Friday, September 17, 2010

2nd Floor Gallery in Mechanicsburg offers visual arts in unique light |

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  2nd Floor Gallery in Mechanicsburg offers visual arts in unique light |

Published: Thursday, August 26, 2010, 3:41 AM

Ellen Hughes

Despite its work-a-day name, Mechanicsburg has considerable charm and whimsy of its own, characterized by the 2nd Floor Gallery. I visited it, not for the first time, last week. The space is a perfect example of the benefits to be gained in the conversion and repurposing of an old building. It also gives artists the opportunity to display and sell their work to clients without having to be directly involved in that transactional process.

Until nine years ago, 2nd Floor Gallery was a working Presbyterian church in the heart of Mechanicsburg. The church moved to a new space, and now the site is devoted to the visual arts. It has more than 500 works regularly rotated from a much larger stash, representing almost every kind and every level of art.

Each month there’s a featured artist, and this month it’s Linda Buckwalter, whose day job is teaching math at the Harrisburg Area Community College. Her wholesome landscapes, florals and animals greet you when you open the door to the main gallery. That’s after you climb the creaky stairs and admire the old brickwork peeking through the plastered staircase wall.

What might distract you when you open that door to the gallery is the space itself, with its high ceiling, ecclesiastical light fixtures, sloping wooden floor and stained glass windows covered in translucent plastic because, according to Terry Kennedy, the executive director of 2nd Floor Gallery, they leak. Nevertheless, the windows let in a massive amount of natural light, aided by copious track lighting. You’re dazzled by light and color.

At the far end of the gallery, you can see the pipes of the organ; the organ is gone, but the pipes decoratively remain. On the wall, flanking what must have been the pulpit, is the vestigial worship service schedule, slotted into a little wooden display case. With the huge windows and whatever else remains from its previous incarnation, there is little room for wall display, but that problem has been solved creatively.

The space is divided by freestanding solid surfaces, diagonally sectioning off the huge room in a way that its pews must have done when it was a functioning church. There’s a stable of about 100 artists whose works are regularly exhibited, and because the displays are organized by artist whenever possible, each small area acts as a mini-exhibition of that artist.

If you’ve ever been to Montmartre, that legendary outdoor art mecca that overlooks Paris, there’s that same feeling of infinite variety; acrylics, oils, watercolors, mobiles, note cards, sculpture and jewelry; portraits, abstracts, pop and op art plus Pennsylvania landscapes and plenty of pictures of pets. Of course, everything is for sale, and most of the artists have a local connection, including from the famed group known as the Seven Lively Artists.

The 2nd Floor Gallery also has a first floor. The former church administrative offices are now small galleries for individual artists, and there are even a couple of artists’ studios, plus another small exhibition space, this month devoted to the oil pastels and egg temperas of artist Tatiana Myers. As does Buckwalter, she devotes herself to canvases of flowers, water landscapes and still life studies.

Kennedy spends much of his time keeping what’s on permanent display moving around; within a three-month span, there’s likely to be a complete rotation, so what you see when you visit the gallery is likely to be different each time.

“There are some great art communities in major towns, like Lancaster and Harrisburg, but there is a surprising number of talented artists in Mechanicsburg,” said Kennedy, a working artist in his own right, who currently has an exhibit in New York. “We really pride ourselves on educating the public that artists are not pretentious, obnoxious or crazy,” he said.

You can see for yourself if that’s true at the monthly receptions held every third Saturday, when artists and the public have a chance to mingle. Performance art and demonstrations also take place, plus live music.

It’s a “close-knit group of artists that band together to promote the gallery to friends and clients,” Terry Kennedy summarized.

Although the building is extraordinary, Kennedy said, “It’s really the artists” that make 2nd Floor Gallery a worthwhile destination.

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