Armstrong County League of Arts a cultural beacon
Tucked into a grassy hollow in Armstrong County sits a log cabin. A log cabin in and of itself is not an unusual sight in this area. Weekend retreats and hunting lodges are frequently constructed of logs and stone. But this particular cabin is different.
Walk by it some evening, and you'll be treated to the sounds of fiddles sparking out a tune while a guitar and banjo keep feet pounding and hands clapping to the bluegrass tempo.
Or maybe you'll stop by some summer afternoon and catch sight of a group of easels at the ready as artists blend and brush their paints against a waiting canvas.
Welcome to the county's best-kept secret — The Armstrong County League of Arts.
Established in 1974 by a group of like-minded artists, musicians, and craftsmen, the League has endeavored to be a cultural light in the area.
Marilyn Rea, the League of Arts' president and one of the founding members, said the League's goal has been to promote arts and music in Armstrong County and the surrounding area.
“It's been a real success,” Rea said. “I don't call it spectacular, but we're here.”
The League's presence in the community has allowed participants from not only the county but as far away as Ohio and West Virginia to take part in art and music classes.
Rea is serious about the level of instruction available through the League.
“Our goal is to have nationally accredited instructors. You try to keep these levels high.”
Indeed, the levels are high — the League attracts nationally known musicians and artists.
This past summer saw classes in watercolors, portrait drawing, pottery, wood carving, and even a class in acrylic painting taught by Rea, herself an internationally known artist.
Musicians from around the nation congregated at the League's music summer camp eager to share their instrumental knowledge to those desiring to improve their skills.
Among the instructors was Cassandra Sotos, a professional violinist and fiddle player who has opened for country music artists such as Rascal Flatts, Brookes and Dunn, and Kenny Chesney. Sotos traces some of her musical roots back to the League, where she had her first paid gig as a fiddle player for the League's square dance band.
Another board member and longtime participant is Thomas McLaughlin.
“I'm a musician. I learned to play and perform with the organization,” he said.
McLaughlin is firmly behind the vision of the League of Arts.
“There's a strong musical influence in Armstrong County, with bluegrass, Old Time and with the arts. We provide an opportunity to learn and for people to express their individual talents.”
Rea's daughter, Sue Bryan, grew up with the League of Arts as a part of her childhood and found her life the richer for it.
“I never thought it was anything different. It was normal,” Bryan said. “I didn't realize a lot of people aren't exposed to that. More people should have that kind of normal.”
Bryan expressed her belief that what the League offers is of great value to families in the community.
“There needs to be a place in the county where families can come together. We are all about family.
“We want kids to learn and be exposed to the arts when they are young,” Bryan continued.
Rea said the League welcomes children and adults to take advantage of the classes offered.
“Students from 10 years old to 90 attend the camps. It's been a nice split.”
To date, the League has approximately 80 members. The cost for membership is $15 per individual, $30 per family, per year. Membership includes discounts for classes and camps.
To founding member Anna Gerheim, the League of Arts represents not only a chance to learn, but a chance to grow.
“I think every community needs a cultural center that enlightens. For me, personally, it's a place where the soul is uplifted by some form of art.”
Because of the vision of a small group of artists 40 years ago, Armstrong County has that place in the League of Arts.
Kathleen Edwards is a correspondent for the Leader Times.