Up Close & Personal – Valerie Kiser

Up Close & Personal – Valerie Kiser

You may have spotted Valerie Kiser’s recognizable Electric City clothing and home and lifestyle design collection at Lavish Body & Home in Scranton. With a line like that, many would assume she is a Scranton native. But Kiser actually grew up in Clarks Summit and planned to move away from Scranton before she met her husband, David Bosley. She studied fibers at Savannah College of Art and Design and now uses her knowledge of screen-printing as the principal designer of Valerie Kiser Design. She and her husband live in Scranton with their children, Axel, 5, and Liv, 2.

Meet Valerie Kiser…

Talk about your background in screen printing and 3-D fibers.
I went in as a painting and fashion major. I had never heard of fiber art or textile design. I was in the same building with the fibers people, and I’d see what they were doing in the dorm. I got really interested in it. I took an introduction to fibers course and I loved it. I immediately connected everything I ever loved to it. It was the perfect match for me, so I switched majors.

What about the fibers drew you in?
Texture and just anything that’s repetitive. Weaving, stitching, pattern design — they’re all intricate, repetitive things. Anything repetitive or intricate I love. Within the fibers department, there is surface design, which is screen-printing, so I learned how to screen-print with pigments that are acrylic-based on big screens, embroidery, sewing and embellishment. Anything the fashion department would use to create their garments, the fibers department would create. I love really good-quality material and how things feel. I love how relatable fibers are. Every single thing is so tactile, we touch so many things every day, and I love that appeal.

How have you adjusted to keep up with changing technology?
I love technology; it makes my job a lot easier. Instead of drawing things by hand, digitizing them, cleaning pixels, now I can just draw it and it’s automatically a digital file. When I’m creating something, sometimes I like the hand-drawn touch. Paintings have different sort of depths, and you can’t always get that digitally. There is a happy medium. Even though I love the digital pad, I still want it to feel like it’s handmade. If I’m creating something from the pad, I’ll print on something that is tactile.

How did Valerie Kiser Design get started?
When I went to school for fibers, I wanted to be a fine artist. When I graduated, I started screen-printing out of my house to make money. I did that for years but didn’t tell anyone, because I wanted to be a fine artist. I did that for about 10 years, without advertising. It spread by word of mouth. It ran itself, and I thought to myself, “I like this and it’s sustaining me. Maybe I should explore this more.” I found that I actually liked being a designer and producing things rather than just making fine art. I really like to work two- and three-dimensionally. I decided to start the company in 2010 full-time. It was a great transition because, up until then, I had worked for so many different companies that prepared me. Those years were very hard, but I’m grateful for them.

What is your brand motto? 
To produce really great quality items for the home and apparel that last and can transition from season to season that are not a fast trend. I also believe that getting dressed in the morning and putting your house together should be easy. It shouldn’t be a stressful thing.

Why did you choose to make an entire collection based on the Electric City sign?
A friend of mine who is originally from the area moved away but was back in town right before she got married. She went to Lavish and saw a pillow with “Scranton” embroidered on it. I went back to get it for her, and they didn’t have it. It was First Friday, I was with my husband and some friends, telling them the story. We looked over, and the Electric City sign was right there. I thought, “Why don’t I just draw this. I screen-print for a living! I’ll just draw it and screen print it on a pillow.’ Once I got it on a pillow, I loved it and wanted it on a shirt. I wore the shirt on the plane to the wedding. A ton of people from Scranton were at the wedding and said they wanted one. My friend worked for Entercom and was in charge of the Scrantastic Spectacular. He asked me to put that design on shirts; we can put sponsors on the back, and you can have a booth there to sell the shirts. I did that seven years ago, and now it’s on everything. It’s cool because I’m not originally from Scranton, so I always felt like I wasn’t totally connected with the area. Now I feel like I do my part, and I love Scranton and feel good about it.

What message do you hope you can share through your designs?
Positivity. There are so many naysayers in our area, and it gets a bad rep, but when you surround yourself with people who are doing inspiring things and who are doing better things than you’re doing, it kind of pushes you to want to do that. Especially if you surround yourself with goodness, good things happen. If somebody gets very negative about Scranton, I try to shut that down.

What do you enjoy most about living in Northeast Pennsylvania?
There are so many great things. I think that when you can make a connection here, it’s easier, and it’s immediate. In a larger area, it might take longer to get through a system of people. Somehow everyone is related in some way. Everybody knows everybody. (David and I) have really great friendships here. There are people doing things in the community and inspire us to keep doing better. We have kids, so we want to invest in the community and make it better for them.

