Arts Around Town

Arts Around Town: Berks art teacher, author Jane Wolfgang takes the anxiety out of art

Billy's kindergarten class will be having its first art lesson with art teacher Mrs. Magenta. But for five-year-old Billy, he's filled with anxiety because he isn't quite sure what art is or what exactly he'll be doing. But thanks to the teacher's patience in explaining what the class will be doing, Billy feels ready to face the challenge. It's a true story that inspired Governor Mifflin's Jane Wolfgang to write and illustrate the newly-released book, "Art Today!" 

Wolfgang is in her 19th year as an art teacher, with 16 of those years spent at Mifflin. She teaches elementary kindergarten through fourth-grade students and also a class in visual arts at the high school, so she's experienced plenty of frustration felt by young people who've found it hard to ‘let go' in art.

Her humorous story unfolds when young Billy hears what he and others will be doing in art class. He thinks he can do those things because he has already – literally. Mrs. Magenta explains that they will cut in art class, and Billy thinks, ‘Yes, I can cut!' with an illustration that shows him cutting his hair! The teacher also stresses the importance of clean-up. By the end of the book, Billy is proud to show off his artistic accomplishments.

Wolfgang explained the book was two years in the making before she sent a mock-up to Crystal Productions, publisher of art education resources. She credits fellow teachers and a librarian at Mifflin for encouraging her along the way. She said the idea for the story came from an actual kindergarten student she had several years ago.

"He was very anxious and full of questions on that first day," she recalled, "so I felt that a silly story could help. I've since read this story to my kindergartners on their first day of art class."

"Art is a great form of self-expression," explained Wolfgang, a graduate of Kutztown University with a master's degree from Wilkes University. Her favorite part of teaching is creating a lesson. Her "absolute favorite" among author/illustrators is Eric Carle.

"Art is a chance to create, and it's not right or wrong," she said. "It's a great way to relax, to take an idea and bring it to life. I've always told my kids, ‘Be inside your own head and paint or draw.' They don't yet have a sense of how their art looks to someone else."

In a project inspired by illustrator Dave DeVries' "The Monster Engine," Wolfgang recently had her high school students team with her kindergartners. The older students took the monster drawings of the younger students and painted them realistically. The work will be displayed at the elementary school open house/art shows on April 2 (kindergarten-first grade) and April 3 (grades 2-4).

Wolfgang said she also has written and illustrated another book, "Pierre the Paintbrush," which she hopes to have published.

"Art Today!" is available locally at the GoggleWorks at North Second and Washington streets in Reading and at the Firefly Bookstore, 230 W. Main St. in Kutztown.

For further info:     



Emerging jazz artist Nathan Bellott of Berks County will debut "The Nathan Bellott Band" at the Berks Jazz Fest on Friday at 11 p.m., at Craig Poole's Jones Street East at the Crowne Plaza Reading. It's part of the Young Faces of Jazz series during the Berks Jazz Fest. Bellott, on saxophone, will be joined by Dana Malseptic on piano, Walter Stinson on bass and Matt Honor on drums. Malseptic paired with Bellott last December for a concert at the Yocum Institute for Arts Education in Wyomissing.

"I'm really excited and happy we can make it happen," said Bellott, of his new music venture. The 22-year-old senior at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York City also will be participating in the festival's opening reception on Friday from 5:30 to 7 p.m., at the Santander Performing Arts Center in Reading.

Bellott and musician Chris Heslop will perform a duo concert, "The Sound of Time," on April 6, at 8 p.m., at the Yocum Institute, as part of a special festival edition of the Institute's Musical Collaboration series.

The Young Faces of Jazz series continues with "Temple Avenue" featuring Seth Ebersole on saxophone on Saturday at 11 p.m., at Craig Poole's.

Some other events surrounding the Berks Jazz Fest include: The Berks High School All-Star Jazz Band and the All-Star Chorus on Sunday at 7 p.m.; Pat Souders & the Ortlieb's All-Stars on Monday at 7 pm.; Craig Thatcher Band and Mike Dugan with a tribute to the Allman Brothers on April 5, at 2 p.m., all at Building 24 Live in Wyomissing, and Duo with Charlie Wanyo on April 5, at 7 p.m., at The Speckled Hen in Reading.

For further info:    


Pulitzer Prize-nominated author Scott Weidensaul will share highlights from his most recent book, "Gone for Another Day," a sequel to "Gone for the Day" by the late Pennsylvania naturalist Ned Smith, on Saturday at 4 p.m., in the visitor center gallery of Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Albany Twp., Berks Co. The talk will feature nearly 50 years of unpublished field sketches, drawings and hand-drawn maps by Smith.

