Rumschpringe and the State of the Arts in Lancaster

I just returned from a screening of the fourteen short films in the Rumschpringe festival, which began yesterday and runs through tomorrow night. As a whole, the experience captured the state of the arts here in Lancaster.

Rumschpringe 2009 poster, designed by Jeff McComsey
Rumschpringe 2009 poster, designed by Jeff McComsey


Above all, there are points of light and reasons for celebration and hope. The Rumschpringe grand prize was shared last night by two very different submissions that were each excellent in their own way. American Terror: Company Man, a collaboration between animator Joseph Krzemienski and graphic novelist Jeff McComsey, displays an edginess of vision and level of technical proficiency that any city arts scene would covet. Green Fans, a documentary by Luis Ortiz and Damien Kalpokas on the passion and ritual of the Philadelphia Eagles’ die-hard fans, includes a spectrum of impressive interviews (with a former owner, former mayor Rendell, and several stand-out fans) and depth of footage that make it the real deal. It’s edited into a strong narrative and is packaged to feel finished—in fact, for a few moments I forgot where I was and felt like I was watching a professional TV special.

Ryan Mast’s two music video entries under his Unitheo production company stood out as well for the strength of the underlying vision and the precision of the execution. In other words, he wanted good shots and got the shots he wanted to, then pulled it together seamlessly.


Entrance to the film festival is through these main doors of the National Guard armory on North Queen Street
Entrance to the film festival is through these main doors of the National Guard armory on North Queen Street

The location of the festival and the quality of the screening experience reveal that, disappointingly, Lancaster still is not equipped to pull off this sort of event particularly well. The films are screened in the old gymnasium of a National Guard armory where uniformed guardsmen still walk the puke-green–tiled halls. The screen itself was half the size that should be expected given the size of the space and the audience, and the projector was unable to display the films with the vibrancy and sharpness the images deserve. I hate the term “technical difficulties” because it sweeps the real issue (human mistakes or inadequate equipment) under the rug, and I heard it apologized for no fewer than a dozen time during this afternoon’s screening. (Apology accepted. Still, I expect better.) We were shown the last eleven films and the recorded awards announcement before being shown the first three films. The DVD player froze three-quarters of the way through Green Fans and we never got to see its conclusion.

Speaking of Green Fans, I can only presume that the judges awarded it the category award for best drama even though it is a documentary because there was not an actual drama submitted that warranted the honor.

It was a great shame to see two films, A Cold Room and Cosa Nostra, lazily cast teenagers and twenty-somethings as much older adults, as if there are no actors of the appropriate age to be found. A little networking and reaching out would go a long way and would spare us from having to stifle laughter when a young man calls a a peer actor his father.

Film is a difficult and extroverted medium; casting and location are as important as anything else, and to proceed as if either hurdle is particularly high in Lancaster is to display a lack of courage and willingness to engage the broader community in the production of a film. Mixed Nuts makes the location mistake, using a built-in bar in the basement of someone’s house instead of finding a way to shoot in an actual bar.

As much as I love and respect Derek Lau, I wish he had chosen against filming Craig Robbins’s Helmet Guy sketch, which I found to be neither funny nor in good taste for the way it makes fun of the mentally handicapped.

Amateurs/Pre-Professionals and Mentors

I was shocked to learn that Nik Korablin, who directed Mature for his Age, is a seventeen year-old high school senior. Whatever the film’s technical flaws (primarily in post-production), the individuality of the director and the strength of his idea are whole and rewarding. When I consider Korabin as well as Brendan Krick, who directed the pun-filled Going Bananas, it seems to me that offering more assistance to high school–age filmmakers would yield strong returns. For one thing, as I already mentioned, they (plus college students and other young adults) would benefit from having adult actors at their disposal for occasional small projects.

It’s my guess that Ryan Mast, a friend and a junior at Millersville University, would have felt a deeper satisfaction at his well-deserved award for best music video had there been any real competition. I know that I was disappointed that some of the true mentors of film in Lancaster didn’t contribute to making this year’s Rumschpringe a higher-caliber event and one that provided less-experienced filmmakers with advanced examples to emulate. I’m thinking specifically here of how there were no entries by Mary Haverstick (given the two options, I’d rather see a submission than have her serve as a juror), Allen Clements (whose great contributions to the festival I do not mean to overlook or understate), or Max Zug. Props to Joe Krzemienski for stepping up to the plate on this one.


All in all, I think this year’s Rumschpringe festival encapsulates Lancaster’s arts scene: it is still emerging. The best talent is top-notch but struggles with pushing itself further while bringing other artists along. If film, as with other art forms, somehow blossomed here overnight, the community wouldn’t be ready for it in terms of an audience base or infrastructure and behind-the-scenes talent.

I’m OK with this, because I believe this is what organic growth looks like. The next indicator we’ll get of that growth will be at the inaugural Lancaster Area Film Festival, which will feature longer films, at Liberty Place in Lancaster city on Saturday, May 2.

Barry Moser exhibit at the Lancaster Museum of Art

When it comes to First Fridays in Lancaster, I usually tout nontraditional galleries like the Infantree and Progressive Galleries. This month, I’m calling you over to the east side of the city, to the city’s most traditional visual arts space, the Lancaster Museum of Art, on the edge of Musser Park.

LMA is holding an opening reception tomorrow evening for two new exhibits, one of which is “Portraits of Illustrious Persons” by illustrator Barry Moser. I’m thankful to the museum’s director, Stanley Grand, and curator Heather Heilman Loercher for agreeing to let me in today for a sneak peak as they finished hanging the work.

