From highway icons to rolling foothills, the images in "Landscapes and Roadside Attractions: The Art of Kevin Kutz" hold the promise of spring and inspire plans for post-winter wanderlust. This Saint Vincent Gallery exhibition includes a range of work by the Bedford artist who has devoted 30 years to capturing on canvas the land, people and quirks of the rural counties east of Pittsburgh.
Those counties are loosely united by the Lincoln Highway (most of which is now designated Route 30), which Mr. Kutz, 57, has spent so much time with that he once said he regards it as a "brother." Road aficionados and those who still remember family "Sunday drives" will recognize landmarks of the type that are rapidly disappearing across the country.
One example is the two-story high Coffee Pot, built in 1927 as a restaurant. Abandoned for 15 years, it was in danger of succumbing to the elements when it was rescued by the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor in 2003. In the painting "Pot Reconstruction" Mr. Kutz depicts it being restored at its new Bedford County Fairgrounds site. To the right and left of the painting, oversized cicadas blend into the leaves of trees that frame the coffee pot. They were inspired by a cicada that flew into Mr. Kutz's eye as he sketched the scene, he said.
He also worked on the actual building, painting the window and door trims and the words "The Coffee Pot" as they were originally.
The Grand View Point Hotel, which debuted in 1932 and later was named Noah's Ark, didn't fare as well, having been destroyed by fire in 2001. It lives through the many iterations Mr. Kutz has painted, including a small "Ship Hotel" on cutout panel at Saint Vincent. Other cutouts memorialize the once-ubiquitous tourist cabins that predated modern motel chains, and more specifically Shirey's Cottages, which were located near Ligonier.
But the artist isn't wedded to the past in subject or technique, as exemplified by the sprawling "Sheetz (Irwin)" painted on a large shaped canvas, and by the mixed media "Ode to Orange on Blue" that combines imagery of the 1933 terra-cotta-faced Dunkle's Gulf Station in Bedford with found objects such as a funnel and pliers.
Mr. Kutz also plays fiddle and banjo and sings with the contemporary improvisational roots music group Coal Mountain Ramblers. That he lives what he paints contributes to the integrity of his explorations, something others in the arts respond to.
Mr. Kutz's paintings inspired composer Todd Goodman's 2005 work "Sketches of Home," which was commissioned and performed by the Altoona Symphony Orchestra. He had a small part in the indie road film "30" in which he played a song he co-wrote, "High on the Lincoln Way."
"Kevin Kutz's Lincoln Highway," which reproduces many of his paintings, was published by Stackpole Books in 2006 in recognition of his close association with the historic road.
In that book, Mr. Kutz asserts that the celebration of American icons is a "form of patriotism" and that his paintings "are more than mere depictions of quaint old gas stations with old automobiles outside. The celebration of our past and present will transport us into the future one day at a time."
The exhibition continues through Feb. 24 in the Robert S. Carey Student Center, third floor (elevator accessible), Saint Vincent College, Latrobe. Admission is free. Gallery hours are 1 to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays. Information: 724-805-2197 or http://gallery.stvincent.edu.
Mary Thomas: email@example.com or 412-263-1925.