Saxonburg couple keeps music and art alive at unique shop in Verona
Ralph Toward and his wife, Bonnie, have let the music play and artwork stay in Verona for nearly five years through their Western Pennsylvania Center for the Arts.
The Saxonburg couple said they opened the unique operation — art gallery, music store, concert venue and nonprofit academy — to help people in the region who want to develop artistic skills.
"It's to really give them a good cultural experience," Bonnie Myers-Toward said. "Our goal is to help students and adults and everyone in the community of Verona, Oakmont, Penn Hills and surrounding areas to be able to come to the center and learn to play an instrument, learn to do art and feel like they belong."
Ralph was a school resource officer and Bonnie the orchestra director at Knoch High School before they retired and opened the arts center in the former Spiral Staircase Bar at 300 James St.
"We thought it was a good location as far as any business was concerned," Ralph said. "We've come to find out that people in this area are truly wonderful."
The business offers art classes, has a team of teachers for music lessons and can hook a prospective student up with a company that rents instruments.
The first floor of the building the academy that features an art exhibit and performance area where the center hosts a BYOB Jazz Night at 9:30 a.m. every Wednesday featuring area musicians. Cost is $10; $5 for students, and some of the proceeds are used to make art programs at the center affordable, and sometimes free, for families.
The second floor is the store and classrooms for music lessons.
Through a partnership with the Oakmont Carnegie Library, the store will lend out ukuleles to practice on at home. Much like borrowing a book, all you need to do is show your library card to check out a ukulele.
"I never wanted anybody feel like they couldn't afford to play an instrument or they didn't have a place where they could fit in," Bonnie said.
Penn Hills resident Patricia Curry takes her two sons, Ben, 10, and Leo, 12, to the center to play piano.
"We love this place," Curry said. "This place is awesome. It's been a wonderful discovery. It's just what Verona needed."
Another partnership with the library is a program called "Adventures in Printmaking," with professional artist Zarah Blair.
The class is offered 5:30-7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through February. Cost is $40 and includes all materials.
The program is for those 12 and older to explore elements of design and build collages from favorite pictures. An exhibit of the art created will be part of a show on March 2 at the center.
In the recent first installment of the program, participants used paint, Plexiglas, crayons, cloth, foam board and a hand crank printing press to craft works of art.
People chose from images in National Geographic, pre-made sketches or made their own for their prints.
"This is a new beginning here, which is very exciting," Blair said.
Librarian Katie Donahoe said the library expanded its activities into Verona last year through a grant and printmaking is its latest outreach program.
"We've just been trying to reach different people in different ways," Donahoe said. "Not everybody can be in the library when we're open doing stuff on our schedule. We try to do stuff that works with their schedule, too."
Michael DiVittorio is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-871-2367 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or via Twitter @MikeJdiVittorio.