Barry Moser featured on the cover of Image issue 21
Barry Moser featured on the cover of Image issue 21

I first learned of Moser and his work through Image journal, a quarterly that explores the intersection of faith and art. He was featured on the cover of the fall 1998 issue, shortly after his Pennyroyal Caxton Bible was published, and this past December he was featured as Artist of the Month on the Image website.

I came to know Moser’s work a bit better when I picked up Intruding Upon the Timeless: Meditations on Art, Faith and Mystery, a project completed by Lancaster city’s own Ned Bustard, through his Square Halo imprint. The book is a collection of essays by Image‘s editor, Gregory Wolfe, and features engravings by Moser.

Moser works primarily in wood engraving, though he usually uses synthetic resin blocks in place of wood. He takes on great, often magisterial works, and manages to lift them still higher and to tease out new meanings (or, in the case of his one hundred–plus illustrations for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, to make the work even more absurd).

Over the past thirty-odd years, Moser has completed hundreds of portraits. The Lancaster Museum of Art acquired original  prints of nearly all of them and has found the wall space to display most. Moser’s choices of subjects tell us a lot about what inspires him as an artist and earns his admiration as person. Moser’s treatment of the subjects reveals an artist with an extraordinary  and sympathetic imagination.

Barry Moser's portraits on display at the Lancaster Museum of Art
Barry Moser’s portraits on display at the Lancaster Museum of Art

A glance at Moser’s carving of Joseph Conrad explains everything about the author who brought us Heart of Darkness and The Secret Sharer. Geoffrey Chaucer’s portrait is dominated by darkness, but for a small, blindingly white twinkle in his eye. After Moser’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland illustrations, his portrait of Lewis Caroll comes as a shock: a saddened man sits surrounded by negative space, seeking consolation in his own thoughts. Robert Frost’s grotesque, splotched face contrasts with his neat suit and tie and serene expression. You couldn’t capture him as a poet any better.

I’m enamored by Moser’s self-portait, in which his face is lit from below, less like he’s telling a ghost story and more like he is illuminated by the light of his own work.

A portrait that wasn’t hung when I visited is Maurice Sendak, which Dr. Grand told me the museum wasn’t expecting but was only too happy to receive.

Charles Dickins
Charles Dickens

The exquisitely detailed portraits, which average about three inches by five, include

  • Nelson Algren
  • W.H. Auden
  • Lewis Caroll
  • Willa Cather
  • Anton Chekov
  • Honoré Daumier
  • Charles Dickens
  • Emily Dickinson
  • Frederick Douglas
  • Thomas Eakins
  • George Eliot
  • T.S. Eliot
  • William Faukner
  • Edward Gibbon
  • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
  • Ulysses Grant
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • William Hazlitt
  • George Innes
  • Henry James
  • Samuel Johnson
  • James Joyce
  • John Keats
  • Kathe Kollowitz
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Thomas Mann
  • Paul Mariani
  • Herman Melville
  • John Milton
  • Flannery O’Connor
  • Sylvia Plath
  • Edgar Allan Poe
  • William Shakespeare
  • George Bernard Shaw
  • Henry Tanner
  • Henry David Thoreau
  • Mark Twain
  • John Updike
  • Eudora Welty
  • Walt Whitman
  • William Wordsworth
Flannery O'Connor
Flannery O’Connor

The Lancaster Museum of Art is on Lime Street between Orange and Chestnut, just up the street and across the street from the YWCA. The opening reception runs from 5 to 8 p.m. tomorrow, and I guarantee I’ll be making a long visit. If you can’t make it for the First Friday opening, the exhibit runs through May 24.

And of course, there’s no time like the present to subscribe to Image.

Creative Writing in Lancaster

Here’s a poem fragment that merits reflection on a spring Sunday. It’s Franz Wright, reflecting on his baptism

That insane asshole is dead
I drowned him
and he’s not coming back.

I’m trying to write more like him—spare and contemplative yet rich and bristling with action.

Today I met up with Susan Pogorzelski (20orsomething on Twitter) and Lynn Holmgren at Square One Coffee for our first real meeting as an admittedly small writing group. We each write in different genres and modes, and we each have somewhat different ideas of what we’d like to get out of the group, which keeps it fun, interesting, and flexible.

Writers chair by Andrew Wyeth
The simplicity and solitude of the act of writing (as captured here by Andrew Wyeth) doesn't always lend itself to community and networks.

In my networking here in Lancaster, I’ve met relatively few creative writers. The ones I’ve met include Chet Williamson, Kelly Watson, Linda Espenshade, Timothy Rezendes, Jessica Smucker Falcon, and Garrett Faber. Just last week I had the pleasure of meeting Kerry Sherin Wright, who runs Franklin & Marshall’s Philadelphia Alumni Writers House. It’s a priority of mine to meet Betsy Hurley of the Lancaster Literary Guild. Please, tell me what Lancaster writers I haven’t met and need to. Extra points for poets. And if you’re a writer and I just don’t know it, smack me upside the head.

I’m confident that there is a respectable number of creative writers producing creative works here in Lancaster County. We seem to be the least well-networked of the artists in the area, particularly when compared to musicians and visual artists.

This afternoon, Susan offered a line from Shel Silverstein as a writing prompt: “I’m afraid I got too close.” I don’t particularly enjoy sharing early drafts, but in the spirit of sharing and openness, here is my very rough draft inspired by the prompt.

I stood on the brink
of a social life

Thursday nights
were sold-out punk shows

The rest of the week
I stayed home with my dog

I insisted on feeling
I belonged in the way
everyone else belongs

When someone from work
invites me over, I give notice
and leave the state

I take a job in a town
with punk shows
and no dog parks

My Thursday nights
keep solitude away
each time I stand surrounded
I’m afraid it gets too near