Arts Around Town

Arts Around Town: 'Best of the best' in American Wildlife Art exhibit at Allentown Art Museum

Nobody tells it better than Dr. David J. Wagner when it comes to wildlife art. Whether you're an artist, collector, conservationist, educator, or sportsman, you'll have a rare opportunity to experience an exhibition of animal-themed works by American artists from colonial times to the present that have been carefully selected by guest curator Wagner for the Allentown Art Museum of the Lehigh Valley. The exhibit, titled "American Wildlife Art," opens Sunday at noon and runs through Dec. 29. A Members Preview and Launch Party will be held Saturday from 6 to 8 p.m.

"It's the ‘best of the best,'" describes Wagner of the exhibit, which evolved from his 424-page, coffee-table book of the same title. He'll be presenting an illustrated talk and book signing on Sunday at 1 p.m., tracing the history and evolution of American wildlife art.

Wagner, who hails from Wisconsin, organizes and promotes wildlife exhibitions and educational programs to museums nationwide. He received his PhD from the University of Minnesota and wrote his dissertation on American wildlife art as a scholar-in-residence at the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology in Otis, Ore. With funding from the Robert S. and Grayce B. Kerr Foundation, he was able to expand his research and develop the book. Wagner also served as director of the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum in his home state.

His hope is that when visitors view the exhibit, "they will be fulfilled by the beauty and incredible capabilities of artists and their work…in the techniques, beauty, and inspiration of imagery. …They are getting a very rare opportunity in the overall scope."

The "American Wildlife Art" exhibit focuses on four centuries of artists, from John White and Mark Catesby to Robert Bateman and Kent Ullberg, all of whom were influenced in the course of history with wildlife and who made a difference by bringing their artistic expression to life. It includes sensitive studies of individual subjects as well as dramatic scenes of life-and-death struggle played out before the backdrop of the great outdoors. It illustrates how ideas about animals and their habits have changed over the years, and how artists and entrepreneurs have developed a market for such art.

Catesby documented the flora and fauna of the New World, while John James Audubon caused the course of American wildlife art history to turn and advance by romanticizing the genre and transforming static composition and design into Baroque masterpieces. Wildlife art was brought to the masses and focused on classic game for sport in collaborations by artist Arthur Tait with publishers Currier & Ives. The seminal sculptures by Edward Kemeys captured the essence of disappearing wildlife like the American bison and wolves. It was around the time that John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt promoted wilderness conservation and the ethics of sportsmanship.

The exhibit also includes early duck-stamp prints and federal duck stamps dating back to 1934, on loan from the National Conservation Training Center in West Virginia. Recent paintings, carvings and sculptures by modern wildlife artists such as Stanley Meltzoff, Robert Bateman and Kent Ullberg also will be on display, in addition to works by regional artists Julie Bell of Allentown, Eric Berg of Philadelphia, Mark Susinno of Harrisburg, and Jason Lee Tako of Dover.

During the course of the exhibit, the Allentown Art Museum has scheduled a series of wildlife-related events. Highlights include: Oct. 12, Birds of the Lehigh Valley by Dr. Barbara Malt of Lehigh University; Oct. 27, An Accidental Sculptor, Eric Berg of the Society of Animal Artists; Nov. 17, Exploring the West with John James Audubon -The Last Exhibition by Dr. Robert McCracken Peck of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, and Dec. 8, Intersections between Science, Nature, and the Arts by Dr. Diane Husic of Moravian College. For the kids, it's Creepy Crawly Critters with the Lehigh Valley Zoo on Oct. 27, and Fall Festival: Worlds of Wonder on Nov. 3.

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Burning Bridget Cleary, based in Harleysville, Montgomery Co., is just one of the many groups lined up for this weekend's annual Celtic Classic, which begins at 4 p.m. Friday in downtown Bethlehem. Members Lou Baldino, Rose Baldino (father and daughter), Deirdre Lockman, and Peter Trezzi completed another musical tour of Ireland in June and recently released a new album, "Pressed for Time," which is gaining national recognition.

Additional Irish tunes can be heard from such favorites as Barleyjuice, Blackwater, Seamus Kennedy, Craig Thatcher and Nyk Van Wyk, and Glengarry Bhoys, along with the Irish Stars School of Dance, and the O'Grady-Quinlan Academy of Irish Dance, and an Irish Comedy Tour.

Highlights of the three-day festival include the haggis contest, with the haggis bowl at 5:15 p.m. Friday, and the Highland games, and pipe bands. The Tartan Parade happens 11:30 a.m. Saturday, beginning on Main Street.

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"It's Instrumental" is the season opener for the Pennsylvania Sinfonia Orchestra on Saturday at 7:30 p.m., at Christ Lutheran Church in Allentown. Featured musicians are Mary Ogletree, violin, and Lawrence Wright, trumpet, with selections by Locatelli, Telemann, Handel and Suk.

The Sinfonia's next concert will feature Dudana Mazmanishvili, piano, on Nov. 9, at First Presbyterian Church, Allentown.

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Campus theater is lighting up, beginning with Neil Simon's Pulitzer Prize-winning "Lost in Yonkers," beginning Wednesday through Oct. 13, on the Act 1 main stage at DeSales University in Center Valley. Directed by Anne Lewis, it's the story of Grandma Kurnitz and her two teen grandsons, Arty and Jay, who come to live with her and Aunt Bella for a year.

Muhlenberg College's "New Voices" world premiere festival in Allentown also begins Wednesday through Oct. 6, with an evening of three one-act plays and an original musical by students on the Studio Theatre stage that spotlights the talent of emerging playwrights. Artistic director for the production is faculty member Matthew Moore. The event is presented every other year as part of the college's theater and dance main stage season.

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