The Lycoming County Celebrates the Arts Alliance (formerly the Williamsport-Lycoming Art Council, and the two will be used interchangeably) has been quietly providing both sustenance and support to the arts in and around Williamsport since 1961.
2011 marked 50 years of service and saw Williamsport's art scene in top form, with monthly First Friday celebrations, outdoor contributions from PublicARTWORKS, and the Central PA Film Office all lending their voice to "the Alliance." Take into consideration downtown Williamsport's two major theatres, the Community Arts Center and the Community Theatre League; the introduction of Converge Gallery and the Pajama Factory; and the emergence of Uptown Music Collective, and you'll find that it is an exciting time for the arts in the area.
Every other week over the course of the next several weeks, the Showcase will take a closer look at the Alliance's contributions over the decades and talk with some of the people who have made it work. This week our focus is on Roger Shipley, who was a major part of the Alliance when it was still the Williamsport-Lycoming Art Council in 1961 and is still a prolific artist and regular contributor to Williamsport's art scene 50 years later.
One of the earliest contributions the Arts Council made to the area was in the form of an annual arts festival - the tradition of organizing and showcasing the area's diverse talents, which remains a primary goal of the Arts Alliance to this day.
"We gathered all types of crafters and artists together and held a large arts festival weekend," Shipley explained in an interview. "From there we spread out and tried to become more of an umbrella organization, including more of the arts."
The first expansions included groups focused solely on the symphony orchestra and the area's theatrical troupes, groups who set out to fundraise and acquire grant money specifically for the symphony and theater.
"In those early years, everyone was a volunteer," explained Shipley, adding that "everyone spent their time in a very generous way; it was a lot of hard work."
Shipley moved to Williamsport to start his professorship at Lycoming College in 1967 and quickly added the roles of officer and president to a list that already included full-time professor, husband, father and working artist.
"I realized that the council didn't have 501(c)3 nonprofit status when I became an officer," Shipley said. When the board set out under Shipley's leadership to establish that status, they were undoubtedly ensuring the longevity of the Arts Alliance.
Shipley's next major contribution came in the early 1980s and is as tied to Williamsport's cultural history as it is to the Arts Alliance. With Susan Young, Shipley co-chaired the Arts Council's Roesen Committee, which has served as the major cataloger and authority on the work of the 19th Century, German-born, still-life painter Severin Roesen, who lived, worked and probably completed some of his last paintings in Williamsport around 1870-71. In 1992 the Council organized an exhibition of the artist's work comprised mainly of then-private area collections.
"We had people at that exhibition from all across the country, representing galleries that specialized in 19th Century still life painting," Shipley said, adding that "the Arts Alliance still gets phone calls regarding the authentication of Roesen's work; and some of those calls still come to me."
Like Roesen, Shipley has his work in private collections, books and national galleries. Now retired, he has more time to devote to his artwork, which includes painting, drawing, sculpture and printmaking. What's more, Shipley was recently commissioned by the Arts Alliance's PublicARTWORKS to create a bronze sculpture for Williamsport's RiverWalk. The piece, which was unveiled at an opening on April 22, is called "Images of Germination."
"Germination, to me, can be seeds falling and new growth developing in and around Williamsport, but also a rebirth of the arts in Williamsport," Shipley said. "The idea takes on new significance when you take into consideration the clear cutting done by the logging industry at the turn of the century, or the gas industry today."
Soft-spoken and incredibly humble, Shipley had nothing but praise for the people he worked with in the earliest stages of the Arts Alliance's growth. "We had some really good community leaders involved, people like Sam Dornsife, Hugh McMullen, Freddie Kisberg and Dr. June Baskin," he said. He also expressed gratitude toward Judy Olinsky and the current board of the Arts Alliance for continuing to work with him and for the work they do in the community. Find Roger Shipley and his artwork online at www.rogershipley.com.
Visit www.lycomingarts.com, home of Lycoming County Celebrates the Arts Alliance.