The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

October 27, 2013

'Comfort Zones' | Loretto display features works from museum's permanent collection


LORETTO — Contentment is a treasure that most people relish.

It’s also an element that the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art desires people to find in its latest exhibit titled “Comfort Zones: Pennsylvania and the ‘Foreign’ Landscape.”

The exhibition of approximately 60 paintings, prints and photographs from the museum’s permanent collection is on view through Jan. 25.

The exhibition explores the notion of comfort zones associated with familiar scenes of Pennsylvania with images drawn from other lands.

The various works will prompt viewers to identify not only what is “foreign,” but also what remains the same, no matter where it might be on the planet.

V. Scott Dimond, SAMA’s curator for visual arts, attributes the genesis of the show to his exploration of the museum’s permanent collection to mount other exhibits.

“We have many images from Pennsylvania and counterparts that we acquired that go far afield,” Dimond said.

“While going through the collection, I noticed that from an academic standpoint, many of the works had common themes despite being set in different parts of the world.”

Dimond believes people may easily recognize what is “different” about African shepherd boys or a French village, yet they may be startled to discover parallels between these subjects and those closer to home.

Despite the many differences, Dimond said humankind and the landscape it occupies have much in common.

“Comfort Zones” features a mix of  old favorites and works that are rarely on view.

“We have many images from Pennsylvania and others set in various locations worldwide,” Dimond said.

Among the artists represented are well-known contemporary regional painters, including Ron Donoughe, Steven Gilbert, Kevin Kutz, Joe Servello and Michael Strueber.

Classic paintings and prints by Colleen Browning, Adolf Dehn, George Hetzel and others appear alongside compelling photographs by Mario Castillo, Larry Fink and Donald M. Robinson.

As a group, the works in this exhibition offer an insightful survey of the familiar and the “foreign,” from Altoona to Afghanistan and all points in between.

“The feeling of joy one gets by looking at a party scene from western Pennsylvania by Larry Fink or a religious procession in Mexico from Mario Castillo, whose 20th-century photos chronicled the ethnic groups of Mexico, have a common thread while being world’s apart,” Dimond said.

Several Scalp Level artists are featured, including Alfred Wall (1825-96), who enjoyed painting the woods at Scalp Level near Johnstown.

A friend of Andrew Carnegie, Wall was an initial member of Carnegie Institute’s board of trustees.

“Wall spent much of the late 19th century painting landscapes in Cambria and Blair counties,” Dimond said.

“People from this region should feel real comfortable seeing landscapes from their own backyard, but make comparisons to landscapes of familiar nature scenes from elsewhere.”

Wall’s expansive Scalp Level landscape complements Pittsburgh’s  George Hetzel’s “Woodland Stream,” which had entered the collection in 1991 through the R.K. Mellon Family Foundation Art Acquisition Fund.

Hetzel’s “Woodland Stream, Scalp Level” is an example of the artist’s work, and depicts a view near Scalp Level, the western Pennsylvania village where Hetzel founded an artist’s colony in the late 1860s.

Hetzel, an avid angler, loved to paint the rock-strewn streams in the vicinity of Scalp Level and nearby Johnstown, and in some of his canvases, he included the figures of friends fishing.

Woodland Stream, however, is devoid of such narrative elements. Its tunnel-like composition instead draws the viewer into the scene, where he or she may wield their own imaginary fly rod, or simply sit in quiet contemplation of nature itself.

“The title ‘Comfort Zones’ refers to a place or activity that people are comfortable with,” Dimond said.

“The exhibition should get people thinking about looking at similarities.”

The Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art at Loretto is located on the campus of St. Francis University.

Hours of operation are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 1 to 5 p.m. Saturdays.

The museum is open to the public free of charge.

Information: 472-3920 or visit

Tom Lavis covers Features for the Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on LavisTD.



What: “Comfort Zones: Pennsylvania and the ‘Foreign’ Landscape.”

Where: Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art at Loretto.

When: Through Jan. 25.

Admission: Free.

Information: 472-3920 or visit