A Richland man has converted the house in which he spent much of his youth into “Four Directions: A Center for the Arts and Healing,” a non-profit facility dedicated to promoting the arts and natural medicine.
The conversion was in honor of his late aunt, her dear friend and the history of the 10-acre homestead on Dickey Road. The land had been home to the Native American Lenape People, according to owner Peter Shefler.
Janet deCoux, a sculptor of liturgical and secular art, and Eliza Miller, an artist, met at Carnegie Mellon University, became lifelong friends and lived on the small Richland farm where they turned the barn into a studio for their works.
It is this setting where Mr. Shefler spent most of his childhood.
“I grew up here with Aunt Eliza and Janet as substitute mothers. After my mother died, Aunt Eliza really took me under her wing,” Mr. Shefler said.
Mr. Shefler, 63, lived only a mile away. He was only seven when his mother, Miss Miller’s sister, Barbara Shefler, died when she was 36. Miss Miller, already close to Mr. Shefler and his two siblings, became more instrumental in raising the young children then 3, 7 and 10.
After his mother’s death, Mr. Shefler spent much of his free time and summers with the two women.
“I had a special bond with Aunt Eliza and just really learned so much from her and Janet. They really shaped my childhood,” he said.
The new Center opened its doors May 16 and will serve as a place for artists, musicians and others to gather, showcase their artwork and share their talents. Mr. Shefler said he wants the natural beauty of the setting to serve as inspiration and a place for healing and spiritual growth.
“This land is just so magical. I want others to share in this wonderful location,” he said.
Mr. Shefler purchased the land after Miss Miller died in 2007. He knew that he wanted to do something with the property to honor the two women.
“I’ve wanted to create a place like this, somewhere artists could gather and a place where people could come to sort of rejuvenate and be inspired,” he said.
Mr. Shefler, a poet and photographer, said he felt there was a need for a venue for artists to have a place to showcase their work. The barn that had served as the studio for his aunt and Miss deCoux had burned, but was rebuilt and now serves as a gallery and classroom for artists at Four Directions.
The site has three spring-fed ponds, woods and a small cottage Mr. Shefler has labeled the “healing cabin” where practitioners can lead groups and natural healing practices.
During the grand opening weekend, there were music performances, several artists showcased their work and there were demonstrations of tai chi, aromatherapy and yoga.
Eric Hayes is a long-time friend of Mr. Shefler’s and serves as the Director of Communications for the new non-profit.
“We were sitting around a campfire last year and throwing around ideas for names. We decided on one that honors the Native American history of the land and also the mission behind the Center,” he said.
Four Directions stands for art, healing, spirituality and nature.
“Our tagline is ‘Discover your center at the Four Directions.’ That is what we want people to do, find their own comfort and creativity here,” Mr. Hayes said.
The Richland location is ideal for the new venture, Mr. Hayes said.
“It is close enough to Pittsburgh that it is easily accessible, but far enough removed that you feel that you are out in the country,” he said.
The Center will host additional artists in the gallery and offer workshops. The center also will be available to rent for retreats and conferences. Since he enjoyed so much of his childhood on the property, Mr. Shefler hopes to expand into camps and programming for children, opening a gift shop and hosting concerts and bonfires.
Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: email@example.com.