Lancaster, Pa., is widely known for its idyllic rolling countryside dotted with farms, covered bridges and Amish buggies, but make no mistake that art and culture thrive here.
In fact, on the first Friday of each month the sidewalks of downtown Lancaster are literally overflowing with locals and visitors who’ve come to visit the museums, galleries, studios, shops and restaurants. Folks spill into the streets, navigating through the crowd as more than 70 establishments host open houses from 5 to 9 p.m., many with light refreshments, live music and/or opportunities to meet artists.
Organized by Lancaster City Arts, whose overall goal is to cultivate an environment where the arts flourish, First Fridays celebrates’ local arts in its many forms.
On a recent First Friday—June 3—vintage circus posters and other circus art were on display at Skyler Blue Decorative Arts and Antiques, several short plays were read by local playwrights and oil paintings by Jeane Zaun and art glass by members of a gallery cooperative were on display at Kalargyros Gallery & Glass Studio.
In April I spent a stimulating First Friday evening bopping from one venue to another, taking in fine art, textiles, contemporary art, crafts, photography, jewelry and some creative fusions of forms and styles. Along popular North Prince Street, I stopped at newly opened Simplicity Art Gallery and marveled at stunning wood bowls, vessels and sculpture, then slipped into City Folk with its eclectic mix of bird baths, Toby jugs, a chair covered in bottle caps and a painted door from Thailand with a $10,000 price tag. There were also stops at Christiane Paris, a clothing boutique owned by an artist, and at a gallery where dramatic photographs of industrial sites were explained by the man who created them.
I also explored the main gallery of the Pennsylvania College of Art and Design, where an array of student work is professionally displayed, before retreating to my accommodations at the Lancaster Arts Hotel, a 63-room and suite boutique hotel in a former tobacco warehouse that is infused with artistic touches at every turn.
Elizabeth Todd Lambert, president and CEO of LancasterARTS, explained that Lancaster’s arts heritage is longstanding and tied to industry–Armstrong, manufacturer of floors, cabinets and ceiling products, is headquartered in the city. Years ago the company attracted creative types when everything was done inhouse. Later as creative work was outsourced, former Armstrong workers with creative talents stayed and the arts community grew, she said.
“Lancaster does have a heritage of craftsmanship here,” said Lambert. “And Lancaster is also known for having a very entrepreneurial spirit.”
And what makes Lancaster unique, according to Lambert, is that the Pennsylvania College of Art & Design as well as the recently renovated Fulton Theatre—a 159-year-old-theater, one of only eight named a National Historic Landmark—are located in its core. I had an opportunity to take in an excellent production of Sweeney Todd at this theater, which is an architectural wonder.
In fact, there are some 125 art venues throughout Lancaster including the DeMuth Museum, home of Charles DeMuth, Lancaster’s most famous artist who lived from 1883 to 1935. I can also highly recommend the Lancaster Heritage Museum, the Lancaster Quilt & Textile Museum and the Lancaster Museum of Art, which is worth a visit as much for its superb display of local art as for its unique architectural features.
The structure that houses the Lancaster Museum of Art on N. Lime Street is a former mansion built in the 1840s in Greek Revival style, according to the museum’s executive director Stanley Grand. The museum, which has existed for 45 years, presents seven to eight exhibitions a year featuring the work of artists from the region. On display through July 24 is an exhibit titled Play Ball. Works are exhibited on two floors of the old home.
Grand remarked that in Lancaster there’s a “steady push to raise the bar” in the arts in quality, professionalism and ambition. “I think the community responds to that,” he said.
Lancaster, is located 110 miles from Washington, D.C. and 70 miles from Philadelphia, Pa.
Visitors have access to gallery walking and driving tours that can be accessed online at www.LancasterArts.com and going to their First Friday section.
Tourism information about Lancaster can be found at www.padutchcountry.com.