Have you had a moment or time in your life that helped shape you into the person you are today?
The most recent was this past December. I lost my sister. I think that has changed me forever. When somebody dies, you realize how final it is. When I can reflect back on that and what that means, you’re here one second and then you’re not. Even though my personality is still that I’m ambitious, I have a vision, I’m curious, and I want to learn and do things, it changed my perspective in a way that if there were things holding me back, they had to be addressed and dealt with then let go.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?
My kids, they definitely shape me. Having kids allowed me to let go of some insecurities and things that had to be perfect. I was drawn to fibers in the first place because I liked doing intricate, repetitive things. I am very organized. I’m not like that anymore and realize there is only a level of perfection. They’ve taught me that doesn’t exist. In the moment is the best moment. Even when it’s challenging, there are still parts that are so rewarding.


Photos by Emma Black

Up Close & Personal – Tiff Kline

Up Close & Personal – Tiff Kline

Tiff Kline founded and owns Kline’s Korner, a food and local restaurant promotion business. She also is marketing manager of Nina’s Wing Bites and Pizza, Lett’s Eat/Flavors of India, Chain Smokers in West Pittston and the Smoke Shop/Cigar Lounge in Hanover as well as the assistant marketing manager at Nearme Yoga and Nearme Cafe. She considers herself an avid “festival-goer.” A graduate of Keystone College, she earned a bachelor’s degree in child and family studies with a minor in psychology and a concentration in education. Kline has lived in Scranton since 2009 and strives to grow the area’s small business food community. “Every dime we can give the small guy and keep it away from the big guys is a step toward a better community,” she said.

Meet Tiff Kline…

Tell me a little about yourself.
I was born in New Jersey then lived in Bangor. I lived in Ohio from when I was 10 until I was 20. I moved back to Scranton in 2009. I did an internship at Marley’s Mission where I worked with kids suffering from loss and trauma. That was really rewarding, but the four-year program was exhausting and I needed a change of pace. I really like social media. My mom used to joke and say, “One day you’ll get paid to sit and scroll.” I really liked photography and food, so I was trying to think of ways to make money off that. It started as a hobby. I like supporting local restaurants. I started Kline’s Korner in 2015. It was a risk. I started doing one or two food reviews a week, then I was doing three to five. Now I pace it out because the content is better when you’re not rushing.

How did you get into photography and food?
My mom was a photographer. She still is. I really got into Instagram. I started playing around with an iPhone and saw people were traveling around the world and taking pictures of food. I was going into local restaurants, and they were using stock photos for their menus. It was really aggravating and a lot of the people had no idea how to take pictures of food or how to run social media. I started taking pictures of mom-and-pop dishes, and the owners started using them. I think it’s important to showcase your own food.

Where did your interest in food come from?
I’ve always been into food. When I moved here in 2009, it opened up even more possibilities. I grew up on a farm. Traveling to the nearest city was two hours away. Here, I saw all these different cultures and styles of food. Food, to me, is a language. You can talk food with anybody and just open up a conversation. It’s very artistic. I love when the chefs put every ounce of passion into a dish.

At what point did you realize Kline’s Korner was going to be your career?
I didn’t know. It got to a point where I was burnt out on working office jobs. I’m a very outgoing person. I like to travel, I like to eat, I like showcasing a photo, putting it on social media and making somebody hungry. Getting feedback from that made me passionate about helping local restaurants get people in their doors. I guess that’s why I started doing it and why I’ve taken it so far. It’s an intrinsic reward where I’m doing them a service. Food is an art, and photography is an art, so I’m putting my two favorite arts together.

What does your work at Kline’s Korner consist of?
A lot of people get me confused with a food critic. I’m not that. My goal is to promote local mom-and-pop restaurants. I leave my opinion out of it. I give you the facts of where they are, hours of operation, what they have to offer, and I let you walk into them and make your own decision. Everybody has a different taste, no pun intended. If I don’t like a certain food, my opinion shouldn’t over shadow from what the restaurant has to offer. I’ve worked hard to set the reputation that I am a restaurant promoter and a food photographer. My goal is to get more people in the doors. Anything restaurants can offer that I find unique, I’ll share, such as their specials on a certain night, what kind of dishes they have. I try to showcase gluten-free, vegan or vegetarian options and put places in a positive light.

What message are you trying to share through Kline’s Korner?
I like to say that I’m very open and passionate about helping local restaurants. I think it’s very important to be active in the community, and one voice can go a long way. I always say “I’m eating my way through Northeast PA.” Kline’s Korner is a little bit of everything: travel blogging, photography, restaurant promoting, marketing. It makes me feel good that I can help others feel good with their business.

What do you enjoy most about helping the businesses?
When they can get the traffic that I drive in to their establishment and they thank me, it’s not because I need recognition. I feel good that they’ve succeeded. That’s what keeps me going. Even if it’s just one person, that’s one new customer they may have because of a picture I’ve taken or a shout out on Facebook. I don’t like taking the credit, and I don’t want the spotlight on me, but I want the restaurants to shine.

