The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

October 21, 2012

Rewarding excellence | Artists' Hall of Fame will recognize three

Tom Lavis

Johnstown — The 2012 Artists’ Hall of Fame, sponsored by Bottle Works Ethnic Arts Center, will recognize a literary artist and the organization’s first mother-daughter honorees.

This year’s honors go to Claudia Jones of East Taylor Township, Winnie Voytko of Westmont and her daughter Kathy Voytko, who resides in New Jersey.

Jones, a former Pitt-Johnstown professor and a 2010 Heritage Preservation Award honoree, is being honored for her positive impact on preserving the history of Johnstown’s African-American community.

Winnie Voytko is an expert seamstress who dedicates her time and talent to costuming, particularly for Johnstown Concert Ballet.

Kathy Voytko is being recognized for her achievements in the performing arts.

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 fields.

The trio will be honored during a reception and dinner beginning at 6 p.m. Nov. 3 at Holiday Inn, 250 Market St. in downtown Johnstown.

Donation for the event is $50 per person.

Rosemary Pawlowski, executive director of Bottle Works, 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.

Jones is being recognized for her work in preserving and promoting African-American history, particularly to young people.

“When I first heard about this honor, I was overwhelmed, and I’m still overwhelmed,” Jones said. “I have a passion for keeping African-American history alive and strive to pass that information to the younger generations.”

She views her work as vital because, given the hectic lives of many parents, often the oral family or community history is not passed along to youngsters.

“It was not easy to convince Claudia that writing and research are art forms,” Pawlowski said. “Yet, when she discovered there was no documented history of African-Americans in this region, she fiercely embraced the project, put her artistic standards into full forward motion and compiled – and is still compiling – a comprehensive body of research.”

For her submission to the Johns-town Area Heritage Association, Jones received its prestigious Heritage Preservation Award.

The research has resulted in a slide presentation, which she presents in a variety of venues.

Jones taught biology at the former Joseph Johns Junior High School, Johnstown, for 14 years, where she earned a reputation for being firm, but fair.

In 1970, she began her career as associate professor of biology at Pitt-Johnstown. She retired in 1995 as emeritus, with the gratitude of many students who were urged to become doctors, nurses and educators.

She is active with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, where she introduced a project to recognize heritage members who are 85 years old or older while preserving their stories.

In that role, she finds African-American Golden Heritage members, interviews them and, with the information, develops a booklet.

She and Clea Hollis co-founded the Greater Johnstown Minority Scholars Club, which provides tools and mentoring to minority students. That developed into a successful secondary career as a fundraiser to secure monies for  minority scholars. The funds are available every year through the Community Foundation of the Alleghenies.

For Winnie Voytko, costuming began in 1978 with Johnstown Concert Ballet’s first production of “The Nutcracker,” in which two of Voytko’s daughters were dancing.

A single production of “The Nutcracker” requires at least 200 costumes.

The total number of costumes for more than 36 additional ballets over the years has reached the thousands. A tutu is much more than a dress, though. It not only has to fit and look good, it also must survive the rigors of ballet – stretching, bending, jumping, being lifted – and sometimes falling.

Voytko is being honored because costuming is a multidisciplined art form that requires design skills, fabric expertise, historical research, logistics, engineering, tailoring, sewing and occasionally some improvisation.

“I’m humbled by this award,” she said. “I do what I do because it is fun, and to be honored for it is just unbelievable.”

In conjunction with the Hall of Fame dinner, an exhibit at Bottle Works titled “Ex Machina – 34 Years of Costuming by Winnie Voytko” will be on display through Nov. 5.

 “When people come to see these costumes, I hope they get an appreciation for the details, which cannot be seen from seats 20 feet away from the stage,” she said.

The exhibit includes more than a dozen ballet costumes, wedding dresses, Pennsylvania Junior Miss gowns and other examples of Voytko’s sewing genius.

Pragmatism and humor are the cornerstones of Voytko’s philosophy. Hard work and dedication are the secrets to her success.

She intends to continue costuming for as long as possible.

She also is eager to attend the banquet.

“It’s a special moment, but more so because my daughter also will be inducted,” she said. “I have been fortunate to be able to fly all over the country to see her perform, but this is special because, as I fondly recall her performing in the costumes I made, it makes it very symbiotic.”

She and her husband, Dr. Richard Voytko, are the parents of four daughters and one son.

Kathy Voytko has performed all over the world, but she is looking forward to returning home.

“I don’t get home nearly much as I would like, but this is going to be such a special evening for both of us,” she said. “As for the award, I couldn’t be more surprised, but I’m glad my mother and I are sharing this moment.”

Organizers are delighted that she can return to Johnstown despite some unfortunate news for the honoree.

Kathy Voytko was scheduled to be in production for a new Broadway show titled “Rebecca,” but it was canceled for lack of financing only a few weeks before its scheduled November opening.

Johnstown’s theater scene played a critical role in awakening Kathy Voytko’s passion for the performing arts. The stage at Our Mother of Sorrows grade school was the site of 6-year-old Kathy’s first speaking role.  

Johnstown Concert Ballet was Kathy Voytko’s second home for most of her formative years.

She credits the ballet’s artistic director Carla Prucnal’s rigorous training and challenging choreography for giving her the solid foundation in dance. During her senior year at Bishop McCort Catholic High School, Kathy Voytko was named Cambria-Somerset Young Woman of the Year.

She has since performed all over the world, originated roles and has met and worked with legendary names in show business. She has starred in national tours and has performed on Broadway.

She was nominated for a Joseph Jefferson Award for her performance as the maid in “Putting it Together.”

She won a Jeff Award for Best Actress in a Musical for her portrayal of Polly in “Crazy for You.”

Kathy Voytko won the role of Christine alternate in the national tour of “Phantom of the Opera.”

During her three years on the tour, she met her husband, Broadway actor John Cudia, who played opposite her as Raoul.

The couple have two children.

The audience will get a sampling of her talent when she sings during the banquet.

“I haven’t selected anything yet, but it will be fun,” she said.

Past honorees are Brad and Laura Gordon, Mike Bodolosky, Glen Brougher, Peter Calaboyias, Carmel Coco, Frank Cunsolo, CTC Foundation, Sister Maria Josephine D’Arch-angelo, Rodney Eatman, Jeanne Gleason, Harriett Goff, Istvan Jaray, Carla Prucnal, Jim Richey, Sally Stewart, Donna Maria Zapolla and Barbara Zivkovich.

“We are very excited about the honorees chosen by the Bottle Works board of directors,” Pawlowski said. “

During the banquet, Johnstown businessman Mark Pasquerilla will receive the Lou Speranza Spirit of Bottle Works Award in recognition of his continued support and commitment to preserving the past and sustaining the organization that contributes to dignifying people’s lives. Louis Speranza Jr. was a former contractor and president of Bottle Works who helped renovate the facility.

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

For reservations, call 536-5399.

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

It’s an honor

What: 11th annual Bottle Works Ethnic Arts Center Artists’ Hall of Fame.

Where: Holiday Inn, 250 Market St, Johnstown.

When: 6 p.m. Nov. 3.

Reservations: 536-5399.

Cost: $50 a person.


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