First Friday’s traveling easel

On First Friday of last month, a new event was introduced outside the Sunflower Cafe and Bakery that will now become a staple of Williamsport’s monthly celebration of the arts.

Referred to by some as the changing mural or the traveling easel, the event features a local artist painting on a four-feet-by-eight-feet, double-sided canvas in real time for spectators to watch and engage with.

The location of the event is different each month, as is the artist, who has the option of adding onto the previous artist’s work or wiping it clean for an entirely new painting.

Judy Olinsky, first vice-president of the Lycoming County Celebrates the Arts Alliance (LCCAA) and a founding member of the First Friday committee, likened the event to the construction of a building.

“People like to see process,” she said in a phone interview. “It’s just magical to watch something being created.”

The LCCAA funded the construction of the easel and commissions the artists each month.

Olinsky’s sentiments were echoed by John Yogodzinski, originator and constructor of the traveling easel and part owner of the Converge Gallery in downtown Williamsport.

“It brings art and creativity back to the streets,” he said in an email. “People love seeing the behind-the-scenes action. This gives those interested in art a chance to see how an artist works their creativity live in the flesh.”

The first artist to paint on the canvas was Lena Yeagle, whose depiction of wild blackberries was a tribute to her late grandfather’s love of picking the fruit. This year, her grandfather picked over 10,000, inspiring Lena to reference the number on the canvas.

Asked about audience turnout, Yogodzinski said, “For not really promoting it, I thought the audience interaction was great. People would ask Lena questions, or snap a quick picture on their phone. There always seemed to be a crowd around the easel.”

This Friday, the featured artist will be Jennifer Johnson, a graduate of Penn College’s graphic design program and integral part of the First Friday committee. The location has not yet been decided but Yogodzinski assured me that the easel is too big to miss.

Asked about how he chooses each artist, Yogodzinski said, “The main things I look for are creativity and comfort level with painting large scale. I’d rather commission someone who is comfortable painting big rather than force someone out of their comfort zone. Availability is another factor as the first month was harder than most because everyone I approached was on vacation or had prior commitments.” Yogodzinski sees the traveling easel as “a stepping stone for a bigger project in the works to create a revolving, large scale mural that changes up twice yearly.” Though right now he is trying to find temporary homes, most likely vacant storefronts, to display the canvas between First Fridays.

But watching the art come together is what separates this event from a traditional viewing in a gallery.

“We have a lot of great venues to display art downtown now, but most of them are indoors,” said Yogodzinski. “I think throwing an artist on the street to paint is a great way to bring back the spontaneous fun and excitement of First Friday.”

Each iteration of the canvas is available for public viewing on the Explore First Friday Facebook page.