The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

October 23, 2011

Distinguished artists | Three area residents selected for achievements

Tom Lavis

— The 2011 Artists’ Hall of Fame, sponsored by Bottle Works Ethnic Arts Center, will recognize an educator and acclaimed artist and its first husband-and-wife honorees.

This year’s honors go to Sally Stewart of Richland Township and Brad and Laura Gordon of Westmont.

Stewart, a career art teacher and celebrated artist in her own right, joins the Gordons, who have literally given life to Shakespeare’s words for countless area residents.

The Artists’ Hall of Fame recognizes distinguished performing, visual or literary artists who are natives or residents of the region and who have achieved excellence and recognition in their professional field.

The trio will be honored during a reception and dinner beginning at 6 p.m. Nov. 5 at Sunnehanna Country Club, 1000 Sunnehanna Drive, Westmont.

The donation for the event is $50 per person.

Rosemary Pawlowski, executive director of Bottle Works Ethnic Arts Center, 411 Third Ave. in the Cambria City section of Johnstown, said the awards give the community an opportunity to showcase the talented individuals in the area.

“We are very excited about the honorees chosen by the Bottle Works board of directors,” Pawlowski said. “Sally, Laura and Brad are not artists in isolation. They create to share and to enrich our lives, and each has found a playing field where they can tease our curiosity and expand our knowledge.

“Art matters because it speaks to us and soothes the soul.”

Stewart, a retired art instructor from Greater Johnstown School District, has a reputation of being a champion of the arts.

“Of course, this is a wonderful honor,” she said. “It’s nice to be considered successful in the place you live.”

Stewart contends that art is right up there with the core subjects of English, mathematics and science, and research has supported the strong relationship between learning in the arts and the capacity to master other subjects.

Enjoying art early in life, she wanted to share what she created and enable others to experience the same satisfaction.

“The decision to become a teacher was a natural one,” she said. “Art helps kids find out who they are.”

Stewart earned an undergraduate and master’s degree in art education from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

In 1985, IUP honored Stewart with its Outstanding Alumni Award.

“I taught my students about art, and they taught me about life,” she said. “There was no good or bad art; it’s just good to do art.”

Composition, perspective and style are the hallmarks of Stewart’s works that distinguish her as an important regional artist.

Stewart has received numerous awards for her watercolor and wood-carved art works.

She is one of the few women artists carving in wood.

Stewart is the creator of “Out of the Depths I Cry to Thee,” a freestanding collage of wood and steel. It is the result of Stewart being haunted by the images that many people witnessed on television in the weeks and months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“I was invited to Joe Kovalchick’s scrap yard in Indiana, where I discovered a column from the World Trade Center,” she said.

“I found a piece of debris with a clearly visible cross imbedded in it.”

From that point, she was determined to create wooden crosses using woods from all over the world, just as the World Trade Center represented people of all nations.

“I’m currently working on six crosses for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, which will be given to world dignitaries,” she said.

Different kind of play

While some couples enjoy tennis or golf, the Gordons enjoy play of a different kind.

With Laura as artistic director and Brad as producer, the duo has showcased an amazing repertoire of Shakespeare’s plays for decades in the natural setting of Stackhouse Park.

Whether it’s the darkest of tragedies or the lightest of comedies, the Gordons have made it their mission to bring the plays to life each summer.

“Laura and I are humbled at this honor, but doing Shakespeare for the masses has never been about us,” Brad Gordon said.

“Presenting plays in the park gives the production an attitude that can be traced to the original Shakespeare plays, which were written for the common man who plunked down a penny to see.”

Laura Gordon said when she accepts the award, she will be thinking of the hundreds of actors who deserve to share in the honor.

“This is not my honor, but it’s for all the voices of the happy few who have graced the stage over the years – and that’s over 500 strong,” she said.

“Success never comes from the top down, but it’s a generous company working for the common good.”

The Gordons, who share a strong Scottish heritage, often walked Stackhouse Park to relax. They soon shared a dream of staging performances in the raw beauty of the woods.

The idea took root after Laura applied for and received a National Endowment for the Arts grant to study at the Royal Shakespearean Company in Stratford, England.

“There was no better fit than Stackhouse Park,” Brad Gordon said. “After the 1977 flood, it wasn’t long before pavilions went up, bridges were built and the original Stackhouse Park Players had a cool spot to do plays.”

Audiences also found the park inviting. Patrons were encouraged to bring blankets, lawn chairs and a picnic.

While early productions aimed for the most realistic portrayal of scenes, such as medieval battles, it wasn’t unusual for actors to perform while wearing everyday attire.

The Gordons have individual talents that are melded together to produce a winning team.

Brad is in charge of the sets and technical aspects that include sound, sight and music.

It was also his brainstorm to set Shakespearean plays to music, featuring tunes from Frank Sinatra to The Beatles.

Now known as the Band of Brothers, the acting company is not adverse to taking chances.

One year, performances of the “Gentleman of Verona” were staged as a spaghetti Western. In 1998, the cast of “Hamlet” came in riding on motorcycles.

Besides her duties of making Shakespeare’s words come to life through the actors, Laura writes grants and concentrates on fundraising.

On the auction block

The evening also will include silent and live auctions featuring matchless works of art.

 “We have a life-size, undecorated  Morley’s Dog as well as two mini Morley’s – one decorated in a Van Gogh theme, a collaboration between Sally Stewart and one of her more grateful students, Bob Hovanec,” Pawlowski said.

“Seating is reserved, and we look forward to hosting a large crowd.”

For reservations, call 536-5399.

Checks may be sent to Bottle Works, 411 Third Avenue, Johnstown, Pa. 15906.


What: 2011 Artists’ Hall of Fame.

Where: Sunnehanna Country Club, 1000 Sunnehanna Drive, Westmont.

When: 6 p.m. Nov. 5.

Reservations: 536-5399.

Cost: $50 per person. Send checks to Bottle Works, 411 Third Avenue, Johnstown, Pa. 15906.

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