Arts Around Town

Arts Around Town: 'Common vision' shared in Allentown exhibits of 'Fabulous Flappers,' 'Haitian Art'

A common vision is shared by artists and designers of different cultures who were inspired to portray their culture in a unique and visually stimulating manner. That's how J. Brooks Joyner, president and CEO of the Allentown Art Museum of the Lehigh Valley, described two new exhibits that will open to the public on Sunday -- "Fabulous Flappers: Fashion from the Ellie Laubner Collection" and "Haitian Art from the Rodale Family Collection." Each will have its run through April 14.

"While inspired by two very different traditions, cultures and circumstances that seem divergent and somewhat at odds," Joyner explained, a common vision was shared by the artists and designers who created the fashion of the Roaring 20s in America and the artists of Haiti who characterized their nation's history and contemporary society "with unparalleled vividness and vibrancy."

Sharing a 30-year quest of acquiring clothing and accessories reflecting the styles, events, technology, decorative arts, and the sociological changes taking place in our society, is former teacher Ellie Laubner of Allentown. Laubner said she hopes those who experience the "Fabulous Flappers" exhibit will leave "having learned something" on fashion and its impact on society.

"Fashion is the mirror of history," she explained of her lifelong work in collecting and reporting on vintage clothing. In 2009, she donated more than 2,000 items spanning over 200 years from her private collection to the museum.

Also opening on Sunday will be an exhibit of paintings focusing on exotic, tropical scenes from the heart of the Caribbean, titled "Haitian Art from the Rodale Family Collection." Works by select artists of Haiti, including the generation of painters influenced by the founders of Haitian national art school in the 1940s, were purchased in the mid-1980s by the late Robert Rodale of Lower Macungie Twp., Lehigh Co. At the time, Rodale, chairman and CEO of Rodale Inc., was interested in improving conditions in underdeveloped countries including Haiti and had befriended Jacques Lauriac, director of two French relief organizations there.

The vibrant, colorful Haitian art includes animals, lush landscapes both real and imagined, wedding ceremonies, city scenes, and Vodou (Voodoo) imagery.

An opening party for both exhibits will be held Sat., Feb. 9, from 6 to 8 p.m., at the museum, when guests are encouraged to wear 20s-style dress or colorful island garb. A series of programs relating to the exhibits will be held during their run.

"It's like Christmas every day," described Kayla O'Connor, curator of the "Fabulous Flappers" exhibit. "Every box we've opened has had some fascinating item of fashion. I hope patrons will feel the age of Art Deco and the influence it had on society. The exhibit is a good snapshot of this beautiful time in our history."

Since many fabrics of the 20s were sheer, Laubner said members of the museum's curatorial staff along with the Lehigh Valley chapter of the Embroiderers' Guild of America worked diligently to "strengthen" the dresses for display.

The exhibit shows off the dramatic fashion of a transitional decade in American history and the liberating role of the Flappers, or young women who delighted in defying the social norms of the era by bobbing their hair and wearing short skirts. Night clubs and speakeasies were the scene to be seen, and Laubner's collection includes evening gowns dripping with rhinestones, sequins and beads. Accessories include bridal headpieces adorned with traditional wax orange blossoms, period handbags of beads, mesh and leather, elegant footwear, and flasks. Lingerie reflects the voluptuous lines of the Art Nouveau period to the boyish figure of the Art Deco era.

Laubner documented every item she acquired through the years. She said signage will play an important role in the exhibit as it explains the history of an item rather than who donated it.

A former Head Start teacher (K-4) who received her bachelor's degree in elementary education from East Stroudsburg University, Laubner said her quest to acquire vintage clothing and accessories began in 1981, as a member of AAUW (American Association of University Women). The Cincinnati native was one of many mothers with the organization who had an interest in antiques and presented monthly reports on the subject. She said she wanted to present a talk on clothing and asked her mother-in-law, Margaret Laubner of Stroudsburg, for some help. Having an underlying passion to be an antiques dealer, her mother-in-law was generous to donate her own acquired collection of evening gowns and beaded bags for the event.

"That led me to look everywhere for clothing, including junk shops and auctions," Laubner recalled. "Suddenly ladies who were downsizing were giving me clothes."

Laubner has presented hundreds of lectures and courses on "Flapper Fashions" for college and convention audiences. She also has had vintage exhibits at the Kemmerer Museum in Bethlehem. From 1986 to 1992, she taught "History of Costume" and "Color, Line and Design" at Northampton Community College for fashion merchandising students.  In 1996, she authored the book, "Fashions of the Roaring Twenties," followed by "Collectible Fashions of the Turbulent 1930s."

Laubner explained how she did her own photography for the books, using her bedroom as a studio. "Each day, I would bring in painter lights and use extension cords so as not to blow fuses. I would steam the clothing and set it up. I took the film to be developed overnight. Then I had to put the bedroom back together again for sleep that night." Each book took about three years in the making, she added.

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While 'common vision' is going on in Allentown, "Common Ground" is happening for Craig Czury, poet laureate of Berks County. The Reading resident developed a regional writing project called "Common Ground: A Community Conversation about Natural Gas and Northeastern PA." It's a partnership program involving Keystone College, Countryside Conservancy, Edward L. Rose Conservancy, North Branch Land Trust, Cabot Oil and Gas, and Summerhouse Grill. 

The recipient of the prestigious F. Lamott Belin Scholarship for Artists from the Waverly (PA) Community House, Czury is continuing his project of hitchhiking through what he calls "the heart of fracking country" in Springville, Susquehanna Co., and gathering "thumb notes" of poetry inspired by his interviews with gas workers, farmers and locals. He said the project captured the attention of NPR (National Public Radio) this past fall and a documentary film company on the West Coast earlier this month.

Czury will be returning to Reading's GoggleWorks, where he'll be leading an eight-week class, "Writing and Healing," beginning Wed., Feb. 6, from 6:30-8:30 p.m. He described past classes where participants (teens and adults) write personal stories, poems and scenarios of issues most pressing in their lives. "…We laugh a lot with a box of tissues between us," he said.

In 2009, the Wilkes-Barre native was keynote speaker at the National Summit of Mining Communities in Butte, Montana. He holds a master of fine arts degree in creative writing from Wilkes University and is an adjunct lecturer at Albright College. Czury calls himself an "activist poet" who left home in 1970, at the age of 19, to hitchhike across the country for the next 15 years. He eventually ended up in the middle of San Francisco's hippie culture. Through his years of travel, he said he's experienced "the most unexpected cathartic moments from writers of all ages who had found the right words to express their deeply felt experiences."

Czury has been creating poetry, poetry performances and multi-cultural poetry events in schools, community centers, juvenile detention centers, homeless shelters and mental hospitals for more than 25 years. His poetry has been recognized by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and the Artists in Education Program, in addition to national and international arts foundations. Many of his poetry books have been translated into Russian, Lithuanian, Italian and Spanish.

When asked to reflect on the poem, "One Today," written and read live on air by poet laureate Richard Blanco at the U.S. Capitol in celebration of the second inauguration of President Barack Obama, Czury said it was done "in the tradition of Walt Whitman, and a terrific experience. His (Blanco's) vivid imagery and litany of America's dismissed, discarded, discredited and dismayed presented us a truth not seen nor heard on television news. It is always a revelationary (subversive) moment when the language of a poet can preface the language of a politician."

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