reflections from the southeast PA rural underground
Saturday, June 11, 2011
Art in Tamaqua, PA
John O' Hara leans heavily on the town of Tamaqua, in the coal region of northern Pennsylvania, for the literary backdrop of his novels. While never surpassing his use of the fictional Gibbsville aka. Pottsville, "Taqua" looks like a miniature version of Pottsville. With an old train station at the center of town and a red brick flat iron building just off to the right of the convergence of rt 209, rt 309, and Broad St., the town is an atypically historical one. Indeed, as one drives through town its almost as if all the buildings, parks, and churches are life-size train set models.
A bunch of us drove up to Tamaqua from Berks and Schuylkill Counties to celebrate the work of our scene's much beloved 'patriarch' at his gallery opening on Friday night. He had told us many anecdotes of Tamaqua's St. Patty's parades and night time haunts. It's plethora of gin joints, speak easies, and old time neighborhood bars that hadn't really changed since Prohibition ended. But this night wasn't centered on spirits of that sort as much as on the art work of three generations of the Rimm family. Hailing from Hometown, a small suburb of Tamaqua, Mr. Rimm Sr. and his wife, their two sons, and, if only represented in her bright orange paintings, one granddaughter, were all in attendance. We strolled around the gallery in among the wooden blue fishes, priests, naked women, and suns, that hung in the form of 'dream' mobiles. The sculptures seemed like they could only have been made by this particular artist. Having known him for years I could see his whole personality in the objects. This is folk art, I thought. Icons of Michael Rimm's mindscape. On the walls were black and white photos of street chess players in Reading, Pa. Old trucks and fall foliage montages with trains on sky high tracks passing through the leaves. Couples sharing laughs and moods in the night. Life shots of the region.
In the back room were most of this family communing together, their heritage oozing from their bodies in smiles and good conversation. I spoke with the elder Rimm about last deer season and the most perfect buck I had ever seen. The delicious flavors of halushki, macaroni salad, angel food cupcakes filled with white icing, and ham sandwhiches to wash down with red wine. Everything so simply laid out for the guests with the subtle care that seemed so much a family affair. We were partaking of this cultural line. Soaking it all up in the old Polish, Ukrainian, Catholic coal town that time may have forgotten if it weren't for the arts that now had to supplant industry for the peoples' life blood.