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Arts Around Town

Arts Around Town: Anthracite, landscapes and glass make for exciting exhibitions at Allentown Art Museum

It has been an extraordinary reopening year for the Allentown Art Museum. Just ask Brooks Joyner, the museum's Priscilla Payne Hurd, president/CEO, who is gearing up for its first anniversary of the reopening with three major exhibitions beginning Sunday.

"We can rejoice at our success over the past 12 months," said Joyner, referring to earlier exhibitions of a salute of Samuel H. Kress with Renaissance and Baroque old masters from around the country, followed by the "Who Shot Rock and Roll" photography exhibit from the Brooklyn Museum, and "At the Edge: The Art of the Fantastic." The two latter shows each drew more than 23,000 visitors, he added.

Joyner said the new offerings will be equally compelling with the paintings of "Franz Kline: Coal and Steel," photographer "Walker Evans & The American Social Landscape Photographers," and "The Lerner Contemporary Glass Collection."

He describes Franz Kline (1910-1962) as "one of the most important members of the American Abstract Expressionists," and the exhibit as one that traces his early years in the northeastern Pennsylvania coal region to his mature and individualistic Abstract Expressionist style. Guest curator Robert S. Mattison, the Marshall R. Metzgar Professor of Art History at Lafayette College, has prepared approximately 70 original works by Kline from both private and public collections.

As for Walker Evans (1903-1975), Joyner said it's "a fascinating exhibition by one of America's greatest photographers, including some of his contemporaries. It's a perfect complement to the Kline exhibition." Included are many landmark images of the Lehigh Valley created in the 1930s, with a new sensitivity and respect toward his subjects. His influence extended to the next generation of photographers as they explored America's social landscape.

More than 70 photographs are from the personal collection of David Sestak, founder and president of Media Five Entertainment. Chief curator of the exhibition is Dr. Diane P. Fischer, with assistance from Sestak, Thomas Shillea, director of art programs at Northampton Community College, and Santa Bannon-Shillea, fine art representative. The exhibition coordinates with the ArtsQuest InVision Photo Festival in November.

Joyner said the Lerner Contemporary Glass Collection is on loan to the museum by Elaine and Leslie Lerner of Allentown, who join with the Art Alliance for Contemporary Glass in celebrating the 50th anniversary of the glass art movement. The exhibit includes 21 unique glass sculptures by 15 significant national and international studio glass artists. They include Lino Tagliapietra, Sidney Hutter, Dante Marioni, and the collaborative team of Harvey Littleton and Kate Vogel.

The exhibition, which runs through April 28, 2013, also is timed to be concurrent with the 50th Anniversary of the Studio Glass Movement, which began in March 1962. It was during a 10-day workshop conducted by Littleton and Dominick Labino at the Toledo Museum of Art that glass was no longer thought of as a craft but as an art. Their demonstrations opened the door for artists in creating glasswork in their own studios. The event coincided with the rise of postmodernism and artists' experimentation with materials beyond traditional media.

A fall preview party for all three of the above exhibitions will be held Saturday from 6 to 8 p.m., at the museum. Special art programs and talks on the Kline and Evans exhibits, which run through Jan. 13, 2013, have been scheduled through December with curators, authors, artists and arts professionals.

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Fall is a busy time of the year for Patti Umlauf, who easily applies her art skills from polymer clay miniatures to edible art creations of food displays and fruit- and vegetable-carved centerpieces.

Umlauf's been carving up a storm for Halloween at her Breinigsville home, punctuating pumpkins and melons with the tiniest details. Her tools can be anything from a ballpoint pen to retired dental tools. She still uses the same three tools she started sculpting with 30 years ago. Her clay sculpting tools also can be used on fruit and vegetables. She said if anyone is serious about carving, there are tools on the market specifically made for such jobs.

"My suggestion to anyone interested in developing any of these skills is 'practice, practice, practice,'" she stressed. "Believe me when I say I love what I do and I am committed to developing my skills. It is often a trade-off in personal social time."

Umlauf said she looks for different textures that can be embossed onto her clay, tubing from the hardware store or cookie cutters that can be hammered into melons and pumpkins. She also frequents local farmers' markets and organic farms for fresh produce.

