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Charleroi Art and History Center wins raves at inaugural reception

| Thursday, Oct. 14, 2004

CHARLEROI - The new Charleroi Art and History Center opened to rave reviews Wednesday.

"This is the best thing to happen in Charleroi for many years," said Isabel Barndollar, a life-long resident of the borough. "I feel like such a part of this because of my heritage. I love Charleroi."

About 75 invited guests enjoyed refreshments, hors d'oeuvres and the evening's program at the new center, located at 501 McKean Ave.

On display in the former Cox's clothing store basement are pieces that capture the past as well as artwork of the modern era, compliments of The Valley Art Club.

Artwork of various themes and mediums decorated the walls of the spacious room. Guests at the open house gazed at bygone times through old framed photographs - Fallowfield Township teachers in 1930 and students at Curtain School in 1916 - and peeked at the new age through a painting of Nemacolin Woodlands in Fayette County.

They also relived the once-fascinating mechanical performances of the Green Monster and the Human Dynamo with a visit to the "electric chair."

The center also features an exhibit of the Corning Glass Co. provided by R.J. Martucci.

"This is just wonderful," said Mary Mannella, of North Charleroi. "It's nice for the community to be able to come here and see our history and recognize our talented artists."

The Charleroi Art and History Center was a vision of the town's Main Street manager, Donn Henderson.

"The town has activities that are centered outdoors around the plaza and I thought it would be great to have an indoor facility where people could come and enjoy the arts and find out things about the town's history," said Henderson.

Henderson said two rooms at the center are currently being renovated to make space for a kiln, pottery wheel and workshop. The center plans to offer pottery-making classes as well as guided tours of the facility.

"We'll have some art classes here and other things to enhance the community, to raise it up a level," said Henderson.

"We're trying to embrace the arts again. No great Renaissance has been without the arts."

Artist Pat Jones, of Charleroi, agreed.

"Its wonderful to bring culture into the Valley to promote the interesting history of the area and the talent we have here, and to preserve the past," said Jones. "This in one of the most exciting times in Charleroi."

Jones has several art pieces hanging at the center, including "The Coyle Theatre" and "Fifth Street School."

Tom Gillece, owner of the building where the center is located, said he knew little of Charleroi until he purchased his first property in the community seven years ago.

"I'm really happy I bought here. This is a nice community," said Gillece.

"Donn came up with the idea for using this space for the good of the community. He did most of this (remodeling) on his own."

Tony Mosco, of Stockdale, came to the first viewing to see not only the arts and historical artifacts, but also the transformation of the basement into a cultural center.

"This is unbelievable," said Mosco. "You wouldn't believe what this place looked like a couple of months ago."

During the social event, Henderson was presented with a plaque dedicating the new center in honor of his late mother, Barbara J. Miller.

According to Henderson's sister, Cheryl Henderson, their mother was a family historian and long-time community activist who was "amazingly proud of Donn's part in getting things moving in Charleroi."

The evening also was highlighted by the kickoff of a $20,000 fund-raising campaign for the center and a short film documentary of Charleroi-born Vaudeville actress Olive Thomas, whose life ended tragically at age 26.

The center is open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays and during special weekend events.

An exhibition of student artwork will be displayed throughout the Christmas holiday season.

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