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In the Studio with Fred Gilmour

October 7, 2012
By JOSH BROKAW - Sun-Gazette Correspondent , Williamsport Sun-Gazette

Painter, sculptor, illustrator, jeweler. Picture-taking, schoolteaching, videomaking: do not ask Fred Gilmour to say exactly what his given profession is on any given day.

"I don't know what I want to be when I grow up," the Williamsport artist said. "I've got a graphic nature, I guess. Sometimes it's tiring being a creative person - you always have this sense of curiosity and experimentation. What will this material do?"

Gilmour moved into a studio at the Masonic Temple, 360 Market St., in May of 2011. Whatever his project du jour, this is the place he can come for "escape."

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"Believe it or not, personal obligations increase when you're retired," Gilmour said. "Here I can create what I want to do for myself - do what I want to do."

Gilmour is shipping out a three-dimensional piece titled "Triage" to Colorado; it is his contribution to the "Ashes to Art Project." The project is auctioning off works from 150 artists that incorporate burned-up wood from the fires. Proceeds benefit the Poudre Canyon Fire Protection District, the area that was hit hardest by this past summer's wildfires.

"I just got a bag full of fried stuff, wood burned in the smoke and fire, and had to do something with it," Gilmour said. "The volunteer fire department equipment just gets eaten alive in fires like that and it needs replenishing."

On Gilmour's drawing board is a half-finished Harley-Davidson motorcycle. The chrome shines - it's the fourth in a series of Harley pieces that Gilmour recreates in expanded form from his own photographs.

"These have been popular: they're essentially watercolor with some help from colored pencil - it's easier to get color down on paper in a more consistent way with pencil," Gilmour said. "People say, 'Why don't you just take that photograph and blow that up?' I want to prove to myself and others I can reproduce that image, in a more fluid, less controlled medium and still make it appear as if it is a photo. They kind of bring me back full-circle, to being an illustrator."

When Gilmour first came to Williamsport from his hometown of Johnstown, he came to get an education in "old-fashioned" illustration at the former Williamsport Technical Institute. The trade required a much different skill set in those days.

"You had to know how to take a thing apart," he said. "You had to know how every part worked. You could spend lots of time learning to render stainless steel just right, for example. Now, with computers, it's just 'boom' and there it is. Product illustration like that, that's all gone the way of the elevator operator. Animators now have to be so much more sophisticated in their knowledge base with computers - everyone has had to evolve and develop."

Gilmour's career led him to teach media production in both the Williamsport Area School District and Penn College.

"All the programmers and coders (at Penn College) weren't terribly interested in graphic design," he said. "In the early days of the Internet, we worked on making the Web look better. We did a lot of video and graphics for Internet-based instructional delivery, migrating all these instructive TV programs over to the Internet and helping make distance learning a viable delivery system."

Digital technology can only lead to better things, Gilmour said - though those learning design now, perhaps on a tablet, should still take a look at the old masters.

"In graphic design, we're still using the basic techniques, tried and true techniques - color, composition, balance - you have to look at the computer as a tool. Technology is always influencing art and vice versa. It can only lead to better, broad applications, like teaching in medicine - you can render things on the computer that'd be harmful if done any other way."

Gilmour has done projects that needed warehouse-type space - a mobile at Penn College, a sculpture in the new Susquehanna Health tower - and he has work at galleries in Virginia, the Virgin Islands and Eagles Mere. His space and the people in the Masonic temple suit his current work well.

"We've kind of settled on calling it 360 Creative Suites here," Gilmour said. "It's a very loose organization; it just happens that all of us occupy this same floor in this building and we recognize that we're all very established artists, in different mediums. It's centrally located, fresh and bright. Having these different personalities at the table - that can be helpful. You think you're at the end of the line and you get a suggestion you didn't even think about."

Gilmour has watched the arts grow in Williamsport over the years. He sees that trend continuing.

"The arts community has really blossomed: I think since we have a much more mobile society, folks have come into their own and settled here, they find life here to be very comfortable," he said. "It's a less hectic environment. You can relax, there's more time for thinking and enjoying your environment rather than spending two hours in a commute every day. Every one is just kind of out here doing their thing - with the concentration we have of artists it can only get better."

Gilmour has no grand statements to make about his work.

"I do my art because I like doing it," he said. "It's just as simple as that: if you open a bottle of wine and it's a good bottle of wine, it's a good bottle of wine. Process is important to me, more than the product: you're always figuring out how to use new methods, components, how that goes into design. You have to be willing to take a risk, and recognize what's the important part in what you're using.

"When I get started on one of these things everything else goes away - I lose myself in what I'm creating," he said.

More of Fred Gilmour's work can be seen on The Ashes to Art auction is ongoing from today until Oct. 14. More information is available through or searching "Ashes to Art" on Facebook.



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