Arts Around Town

Arts Around Town: Caricature carver Pete LeClair creates from ‘eggs-aggeration'

Pete LeClair is surrounded by eggheads small enough to be put all in one basket before he hops a plane in Florida and heads north. That's because he'll be sharing his method of how wooden objects can be brought to life at a three-day caricature carving workshop he'll be leading from May 23 to 25, at the GoggleWorks Center for the Arts in Reading. Actually, LeClair's subject for participants will be hobos, or faces with exaggerated features of bulbous noses, oversized ears, crooked teeth and expressive eyes. It begins step-by-step, starting with a good foundation and building on from there.

At age 76, LeClair, of Gardner, Mass., has been having the time of his life traveling throughout the country and sharing his carving methods for 30-plus years. He's even authored three books on carving (Schiffer Publishing) along the way. In recent years, his methods have extended to carvers abroad in England and Australia. His workshops consist primarily of those in their 40s on up to those who are retired, like himself.

For 37 years, LeClair was employed as an operating engineer for a paper company in New England after serving with the U.S. Navy. He started carving caricatures as a hobby in 1973 and eventually found himself teaching carving classes in the adult education system of Fitchburg, Mass. In 1990, he began exhibiting his work at woodcarving shows and started gaining recognition and requests for teaching seminars. He is a member of the Caricature Carvers of America.

He said some of his early carvings included sea captains and nautical figures of the New England region before he tackled hillbillies and cowboys. His current basswood exaggerations, some standing no taller than 12 inches, range from eggheads to busts and full-bodied hobo clowns. He's even created legendary figures "with distinct faces," such as actor Humphrey Bogart and House Speaker Tip O'Neill. Even President Obama has come under the knife.

What LeClair refuses to become, he said, is a couch potato whittling away the rest of his productive years sitting in front of the television. Instead, he said he stays away from red meat and encourages other retirees to "stay active, even if it's walking." Guess you could say he whittles while he works. He's a man of good humor who has found his niche in life by observing and interpreting the human race, one nick at a time.

"I'm a great people-watcher, especially at an airport where I watch how people carry themselves," said LeClair, during this phone interview from Florida. He was on his way to Brasstown, N.C., where he would be teaching a carving workshop at the John C. Campbell Folk School.

A light reception with LeClair will be held at the GoggleWorks on May 22, from 5 to 7 p.m., the night before the workshop.

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Also at the GoggleWorks: With April designated as Child Abuse Prevention Month, Berks County Children and Youth Services has collaborated with the GoggleWorks to launch the exhibit themed "Silence – because we don't want to believe that adults hurt children Silence – allows the abuse to continue." Work by local artists will be on display through April 30, on the second floor of the Berks County Service Center.

According to Brian Foreman, program director at GoggleWorks, Pa. Sen. Judy Schwank, D-Berks Co., was to visit the center this morning and recognize the artists and their work. She also was to recognize the work of Berks County Children and Youth Services staff and affiliates and review the status of child welfare efforts in Pennsylvania.


The award-winning musical, "The Music Man," marches into Center Valley, Lehigh Co., on Wednesday at 8 p.m., when Act 1 DeSales University Theatre presents the family-friendly production through May 4, on the main stage of the Labuda Center for the Performing Arts.

With music and lyrics by Meredith Willson and book by Willson and Franklin Lacey, "The Music Man" tells the story of fast-talking con man, Harold Hill, who poses as a boys' band organizer and leader, selling instruments and uniforms to the naïve townspeople of River City, Iowa, vowing to musically train their young boys and promising to keep them off the streets and out of trouble. Things don't go as planned, especially when librarian Marian Paroo sees through him and begins to fall in love.

The score, alone, is a show-stopper with tunes such as "Goodnight, My Someone," "Till There Was You," "Gary, Indiana" and "Seventy-Six Trombones."

The DeSales cast has Matt Kleckner as Harold Hill and Marie Pfender as Marian Paroo. The ladies of River City include Ashleen Rowan, Caitlin Dailey, Monica Handwerk and Amanda Steckerl.

Director is DeSales Performing Arts division head John Bell, who conducts the orchestra. Choreographer is Stephen Casey, who recently choreographed Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival's "Oklahoma!" Musical director is J. Bennett Durham, coordinator of choral activities and liturgical music at DeSales. The design team includes Will Neuert for set design, Amy Best for costumes, Elizabeth Elliott for lights, and Matthew Given for sound design.

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Easton artist Nancy Bossert's mixed media work, "May I Carry the Icon," recently earned top honors in the Bethlehem Palette Club's 66th annual Spring Juried Exhibition at the Crayola Gallery at the Banana Factory in Bethlehem. The exhibit runs through May 25. Awards were presented earlier this month during the First Friday celebration.

Linda Anderson's oil, "Christmas Musing," took second prize, followed by Li-hsien Price's oil, "Royal Hawaiian," placing third.

Juror was Ross Mitchell, executive director of the Violette de Mazia Foundation.

Other winners are: fourth place, oil, "Apples, Mums, and Grapes" by Ed Brazee of Bethlehem; fifth, watercolor, "City Rhythm" by David Lee of Whitehall Twp., Lehigh Co.; sixth, oil, "Boat at Rest" by Maria D. Kasakia of Hellertown, Northampton Co., and seventh, watercolor, "Descending" by Arlene B. Ginsburg of Emmaus, Lehigh Co.

Honorable mention went to: Oil, "Touching Light" by Karen Krimmel of Nazareth, Northampton Co.; collage, "Waikiki Windows" by Susan Levin of Allentown, and pastel pencil, "Maria" by Louise Arlen Cosgrove of Allentown.

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The East Penn community paid tribute to a very special woman last Saturday who, at age 63, lost her fight against brain cancer. Her name was Martha Vines, and if the name doesn't ring a bell, her affiliation for nearly 30 years as the children's librarian at the Emmaus Public Library surely will. Martha was the woman with the short and shocking red hair who would greet you and willingly search the card catalogue or computer for the book you were looking for, sometimes even offering you the book she thought you should be reading. She gave her utmost attention to my daughter, Lauren, and her school mates during summer reading programs in those elementary school years, and to my granddaughter, Addison, 3, and her peers during weekly story hours. It was like Martha to begin reading a story and showing the pages and then flying off on a tangent about something else. I would marvel at how she somehow brought it all together. She adored young people and the creativity they brought at her feet. They were her captive audience for the written word, and she would never abuse having such a special role in their formative years.

Martha was a friend to the arts of East Penn and the Lehigh Valley. Her volunteerism extended to the Emmaus Historical Society, Emmaus Farmers Market, Civic Theatre of Allentown, and State Theatre of Easton, where she was active for many years behind-the-scenes at the annual Freddy Awards. She adored events that showcased the talents of students of all ages. It was always after the Freddy Awards that she would grab your ear throughout the summer at the Emmaus Farmers Market about the roles the students portrayed in their school musical productions.

"Martha volunteered for the Freddy program from its inception," said Shelley Brown, who started the program back in 2003. "Her favorite thing was to be around young people. She was one of our most enthusiastic volunteer seat-fillers on show night. I think she probably knew every single student from Emmaus, since her "day-job" was children's librarian at the Emmaus Public Library. She would always refer to those kids as her ‘babies'…but, be assured, she loved them all!"

Widowed since 1987, Martha lived not only for her two sons, George and John, but for all the children of our community. It is with fitting tribute that her family has requested that contributions be made to the Emmaus Public Library in support of the new children's wing.

One of her closest friends, Donna Brown, summed up Martha on Facebook as "the self-declared unofficial Emmaus ambassador extraordinaire." Martha had the greatest role of all.


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