on the borough's "East End," recently earned her a preservation service award from the West Chester Downtown Foundation.

Catherine's walking tours of West Chester are available through her web site and at the museum shop at the Chester County Historical Society.

To read more about Catherine's work, visit her personal web site

She hopes you continue to read her blog, Quillscripts, to discover what to do, what to see, and what best finds there are in West Chester, PA.


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