The Top Ten Reasons Why You Need to Visit the Bellefonte Art Museum
By Steven Deutsch.
1. There are nearly 150 local artists in their registry who have the opportunity to show and sell at the museum. These artists may paint, sculpt, draw, collage or do something that is totally new. In one of the Museum’s galleries, you may well find a piece of art that opens your eyes to a new way of seeing, perhaps to a new way of living.
2. The Museum is housed in the John Blair Linn House. Did you know that the house is over 200 years old? Did you know that it once housed a station on the Underground Railroad? Did you know that two of the house’s three stories have been lovingly restored under the knowledgeable eye of the Museum Director, Patricia House? Now you do. The house is spectacular in its own right and would be worth a visit, even if it were art-free.
3. While the Museum is open year-round from 1 to 4:30 PM on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays—or by appointment, the First Sunday public receptions have become a monthly destination for nearly 200 of your Centre County neighbors. First Sunday celebrates a new gallery show and free family art activities in the Children’s Gallery or around the Museum and its gardens. And did I mention the free reception with wonderful food? Don’t fret, I will.
4. There are programs that feature the “Art of Words”—“Out Loud” for poetry and “What’s in a Word” for writing. These events are in the evenings, often on Fridays. Remember February? I believe that sitting in that comfortable, colorful gallery with other happily engaged people and listening to a poetry recital gave me the strength to make it to the spring. Just this year, we had the pleasure of hearing Katie Bode-Lang, a Centre County resident, read from her wonderful book, “The Reformation,” the winner of the American Poetry Review first book prize. It is also a hospitable venue for local poets to read and, since there is an open mike, you might find yourself on stage reciting a piece from the epic story of your life. I have.
5. There is variety. In 2014, there were about 20 different art shows. The “Windows on the World gallery” features art from around the world—Japan, China, Africa, Canada—you get the picture. It has also had art from out of this world, with an exhibit of NASA space photography. And there is a special gallery for showing and selling jewelry, with a different artist’s work each month. In addition, the Museum has an architecture Gallery, which features the work of Anna Wagner Keichline—a woman of Bellefonte who was well ahead of her time. The architecture gallery has special events—including a recent book launch of “Women of Steel and Stone,” by Anna M. Lewis.
6. There are not one but two intimate gardens, one with a new fountain. We are a hardy bunch in Central Pennsylvania, laughing at what winter throws at us, but how nice to sit in a shady garden adjacent to a lovely Museum building on a spring day and contemplate contemplation.
7. Yes, you can bring the children. The Museum has a special area for family art activity and it is buzzing on First Sunday. The Museum partners with local schools, doing school art shows and classroom visits. There are also summer camps taught by local art teachers (these have been a great success.) The Museum was even recognized on the White House blog as a “Let’s Move” facility—a place combining heathy food and movement for children.
8. You will be in good company. The Museum has nearly 400 members and runs almost entirely on the power of its 50 volunteers. It had roughly 7000 visitors in 2013-2014, a number it is sure to surpass this year. The Museum has an operating budget of just over 100K, and this year, for the first time has two salaried employees. Art teachers receive honorariums. While the Linn House is owned by the Borough, the Museum receives no financial support from Bellefonte or Centre County to help maintain or improve it—in fact, one could easily argue that by bringing people downtown it is contributing to the local economy. Funding is through grants and donations. For the past three summers, the Museum programs have worked around a theme. This year it is “The Art of the World,” which to quote the website, “will focus on cultural uniqueness, especially food and art to raise awareness and bolster good will in our community.” Listen up. Some of the planned events are for members only. Past history suggests attendees will be talking about these events with wonder for a long, long time. Membership is the biggest bargain in all of Centre County.
9. What’s that you say? You need a gift for your great-aunt Martha. Well today is your lucky day. The art work in the Museum is for sale. There are wonderful art cards for sale. A new print gallery, featuring three different artists each month has opened on the second floor. And, the Museum even has a web site (bellefontemuseum.org) with special sections to showcase art and events. Soon you will be able to buy your favorite artist’s work in the new virtual gallery. There is something for everyone—even for your terribly picky Aunt Martha.
10. Oh, the receptions. Oh, the food. Who could have predicted that the core group of volunteers—the one’s that kept the building up as an historical Museum, before its current incarnation, would become the nucleus of an exceptional hospitality group? The food is interesting, tempting and delicious. And no, they are not giving out any recipes—you’ve got to be there to sample it. What could be better on a Sunday afternoon then going to a beautiful Museum building, viewing the work of talented artists and then repairing to the tea room to sample delicious tidbits and drink some specially prepared Sangria? By the way, admission is free. Priceless.
There is much more to come. Patricia House, Executive Director of the Museum has worked for over eight years to help create a destination in Bellefonte to celebrate the creative arts. She brings with her 25 years of Museum management and development experience. Under her stewardship, the Museum has grown from one small history gallery to six art galleries with hundreds of members and artists. Large parts of the building have been restored and two gardens, including one with a large fountain, have been added.
Over the next 5 years, Pat would like to see further improvements to the facility. In particular, restoring the two porches and the crawl space between the 2nd and 3rd floors, that once served as a station for the Underground Railroad, are tops on her agenda. A large exhibit space, not necessarily attached to the Museum, would allow for Travelling Exhibitions (shows originating in other Museums, that travel from Museum to Museum) to visit—again expanding the cultural variety available to Centre County residents. Perhaps, the Museum might, at some point, be able to organize their own travelling show.
The growth of the Bellefonte Museum gives Pat House, employees Lori Fisher and Amy Koll, the Trustees and the volunteers much to be proud of. Pat seems most pleased with the heavy involvement of the local artists in planning the direction of the Museum. As Pat told us, “no museum has more respect for the local artist.” The local artists we have spoken to wholeheartedly agree.