Thursday, October 13, 2005

They are well-respected, yet little-known artists in their native Warren County. But they're celebrated throughout America.

Greg Shooner of Oregonia is known as a remarkable potter.

John Spicer of South Lebanon is known as an exceptional carpenter.

Along New England coastal states, however, they are esteemed artists whose works have even been showcased in museums. Most recently, a collaborative effort brought them critical acclaim in Pennsylvania where their talents are already well known and greatly admired.
The Heritage Center Museum of Lancaster, Pa. singled out 33 nationally known artists to help its cultural center pay tribute to the purple martin, a beloved bird whose man-made homes dot the Lancaster County landscape. The purple martin house, a Lancaster County icon of local culture, was chosen to mark the 20th anniversary during 2005 of the movie, Witness.

The Heritage Center, Paramount Pictures and the Pennsylvania Dutch Convention and Visitors Bureau mounted a yearlong celebration of the re-release of the classic movie. A key scene in Witness depicts a wounded John Book, played by Harrison Ford, driving his car into a purple martin house on the Lapp family farm. Later in the film, Book rebuilds the martin house and raises it back atop its pole.

Titled the Purple Martin House Project, the cultural center provided authentic Amish-made two-story purple martin houses as the artists' base, but artists were free to develop nontraditional birdhouses out of materials such as glass, redware, tin and fabric. Artists' creations were exhibited at locations throughout historic downtown Lancaster from June through September, culminating with an auction its proceeds benefiting programs of the Lancaster Cultural History Museum and the Lancaster Quilt and Textile Museum.

When Spicer and Shooner were contacted individually by the museum center to contribute to the project, they put their creative geniuses together to form a show stopper that was literally featured center of the stage. The stunning piece of folk art, a redware birdhouse and a candle stand base, were the product of months of working together that combined pre-industrial New England and Mid-Atlantic furniture styles along with British and American ceramic influences fusing into a masterwork of whimsical craftsmanship.

Known as the Shooner/Spicer collaboration, the work was protected inside a glass enclosure and exhibited for months at the museum rather than other noted facilities in historic downtown.

According to the September 2005 review of Heritage Center Museum, "A collaborative effort between renown redware potter Greg Shooner and master cabinetmaker John K. Spicer has resulted in the creation of an unprecedented interpretation of American Folk Art. Collectors of outsider, modern or traditional art forms will be intrigued with this great piece that seems to transcend all boundaries."

The third work to be auctioned, Sept. 23 at the museum's Purple Martin Birdhouse Gala, the Shooner/Spicer collaboration opening bid was $3,000, that being the top bid from the summer-long silent auction. Final bidding that evening became intense, however, and when the hammer closed the bids, a longtime patron of the arts won the star of the show for $21,500, more than double any other bids for any other artist's work.

"John and I, we didn't want to do their traditional birdhouses. When John and I got together, we got pretty involved in it. John came up with all of the bird elements on the poplar wood candle stand. The carving and painting took him forever. The redware, Ohio clay birdhouse that I did is all handmade with carvings and each bird was hand-sculpted and placed," said Greg Shooner. "Once it got started, it just kind of went along until it was done."

Shooner and his wife, Mary Shooner, hand-delivered the collaboration to the museum earlier in the year.
"There was no way we were going to ship it, the birds are so delicate if you look at them sideways, they would break," he grinned. "What the museum had done with all of the birdhouses was set them up like Cincinnati did with the flying pigs. They were put on display all summer. When the museum sponsor saw our project it was immediately decided to put it in a case in the museum."

"The auction was agonizing. When it reached $6,000, it was being raised at $100 increments. Then when it went up to $10,000, it jumped to $500 increments. Finally, when it got to $21,000 many of the bidders dropped out. The man who got it for $21,500 had never set eyes on it before that night," Shooner recalled. "It was very exciting and very gratifying for John and me to see that kind of interest in something you put your heart and soul into."

Added Spicer, "We collaborated on it. It is not really representative of what we typically do individually. This was creative whimsy. When Greg called me on the phone from the auction and asked me how much I thought it brought, I was being optimistic and guessed $7,000. When he said it brought $21,500, I just thought that was super. I guess that gentleman just commandeered it and then had to explain it to his wife when he got home."

Spicer's museum-quality, 18th and 19th century replica, furniture is in prominent homes in Pennsylvania Dutch country. An example of his work can be seen at South Lebanon's town hall where he recently completed a 24-foot long, sectional council chamber committee podium and a separate speaker's podium for the village. Both are handmade of cherry and hand-finished using traditional tools, waxes and oils.

story written by Linda Scott, Western Star (Warren County)




























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