Vistas & Vignettes: Paper, Pencils & Pastels

Julia McCrayPencils & Pastels
Nancy YerginPaper collage

Making Beautiful Things Inspires Tionesta Artists & Community Leaders

The desire to make beautiful things is innate, as children remind us with their bold and vivid depictions of the world around them. The American caricaturist Al Hirschfeld said that artists are just children who refuse to put down their crayons. For only a handful of us, however, does that creative urge survive beyond childhood. Creativity doesn’t wait for you to go shopping or brush your teeth or write a report; it’s an immediate sort of thing, which – once pressing itself upon you – needs to be set free. With the demands of a career and raising a family, exploring one’s creativity and making art are often put on the back burner or viewed as a luxurious indulgence.

Fortunately for us, many long-time and recent residents have returned to their youthful love of art or discovered the joy of creating beautiful things in retirement or after the nest is empty. Inspired by the beauty of the Allegheny River Valley Region, making art has become a necessity of life for them and sharing that with others, a mission. The Red Brick Gallery’s Artistic Director, botanical artist Donna Edmonds, moved to Parker, returned to her love of painting and created the Foxburg artist cooperative after retiring from a corporate career.

Two similarly dedicated artists and cultural leaders from Tionesta – Julia McCray and Nancy Yergin – are presented in the The Red Brick Gallery’s Exhibit, “Vistas and Vignettes: Paper, Pencils and Pastels”,  from Friday, August 25 to Sunday, October 1 at 17 Main Street, Foxburg. Meet the Artists in a reception at the Gallery on Sunday, October 1, from 4 to 6:00 PM after the chamber music concert, “Debussy and Schubert on the Allegheny” featuring members of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and ARCA’s favorite program host, Pianist David Allen Wehr.


Julia McCray is known for soft realism, depth, and detail that draw you into her pastel landscape and colored pencil still life paintings. Her inspiration is the natural landscape where she lives, the flowers from her garden, vegetables from the farmer’s market, and time-worn household items. Paper collage is Nancy Yergin’s preferred medium. Using a combination of cut and torn tissue, opaque and hand-crafted Asian papers on stretched canvases, her colorful works are held together with acrylic medium, built layer by layer, and then finished off with pen and ink.

Through the Trees-Cook Forest – Julia McCray

McCray and Yergin also are co-founders of the Forest Area Arts Council, and the “From the Forest Gallery”. According to McCray, “Nancy Yergin and I co-founded the Forest Area Arts Council in 2001 because we saw a lot of local talent that was going un-recognized. We wanted to help promote the artists, draw more of them out of their “closets”, and encourage them to think of themselves as artists. Nancy and I also wanted to provide access to affordable art experiences and education opportunities for everyone in Forest County. FAAC has sponsored events, performances, workshops, residencies, field trips, and many other arts activities that otherwise would not have been available.”

Their efforts also have had an economic impact on their community. Mc Cray continues, “Tionesta is becoming a creative community – the basis for its recent economic growth – which probably wouldn’t have occurred without formation of the arts council and its art gallery.  The creation of the gallery was prompted – in part – by the fact Forest County had almost no participating artists/sites on the PA Wilds Artisan Trail.  The gallery was also a way to give visitors access to local artists.”

Their vision and generous contribution to the cultural life of their community is rooted in their personal journey as artists. Nancy Yergin, a retired cooperative extension agent, had had no formal fine-arts background. She learned the basics of collage in a small workshop in 2004 and has continued to develop her own style and application.

Nancy Yergin, paper collage

Yergin says, “When I arrived in Forest County in 1995, I had no sense of myself as an artist – I was a registered dietitian; a county agent for Penn State Cooperative Extension; and a resource in a five-county region on topics that didn’t include art. By my second year on the job, I discovered that I was good at teaching people to learn and utilize concepts to improve their lives. Perhaps now I could improve my own.

What I really wanted to do was to make beautiful things. I already knew I was creative enough to knit, to build a flower/vegetable garden, and raise a child to adulthood. I admired fine art in galleries but couldn’t afford to buy it. I wanted to make my own art. I needed art education. In Forest County, art instruction was available to public school students but not adults. In 1999 Julia McCray and I put our heads together and began working on an idea to build some sort of organization that would bring the Arts to a rural community.”

