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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Trip to Michigan by way of Oil City, (more like "Art City!") PA

On Thursday last week Bob and I packed up the car for a 12-hour drive to St. Joseph/Benton Harbor, Michigan to meet our good friends Art and Chris from Phoenix, Arizona for a memorial service for Art's folks who both passed away. We got to know Floyd and Ginny very well through the years when they would come to visit and we were always welcome to join in. Ginny was such a sweet, dear person, I fell in love with her. Maybe she reminded me a bit of my own Mom who has been gone now since 1995, and she had such a warm and accepting way about her, she was easy to love. We became "pen-pals" when we lived in Italy and we would send her post cards and get lovely letters from her in return that continued when we came home. She was extremely proud of her son and daughter and their beautiful families and always spoke about them in her letters. I will miss her presence in my life.

We were glad to also be able to spend time with Art and Chris, however brief, so it was well worth the trip. We very much enjoyed exploring the St. Joseph/Benton Harbor area and I'll be writing about that in another post.

A brief lunch break in DuBois, PA on the way to Oil City.

On the Allegheny Plateau along Interstate 80, with a charming historic downtown, DuBois (da-boys'), Pennsylvania proved a nice place to stop for lunch.

We couldn't resist all the pumpkins for sale in this front yard (to benefit a local charity) in DuBois.

DuBois' Reitz Theatre, at 36 East Scribner Avenue was built in 1887 as the home of the Cornerstone Baptist Church. It somehow survived the fire of 1888, which destroyed most of the city and was turned into a theater in 1992.

A 2-night stop-over in Oil City, Pennsylvania

We decided to break the drive up into two 6 hour drives and to spend the night in a town called Oil City, Pennsylvania. I subscribe to a magazine called Art Calendar and every month there is this tiny ad in the back entitled "Artist Relocation Project" Oil City, PA. They are targeting working artists to come and "live your dream in a beautiful, historic rural town near urban markets" with houses under $25,000 and many more under $50,000. We were so intrigued by the whole idea of this. When we looked at the map to see where the halfway point might be, there was Oil City!

We had to go there and check it out. Admittedly, it was a bit off the beaten path but not so much that it wasn't worth it. What a fascinating history it has! Here's what Wikipedia had to say: ..."Colonel Edwin L. Drake drilled the first commercially successful oil well on August 27, 1859, in nearby Titusville. A number of boomtowns came to life in the region including: Oil City, Titusville, Petroleum Center, Pithole, and Rynd Farm. Barges were used to transport the oil down Oil Creek and into Oil City, where it was transported to steamboats or bulk barges to continue on to Pittsburgh and other locations. Oil City was founded in 1860. The city was partially destroyed by flood in 1865 and by both flood and fire in 1866 and again in 1882; on this last occasion, several oil tanks that were struck by lightning gave way, and Oil Creek carried a mass of burning oil into the city, where some 60 lives were lost and property valued at more than $1 million was destroyed. Oil City grew into a thriving community through the later half of the 19th century and into the 20th century. By the 1990s, Pennzoil, Quaker State, and Wolf's Head had all relocated their headquarters elsewhere. However, some oil wells continue to produce a steady supply of quality petroleum."

You can imagine what happened to Oil City when the oil companies who had so polluted this area pulled up stakes and left. But the creek and river are now clean of oil and fly fishermen can be seen throwing out their lines. The downtown is a charming mix of historic buildings, restaurants, art galleries and Victorian homes. The mountains that surround it were ablaze with fall color and the town is trying to revitalize itself by supporting and promoting the arts and tourism and there is a great deal of potential for this to happen.

Oil City Center for the Arts - The National Transit Building was built in 1890 as the National Transit Company by John D. Rockefeller and Standard Oil, it is now the home of galleries and 25 artists' studios with room for more. It is an impressive structure, built in Richardsonian Romanesque style, with tons of terra cotta decoration, Romanesque arches, and four finished facades. The interior wood finishes and details and metalwork are exquisite and it even boasts one of the very few water-powered, wrought iron elevators still in existence.

Through the window of the National Transit Building

We enjoyed meeting the artists in the historic National Trust Building who have working studios there, like our Riverwalk Center for the Arts in Milford on a larger scale - many who have relocated there from as far away as California. We talked with Swantje Elke who creates the most unique pieces of jewelry; Mary Morgan's eye for photography had the same sensitivity of Bob's in her travel photos and details; and we found Anissa Gage's portraits, drawings, and poetry in particular so very lovely. We did not get to meet Joann Wheeler, but she is the manager of the Studios. If you would like more information, call 814-678-2301.

The opportunities to live and work in this charming town, to be able to purchase a home for a fraction of what it might cost elsewhere and the community of artists helping each other is hard to resist. We aren't thinking of relocating ourselves. This would be too far away from Chris and Kyla and our beaches but I can't say it isn't tempting!

Butch Quinn Folk Art.
Butch Quinn was one of Oil City's own. Born and raised there, he lived his entire life in this town and is fondly remembered as a guy who would trade a piece of his art for a beer and many locals are proud to own one of his fanciful creations made from found objects. Mr. Quinn is represented in the permanent collection of the Museum of American Folk Art in New York City, the Smithsonian Institution Museum of American Art in Washington, D.C., the Clarion University of Pennsylvania Museum and other institutions and private collections. We found his work delightful!

Bob really enjoyed the work of Bill Brady Jr at Graffitti Gallery. Graffiti Gallery presents the work of over 20 National Transit Studio artists. His sculptures are intriguing - both delicate and industrial, with a nod to Alexander Calder.

The very basic yet extremely functional "In/Out" sign at the entrance makes it easy to see which artists are in their studios working.

Alley and arch that connects the two National Transit buildings and a charming metal spiral staircase

Welcome signs let visitors know that they are entering a "non-censored" creative environment

There are more stories to tell about our recent adventure, but they will have to wait for another post!


Melissa Keith said...

Thanks for posting this one! This looks like a great town. I think Thane and I will have to put it on our list of places to see next time we are in that area. The city name "Oil City" is a bit off putting and I almost didn't read this post. Sure glad I did! Wonder if they'll ever change their name to Art City??

Bob and Rosemary said...

Thanks Melissa - I edited the title based on your comment! It really is a delightful place.

Candie said...

The metal spiral stairs are charming indeed. The dark blue color matches the alley and the arch quite amazingly. It's almost like I've seen this photo in a movie scene before. It's that pretty! I wish I had my own iron stairs at home. I'm astonished by their shape, and I really enjoy climbing up and down on them.