A fine (art) history: Saturday’s show marks 50th show

By on July 27, 2016

On a warm evening in July 1967, a group of artists was busy making rosettes for the ribbons that would be awarded for the first Lititz Outdoor Art Show.

The show was to be held July 29, the last Saturday of the month. It’s been that way ever since. For 50 years, the annual event has been held in downtown Lititz, attracting artists and art lovers near and far.

“I remember the very first show,” said Richard Fleckenstein, who lived near Floyd Hackman’s art studio at 411 S. Cedar St. His brother, August “Gus” Fleckenstein, was a member of the Village Art Association.

That’s what the organization of artists in Lititz was known as for most of its existence. Just this year, the group was renamed the Lititz Art Association. The name of the organization may have changed, but the event’s tradition as one of the few fine-arts-only shows in the area has not.

This Saturday, July 30, the Lititz Outdoor Art Show will mark half a century of displaying oils, watercolors, acrylics, mixed media, pastels, drawings and sculptures. The show will be held in Lititz Springs Park, rain or shine, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with prizes awarded to the top artists.

It wasn’t always held in the park.

“It was held mostly on Main Street,” Fleckenstein recalled. “It wasn’t as big as it is today, but it was bigger than you would think for a first show.”

The street wasn’t closed. The show was held on East Main and along South Broad streets, on the sidewalks. The very first show listed 83 adult artists, and 39 young artists in the children’s division. Floyd Hackman, beloved artist and art teacher, was the art association founder.

“Most of the artists took lessons with Floyd,” Fleckenstein said. “He was an artist and designer. His family had a furniture and reupholstery business on Lemon Street.”

In 1967, Hackman had been painting for nearly five decades. The Village Art Association would meet once a month to paint together, and Hackman often shared his wisdom with other members of the group.

But it wasn’t an artist who dreamed up the idea of Lititz having its own on-the-street art show. It was Bill Bell, who owned the Lititz Book Store. Bell was a member of the Lititz Retailers Association, and he thought an art show would be great for bringing business into town on a Saturday.

Bell approached Hackman and the Village Art Association to see if they would be on board with an art show in July. The group jumped at the chance to showcase the local talent. As an art educator, Hackman was especially interested in fostering the up-and-coming young artists with a children’s division.

The show was on.

The first show was held from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and was sponsored by the Village Art Association, the Lititz Retailers Association, and the Lititz Community Center. All the best-known businesses in Lititz were patrons, contributing toward prize money for the winners. Many of those business are now long gone, including Alsam Shoe Manufacturing, Clyde Benner’s pharmacy, Bingeman’s Restaurant, Glassmyer’s, Harris Variety Center, Kreider Hardware, and the Lititz Sewing Center. A few of those first supporters still remain, like Hendrick’s Flowers, Hershey & Gibbel, Keller Brothers Ford, McElroy’s Pharmacy, Stauffers of Kissel Hill, and the Lititz Record Express.

The first show was a big success. Bell and the Lititz retailers drew a big crowd. Bingy’s had its art show specials, offering sandwiches and dinners at reduced prizes. Bell was the person who signed the checks for the prize money, with top prize for Best of Show at $100, a huge prize in those days. The total prize money was $350, with $325 for adult winners and $25 for the children.

Richard Hess of Columbia took home that Best of Show for his watercolor of the St. James Episcopal Church in Lancaster. The judges that first year were Charles X. Carlson, well-known artist and educator, along with Kenneth Hoak and Walt Partymiller.

From the beginning, the Lititz Outdoor Art Show had a lot of character, as in characters. The earliest members of the committee included Hackman, Bell, John Wenger, Mary Lefevre, Rita Washburn, Annette Kryzysiek, Paul Herr, Nellie Ruth, Ryan Shenk, Max Hoffman, John Skinner Jr., William Young, Phyllis Leib, and Georgene Lucas. Back in those days, the married women were referred to as Mrs. Robert Eicholtz, Mrs. Grant Heilman, and Mrs. Russell Templeton (Earla).

“I joined the Village Art Association in the mid to late ’70s,” said Sandy Roland, who is still a member and exhibits each year, “and some of them were characters.”

The show was intended to be fine-arts-only. No crafts allowed. The Rotary Craft Show would come along much later. The categories were oils, watercolors and other media, as in drawing or acrylics.

John Wenger was in charge of the hanging committee, and he took his role seriously.

Sometimes it seemed like he was literally ordering a hanging when an artist showed up with a painting on a piece of wood or something considered to be “crafty.” Wenger was known to ask artists to leave when their work was deemed to be a craft and did not fit into to the accepted realm of fine art. He would arrive in the back room of the General Sutter Inn, where the judges convened, to announce that he had kicked out a few crafters. He always did it with his characteristic quick wit and a sweet smile.

“He could be fierce,” Roland laughed. “We’re not quite that tough these days.”

If Wenger was among the artists who fit the label of being a bit temperamental, many others were known for being far more affable, like hardworking Lucas, Lefevre, and Templeton. They were among the committee members who painstakingly marked the sidewalks with chalk and made the award ribbons for prizes.

By 1976, the show was marking its 10th anniversary, with about 260 artists. The categories had been expanded to oils, watercolors, graphic arts and sculpture. Carlson was back to serve as a judge for a special bicentennial show held at Linden Hall, where Lititz artist David Brumbach took top honors. For the 10th annual show, Lititz Borough Council had decided to close East Main Street to traffic.

The next year, retailers made the pitch to keep East Main Street open to traffic and allow parking. After all, the whole idea of the original show was to bring customers into town. Borough council agreed, and the street remained open, and crowded. It wasn’t easy to get through the sidewalks to see the art.

In 1989, the show made the move to Lititz Springs Park. The park was shady with beautiful tall trees, and the wide open spaces allowed art lovers more elbow room and a chance to step back and really see the art.

Some of the old-timers appreciated the shade and cooler temperatures. Artist Walt Patschorke had always asked for a shady spot on East Main because of his health. Now he and all the artists could stay out of the hot summer sun.

“Moving to the park was wonderful for the show,” said Beth Brunner of the Lititz Art Association. “I can’t even imagine how hot and crowded that must have been.”

There were many artists who made their mark on the earliest art shows. Many are no longer with us.

Al Taft was a talented watercolorist who began painting later on life. He had been a food broker, and after suffering a heart attack he was advised to find a stress-free hobby. He studied with Hackman and blossomed into one of Lititz’s most beloved artists. For many years, he held Village Art Association meetings at his home.

Dot Peters and Ryan Shank were great foils to Wenger’s witty humor. The Village Art Association was like a family, with artists meeting once a month to paint together and hone their skills though advice from other artists. Some of the other early artists included Dan Lefever, Mark Workman, Vance Forepaugh, John Gavegan, Ida Kline, Helen Koth, and Irene Miller.

Once a year, when the last Saturday of the July rolled around, they got into high gear. Artists were juried, programs were printed, spots were numbered and marked, judges were selected, awards were presented to artists, winners were announced, and everything was cleaned up. Until the next year.

The Lititz Outdoor Art Show has always been rain or shine. On the day of the show, organizers pray for no rain. Only once in its 50 years has the show suffered a true deluge. That was back in 1987 when a torrential downpour put a definite damper on the event.

Considering the Lititz Outdoor Art Show is marking its 50th anniversary, the organizers have been very lucky. Here’s hoping for another sunny day in Lititz Springs Park.

Laura Knowles is a local freelance feature writer and regular contributor to the Record Express. She can be reached at lknowles21@gmail.com.

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