The Wyoming Valley Art League wants to challenge what the public perceives as art. It can be more than just a painting or drawing that hangs on a wall or a piece of sculpture on display. With their new monthly event “Sundays @ the Circle” which kicks off this weekend, the League aims to show that art can encompass more non-tangible things such as music or other forms of performance.
“It will be a musical production,” said Art League board member Allison Maslow of the first installment of the new series. “We have four musicians. One of them will be playing a theremin, that’s Jason Smeltzer. He’s from Scranton. There will be Kathy Wang, she’ll be playing a Chinese instrument called a guzheng. Jeff Brozena will be playing tabla and Mark Reinhart on guitar.”
The first Sunday @ The Circle event will take place at 4 p.m., Sunday, June 28 at the Wyoming Valley Art League’s gallery at 130 S Franklin Street, Wilkes-Barre.
Maslow said the mission of the Sundays @ the Circle event ties into the Art League’s founding back in 1954.
“The Art League was first started by two women who had a studio on Market Street,” she said. “They just decided ‘Why don’t we open this to other people who would be able to come and talk about what they do and learn things from other people?’ Sunday at the Circle started with us thinking about how do we incorporate other art forms.”
The talent for this first event was arranged by Robert Anderson, a local playwright and his wife Rose Wright, a dancer who has performed with noted choreographer and modern dance pioneer Twyla Tharp. The couple are new members of the Art League’s board.
“We’re really excited to have these two new members on board with us because they bring them a huge wealth of information and connections to the theater arts,” Maslow said.
Maslow said that future Sundays @ the Circle events will feature presentations of short stories, a one-man show and poetry. Additionally, she reveals that the Art League is planning a series that will alternate between lectures and films discussing various forms of art that will take place one Wednesday a month starting in the fall. “That will include short films, feature lengths, basically art-centered films,” she explains. “The first person doing a lecture will be Barbara Weisberger, who is a well known person in the ballet community. She is 89 years old.”
The Art League moved to their current home in 2012, a distinct round building which formally housed the Luzerne County Medical Society, which gives them 5,100 square feet to showcase the work of regional artists. Additionally, the extra space allows the league to offer classes and social gatherings for artists.
“We have the space now and we want to use it to its fullest potential,” Maslow said.
For the uninitiated, the theremin is an early electronic musical instrument that produces an eerie tone by sensing the hand motions of its player through two metal antenna and the manipulation of a small set of controls. As the theremin unit itself is fairly small and unassuming, the end result can sometimes look as if its player is merely conducting or waving their hands and summoning music out of thin air.
“It’s exciting to see people see the theremin for the first time,” Maslow said. “’You don’t even touch it. What is it?’”
“You see them looking to see who’s playing!” adds board member Nancy Turner.
Although a theremin-like instrument was used in the 1966 Beach Boy’s “Good Vibrations” to produce the ghost-like sounds on the hit song, theremins have been is use for almost a century now since their invention in everything from avant-garde orchestral pieces to film scores like 1945’s The Lost Weekend and Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller Spellbound. They are still in use today by musicians of many genres, with Turner pointing out that Smeltzer has recently toured with jazz and bluegrass musician Bela Fleck.
The guzheng dates back to to around the second or third century BCE. Although similar to the modern day zither, the guzheng sports 21 strings or more and features movable bridges that can alter the tone and pitch. The tabla is a percussion instrument played with hands that is similar to a bongo or doumbek and is used in music native to the region around India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.