Arts Around Town

Arts Around Town: Cityscapes make Parkland physics teacher Jeff Wetherhold worthy of 'texting'

Jeffrey Wetherhold is passionate about instilling a love for physics in his 11th and 12th grade students. Viewing himself as a "perpetual student" of the subject, this Parkland High School teacher has a unique way of applying science to life through art and animation in the classroom. Come next month, his award-winning techniques will be recognized worldwide as one of his original "Cityscapes" paintings makes the pages of the latest edition of a well-respected physics textbook. His Cityscapes also will be on public display at the high school's Trojan Art Gallery on weekdays and by special appointment during December.

For the past three years, Wetherhold has exhibited at the annual Art in the Park held in June at West Park in Allentown. He also exhibited at last week's "8 x 8" art fundraiser to benefit the Allentown Academy of the Arts at William Allen High School, his alma mater. It is a photo of Wetherhold creating one of his Cityscapes titled "Morning Train" that was selected for the 12th edition of Paul G. Hewitt's well-known "Conceptual Physics" textbook.

Just as physics has been the main hobby for Wetherhold, his bold, acrylic Cityscapes provide description to the various aspects of the science. A city is a physicist's playground, he explained. Bridges, skyscrapers and trains are governed by Newton's Laws and Maxwell's equations. A train can smoothly and efficiently transport passengers because a net force on the train, which is caused by an electromagnetic phenomenon, causes the train to accelerate out of a station and travel over a bridge, which is stable and safe because the net force acting on the bridge is zero. The moon in his paintings symbolizes the greatest physics achievement of all time which, he said, was putting a man on the moon.

He credits his artistic abilities from his parents and also cites close friend and professional artist, Rady Amen El Basha, and his mother, Roberta Jacoby, for taking him under their wings and exposing him to New York City's SOHO art scene in what he described as "the tumultuous 1970s."

Wetherhold attends weekly classes in Parkland's Artworks program led by art teacher Linda La Due. She described his work as "Edward Hopper-esque" in style, with bridges, arches and rivers. "His (Wetherhold's) work is colorful, dynamic and whimsical," she added.

Retired Allen High School art teacher Joan Gaydos, who had Wetherhold as a student in elementary school, called him "a great example of the importance and impact an elementary arts education in public schools can make. He proves that an education in the arts is an education for life."

The Kutztown University alumnus started at Parkland in 1985, alone in the physics department and in a room which he described as "lacking good physics equipment." Raring to go as a new teacher, he wanted demonstrations at hand for practically every physics topic he introduced to his students. His classroom collection grew from a toy acrobat to a plasma ball connected to an old telephone's electromechanical generator. Through the backing of generous financial support from the community, the Association of Physics Teachers and former department head, Dr. Cary Boyer, Wetherhold said he was able to build the physics program into what it is today.

He has since created a Web site that includes a video tour of his classroom "filled with gizmos and toys," and numerous stop-motion cartoons on physics topics. In 2010, his cartoon, "Acceleration and Uniform Circular Motion," captured first place in the category of Circular Motion in the USA Science and Engineering Festival's Great Science Teacher Video Contest.

Wetherhold said he became acquainted with author Paul Hewitt in the 1980s, while attending science conferences. Hewitt first became aware of Wetherhold's art through his web art page and described him as "a colorist with a natural grasp of colors." Hewitt was a former boxer, uranium prospector, sign painter, and cartoonist before he fell in love with physics in his late 20's. He developed a conceptual approach to learning physics which led to his writing the "Conceptual Physics" textbook.

Hewitt's approach, which fascinated Wetherhold, engaged students with analogies and imagery from real-world situations to build a strong conceptual understanding of physical principles ranging from classical mechanics to modern physics. He believed that if students had a strong conceptual foundation, they would be better equipped to understand the equations and formulas of physics, and to make connections between the concepts of physics and their everyday world.

Wetherhold, himself, has influenced many instructors of physics and math to integrate those disciplines in the classroom. He has authored numerous articles for national science publications and has presented teacher training workshops throughout the greater Lehigh Valley and Philadelphia areas. He also designs physics equipment marketed through Ward's Science, which provides teacher resources. His latest for teaching circular motion is a motorized, tethered-to-the-ceiling toy airplane which combines ideals of physics and math in predicting the tension of its string.

