Arts Hall of Fame to hold induction ceremony for 2015 honorees

Five more people whose creative endeavors have left a lasting mark on the region will be inducted into the Blair County Arts Hall of Fame next month.

The ceremony will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Oct 8 at the Mishler Theatre in dowtown Altoona. The Hall of Fame, which sees honorees inducted every other year, was established in 2003 by the Blair County Arts Foundation, the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art and the Allegheny Ridge Corporation.

This year’s honorees are: the late Edward McGuire of Hollidaysburg, Performing Arts; Sue Severson of Altoona, Visual Arts; the Ward family of Altoona, Arts Patron/Leadership; Erin Murphy of Hollidaysburg, Literary Arts and Stan Crilly of Hollidaysburg, Public Art/Architecture.

Each will be given a portrait painted by local artist Joe Servello, who contributes his skills to the Hall of Fame for each ceremony, and a metal sculpture designed by Walking Bear Studio, a North Carolina-based studio made up of western Pennsylvania natives Martha McKinley Murphy and Rick Page, according to its website.

Tickets to the ceremony are available online at for $17. To attend the ceremony, a pre-show champagne reception at the foundation’s offices and a reception after the event at the Heritage Discovery Center, call the Mishler box office at 944-9434. Those tickets are $50.

Kate Shaffer, executive director of the Blair County Arts Foundation, said that a long list of deserving people are nominated each year, but honorees are chosen based on “what their body of work has contributed to the region.

“Somebody who has been around 30 or 40 years and has been a part of the artistic fabric of Blair County is more likely to be selected than someone who is relatively young,” she said. “Each year, each class of nominees is just outstanding. We have a very difficult time selecting.”

She said this year’s crop of honorees certainly fits that bill.

“All of the honorees are very, very deserving and have made wonderful statements with their art form,” Shaffer said.

Edward McGuire, Performing Arts

According to the induction ceremony’s program, Edward McGuire developed a taste for music at a very young age and was a self-taught guitar player. He later learned to play piano, bass and vibraphone.

Shaffer called him “the father of guitar in Blair County” and noted that he penned a number of books of guitar fingerings throughout his life.

McGuire, who died in 1982 at the age of 59, formed several local performance groups over the course of his life and also founded the Altoona Jazz Society, which was responsible for bringing in such names as Count Basie and Dizzie Gillespie to the Mishler.

In the early 1970s he formed his Guitar Academy, which had a number of sucessful students.

Tom Stich, who was mentored by McGuire, said he was a “consummate professional” and an “amazing musician.”

“He was probably the best musician, especially in pop or jazz, that has ever been (from) Altoona,” Stich said, “and there have been a lot of good musicians.”

Stich, an Altoona native who now lives in Mansfield, said that McGuire would perform with artists coming into the area, and that he would be a point of contact for him.

McGuire, despite his talent, stuck around in central Pennyslvania because heading to Hollywood didn’t feel right, Stich said.

“He gave it a shot out there, but he just didn’t like it,” Stich said. “He was happy back in Altoona and he could do what he wanted to do. He often made the point that, ‘Hey, Altoona is my home, and there are a lot of competent people here, so I am going to stick it out.'”

Shaffer said she was thankful to have the chance to tell McGuire’s sister, DeDe O’Connor – whose late husband, Lee O’Connor was a 2011 honoree – that her brother was finally being honored. She said O’Connor was thrilled at the chance to accept the award in McGuire’s honor, but she passed away shortly after learning about her brother’s honor.

Stich said he’s glad to see his mentor getting his due.

“He is probably the most deserving person of this particular award that I could ever think of, he was just that good,” Stich said. “Believe me, it’s fantastic to see him finally getting what he deserves.”

Sue Severson, Visual Arts

Sue Serverson is a New York City native who chose to make Blair County her home in 1998. She took art classes beginning at age 12 and studied to earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree in fine arts.

According to the induciton ceremony’s program, Severson is “fascinated with the shapes and colors she (sees) imbedded within (an) image.”

Barbara Hollander, coordinator for SAMA Altoona, said Severson has “kept a hard, New York edge to her artwork” despite treasuring the years she has spent in Blair County.

She is very at home in the “small city,” Hollander said, despite her big city roots.

“She gets into the nitty gritty and the heart and soul of the people and the city that she’s portraying,” said Hollander, who added she exhibited one-woman shows of Severson’s work in the past. “She wants to show real people doing real things.”

Severson’s work was exhibited in a number of New York galleries, according to the program, and she was involved with the First Street Gallery Co-Op in Manhattan. While in New York, she worked for the Department of Welfare, which afforded her flexible hours to dedicate to her artwork.

After moving to Blair County, she and her husband, Don, have been active in the local arts scene. Her works have been exhibited in Altoona, Bedford and the surrounding communities, and she has been a long-time part of Art in Common.

Sue Kuhn, a friend of Severson’s through Art in Common, said Severson is always someone she trusted to judge her own artwork and give her constructive crticism.

“It’s not a judgment about whether or not it’s good, but it’s more about dynamics,” Kuhn of Altoona said, “and she’s just very knowledgeable about the technical aspects of painting.”

Kuhn said Severson has been “a gift” to have as a friend, and added she’s a “wonderful” person who is very deserving of this honor.