Weidensaul, longtime board member at Hawk Mountain, said Smith's connections to the facility were deep, with annual hawk-watching pilgrimages.

"In 1984, Smith marked the sanctuary's 50th anniversary with ‘Hawk Mountain Gold,' a painting of two golden eagles passing the North Lookout," Weidensaul said. "It was one of his finest works, and among the last before his death."

Smith was recognized as a premier nature artist of the 20th century, with a 45-year career in creating thousands of paintings and drawings for such publications as "Pennsylvania Game News," "National Wildlife," "Field and Stream," and "Sports Afield."

Weidensaul, left, spent two years scouring entries from Smith's journals. The final selection offers a variety stretching from the summer of 1936 when Smith was 17, through his very last entry on April 22, 1985, the day before he died of a heart attack at age 65. It also features dozens of illustrations and photos of the artist and his late wife, Marie, in the outdoors.

For further info:


"Icons of British Sculpture" will be on exhibit beginning Saturday through Aug. 10, at the Reading Public Museum, featuring works by some of the 20th century's most recognized sculptors including Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Lynn Chadwick, Kenneth Armitage, Anthony Caro and Barry Flanagan. Mostly small scale works, including a group of maquettes or studies for much larger compositions, are examined. The small works reveal how many of the artists expressed their initial sculptural ideas. Additional works on paper by several of the artists also are included in the show.

For further info:


See what's happening in the local arts scene at the next Allentown Art Squawk in the downtown area on Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m., with open houses at local galleries and studios along and in the vicinity of West Hamilton Street. That also includes The Baum School of Art and the Allentown Art Museum.

For further info:


The Pennsylvania Playhouse, Illicks Mill Road, Bethlehem, presents the Tony Award-winning musical, "La Cage Aux Folles," with music and lyrics by Jerry Herman and book by Harvey Fierstein, beginning Friday through April 13. It's based on the 1973 French play of the same name by Jean Poiret.

The cast includes Fred Broadbent as Georges, Kerry McGuire as Albin/ZaZa, Johnathan Lynch as Jean-Michel, and Payton Sherry as Anne, whose parents Edouard and Marie Dindon are played by Mickey Brown and Mary-Catherine Bracali.

Director is Brenda V. McGuire, with music direction by Nancy Broadbent and choreography by Jennifer Dorn.

For further info:


Haydn's "Creation," based on the Book of Genesis and Milton's epic poem, "Paradise Lost," will be sung in English on Sunday at 4 p.m., by the Bach Choir of Bethlehem at First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem, 2234 Center St. Bach's artistic director and conductor, Greg Funfgeld, will hold a pre-concert lecture at 3 p.m. Soloists will be soprano Kendra Colton, tenor Benjamin Butterfield and bass-baritone Dashon Burton.

For further info:


Bethlehem's Charles A. Brown IceHouse, 56 River Rd., Sand Island, heats up on Saturday at 8 p.m., when "Godfrey Daniels Night" features the award-winning Craig Thatcher Band. The full-electric band will include violinist Nyke Van Wyk, along with musicians Don Plowman, Wayde Leonard, Craig Kastelnik, and special guest Mike Dugan.

For further info: 610-867-2390


Four of the area's photographers and figure models come together on May 17, to share their experience and knowledge for creating memorable fine art figure photographs. It all happens in a day-long workshop from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., at Little Pond, 92 S. Penn Dixie Road, Nazareth, with Scott Nichol, Olaf Starorypinski, Rick Sweitzer and Gregory Tapler.

For further info/reservations:        


Congratulations to Muhlenberg College dance students and longtime guest choreographer Charlotte Boye-Christensen, whose dance work, "Key," has been selected for inclusion at the National College Dance Festival at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., June 5-7.

The work was selected by the American College Dance Festival Association, which presents the National Festival. It's one of just 31 dance works to have been selected from more than 500 submissions nationwide. It was one of only three selected from the 45 works performed at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference, March 17-20.

The five-member cast includes Allison Berger '14, Katharine Dougherty '14, Gwynne Jones '15, Krysta Parker '16 and Annabel Williams '14.

Christensen, a native of Copenhagen, Denmark, is former artistic director of the Ryrie-Woodbury Dance Company. She recently formed NOW-ID, an interdisciplinary contemporary dance company.

For further info:


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