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Arts Around Town

Arts Around Town: Turning '250' or '50' is reason to celebrate with Pip the Mouse in Allentown

For Kathryn Schaar Burke, it's not about dates, but about people in normal, daily living reacting to events. That's how she's penned many of her works that are often narrative in nature. She believes that history becomes rich when humanity is put into it and so, with the City of Allentown celebrating its 250th birthday, how fitting that her illustration of "Pip the Mouse" also will be taking on a major role later this year in marking a milestone birthday for the "Pip the Mouse" puppet character since its world premier 50 years ago at Hess's on Hamilton Street.

"It's a great year to be in Allentown and at the Liberty Bell Museum," said Senior Pastor Robert T. Stevens of Zion's United Church of Christ at 620 W. Hamilton St., home of the museum and of Pip the Mouse. "Mayor Ed Pawlowski designated Pip as ‘Allentown's Official Mouse,' and so we're delighted to be sharing in the celebration of this great city."

Stevens added that 2012 marks the jubilee anniversary of the founding of the Liberty Bell Museum 50 years ago, with a colonial ball planned for Sept. 22 at the Holiday Inn Allentown. The 50th anniversary of Pip the Mouse's arrival in Allentown will be marked with a celebration at the museum on Nov. 15, during the holiday season. That's when the museum will be transformed into a "Mouseum," he said, and when Burke will debut a special illustration in honor of Pip.

Pip the Mouse continues to be a part of the generations with annual Christmas programs presented at the museum and with mascot appearances in the Lehigh Valley. Pip the mascot will be part of tonight's opening ceremonies at 6 p.m., at the Cabaret Stage at the 26th annual Mayfair Festival of the Arts. The festival is held through the Memorial Day Weekend at Cedar Beach Park, Hamilton and Ott streets, Allentown.

Pip also can be found at the annual Zion's Independence Sunday Celebration on July 1 at 10 a.m., with an interactive reading of the Declaration of Independence. The July Fourth holiday will mark the Liberty Bell Museum anniversary with a National Bell Ringing Ceremony starting at 1:30 p.m., and a premier song for the occasion by children's entertainer Dave Fry, who also will be performing at the Mayfair Festival.
The Pip the Mouse character was created by Dr. George R. Creegan of the Creegan Company of Steubenville, Ohio, in 1960, who partnered with Bliss Display Co. of New York to market it as "The Mouse Before Christmas" holiday puppet show. According to Burke, Creegan didn't have a gender in mind for Pip, although ‘it' has always been referred to as 'he.'

"Pip was something tangible, endearing and fun," explained Burke, who is exhibitions and collections manager at Muhlenberg College's Martin Art Gallery. "People just responded back then and today, that wonderful, connective thread is being passed down by parents and grandparents."

Originally from Barnesville, Schuylkill Co., Burke and her family would venture to Hess's in Allentown during the holiday season to catch Pip's show. She eventually worked at Hess's as a fashion illustrator following undergraduate studies at Moravian College in Bethlehem, graduate studies at Marywood University in Scranton and marketing at Massey Junior College in Atlanta.

As a volunteer at the Liberty Bell Museum who assists in exhibits or collection needs, Burke breathed new life into Pip in September 2007, when she penned the activity book, "Hiding the Liberty Bell as told by Pip the Colonial Mouse." She illustrated Pip the narrator donning a tri-cornered colonial hat and garb and wrote the text for both children and adults on how one of America's most recognized symbols of freedom – the Liberty Bell – came to be hidden under the floorboards of the Historic Zion's Reformed Church in Allentown in 1777, during America's War for Independence. Assisting Burke in the book project was Joshua Fink, then-museum curator, and graphic designer Jennifer Lynn Conrad Fink and Pastor Stevens.

Burke guided Pip in Allentown's rich history of how the Liberty Bell was transported from Philadelphia to the small town of Northampton Towne, now Allentown, in 1777. As a learning resource supported by a grant from the Harry C. Trexler Trust, she used vocabulary words and concepts, and supplemental information and facts. The activity book remains a timeless treasure that greets thousands of visitors to the Liberty Bell Museum each year.

In December 2008, she penned a second book, "Pip's Night Before Christmas," that tells the story of Pip's roundabout journey from Hess's to his present home just two blocks away at Zion's "Liberty Bell" Church. Using the same meter as Clement Moore's famous poem, it follows Pip into the church as he discovers there is more to the Christmas story than he learned in the department store.

Other books by Burke include "Mule Boy," created for the National Canal Museum in Easton. It tells the history and operation of Pennsylvania's Lehigh and Delaware canals through the fictional adventures of a boating family, the Oberfeldts. She also wrote and illustrated the book, "My Name is Jeremiah," an elementary story/activity book that tells the story of a boy, Jeremiah, who led a team of mules up and down the Lehigh and Delaware canals in the 1800's, carrying coal from Mauch Chunk (Jim Thorpe) to market.

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Arts Roundup

Tonight is big in the Lehigh Valley, with the kickoff of the five-day, 26th annual Mayfair Festival of the Arts at Cedar Beach Park in Allentown. It's also the 10th anniversary of the Freddy Awards program at the State Theatre in Easton, celebrating excellence in high school musical theater in our area. The best seat in the house is actually watching it live from 7 to 10 p.m. on WFMZ Channel 69. A special Freddys pre-show on the history of the program airs at 6:30 p.m.

Mayfair offers something for everyone from fine art and musical entertainment to strolling performers, magicians and story tellers. Tonight's opening features Oldies with School's Out, Main Street Cruisers, Robin and Jim, and Vinyl Diner. Saturday features a Broadway Night which includes some Freddy Award-winning performances by local students seen on the WFMZ broadcast.

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Bethlehem's Moravian Book Shop has some interesting happenings for the Memorial Day Weekend. If you're a fan of historic walking tours – especially when it comes to historic haunts – there are "Ghosts of the Revolution Walking Tours" on Saturday and Sunday that explore the legends, lore and lingering spirits of America's Revolutionary War.
In time for graduations and Father's Day is Emmaus' Evan Burian signing his books, "Ancient Rivals and Thanksgiving Day Football," and "Football Legends of Pennsylvania," on June 2. This local football guru is a fountain of knowledge when it comes to who's who on the field, past and present.
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The Reading Public Museum hosts a sweet treat this summer with artist Jiawei Gong's installation, "Sweet Salvation," opening June 2 through July 8. Gong uses traditional Tibetan sand mandala-making techniques to create a modern symbol but instead of sand, he employs various types of sugar. Gong, from China, teaches in the fine arts department at Kutztown University.
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