Eleven years ago, friends and avid watercolor artists Nancy Rogers Crozier and Elizabeth Hazlett discovered an old building at Ligonier and Maine streets in Latrobe to transform into an art center for the community.
Today, the thriving Latrobe Art Center is home to a multidisciplinary gallery, offering creative art outreach programming, classes and even a cafe.
On Sept. 25, the center will hold its sixth annual Evening in the Neighborhood auction to support the center's programming.
Mrs. Crozier said she loves telling the story of a Sunday morning in church when Mrs. Hazlett turned to her and suggested the idea for the center.
"She said there was as a building for sale, we talked about it, checked it out, but it was much too expensive. Just a little comment she made started the whole thing," said Mrs. Crozier, who is the sister of children's television icon, Fred Rogers. Mrs. Hazlett died in 2008.
The two found another empty building that once housed an old shoe store in Latrobe to lease and renovate. Keeping the original flooring, they had shelving and carpeting removed and created a large open space.
"We just knew what we wanted. The original director [Jackie Dixon] scouted and got proper lighting and hanging fixtures and outfitted [the center] for art," explained Mrs. Crozier.
Now, with support from local and state grants, the center encourages individuals to be creative and develop artistically, explained current director Gabrielle Nastuck.
"Two to three times a year, we bring nationally known artists from across the United States for three- to four-day workshops," she said, adding that students also come from near and far to attend.
From Oct. 25 to 27, artist and illustrator Bill Vrscak of Pittsburgh will hold a workshop that is already sold out.
The center also provides free community outreach programs, including the Champion of Arts and the Buddy Art programs that focus on creativity of children with physical and mental disabilities. Combined with other student art classes, the center serves about 3,000 children each year, said Miss Nastuck.
Last Thursday, about 150 supporters attended the center's Annual Mr. Fred Rogers Juried Exhibition in conjunction with the Greater Latrobe School District, said Miss Nastuck.
"It was a huge success. The students are coming at the end of the month and they will choose a few paintings to take [to the schools] with them," she said. On Nov. 7, Greater Latrobe High School will hold its annual gala to announce the painting that will be added to the district's permanent art collection.
"We try to reach out to everyone in the community," said volunteer events coordinator Joe Bellack.
The Latrobe Center houses a gallery for its 93 local artists to showcase and market their work in several mediums including oil, acrylic, watercolor, pastel, sculptures, jewelry, stained glass and other handmade items. Free to the public, the gallery displays new artwork every two months. The center also stages artwork at eight off-site locations, including the Arnold Palmer Regional Airport, Commercial Bank and Trust of PA, Rose Style Shoppe and Spring Hill Suites.
Last year's auction raised about $40,000, said Mr. Bellack.
"Usually about 150 people attend. They are local supporters of the center. They see what good we do for the community, and it's their way of showing their appreciation," he said.
This year's auction will feature a signed, black and white, 23-by-19-inch framed photograph of Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus "in their younger years" that has been donated by Kit and Arnold Palmer.
"Our value on it is priceless," said Mr. Bellack.
Last year, a "limited edition print" with four legendary golfers, including Mr. Palmer and Mr. Nicklaus, raised $1,700 for the center, he added.
Other items that will be open for bidding this year include a Latrobe Country Club Golf Package, a Chef Mark's Palate cooking lesson and dinner for four to six people, two Norman Rockwell signed prints and Penguins hockey tickets. Attendees can also participate in a ticket auction of themed baskets, currently on display at the center, and a silent auction that features Penn State football tickets and an autographed Arnold Palmer putter.
Tickets for "An Evening in the Neighborhood" are $50 a person and $75 at the patron level. For more information, call 724-537-7011.neigh_east - neigh_westmoreland
Laurie Bailey, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.