Stoll Center's artwork decorates and educates
Do you know what a persimmon leaf looks like?
Or how about a perch, as it swims around in the water? A dace? Do you know a bluegill when you see it?
If you visit the Stoll Natural Resources Center, in Wysox, you will.
In the front lobby and the conference room beside it are some special pieces of art - art that's more than something pretty to look at. This is art that makes you a little bit smarter, too.
Lora (Crain) Antisdel of Warren Center and Betty Kilmer of Wysox have painted three scenes there showing fish, trees and meadows. But these aren't just any art pieces. Because the water scene shows not just any fish, but the fish native to Bradford County - with their names hidden on or near each one. And, just around the corner, the painted tree sprouts carved wooden leaves made of local woods.
"I think they set the district apart from other planned buildings," notes Dan Rhodes, education coordinator with the Bradford County Conservation District. The district owns the building and has an office there. The center also holds offices or provides space for the Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Northern Tier Hardwood Association, and Endless Mountains Resource Conservation and Development.
"I think it's beautiful!" BCCD District Manager Cathy Yeakel says one afternoon, standing by the fish mural. "Kids come in here all the time." The artwork, which shows a slice of the ecosystem, goes along with the district's purpose. "It's really nice."
Lora painted the fish, in the lobby, and the tree, in the conference room, while Betty did the meadow, also in the lobby. They did the artwork back in 2005-06, and today it's one of the perhaps-undiscovered gems of the county.
"We truly had a good time!" Lora says of working on the project.
Lora seems to have a good time with all her painting. Her painting career began at Northeast Bradford High School, where she took art from Joe D'Angelis. "Didn't realize until then that I even liked it!" she remembers.
But she's mostly self-taught. The colors, the flowers, the wildlife - the beauty - just naturally flow from the cheerful, smiling artist's brush. And over the years, Lora's dabbed and swished much beauty into the world.
She's painted birds on her own kitchen cabinets, and did a mural of deer, trees, an orchard and more at a cabin her husband, Leigh, built. And then you have the yellow-flower painting (from high school days), and the acrylic goldfinches and the hydrangea and the Florida scene on the milk can and the backyard picture on the round saw and â¦
Don't forget the tailless chickadee on a twig. All thanks to Sneaky.
Sneaky was Lora's declawed cat. She'd bat at chickadees and try to catch them with her mouth but end up only pulling out tail feathers. "Plucked 'em!" Lora says.
When Leigh passed away in 2002, Lora painted even more, using it as a sort of therapy. "You lose yourself in the work," she explains. Today, her art graces his headstone.
And now Lora's even a â¦ tattoo artist? Sort of. She designed an image of a red cardinal and deer antler for her great-nephew Cody to have tattooed onto his side in memory of his grandparents Don and Rae Parks. Don and Rae were Lora's sister and brother-in-law.
So Lora knows art. And folks know that she knows art.
"Well, I just got a phone call," she remembers. It was Betty Kilmer, a BCCD education volunteer at that time, asking if she'd do some artwork at the Stoll Center.
So Lora stopped by with her portfolio. Oh, they didn't need that. They knew they wanted her.
And they wanted fish. And something with trees. So Lora came up with the idea of hiding fish names on the water mural. They were set.
"I'm really very interested in all kinds of education," Betty says now. She wanted the overall project to give people an idea of what the BCCD is all about. And when she looked at the inside of the building - "I just thought it needed perking up!"
Betty and Lora started working late afternoons and evenings, Betty doing the meadow scene and Lora the fish.
Lora painted the pond from the bottom up, layer by layer, the way you'd fill an aquarium. The 12-foot-by-42-inch mural takes up about half of one lobby wall and curves around a corner onto another. In the piece, grayish water, logs, plants and fish on the bottom give way to greener water above, home to a floating beaver, stick in mouth, and a muskrat on a stump.
And down below -- what a fish-y festival it is! You have crappie, sunfish, perch. A small-mouthed bass. A walleye hiding under a log. Even a black-nosed dace.
A black what? A black-nosed dace. It's a tiny feeder fish. See, you learned something already.
"I think there's 37 creatures in all," Lora says today, standing by the mural. Today, a real aquarium sets in front of the mural.
She worked from photos. "I'm not that accurate without something in front of me to look at!" she insists with a laugh.
Next came the tree. Lora did that painting at the end of the Sam Browning Conference Room, right off the lobby.
"She wanted to enhance the wainscoting," Lora explains of Betty's goal. The wood decoration on the bottom half of the wall there includes 23 thin strips of various local woods, holding numbers, representing the wood all the way around the room. Numbered descriptions of those woods hang nearby.
Lora painted a sort of generic tree (the "Lora-Bet" tree), with just trunk and branches. Then a volunteer cut wooden leaves from the different kinds of lumber in the wainscoting and Betty detailed them, so they looked like leaves from those trees. They hung them up. Poof! That one tree suddenly sprouted leaves of different colors, shapes and sizes, a whole little forest in one spot. Someone donated a mounted owl to perch on a branch and look out over it all.
"That's black walnut right there," Lora says, pointing at the treetop. "This is just a regular locust," she adds of a sample on the side.
The written descriptions tell about white oak, hemlock, butternut, red maple, aspen, red mulberry, and on and on. "The American sycamore or planetree is a large tree that prefers stream banks," one reads. They get very big and are used for furniture, cabinets and more. Black locust is good for fence posts, another informs us. Red oaks can grow 90 feet high and live 400 years. Honey locust originally was found mainly in the Mississippi Valley.
And if you're a skier, it may be shagbark hickory skis that swish you down the slopes.
Did you know all that? If not, you just learned something.
Another informational paper there explains: "The woodwork in the conference room was designed by the BCCD's educational committee, and then made into random width wainscoting from 23 species of regional trees by Northeast Wood Products, Rome, Pa. 18837. It was installed by Joseph Hofler Jr., Joseph Hofler III and Richard Monk."
The wainscoting was done first. Betty and Lora came up with the idea for the tree and leaves.
"It just was an idea that started to grow," Betty says.
Finally, it was all done.
"We were very happy with it, and we got a lot of positive feedback," Betty says. The pieces have educational value, she believes. But although the building does get visitors, including kids, she doesn't think everyone out there knows about them.
"I think they're very attractive," Nate Dewing, BCCD agricultural resource specialist, remarks. The whole building, in fact, has good things to look at, like mounted animals, he says.
"It kind of plays into the bigger picture of what we do here," he says.
Lora was satisfied, too. "I think so. I'm quite proud of it actually. â¦ Could have been a lot worse!" she says with a laugh.
Stop by to the Stoll Center. Thanks to Lora, Betty and the other volunteers, you can learn about persimmon trees and bluegill, and all kinds of fish and trees.
Right down to the last little dace.