There's no party theme that's too challenging for this Philadelphia native, whether it's for a wetlands fundraiser, a hospital auction, or an arts reception, to name some.

"As far as food goes, I've played around with everything," Umlauf said. As for sweet treats, "Whatever I can do in clay, I can do in sugar. …You're only limited by your head."

Umlauf majored in art and occupational therapy at Penn State's main campus and after marrying and starting a family, she created a cottage industry in the mid-1980s in the Lehigh Valley. She also worked as a special needs instructor in the East Penn School District.

In 2000, she said she was inspired by the Food Network and came to the conclusion that whatever she was doing with clay, she could do with fondant, gum paste, marzipan and chocolate clay. By 2003, she had developed a portfolio of "food art" and was accepted for a position in the banquet department of Bear Creek Inn and Conference Center in Longswamp Twp., Berks Co.

"In addition to learning my way around a large commercial kitchen and working side by side with some very skilled and talented people, I was given the freedom to explore and develop creativity in the presentation and execution of banquet foods," she said.

Soon she was turning cheese, fruit and vegetables into beautifully designed displays of carved and sculpted melons, vegetable and fruit flowers, a variety of geometrically cut cheese patterns and an occasional butter sculpture.

Umlauf retired from Bear Creek in 2011 to once again pursue her art interests in clay with the addition of designing intricately detailed hand-painted cookie arrangements. Her company, "Jessie's Corner," includes her custom clay specialties, cake and cookie design, and fruit and vegetable carvings. Her clay is sold in retail shops throughout Pennsylvania. Locally, her work can be seen at juried craft shows including Saturday's Holiday Craft Faire at East Hills Moravian Church in Bethlehem, and at Pinebrook Hollow Tree Farm (Nov. 27-Dec. 23) in Emmaus.

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Emmaus High School's a cappella group, Fermata Nowhere, under the direction of Rita Cortez, will be performing as part of the Swingle Singers concert on Saturday at 8 p.m., at the Zoellner Arts Center in Bethlehem. Fermata Nowhere is the winning group in the Bach Choir of Bethlehem's first-ever Bach-Appella Competition, held in conjunction with the Bach Choir's fifth annual Gala Concert Fundraiser featuring international a cappella Grammy-winning group, the Swingle Singers.

Fermata Nowhere will perform Van Morrison's "Moondance" during the second half of the Swingle Singers' concert.

Runners-up are Moravian College Vocalis, under the direction of Paula Zerkle, and the Lafayette College Chorduroys, directed by Tommy Munson. Moravian College Vocalis will perform "This Little Light of Mine" by Moses Hogan, in a pre-concert appearance at 7:40 p.m., in Baker Hall.

The focus of the Bach-Appella Competition was a cappella ensemble singing; choreography was not included in the judging process.

The Swingle Singers were featured on the TV pilot episode, "Glee," and their repertoire spans the musical world from Bach to the Beatles – and all accompanied by their own vocal rhythm section.

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The 1803 House in Emmaus, Lehigh Co., is gearing up for its second annual "Very Merrie Halloween craft show and fall festival on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., rain or shine, on the grounds at 55 S. Keystone Ave. Kids are welcome to come in costume and participate in a parade and pumpkin decorating.

Jamie Smith of Sweet Memories will have a haunted gingerbread house display. Also featured will be juried fall and Halloween crafts and creations, locally grown produce and fall décor under the Harvest Tent, an apple pie baking contest, Halloween storytelling, and a catered pig roast and homemade soup. The 1803 House will be open for tours. All proceeds from the festival will benefit the preservation and maintenance of the historic structure.

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The West End Alliance is holding its 5th annual West End Oktoberfest on North 19th and Liberty streets near the Allentown Fairgrounds on Saturday from noon to 10 p.m., featuring an array of musical entertainment and kids' activities. In addition to polka, music will be provided by The Muhlenberg AcaFellas, and the Dave Goddess Group, plus others.

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The 36th annual Old Allentown Preservation Association House Tour will be held Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., showcasing 12 unique, finely restored period homes and six additional homes highlighting the FUSE SPACES art show and 14 recognizable artists from the Lehigh Valley.

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