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Local artist's paintings compiled in book

| Monday, Sept. 30, 2013, 1:51 p.m.
Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News
Elizabeth Township artist Karen E. Howell will be signing copies of her new book, River Reflections: Watercolors of the Yough River Trail, at the Boston trail head visitors center Sunday afternoon.  

Sixteen years ago, when Elizabeth Township artist Karen E. Howell began following the Mon Yough Trail to find inspiration for paintings, she had no idea it would one day lead to her first published book.

“Back in 1997, when we were having Youghtoberfest festival near where the trail sits, I decided that I wanted to add something fresh to it,” said Howell. “So when the Boston Shoppes were opening, I did a watercolor painting of it. Then I just began painting more and more of the trail.”

Since then, she unwittingly became a documentarian of sorts, capturing scenic views along the river and the march of time through its neighboring communities.

“It kind of became a pictorial diary or journal of the trail,” said Howell. “I have paintings of things that were moved or torn down — like the Coal Company Store in Van Meter and the Tastee-Freeze in Sutersville. Going through all the paintings, it really shows how things have changed over time.”

Howell had considered turning the paintings — all watercolors — into a calendar. But around last January, she decided it could be something more. With captions by trail historian Bob Cupp — who already had 14 of the original paintings hanging in his North Huntington Township home — Howell put together the pictorial “River Reflections: Watercolors of the Yough River Trail.”

The book contains 24 paintings arranged geographically starting from Confluence and ending in McKeesport.

Some of the paintings took Howell only hours to finish, others took weeks. But all of it was a labor of love.

“The trail has always been a part of my interest since its conception,” she said. “I would often put my portable easel into a backpack, go out onto the trail and paint whatever appealed to me.”

In fact, she made sure that as the book was being planned, its dimensions would make it compact enough that riders on the trail could pack it in their own bag and take it along.

Published by the Alvah M. Squibb Company in McKeesport, the book is available by e-mailing Howell. You can also pick up a copy from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday when Howell will be signing copies at the Mon Yough Trail Council visitors center near the trail head in Boston.

But to Howell, the fact the book exists at all is reward enough.

“It's really about putting together a legacy for my family,” she said. “I wanted them to have something they could keep.”

However, MYTC member Judy Marshall said Howell has done much more than that.

“All of us who work to maintain the trail often think we're the only people who see the beauty along the trail,” said Marshall. “So we feel a real kinship with Karen. She may think she's done this for her kids, but it's really a legacy for all of us.”

For more information, e-mail Howell at kehowellart@gmail.com.

Tim Karan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1970, or tkaran@tribweb.com.

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