The Evergreen Journal #14 – Tornado Outbreak
April 8, 2022
Below is the class photo. Lynda & Rosella are the ladies wearing skirts.
Rosella is on the left; Lynda on the right. June 1985.
Thirty-six years ago, my dear friend, Rosella, had a brilliant idea in late March. So, naturally, she was anxious to share it with me. With her newest copy of our favorite artist magazine in her hand, she quickly turned to the page she had marked near the back of the magazine. “Here it is!” she announced as she pointed to a small advertisement.
“Lynda, I think we could do this! There will be an outdoor painting workshop in the Pocono Mountains! Look at the advertisement. We could even earn college credit by taking this course. Wouldn’t it be fun to paint every day in the mountains with other artists?”
We called the phone number listed in the advertisement and requested more information. We filled out the necessary forms when the materials arrived. The 10-day workshop was a unique program in Plein air landscape painting created by two art professors. One taught at Rutgers University, and the other taught at Philadelphia School of Art.
Rosella’s idea seemed innocent enough at the time. However, I now recognize that this decision was a pivotal moment that would take me in a new direction. There was a quiet tornado brewing inside of me because this course would be my first step in the academic environment of the art world. I wanted to go. Nevertheless, I felt afraid. It was a feeling that I was heading into dangerous unknown territory. In fact, I was.
By the spring of 1985, I had painted just about every day for nine years. I was reading about art, art history, and artists exclusively. I was attending museum and gallery exhibitions and soaking in every bit of information about a painting that I could gather in my mind.
How did this all begin? How did a thirty-six-year-old wife and mother of five children become so excited about painting?
Before I met Rosella, I took painting lessons for about three years with Dona. She is a local artist, and my very first artist friend and teacher! I enjoyed weekly classes at her home studio. I painted at my home every day of the week following each class. Whatever I learned in class, I duplicated and reinforced that lesson in other paintings at home. My kitchen table was my studio. After the children left for school, I covered our table with newspaper and got out my brushes, paints and canvas. Some days I was still painting when the children arrived home from school!
From the beginning, I learned to exhibit my artworks in shows in the tri-state area with my local artist friends. It felt very strange to me. I timidly presented my paintings at those first art shows. Dona taught me the basics of painting. She encouraged me to work from my imagination. She also introduced me to the need for entering my completed paintings in local and regional art shows. It was so intimidating to me, and it was exciting at the same time. During these first few years, I met and became friends with other local artists as we traveled together to enter our work in shows. We attended the opening receptions together. We helped each other as we took turns driving to the various locations for deliveries, picking up rejected works, attending receptions, and removing artworks at the end.
Eventually, I was ready to go in a new direction. I began taking every painting course offered by an instructor at the Hoyt Institute of Fine Arts in New Castle, Pennsylvania, from 1980 to 1985. I advanced to getting my paintings juried into major national exhibitions. I traveled to New York City to attend the opening reception at the Audubon National in 1984. This was my first time traveling alone on a plane to attend a national art exhibition where my painting was on display. It was a massive step for me to be at that show.
I took painting courses with David in the early 80s. He took my thoughts in new directions, and my interest in painting was solidified. I knew this was the life I was meant to live. I thrived, and I began showing my work in national exhibitions under his tutelage.
This trip to Mount Pocono with Rosella would be the first time I entered an academic program in art.
I was excited, and at the same time, I was anxious. I had no idea what to expect; nevertheless, I was taking a step in a new direction. This was the first time I was going to take a class that would be graded by a professor of art.
Rosella and I packed up my red sports car with our painting gear. We had a list of recommended items to bring with us. In addition, we had prepared our painting surfaces, as instructed. Once we arrived, we would be ready to begin painting outdoors in the Pocono Mountains for the 10-day landscape painting experience. On the afternoon before we were set to leave, a series of tornadoes ripped through Pennsylvania.
Rosella and I departed on the morning of June 1, 1985. This was the morning after the historical tornadoes. As we drove the I-80 corridor across the state, we saw one nightmare scene of destruction after another. Our minds were set on the trip ahead of us, and we drove through entire areas where everything in sight looked like it had been bombed. Buildings were smashed. Trees were broken off like toothpicks. Yet, we observed tiny wildflowers blooming along the hillsides. Occasionally, we stopped to get out of the car and take photos of the blooming flowers and the clear skies. A significant tornado did not deter us from leaving on our new adventure.
After crossing the state, we stopped to spend our first night in bed and breakfast. The following day we reached the location where we would participate in the workshop. We had no idea what the next ten days would be like, but we were excited to begin.
Our group of fifteen brave artists painted outdoors every day regardless of the weather. We had rainstorms and plunging temperatures. We were dropped off at a different location every morning. At lunchtime, we had a bag lunch that was prepared for us. We continued to paint until late afternoon. We returned to the van with our painting gear, wet paintings, and sketchbooks. Evenings were spent in a recreation hall where we tried to dry out our wet socks and shoes on the fireplace’s hearth. We also worked on the paintings we had started on the location that day. This was a first-time experience for me to be painting by remembering what I had seen earlier in the day.
At night, we slept in outdoor structures with roll-down canvas sides. In the darkness, we chatted about the day’s events in the Pocono Mountains and the latest headlines in the news. It was cold and damp. We snuggled deep into our sleeping bags to keep warm, one by one, the talking ceased, and we drifted off to sleep.
After we were back home, our grades arrived. Rosella received an A. I got a B+.
I’ve realized that the things that are not graded are often essential life lessons. We did not let a massive set of tornadoes change our plans. We traveled across our state to attend the workshop despite the destruction we watched along the way. The chilly, overcast mornings did not prevent us from going outside each day to paint with our new friends.
Our trip opened my mind to new priceless possibilities of entering an academic art program at Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania. My pursuit of the BFA in Painting began in the fall semester of 1985. Two months after completing the outdoor landscape painting workshop, When I walked into my first university art classroom, I was almost forty-two years old.
” \With God, all things are possible.
Luke 1:37 ESV.
You can read the historical context of this story.
On May 31, 1985…a deadly tornado outbreak…ripped through the region, causing the second deadliest natural disaster in Pennsylvania’s history. 43 separate tornadoes would claim 89 lives and upwards of 700 million dollars in damage. 65 fatalities in Pennsylvania place May 31, 1985, a tornado outbreak second only to the 1889 Johnstown Flood, which claimed 2,200 lives.
Jeff Sherry, Museum Educator, Hagen History Center
Tornado Outbreak in Pennsylvania, May 31, 1985. Read more about it here.
©April 8, 2022. Lynda McKinney Lambert. All rights reserved.