Carve out a moment in your busy lives to plan a trip to Allegheny RiverStone Center for the Art’s Red Brick Gallery and Gift Shop in Foxburg to see their beautiful work – perhaps as a touchstone to your own artistic urges just waiting to be expressed or as a reminder of the importance of supporting the cultural life of our beautiful Allegheny River Valley. Gallery Hours are Fridays 1:00 – 5:00 PM, Saturdays 11:00–7:00 PM, and Sundays 12:00–4:00 PM.

ABOUT THE ARTISTS

Julia McCray, Pencils & Pastel

Julia McCray is known for soft realism, depth, and detail that draw you into her pastel landscape and colored pencil still life paintings. Her inspiration is the natural landscape where she lives, the flowers from her garden, vegetables from the farmer’s market, and time-worn household items. Julia strives to depict the quiet beauty she is drawn to in these subjects, and to make the viewer feel a connection to them too. She is especially drawn to atmospheric effects, the play of light and shadow, and achieving believable depth.

Biography

Julia McCray was raised near Corry, Pennsylvania, and has made Tionesta, PA her home for the past 24 years. She became an artist at an early age – 7 or 8 years old – prompted by “Santa’s” gift of an art supply and instruction set. She quickly completed all the lessons in the set, then started drawing Disney characters, flowers in her mother’s garden, and still life arrangements. She focused on business studies in high school, then earned her Interior Decorating Certificate as a more employable creative career option. She returned to art as a hobby in 1986, while living briefly in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.

Her art training has been self-directed, consisting of online art videos and webinars, art instruction books, and several classes in various mediums with regional artists. Initially working in pencil then progressing to colored pencil, she created colorful, realistic, and extremely detailed floral and still-life pieces. In 2009, she took a pastel workshop to “loosen-up” and was hooked on the medium. While Julia is now focused on creating pastel landscapes, she occasionally returns to her first love, colored pencil, for still-life pieces.

Julia began entering art competitions in 1990 with her colored pencil work, receiving a Best of Show award for her first entry, followed by many more awards at local art shows in Corry and Tionesta. Her work can be found in the homes and offices of patrons, friends, and family across the U.S., including incorporated into the furniture of a local craftsman with whom she frequently collaborates. She has participated in area art events including “Art in the Park” (Corry, PA), “Festival in the Forest” (Tionesta, PA), “Expressions – Celebrating Women Artists of the Oil Region” (Titusville, PA), and “Art on the Allegheny” (Tionesta, PA).

Julia’s participation in the arts on a regional level has included serving on the Pennsylvania Wilds Artisan Trail (recently re-named PA Wilds Cooperative) Advisory Committee. She is co-founder and serves on the board of the Forest Area Arts Council, and established “From the Forest Gallery” in the Forest County Visitor Center in Tionesta in 2012. Julia is also owner of a bed & breakfast and gift shop in Tionesta, where she offers her own work and that of other area artists. Her home studio occupies one of the parlors in her 1886 home, where she encourages other to explore their creativity by offering one-on-one and group art workshops.

Artist Statement

“I am VERY excited about exhibiting at Red Brick! Although I’ve participated and had success in various area art shows/competitions, this will be my first professional exhibit. And it will be a new audience that probably hasn’t seen my work before. Since the Allegheny River is so inspiring for me, exhibiting in Foxburg – along that same river – is perfect for my first show.

Exhibiting with Nancy Yergin is also very appropriate, since we worked together to start building the arts in Forest County. She’s an amazing artist, and our work is both different and complimentary.

Nancy Yergin and I co-founded the Forest Area Arts Council in 2001 because we saw a lot of local talent that was going un-recognized. We wanted to help promote the artists, draw more of them out of their “closets”, and encourage them to think of themselves as artists.

Nancy and I also wanted to provide access to affordable art experiences and education opportunities for everyone in Forest County. FAAC has sponsored events, performances, workshops, residencies, field trips, and many other arts activities that otherwise would not have been available.

