There is no doubt that I have lived a Gump-like existence, which I am attempting to chronicle in my perhaps-never-to-be-completed novel Hatteras. Like most of my meanderings, the book’s title might puzzle the casual reader, since the first third of it takes place in a mythical geographic region I have dubbed “East PA.” When I was growing up in Shawnee, saying you were “from the Poconos” was tantamount to admitting you were overly fond of your sister or something, and Stroudsburg touted itself as “The Gateway to the Poconos.”
Meh. Whatever. In the book, when I was 29, I didn’t do something which in real life I actually did, and I wind up living in a van by the side of the river.
That’s something I actually do now from time to time, come to think of it. The last 2/3’s of the book take me down to the Isle of Dreams, where they fix me and put me back to where I actually am, with a sainted wife and a blessed life.
Anyway, I loved writing this piece. It had everything: my home “town”, a guy who was my arch-nemesis as a child, and Amy Leiser, the talented, smart and beautiful Director of the Monroe County Historical Society.
What’s not to love?
For Pocono transplants out there, this may give a hint as to why locals roll their eyes when they hear about how wonderful-good things are in any big city, since we had all the art, nature and glamor right here without the gritty residue of urbanity back in the day.
Large undertakings often have humble beginnings, and the impetus for the up-coming art show at Shawnee Inn, “Cullin Yates: 99 Years at Shawnee Inn” is just such a case. Yates, one of the few artists in the Northeast to be inducted into the National Academy of Art, was a long-time resident of Shawnee whose paintings have been compared to Winslow Homer’s, and whose prolific body of work during his life won awards throughout America and abroad.
It all began because folks at the Monroe County Historical Society decided the upstairs needed a new coat of paint, and has morphed into a celebration of the most lauded painter in Northeastern Pennsylvania, with perhaps the largest collection of Yates paintings assembled since the artist’s death in 1945.
Amy Leiser, director of the Historical Society, explained how it all began.
“We decided the upstairs needed a new coat of paint, and this Yates painting, which was over by the fireplace, was moved to this wall,” Leiser explained, seated beneath the large landscape on a recent sunny afternoon. The light on the southern wall made it evident that the painting needed to be cleaned, and Leiser contacted Shawnee native James Sittig, who specializes in restoration of old paintings.
“It took a couple of weeks to stabilize it and clean it. Most of the damage (in old paintings) comes from the reserve, but Yates protected the backs of his paintings with homosote or wood. I found exhibition labels on some of his paintings with the original price on them,” Sittig related, adding that the turn-of-the century prices have appreciated significantly in the last century, with many going at auction for the high five figures instead of four. When he was done with the job he called Leiser, who recalled the conversation.
“As we were talking, we realized that there were so many (of Yates paintings) sprinkled throughout the area. There are Yates paintings at the Pocono Medical Center, the PNC bank, a really large one at the Elks,” Leiser said, adding that besides the Yates owned by the Historical Society, there were also numerous paintings by the famed artist in local collectors hands, many of whom agreed to loan their paintings for the show.
The huge piece in the Elks Lodge on Washington Street, of which Yates was a member, is typical of his style in some ways, atypical in others, according to Sittig. First, at about five by nine feet, it is much larger than most of Yates pieces. The painting shows a herd of elk at dusk beneath a luminous sky, and features the striking colors and brush techniques of the American Impressionistic style, but it is different from other Yates works in one other respect.
“It’s not a typical Yates simply because of the subject. Yates rarely did animals. He did some portraits while he was in France, but for the most part he was a straight landscape painter,“ Sittig said.
Yates secured his place in the Poconos from Charles Worthington after honeymooning at the Buckwood Inn, now Shawnee Inn in 1911. Worthington was so taken by the artist that he offered a piece of land and a “cottage” in exchange for a painting. According to Sittig, the painting with the Shawnee Inn in the background and with colorful rowboats sprinkled in the foreground around the shore of the river was the one he painted for his house above the village.
“Nora Houser is a local artist who was born in Shawnee, and she just published her memoirs. It was her father made those boats in the painting,” Sittig recalled, underscoring the deep bond between the artist and the little village by the river.