Collecting, Creating and Crafting the Arts-
Updated: May 19
An essay on integrating art in the home and community- by Brian Keeler
Tom and Anne Marie Noone have been immersed in the arts of Northeastern Pennsylvania for decades and they’ve been collecting art in their home for just as long. Tom does not remember exactly when he acquired his first piece of art, but it was probably in the early 1970’s when the gallery he operated with others in Scranton closed. That gallery, located on the corner of Spruce and Adams Streets was called, “The Environmental Artists Gallery” and was formed with a few other regional artists including Gary Grossman, Lou Pontone, Dennis Yanashot and others. It represented the work of about 20 regional artists. It only lasted a short time, maybe a year and half, but they did sell art, including some pastels of mine when I was still in art school. That is when I first met Tom.
Tom was born in Washinton, DC in 1943 but he started coming to Carbondale, PA during the summers to visit his aunt and then his family eventually moved there when he was a freshman in high school. After graduating from St. Rose High School he enlisted in the US Marines and served for a while in Viet Nam. After that he studied psychology at the University of Scranton and then segued into his career as a social worker with the Pennsylvania Department of Welfare.
His interest in all the arts was not long in coming, as with his forming of the gallery mentioned above, and then involvement in many of the arts in and around Scranton. He also began his own artistry as a maker of fine furniture by studying with another Carbondale fellow, Vince Billota. As it turns out, Vince was in the same ceramics class taught by Bill Tersteeg with me at Keystone College circa 1972.
In this period he was also involved with The Susquehanna Studio, an art center in a restored mill along the headwaters of the Lackawanna River in Union Dale, PA. This was owned and run by the painter Bob Stark, who has recently gifted the property, buildings and many pieces of art to the Rails to Trails organization. It will continue as an art space by the new owners. Bob has since moved to New Mexico but returns to Pennsylvania on occasion. The Susquehanna Studio featured shows of many regional painters and Tom served as the preparator with Earl Lehman- they hung the shows. The studio and gallery there also organized workshops, lectures and other gatherings for 30 years.
It was in 1988 that the most influential, long lasting and well-known art organization was formed by Tom and several other locals including Ty Welles, Judy Youshock, Lou Pontone, Predrag, Bill Teitsworth, Sharon DeNault, Pat DiVirgilis and Hank Fells. This was the AFA group which eventually became the AFA Gallery on Lackwanna Avenue- the name is an acronym for "Artists for Art." They took over a beautiful old building owned by the late Peter Cupple and turned into a locus for the arts. The gallery has continued unabated since then with ongoing shows and many arts-related activities. Before the physical space of the gallery was obtained the group organized some exhibits including one centered on images of the Lackawanna River, which was displayed at the Sordoni Gallery in Wilkes-Barre and at the Susquehanna Studio. This was a wonderful group endeavor, that included paint-outs on the upper portions of the river at Simpson, PA and other locales. Inspired by the Lackawanna River as a motif, I returned to the Lackawanna many times to discover some great views at areas where the river courses through towns like Olyphant and down to its mouth near Pittston.
I was involved in AFA activities early on including their life-drawing sessions at the Lucan Center. It was with Gary Grossman that we put together an artists and musicians Susquehanna River trip that is still continuing now (but without AFA involvement) in its 29th year. Another exhibit that Tom and Gary and myself were involved in was organizing a gallery exchange, titled “Across State Lines.” It was a shared exhibit with the State of the Art Gallery in Ithaca, NY. This show in 1992 had the Ithaca artists showing in Scranton and the AFA members exhibiting in Ithaca.
To say that the AFA Gallery is an important part of the arts scene in Scranton and this part of PA is an understatement as it has fostered so many aspects of the arts. Weekly figure drawing was one part, which I was involved in and I served as the monitor for a short time. This eventually featured musicians playing in conjunction with the life sessions. There have been hundreds of exhibits over these decades, many of them organized and curated by Tom. Tom also served as the gallery president for five years but he's always has been involved with the gallery. On several occasions the gallery collaborated with Keystone College and Marywood University to host the Northeast Regional Exhibit.
One of the yearly highlights at the gallery has been the annual fund-raising auction, usually held in November. This outreach is one of the main sources of revenue for the AFA Gallery but it also serves to get art to patrons and benefits the artists. Like so many of the AFA events, it is always a real community gathering. Part of the appeal of this evening and many other AFA evenings has been the gourmet food, in which Anne Marie has played such an important part.