“She’s always very honored, I think, when her peers and people that she’s lived with for so many years think highly of her artwork,” Kuhn said.

The Ward family, Arts Patron/Leadership

The family, owners of Ward Transport and Logistics, have been long-time donors and patrons of the local arts.

The Wards were especially instrumental in the restoration of the Mishler Theatre. Late patriarch William W. Ward was co-chair of the Great Mishler Theatre Restoration Campaign in 1969, and when he attended a gala at the facility after it was fixed up, he noted that a little something was missing, according to the induction ceremony’s program.

“Standing in the aisle after the performance, he remarked that there was just one thing needed to make the theater perfect – a crystal chandelier,” the program reads. “Mr. Ward promised to look into it upon his return home to Florida. Four days later, he died at his home.”

His sons, G. William Ward, J. Richard Ward and Michael E. Ward, decided to carry out their father’s dream, and in 1971, the chandelier was dedicated in the Mishler in William W. Ward’s memory.

J. Richard Ward, in particlular, continued his father’s dedication to the arts, according to the program.

He had almost daily meetings, with then-BCAF executive director Eleanor Steckman, and quietly purchased paintings from struggling artists. G. William, according to the program, is known to say “arts are for everyone.”

“Some are inspired by music, some by literature or the visual arts,” the program reads. “Whatever the preferred medium, the influence and support of the Ward family is far reaching as each generation continues the significant philanthropic activities of their parents.”

G. William Ward said it was important to him and his brothers to carry on their father’s legacy of contributions to the arts, and that dedication has spread into further generations of the Ward family.

He said that the family is very pleased to be recognized for its philanthropic efforts, and he said he sees no reason why its commitment to contributing to the local arts community will change.

“It was a total surprise,” he said, “and I talked to all of the people who participated from my family, with the exception of our father, and all were just delighted.”

Erin Murphy, Literary Arts

Erin Murphy, a professor of English and creative writing at Penn State Altoona, has written six collections of poetry, all of which were either award winners or nominees.

Her most recent collection, 2014’s “Ancilla,” won the inaugural Womack Book Award, according to the ceremony program, awarded to a member of the Penn State Altoona faculty for the best work of scholarship or creative writing during the previous calendar year.

Murphy has earned numerous other awards, including the “Paterson Prize for Literary Excellence, the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prize, the Foley Poetry Award, the National Writers’ Union Poetry Award judged by Donald Hall, The Normal School Poetry Prize judged by Nick Flynn, the WISE Women Tribute Award in Arts & Letters, and fellowships from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, the Maryland State Arts Council, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts,” according to a release from Penn State Altoona.

Murphy said earning recognition isn’t something most artists expect.

“What’s interesting about the arts in particular is that the making of the art and the recogniation for the art are two very different things,” she said. “No matter what the art form is, we do our work in a solitary environment. We need quiet, we need solitude, but every now and then, when you surface, and realize you are receiving recogniton for the work that you’re doing so quietly – it’s a pleasant surprise.”

Murphy, who grew up in Virginia and now lives in Hollidaysburg, also edited or co-edited other books. Her next book, “Creating Nonfiction: Twenty Essays and Interviews with the Writers” is forthcoming.

Her works have also been featured in a number of anthologies, including “The Writer’s Almanac” and “The Art of Losing.”

She said it’s an honor to be recongized alongside the others this year.

“I never imagined being in a hall of fame,” she said.

Stan Crilly, Public Art/Architecture

Stan Crilly, a native of Hollidaysburg, has focused for much of his career on murals, decorating and portraiture, according to the ceremony program. He worked at Lawrence S. Williams Photography in Upper Darby, Pa., as one of the three principal photographers for some of the most prestigious architectural studios in the Phildalphia area.

He also worked with the Penn State College of Agriculture as a visual arts specialist, teaching students about photography and visual aids.

He works with both businesses and individual clients to provide a variety of decorative art including furniture, wall treatments and even more specialized items like “game boards, portraits, trophy game fish paintings and other custom works,” according to the program.

Crilly’s work can be found across the state and in other cities like Washington D.C. and New York City. He has been recognized by the American Institute of Graphic Artists and published in a variety of national magazines, including “Colonial Homes” and “Traditional Homes.”

Two of the projects he said he’s most proud of were large undertakings in Altoona: decoring the Heritage Discovery Center and restoring murals in the Columns, both in downtown Altoona.

His touch is in many locations of the Heritage Discovery Center, he said. The large triptych that adorns the main hall and the mural in the stairway are both his work, Crilly said, and he also decorated a number of rooms in the building, including the lighting and marble work in the board room and Jane Sheffield’s office, where he designed the legs of a piece of glass she wished to use to match the rest of the architecture.

For the Columns, he was asked to professionally clean two aging murals, but his efforts seemed to be in vain, he said. After doing some research on the original aritst, he asked if he could, instead, restore the images by painting over the mural, which would allow him to fix them up and brighten up the colors.

But he doesn’t just take pride in his more public efforts, he said.

“There are a bunch of things that I’ve done for private individuals that I am proud of and happy with,” he said.

He said being honored in the hall of fame is humbling.

“I think it’s wonderful and I think it’s a tribute to all the people who had faith in my work and hired me,” Crilly said.

“Though, I wish it had come when I was younger,” he joked.

Mirror Staff Writer Paige Minemyer is at 946-7466.