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Arts Around Town

Arts Around Town: Catholic art by Berks County's Eric Armusik on its way to Rome

Berks County artist Eric Armusik has been bestowed with high honor for his commissioned painting of soon-to-be-canonized new saint, Blessed Jacques Berthieu (1838-1896), which will be sent to Rome to coincide with the Vatican's canonization of seven new saints. Armusik's work is among several pieces of catholic art by other artists which will commemorate the canonization to be celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI on World Mission Day, Oct. 21.

The 3-foot-by-4-foot oil on masonite, titled "The Martyrdom of Father Jacques Berthieu," is contained in a custom-built tabernacle frame of poplar constructed by Armusik, making the total work measure 5 ½ -feet-by-4-feet.

Armusik, 38, was among the group of artists Wednesday night who were recognized for their work at a dinner gala reception held at the Italian Embassy in Washington. The event was hosted by the board of trustees of the National Museum of Catholic Art and Library and the Ambassador of Italy to the United States and Mrs. Claudio Bisogniero. They were welcomed by Donald Cardinal Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington.

Blessed Jacques Berthieu was a French Jesuit priest who was martyred in Madagascar in 1896. He died while accompanying refugees who were trying to avoid attacks from another tribe. He was stripped of his cassock and beaten with clubs before being forced to walk in the cold rain to come before the tribe chief in his village. Berthieu refused to renounce his faith and received further beatings. His body was dumped into the river and was never recovered.

The National Museum of Catholic Art and Library, which is relocating from New York to Washington, is currently hosting with the U.S. Embassy of the Holy See in Rome an art exhibition, "Saints and Angels," to commemorate the canonization. The work of Armusik and other artists will be featured in a traveling exhibition, "Celebrating the 7 New Saints." The museum has had major collections of religious art previously on loan for traveling exhibitions for the last four years to The Pope John Paul II Cultural Center, The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and The Historical Society of Washington, according to Christina Cox, the museum's founder and president.

Armusik, who was featured in Arts Around Town in July, is internationally known for his epic-sized paintings that portray moments of human experience in dramatic settings in the style of 17th century master Caravaggio. His religious paintings have been commissioned by churches across the country. At the time, Armusik was working on the commission for the National Museum of Catholic Art and Library but could not divulge the subject, saying only that it would have major impact in art history.

Armusik said he recently completed an official portrait of Mary Virginia Merrick, founder of the Catholic charitable organization, Christ Child Society, based in Washington, D.C. He also said some of his paintings, which will include "The Temptation of Christ," will be featured on an upcoming EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network) broadcast with Mother Angelica.

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The Reading Public Museum is "going wild" this fall with animal-related exhibitions beginning Saturday (Sept. 29) through Jan. 13, 2013. Birds, turtles, fish and other sea creatures contribute to an aquatic environment in the museum's ground-floor Cove Gallery, but they're not flying from above or swimming below. They're made of glass and featured in the luminous exhibition, "Animals in Glass," by internationally-renowned glass artist Will Dexter of Taylor Backes Studio in Boyertown.

9/26/12 Story:  Reading Public Museum: Where the wild things are

Also at the museum will be "Animals in Art," from the venue's collection of works on paper, including etchings, engravings, lithographs and watercolors that depict animals. Nearly 30 works ranging from the Renaissance through contemporary will be featured.

Giving a preview of his exhibit, Dexter said there will be glass shore birds and heron-type birds in an environment of "labor-intensive-made" Sawgrass from copper. There will be nest-building birds, plus turtles influenced by the "gorgeously sculptured hydrodynamic shell" of the leatherback, and even a few "Octo-balls."

Dexter grew up on Florida's Gulf Coast, which explains the influence of oceanic overtones in his glass art. What started as a passion for marine biology at the University of Miami turned to glass art studies at the University of Wisconsin. He and his wife, accomplished glass artist Karla Trinkley, earned bachelor and master's degrees in glass from the Tyler School of Art and the Rhode Island School of Design.

Dexter and Trinkley co-founded the Taylor Backes Studio in 1981, to continue developing their own individual styles and to collaborate with other glass artists to produce distinctive, innovative work. Their work has been exhibited nationally and internationally and is in the permanent collections of The Philadelphia Museum of Art, The American Craft Museum, The Corning Museum of Glass, and the Smithsonian Institute.