But now on to the collecting aspect of Tom and Ann Marie. Their house on a picturesque hilltop outside of Union Dale is filled with the art of dozens of regional artists but also works of unknown artisans such as a Hindu religious carving. To see art as such a central part of a home is indeed reassuring to us artists. But as Tom led me through the collection I could reconnect with so many artists I have known and admired over the years. The first painting to catch my attention was the brushy landscape by James Penedos, whose canvas of the ancient theatre at Taormina in Sicily is significant to me. I have painted the same beautiful view with Mount Etna in the background on two occasions. The view was first brought to my attention by a canvas of the 19th century American painter, William Hasletine- this work is in the Legion of Honor Museum in San Fransisco. There are several other paintings by Penedos in the collection of Tom and Ann Marie.
Their dining room has some metal sculpture by James Lennox that is wonderful. Speaking of James, he is another one of the regional artists who has a significant collection of art in his home. There are ceramic pieces by Bill Tersteeg and a bronze figure by Hal Buckner, a marble sculpture by Ty Welles and a couple of beautiful pastels by Alice Laputka. There are two wonderful portraits in this room depicting Tom that caught my eye. One of these paintings of Tom is by Hank Fells and another very small oil by Penedos. This oil of Penedos depicts Tom with sunglasses but with the anachronistic inclusion of a 17th century Dutch gentleman’s ruffed white collar.
There are some fine examples of printmaking in the collection too, with some by Scrantonian, Mark Ciocca that are memorable. I have one of Mark's in my personal collection.
There are a couple of small-scale landscapes and one nocturne with a house by Mickey Campbell that are fine pieces as well. I find an affinity between this nocturne of Campbell's and the work of Tracey Zeigler, (an Ithaca painter and printmaker) although I don't think they know each other. Tom has one of my plein air oils, a Venice canal view that Tom bought at one of my openhouses at my Wyalusing studio years ago.
In the living room there are a couple of large watercolors and acrylics on paper by Lou Pontone that are from an early point in his career. These are perhaps some of Lou’s most accomplished works. Tom has a drawing by the late Barbara Remington and a woodcarving of hers. Barbara was an illustrator who gained a worldwide reputation by illustrating the cover of the Lord of the Rings novel. Tom served as one of the executor's of Remington's estate when she passed away a few years ago. Marshall Rumbaugh has a couple of his whimsical wood sculptures in the collection of the Noones including one that he collaborated on and completed a piece of Barbara Remington’s that she had left unfinished at the time of her death.
There are some wonderfully graphic prints by Peter Hoffer nicely displayed and some non-objective prints and wood sculpture by Kevin O’Toole also on view. And on the playful and whimsical side, there's a piece by one of my former students, while I was teaching at Keystone, the ceramicist, Mark Chuck. Chuck has made his signature style with fish, usually trout depicted in action, in this case, with lily pad and swooping bat.
Some of the paintings or prints were acquired so long ago that Tom has forgotten the artists' names, but the signature or sometimes info or a photo on the back of the painting will identify the artist. Sometimes there were trades made with various artists when Tom would exchange his hand-made furniture for the art. Other times he would make frames in exchange for paintings, as he did for me on occasion. He purchased art directly from other galleries too, such as at the Laura Craig Gallery in Scranton.
So the taste reflected in the collection is wide-ranging and diverse but as is the case with most personal art holdings we can see the delight and enjoyment that Tom takes in each piece. There is a story that usually goes with each work and often a long personal involvement with the artist. We can see here how a couple has integrated art into their home and conversely how they have integrated their lives and the lives of many others into community.
Travel has long been a passion of the Noones, with Italy being the country that they’ve focused on mostly. Tom says they do not visit museums or galleries or hunt for art while there as the main attraction is the cuisine. Ann Marie is a connoisseur and gourmet cook and she’s participated in cooking seminars in Tuscany to bring back knowledge and inspiration to her local endeavors. Preparing fantastic treats for the AFA gatherings is part of this but also working for several well-known restaurants has been part of her culinary expressions. The Greystone Inn, Caferazzi Restaurant and the Epicurean Delight.
So we can see how collecting and creating has become a seamless endeavor for Tom and Ann Marie that may serve to inspire us all. I know there are many in the region who have benefitted and who’ve been enriched by their generous involvement in the arts.