By Luke Wynne, The Easton Irregular (September 2014 issue)
“Get Ready To Rumble”… the Great Art Auction is about to kick off. Jim Toia, Lafayette’s Director of Community Based Teaching, has organized an auction to raise money for the Karl Stirner Arts Trail.
Kevin Costner heard a voice in his Iowa corn field say,…” …If you build it, he will come”. He acted on this message and built a baseball field. Lo and behold, the ghosts of baseball’s past came and inhabited his Field of Dreams.
Like Costner’s character, the German-born sculptor, Karl Stirner moved to Easton, PA from New York City in 1983 with an idea to build something. He opened the Karl Stirner Gallery and was instrumental in awakening the nascent arts community in the city. By 1985 Karl was sculpting and creating art full time. He has produced world-class pieces that have been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, the James A. Michener Art Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Allentown Art Museum.
As the arts community flourished in the city, a group of people had an idea to build an arts trail along the Bushkill Creek. Easton’s Mayor Sal Panto, Dick McAteer at the Redevelopment Authority, the city’s Planning and Codes Director Becky Bradley, the Greater Easton Development Partnership and Gretchen Longerbach, along with professors and staff at Lafayette College and countless volunteers, all teamed up to build their own field of dreams. They envisioned a winding two and a half mile path along the Bushkill Creek. The idea was to resurface the old footpath through the wooded area, place benches along the path and eventually dot the landscape with environmentally conscious, world-class sculpture. It was a noble idea.
In light of his long and esteemed career – and his unabashed enthusiasm and boosterism of the Easton art scene – it was altogether fitting that the City of Easton should bestow upon the Arts Trail, the name of Karl Stirner. In 2011, the City of Easton honored Karl by inaugurating the Karl Stirner Arts Trail (KSAT).
Mr. Toia laughingly told me, “An arts trail needs art!”. To this end, Toia has organized an Art Auction to raise money for the KSAT to be held at Lafayette College, Wilson Room in Pfenning Hall on October 5, 2014. The goal is to auction off the works of art from a select group of artists. An anonymous donor has agreed to match any money raised at the auction (up to $50,000). The money will be directly applied to the following : payment for Karl Stirner’s entry portal sculpture that is currently on display at the Blue Bridge entrance to the KSAT; finish the commissioned piece by the Stephen Antonakos Studio, transport and install future sculptures for the trail and establish a competition for regional artists to contribute artwork.
The City of Easton owns the Trail and has a volunteer oversight board consisting of the Mayor, a group of Easton residents, the VM Development Group (who are responsible for the adaptive re-use of the Simon Silk Mill), Lafayette professor Ed Kerns and Jim Toia. Mr. Toia is the board’s chair and has outlined a number of goals over the next 18 months to improve the functionality and use of the KSAT. He foresees a time when the Karl Stirner Arts Trail becomes a major arts destination. At the moment the Trail hosts four pieces of artwork : very aptly, a sculpture by Karl Stirner; Grace Gate, by Willie Cole; artwork by Patricia Meyerwitz and the Young Masters Wall, a community wall that gets adorned by the youthful citizenship of Easton every six weeks. This month Mr. Toia hopes to add another piece by Santa Cruz sculptor David Kimball Anderson. The grand vision for the KSAT is to house up to 20-plus installations and works by internationally recognized artists.
Toia explained that the artists chosen for the auction were targeted because of their relationship to the City of Easton, the Bushkill Creek, Lafayette College or Karl Stirner.
In a discussion about the future plans for the KSAT, Mr. Toia said that the City of Easton has announced plans to build a foot bridge between the Simon Silk Mill complex and the Karl Stirner Arts Trail. A competition would be held and an artist will be commissioned, probably through a National cities grant. Toia explained that all commissioned pieces for the Trail would have to have an environmental or ecological relationship to the site. The installations must also offer an opportunity to be used in some educational manner. Toia spoke of how, “…the trail benefits everyone in Easton, it certainly benefits Lafayette to have an arts trail that flanks its Western edge…the staff of the school will continue to use the trail as a pedagogical tool…environmental engineering, geology, biology, sociology, all of these different divisions in the college have all used the trail and will continue to do that…” Toia concluded, that when the trail gets annual funding, and they can pay a curator, “…they will need an assistant and will offer an internship for one or two students from our art history program … it would be an amazing experience.”
The Karl Stirner Arts Trail is an asset to the City of Easton – of that there can be no doubt. The challenge is to fulfill its destiny and become a world class site that brings education, art, nature and financial rewards to the City. I’m a betting man, and I’m betting that it will attain greatness. The art auction on October 5th is the first of many steps necessary to accomplish its fate. Go to the auction – be a part of history.