Locally, work by the Taylor Backes Studio can be found at the Reading Hospital Cardiology Unit and at the Hurd Academic Complex at Moravian College.

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There are a few milestones happening in the Lehigh Valley this season. Allentown is marking its 250th anniversary with numerous celebratory events, beginning this weekend (Sept. 27-29). A Peace & Prosperity Ecumenical Service will be held tonight from 7-8:30 at Allentown Symphony Hall. Friday features "Hess's Hollywood on Hamilton" with fine food and Patio models at various restaurants in the city. On Saturday, it's "The Points of Pride Parade and Community Festival." The parade to downtown Allentown begins at 11 a.m., at William Allen High School. A Community Festival in the downtown runs from noon to 7 p.m. And stay tuned to New Year's Eve for the grand finale.

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The 25th Celtic Classic Highland Games & Festival runs Friday through Sunday (Sept. 28-30) in Historic Bethlehem, featuring the haggis eating contest, Highland games, fiddle competition, drum major competition, and pipe bands.

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The Pennsylvania Sinfonia Orchestra marks its 30th anniversary season on Saturday (Sept. 29), with an opening concert featuring violinist Janet Sung at First Presbyterian Church, Allentown. Sung played with the Sinfonia this past March when she performed J.S. Bach's repertoire for violin. She is associate professor of violin and strings coordinator at the DePaul University School of Music in Chicago.

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The ACE (Arts Community of Easton) Annual Group Show begins Saturday (Sept. 29) through Nov. 3, in the Brown Daub Gallery of the State Theatre. An opening reception is planned for Saturday from 5 to 7 p.m., with awards at 6:15 p.m. ACE members' work will encompass painting (modern and abstract), photography, fiber, jewelry, and mixed media.

Also exhibiting at the theater in the Gallery Annex, beginning Saturday through Dec. 13, is Easton photographer Thomas Kosa, with a display of portraits titled "Time Passed." Kosa's subjects are senior members of the community, past and present, whose photographs reflect time spent in their lifetimes. Included is a portrait of his late grandfather, Norm Cole, an avid model railroader who worked with Steamtown in Scranton.

Kosa exhibited at the State Theatre and at the Allentown Art Museum this past June, as one of the photographers of the annual Freddy Awards in a retrospective of the program's 10-year history. The awards recognize excellence in local high school musical theater. Kosa actually begins snapping the action of the Freddys when rehearsals begin in May at the theater and continues his work right through the live evening broadcast of the awards ceremony.

Kosa majored in commercial photography at Randolph Community College in Asheboro, N.C. He worked as an assistant to Easton photographer Ed Eckstein prior to opening his own studio on Ferry Street.

As a lover of the great outdoors, Kosa offers some advice for fledgling photographers who want to capture special moments this fall. Most important, he said, is to pack your camera at all times.

"Photograph what you see and enjoy. It will come naturally," he said.

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With Election Day fast approaching, Muhlenberg College's Theatre and Dance Department will be part of the national Plays for Presidents Festival, closely tied to the Rock the Vote campaign to inspire people to both register and vote. The college is one of 44 theater groups to produce the Neo-Futurists' "44 Plays for 44 Presidents," opening Saturday (Sept. 29) through Oct. 3, in the Studio Theatre, Trexler Pavilion for Theatre and Dance.

Artistic director Troy Dwyer informs that the play has four directors, two choreographers, five designers, four stage managers, and 20 actors.

"The show is interactive in a super flavorful and playful way," Dwyer explained. "It incites people to talk about politics by showcasing politics in a fun light. There's a narrative momentum to the piece that makes the audience anxious to see how the modern presidents are depicted."

The play highlights the lives of all 44 presidents in short, often comedic, quasi-biographical scenes and varies in style, from a sepia-washed cowboy movie homage to a modern game show. The facts in the show are historically accurate, though it is not a historical play, according to Lily Dwoskin, a co-director. "It's really uniquely vaudeville. It's crazy. A lot of things are going on."

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