The Art of Collecting- Meetings with Remarkable Men and Women
Updated: Apr 29
The Art of Collecting- Meetings with Remarkable Men and Women- An essay by Brian Keeler
(This is the first in a series of articles about patrons and collectors)
Paintings and sculpture in our homes along with other forms art; be it furniture, various antiques, weavings, rugs, glassware, vases or ceramics can enrich one’s life and be a visible expression of who we are. As an artist, it brings our efforts to a rewarding culmination to see our works integrated into an interior, while it also brings significance and meaning to the owner. More than a few people have told me that some of my paintings are displayed above their beds, which always seemed an even more honored location. And then there are patrons who have collected a group of paintings, sometimes a dozen or more that I have painted. Jan Lokuta is one of those patrons who have collected a significant group of paintings, and supporting the regional art scene, in this case, a fine art gallery in Scranton, PA.
Jan is also someone that artists would like to clone, but in point of fact, he is a quite rare type. Unlike other art entities and orgnanizations, like an orchestra, museum, a theatre or an historic association, painters are individuals and it takes the largesse and personal support of individual collectors like Jan to sustain the arts. In other words, for the most part, aside from some grants, there is a dearth of official government involvement or endowments. There have been exceptions, and I am thinking of the WPA support for artists in America during and after the depression that fostered public art like the Post Office Murals. Needless I to say, I am very appreciative of Jan and many other patrons over the years and the various galleries where I have shown that have facilitated the client-patron dynamic.
So recently, I was invited into the home of of Jan, who is one of my long-time patrons, who has a collection of 14 or so of my paintings and pastels. Jan Lokuta lives in Dupont, PA, a town located between Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, and he has in his collection a group of my landscape paintings and pastels depicting Pennsylvania scenes from the Susquehanna Valley. These works range from small plein air studies to large expansive depictions of the rural northeast areas of Pennsylvania. There is also a theme to a number of the cityscapes in this group, which is that they often include churches. Jan is an historian and expert on the region’s churches and he occasionally leads guided tours of churches of various towns and cities. There is information about his next tour in May of 2021 at the end of this article.
Jan bought his first work of mine about 25 years ago at the Laura Craig Gallery in Scranton. This small pastel study was done along the Susquehanna River one spring morning in Pittston, PA . I was sitting on the west shore of the river looking upstream with a view of the Jenkintown Bridge that included a church steeple viewed through one of the bridge arches.
After this initial purchase Jan purchased other works I had done on my own initiative, but he also commissioned me to create depictions of street scenes in Pittston and Scranton, which I did in pastel mostly but a couple in oil. Upon seeing these works all displayed together, I relived the process of creating them. Jan remembers them too and his reasons for selecting certain views. He recalls specific moods he was in while viewing the scenes, with one in particular representing an emotional turning point. This marked a period in his life when he was turning from a pessimistic frame of mind into one of more hope that corresponded to the afternoon light depicted. Turning toward the light in other words. While walking through a succession of rooms in Jan’s home he gave an ongoing commentary on various aspects of the history of the neighborhoods depicted.
These histories often include the fact that at least one of the churches shown in a view from a street on a hill leading into Pittston have been razed. Also Jan laments certain churches shuttering their doors due to decreasing attendance. One of these churches was included in a very recent painting of North Main Street in Wilkes-Barre, but Jan could not purchase this one as it reminded him of the sad fact that one of the churches depicted has been closed.
I was inspired by Jan’s interest in the urban scene, as it dovetailed with my own aesthetic of finding beauty in the commonplace. During our everyday lives, as we pass through the region’s towns and look at buildings that may seem rather banal at times, can also be regarded as worthy subjects for art. Jan understands this too, and that is perhaps, in part why he collects these paintings.
If I dare say so, he has some of my canvases that I regard as my best of those years. One in particular is a winter evening view of a landscape at Homet’s Ferry, PA- just west of Wyalusing off US Route 6. I’ve painted this view more than a dozen times over the years as it represent the beauty of the region in a particularly representative way. The rolling hills leading down to the river valley, the Howard farm in the foreground and another Howard family farm on a distant hill, (recently destroyed by a fire) show the agrarian life of the 20th century nestled into the beauty of the Endless Mountains.
Jan has a couple of other paintings by two artists who have significance to me. One landscape is by my teacher from art school, Tom Wise, who now lives near Halifax, PA. The other painting is a landscape by the late Gary Kresge of Stroudsburg, PA. Both these painters were part of the stable of artists that showed at Laura Craig’s gallery during the 30 years of operation. In fact, when entering Jan’s house, there is an ante room that displays a beautiful watercolor portrait of Jan. He is portrayed in this work by Ben Van Steenburg seated with several crows seated around him and perched upon him. It is a strong piece with an evocative mood, as if it could represent a shaman or one who communes with nature.
Jan is a retired lawyer who was part of law office in Milford, PA for many years and where Jan lived. Following his retirement a few years ago he moved back to his family home in Dupont where his art collection is now displayed. In one of the rooms there is a large mural of a riverscape depicting a view of the Susquehanna valley from a hilltop vantage north of Pittston. This work was done in 1956 by J. Phillip Richards, an art professor at Wilkes College that Jan’s uncle had commissioned to create this work. Jan has memories as young boy watching the artist at work and perhaps this is what started his interest in art.
So, to visit my work so nicely displayed in a private home brings a special culmination to the creative process. As Jan probably does not read art magazines, he is collecting art that reflects his values and his own ideas and aesthetics. Consequently there is a vision and unity in his collection that reflects his identity. As Jan is interested in churches, he also has an interest in religion that goes even beyond the ecumenical, as he has a curiosity into many forms of spirituality. So conversing with Jan is always a delight that opens up new ideas about our heritage and the formations of our towns. Our conversation ricocheted from Queen Esther, to Saint Augustine, to the Paxtang Boys, to the Eucharist and the Pazzi Conspiracy in Florence.
Jan’s father ran a bar in Pittston, Lokuta’s Bar and Grill, so he has a unique take based on first hand experience with the varied peoples that have inhabited the region. Recalling events like periodic explosions at the Dupont munitions plant or the Knox mining disaster pepper his recollections with authentic anecdotes.
Jan will jest that his life has a rather checkered history as he has been involved in various careers during his life. His life has included work as a registered nurse at the psyche unit in the Community Medical Center in Scranton and we can imagine that this certainly added challenge and strife while doing a beneficial service.
Jan will be leading his next historic tour of sacred places in Hazleton, PA on Sunday, May 23 of this year (2021) starting at 8:30 at the Hub Center on 15 West Broad Street. The event is free and open to the public but advance reservations are required as the attendance is limited to 25. Call Jan at 570-655-3437 or email at email@example.com. The tour’s theme is “How the Divine Transfigures the Works of Man.” Jan explains that he’ll address how the bricks and mortar or common experiences, our everyday lives can be regarded as inspiration for the transcendent. The tour will include three historic churches in Hazleton and the Byzantine Rite Chapel in nearby Sybertsville, PA.