The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA


October 8, 2012

Exhibit showcases woman's sewing talents

Johnstown — A collection of extravagant, colorful and whimsical costumes and dresses will go on display to celebrate the sewing talents of a Westmont woman.

“Ex Machina – 34 years of Costuming by Winnie Voytko” will open Saturday at Bottle Works Ethnic Arts Center, 411 Third Ave. in the Cambria City section of Johns-town.

Anyone who has seen a production of the Johnstown Concert Ballet’s “Nutcracker” may enjoy seeing what it takes to create the costumes.

Rosemary Pawlowski, Bottle Works executive director, said it’s common for artists to name their exhibits

“When Winnie chose to call this ‘Ex Machina’ (from the machine), I thought this is the understatement of the century,” Pawlowski said. “What produces these ethereal bodies of work is more than a machine; it’s having a knowing eye that gauges how fabric and body move together, steady scissors, clarity of mind that simplifies the process and the life experience to know how running, dancing and walking will affect a garment.”

Voytko said “Ex Machina” also is the capability to bring together several skills.

“I’m humbled to have my work on display” Voytko said. “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.”

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

The works will be on display from Saturday to Nov. 5.

The exhibit encompasses the quality and quantity of garments which have come from Voytko during the past 34 years.

Voytko had good reason to begin this avocation. She and her husband, Dr. Richard Voytko, are the parents of four daughters and one son.

All the girls needed costumes when they took to the ballet stage.

Voytko’s first costume was as much engineering as artistic.

She and her brother, Walt Brocius of Johnstown, collaborated to produce the appropriate Mother Ginger costume, which stands 9 feet high and has a skirt that is 8 feet in diameter.

It houses 10 tiny, tumbling dancers who emerge from under the enormous skirt to perform.

Richard Voytko, who has seen his wife spend countless hours at the sewing machine, is in awe of her talents and dedication.

“Making these costumes is a great way for her to express her artistic talents, but it’s an unbelievable amount of work as well,” he said.

A significant number of costumes were designed by Carla Prucnal, artistic director of Johnstown Concert Ballet.

Voytko translates Prucnal’s designs into masterful pieces of art, which have been enjoyed by performers and audiences alike for hundreds of shows.

Prucnal, who majored in art at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, said Voytko has saved the ballet company tens of thousands of dollars over the years.

“To purchase costumes of this caliber would cost $1,000 each,” Prucnal said. “Winnie can make one for only the cost of the material – or about $400.”

One of the gowns in the exhibition is Jeanne Voytko’s wedding dress, made of gold lace. Jeanne Voytko is one of the Voytkos’ daughters.

“We also will have the gold plaid vest that I made for the groom,” Voytko said.

Pawlowski said Voytko is as generous as she is talented.

“Winnie has continued as a volunteer, working with Carla to sustain the level of artistic excellence for the ballet,” Pawlowski said. “She is not one to jump out of her seat and yell: ‘Hey, I did that.’ She would rather just smile and be pleased that everything turns out well.”

Voytko also teaches sewing classes every two years for parents or volunteers to gain the skills necessary for the art of costuming.

The show is a precursor for Bottle Works’ Artist’s Hall of Fame dinner, which will honor Voytko and her daughter, Kathy, who classically trained in Johnstown in voice, dance and drama and who lives in New Jersey and performs regularly on stage and Broadway.

The dinner will be held Nov. 23 at the Holiday Inn, Johnstown.


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