He helped create activities for Dorney Park's annual Coaster Quest event, a one-day learning adventure for the region's middle and high school students. He also created an interactive DVD, "Physics Phun," that can be found in classrooms as well as the Da Vinci Science Center in Allentown.

Wetherhold received the 2007 Da Vinci Science Center Science Hall of Fame Award and the 2002 Lehigh Valley PBS Education Visionary Award. In 2005, one of his students was selected by the American Association of Physics Teachers to help represent the United States in the International Physics Olympiad.

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A new exhibit, "Pip: The Architect's Apprentice," opens today at The Liberty Bell Museum, 622 W. Hamilton St., Allentown. The city's lovable Pip the Mouse shows off the gingerbread house he built himself, and with a history of some children's toys traditionally used to build houses, from Lincoln Logs to K'Nex.

The current exhibit at the museum, "Historic Architecture in a Changing Cityscape: Architect Lewis Jacoby," focuses on the Allentonian's classic structures, including the Beaux-Arts-style National Bank Building, now home to the Center Square Apartments on the northeast corner of Seventh and Hamilton streets; the Breinig and Bachman building, whose terra-cotta animals watch over traffic at the southeast corner of Sixth and Hamilton streets, and Zion's "Liberty Bell" Church, with its ornate, awe-inspiring sanctuary. Jacoby also designed numerous homes, including that of General Harry C. Trexler.

The exhibit coincides with the 125th anniversary of Zion's church sanctuary.

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The Berks Arts Council once again presents "Fast Lane Art, a celebration of work by students and professional artists on highways throughout greater Reading. Creators of top works will have their winning entries reproduced larger than life and displayed on billboards across the county. Scholarship prizes will be awarded to four high school artists and cash prizes to two professional artists, in addition to their art displayed throughout the year on available billboards, courtesy of Land Displays.

Artists will create artwork in a 7" x 20" format for reproduction on a billboard. Works in all media will be reviewed; there is no theme or other restriction for work submitted. Artists should submit a high-resolution digital image for the juried process. All work should be submitted electronically through Deadline for entries is Dec. 31. Pieces accepted for exhibition should be delivered to the Berks Arts Council offices at the beginning of January.

Winners will be announced and billboards unveiled at a special event hosted by the Berks Arts Council on Jan. 31, 2014, at the Crowne Plaza – Reading in Wyomissing.

Work will be reviewed by Matthew Daub, nationally-known watercolor artist and educator.

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For Berks County, it's "Home for the Holidays," a romantic comedy written in the style of Neil Simon by the county's own Landon Scott Heimbach, with Elizabeth McClain. Additional dialogue is by Cynthia Haynes DiSavino. The show opens tonight at 8 and runs through Sunday in the main ballroom of the Abraham Lincoln, a Wyndham hotel, in historic Reading.

Allison Blaine (Marissa Hoover) thought her life with Danny Goldstein (Mark Elliot) was perfect. That is until her Southern Baptist parents, Elaine Blaine (Laura Stewart) and Edward Blaine (John Fielding), arrive unannounced on Christmas Eve. Mad antics ensue with the Irish landlady (Cheryl Crummett), Danny's brother, Jonah (Brian Miller), and his grandfather, Aaron (Mike Pardo).

The show is directed by Santo D. Marabella, assisted by Randy Miller.

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A model railroad and train exhibit titled "All Aboard" rolls into Allentown beginning Saturday at 11:30 a.m., at the Lehigh Valley Heritage Museum. Thomas the Tank Engine, along with his friend, Percy, will occupy the museum's interactive Thomas Fun Room for children. The exhibit will run through Jan. 12, 2014.

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Allentown native Denise Donatelli opens Zoellner Arts Center's first on-stage cabaret of the season on Friday with shows at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m., at Lehigh University in Bethlehem. She will be accompanied by Geoffrey Keezer on piano.

Donatelli has recorded four albums, three of which have earned her Grammy nominations including best jazz vocal album and best arrangement accompanying a vocalist. She performs nationwide at jazz festivals, jazz clubs, arts centers and university jazz bands. She also has won singing spots on TV's "The Simpsons," "Frasier," "Card Sharks," and Turner Classic Movies.

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Grammy Award-winner Elvis Costello takes the stage of the State Theatre in Easton on Saturday at 8 p.m. He's released 32 studio albums since 1977, with his most recent album, "Wise Up Ghost," released in September and as a collaboration with The Roots.

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