Tionesta is becoming a creative community – the basis for its recent economic growth – which probably wouldn’t have occurred without formation of the arts council and its art gallery.  The creation of the gallery was prompted – in part – by the fact Forest County had almost no participating artists/sites on the PA Wilds Artisan Trail.  The gallery was also a way to give visitors access to local artists.  “From the Forest Gallery” is an addition I made to the Forest County Visitor Center in 2012 while I worked there. ”

Nancy Yergin, Paper Collage

With no formal fine-arts background, artist Nancy Yergin learned the basics of collage in a small workshop in 2004 and has continued to develop her own style and application. Her expression of collage and mixed media reflects subjects near and dear to her heart: foods, flowers, and the natural world. She is a juried artist member in the Wilds Cooperative of Pennsylvania and a charter member of the Forest Area Arts Council.

Paper collage is her preferred medium. Using a combination of cut and torn tissue, opaque and hand-crafted Asian papers on stretched canvases, her colorful works are held together with acrylic medium, built layer by layer, and then finished off with pen and ink.

Nancy Yergin is a retired cooperative extension agent with a BS and MS degree in Nutrition from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Her professional life as a registered dietitian dovetailed with her duties of outreach education on health, nutrition and food safety in five NW PA counties. In her base county of Forest, she focused on community development issues, such as eco-tourism and rural access to the arts.

Artist Statement

“When I arrived in Forest County in 1995, I had no sense of myself as an artist – I was a registered dietitian; a county agent for Penn State Cooperative Extension; and a resource in a five-county region on topics that didn’t include art. I taught classes on nutrition, food safety, and assorted health-related topics to adults who hadn’t been in a class room in decades. The job was incredibly busy and there didn’t seem to be time enough in my day to learn more. By my second year on the job, I discovered that I was good at teaching people to learn and utilize concepts to improve their lives. Perhaps now I could improve my own.

What I really wanted to do was to make beautiful things. I already knew I was creative enough to knit, to build a flower/vegetable garden, and raise a child to adulthood. I admired fine art in galleries but couldn’t afford to buy it. I wanted to make my own art. I needed art education. In Forest County, art instruction was available to public school students but not adults.

In 1999 Julia McCray and I put our heads together and began working on an idea to build some sort of organization that would bring the Arts to a rural community. We arranged focus groups and invited the community to contribute. Other people, largely retirees, came on board; some minor grants funding was accessed, and we got the ball rolling. Someone came up with the idea to call ourselves the Forest Area Arts Council (FAAC) so at least we’d have a name. We had to build an organizational structure and find people who were willing to take on responsibilities. We had basket raffles to raise both awareness and funds, and even hired two men to parachute from an airplane onto a nearby field (dressed in Indian regalia) during an annual Festival to play our version of cow-chip bingo.

By 2001, we began to schedule classes, using local and regional artists. We floated the idea of having larger fund-raisers and maybe even an exhibition and competition with judges and prizes. We held art auctions and invited the community to participate, offering them bluebird houses, folding chairs, antique windows, etc. – to re-purpose in whatever way and then return for auction. More people got involved, more classes were offered, and eventually we even attained 501 (c) 3 status and became a non-profit organization. Happily, I earned some promotions largely due to these concrete efforts in community development.

By 2010, I’d taken classes in water-media, ceramics, pastels, papier-mache, wood carving, metal-clay casting, jewelry, and even a blacksmith workshop…all held in the county. A two-hour introduction-to-collage class in 2004 was one that caught my interest and I began teaching myself how to manipulate acrylic medium, papers in all colors and textures, knives, scissors and brushes. The more I did in collage, the more I wanted to do. Creating a collage is much like a slo-mo dive into my own kaleidoscope – with eyes wide open.”

Thirteen years later, retired and nearly 70, I have finally become the artist I knew was inside me. I continue to grow in the craft of collage and have a small studio space in Tionesta Market Village which is full of stretched canvas, frames, and bins of wonderful papers. I sell my art to the public; taking commissions and earning income to supplement my retirement. Even better, I’m still teaching. My students are generally adults who also want to make something beautiful of their own. With a handful of papers, glue and some sharp scissors, they certainly can.”

 

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