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Arts Around Town

Arts Around Town: Victor Stabin transforms ABC's into artful learning process

Artist/author Victor Stabin views the dictionary as "kind of a sound bite machine," or "the universe alphabetized." He's inspired by its contents and lets his imagination run wild as he weaves his own alphabet comprised of intricate designs and compositions. Even a child could get lost in the intrigue of his 'Alice-in-Wonderland' journey of inventive interpretations – and come out loving it and wanting more.

"While his work appears spontaneous, it is carefully realized with much application of thought and incredible balance and technique," explained J. Brooks Joyner, president/CEO of the Allentown Art Museum of the Lehigh Valley, where Stabin's work is currently on exhibit through Sept. 9, in the Art Ways Gallery.

The museum is hosting Stabin during its "Wonderfully Whimsical" half-day summer camp for ages 6-8 from July 9-13, and "Far Out Fantastic" full-day camp for ages 9-12 from July 16-20, organized by the museum's Jessica Gauthier, community and family programs coordinator. Both camps will focus on the museum's current exhibition, "At the Edge: Art of the Fantastic," in addition to the Stabin's "Daedal Doodle: An Extraordinary Journey through the Alphabet." According to Gauthier, Stabin will guide the budding artists to design their own whimsical illustrations and stories, as well as fantastic creations.

Working with children is something Stabin is most familiar with. The father of two daughters, Skyler and Arielle, now nearing 10 and 9, respectively, he credits them as the inspiration behind his art form when they were mere toddlers and he was teaching them the alphabet. "As natural language sponges absorbing new words," he said he took his daughters' inquisitiveness one step further and created alliterative words and characters, "the product of 8,000 pages of dictionary reading distilled into an ABC book ("Daedal Doodle") for the curious of all ages." His style is reminiscent of Salvadore Dali, Dr. Seuss and M.C. Escher.

As for the title of the book, he explains that 'Daedal' is defined as "ingeniously formed or working, skillful and artistic." Its origin comes from the mythic, Greek architect, inventor and craftsman Daedalus. The magic is in the 'Doodle.'

Stabin's exhibit in Allentown also includes an earlier collaborative work project, "Daedal Doodle 2.0," involving students from the Panther Valley School District. He received an artist-in-residence grant and worked with 70 students ranging from elementary through senior high school to create their own version of the alliterative book. The grant was made possible through the Arts in Education Partnership of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and administered locally by the Allentown Art Museum. The Pennsylvania Council on the Arts is supported by the National Endowment for the Arts.

"The kids were excited to know their work would be shown in a museum," said Stabin, who had their work on exhibit in his own gallery in Jim Thorpe, Carbon Co. "Most of them never even saw a gallery before. I remember my first exhibit in sixth grade, in a strip mall in Queens, NY, facing an alley. Imagine these kids having their first show in a museum. I felt like the Good Witch. Their parents were excited as well."

Raised in New York City, Stabin studied at the Art Students League when he was 13. He said he was always drawing abstract shapes "without trying imaginatively." He recalled how his art teacher told him, 'you do that well,' but said it took him forever to wake up and say, 'you really do do this well.' It doesn't look like anything else. It's sort of like penmanship. It was the birth of style."

As an illustrator, Stabin's work appeared in Time, Newsweek and Rolling Stone magazines, the New York Times, Scholastic Books, Random House, and even on KISS's 1980 "Unmasked" album cover and nine U.S. postage stamps. In recent years, he's been more of a painter creating eco-surrealistic imagery using other species and his family as his muse.

His alliterations in narrative form can be heard on NPR's "Unauthorized Cautionary Tales" serial. He's even been sought after by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Crayola to speak on his ABC book as a teaching curriculum involving vocabulary skills with conceptual drawing, and his approach to the creative process.

Stabin resides in Jim Thorpe with his wife, Joan Morykin, a writer/restaurateur, and their two daughters. In 2004, he and Joan purchased and renovated a 15,000-square-foot, 170-year-old factory building there, now known as the "Stabin Morykin Building," home to the Victor Stabin Gallery, Flow Restaurant, Dynasty Gallery, and Artists' Workshop Space.

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Arts Roundup

GoggleWorks Center for the Arts in Reading is featuring two exhibitions through July 22 – "Gerry Tuten: Ebb and Flow" and "Catherine Rust: The Tints that Glow." Tuten explores the micro and macro levels of the natural ecology. Rust's work is based upon an exploration of femininity and its evasive characteristics and investigates a woman's journey through life.

A Meet the Artists Reception will be held First Friday, July 6, from 5:30-7:30 p.m.

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The Baum School of Art in Allentown presents two exhibits, "Edward Hopper: An American Icon" and "The Drawings of Conrad Roland," beginning Wednesday, July 11 through Aug. 10. The Hopper exhibit has rare, original ink and pencil drawings formerly part of the collection of his widow, Jo Hopper, and from Edward's early days of advertising and illustration. The Roland exhibition and sale consists of 75 never-before-exhibited drawings of birds, mostly native to Pennsylvania. Roland was born in Reading in 1900.

An opening reception for both exhibits will be held July 11, from 6 to 8 p.m.

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