What makes a good restaurant in your opinion?
When the owners and managers don’t look at their customers as another number and they actually greet their guests and get to know them. I go to Sprinkles and Shakes in Plains Twp. a lot, and the owner, Bart, comes out and asks you how your pizza is. If you didn’t like something, he’ll ask you what he can do to make your night better. Joe from Nina’s is the same way. He bends over backwards to make sure his customers feel like family. That, to me, makes a great restaurant.

How has the NEPA restaurant industry changed since you’ve become involved?
I think people are becoming more open-minded. I’d like to point out some local chefs making Scranton so innovative with food are Jon Tabone at Bar Pazzo, Gene Philbin at Peculiar Slurp Shop, Dave Ciminelli at Aurants and Randy Ryan of the Kimchi Dude. As time has gone by, I’ve seen people step outside their comfort zones. I’ve seen burgers and fries become a bison burger at Aurants or What the Fork sliders. It seems like a lot of the chefs are trying new things and trying to keep up with what’s going on in bigger cities. They’re still keeping that mom-and-pop touch where they don’t want to look too corporate, but they know the fine line.

Have you had moment or time in your life that helped shape you into who you are today?
In 2007, I had a friend pass away. He was just full of life, and nothing could get him down. He was 23. I just started my second year of college. I was in Kentucky at the time. I moved here and started all over. I always remembered that life is short. Try to enjoy every day that you can and push yourself. Don’t give up, and try to find the good in every day. You have to go after what you want in life, because it’s going to pass you by. I don’t want to be a passenger in my life; I want to be the front-seat driver.

Is there anything you’d like to add?
Joe Macciocco and his sister, Maria McLaine, from Nina’s noticed what I did a few years ago. Joe kept an eye on me, and when it was time for his business to expand, he remembered how passionate I am about promoting. He gave me a shot at being his marketing manager and gave full trust to me. If it wasn’t for him opening the door to help me get marketing gigs, I wouldn’t be where I am today. He gave a kid who had no marketing experience a shot. I thank him for helping to get me to the next level. All the chefs I’ve worked with from the start who allowed me to walk into their facility and trusted me, they helped me build my portfolio, so I’d really like to thank the people who helped me get to where I am today. If it wasn’t for them helping me, I wouldn’t be able to help them.


Photos by Emma Black

Up Close & Personal – LeahBeth Evans

Up Close & Personal – LeahBeth Evans

LeahBeth Evans is a 23-year-old singer and songwriter from Peckville. She leads an acoustic and piano-based duo called the Frost with her partner, Christian Gratz. She is a graduate of Valley View High School and Marywood University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology. She founded and owns Elphie Productions, a party character business. Evans fell in love with singing after performing a solo in an elementary school play dressed as a letter of the alphabet. She has released a set of her own solo singles and is working on recording singles as the Frost under Tom Ferranti at After Image Studios. She was recently nominated for a Josie Music Award and a Steamtown Music Award.

Meet LeahBeth Evans…

What is your music background?
As I was growing up, I practiced with karaoke tracks not realizing how much that can mold your voice and style. Once I got to high school, I joined a small jazz band. We didn’t even have a name. I went out to see a lot of jazz bands. My parents would take me, because I was very young. I used to watch Marko Marcinko and his brother, Pat Marcinko. I eventually started taking voice lessons from Erin, Marko’s wife. Sometimes they were nice enough to invite me to Bazil, which used to be a restaurant in Clarks Summit. They’d have me come sing with them. When I was around 17, I joined a band called Cold Steel Rail. That really changed things for me. I still love jazz and think it’s one of my strong points, but then I started getting into rock and pop.

What is the Frost and the background on its formation?
I met Christian, who is my partner, online through a mutual friend from Cold Steel Rail. I knew he was a great musician, and I heard a lot of great things about him. We randomly met at Starbucks, and we went on a date. We didn’t really talk after that. This is really weird, but we saw each other at a stoplight, and I thought he looked really familiar. I started waving out the window thinking he doesn’t remember me. We went to Starbucks and started talking again. A while later, he invited me to one of his solo gigs. He told me to sing two or three songs with him. I did, and people continued to want the both of us. I ended up playing until the end of the night with him. The owner asked us to come back every Wednesday and Friday. I thought we should keep it going.

What type of music does the duo do?
We started with yacht rock, which is a mix of soft rock and a beachy sound. After a little while of doing jazz and soft rock, we wanted to expand. A lot of people around here like heavy rock and country. We started learning some country, classic rock, R&B; we still do jazz, and we take requests.

What is the songwriting process like for you, and what inspires your lyrics?
A lot of the songs I write are unfortunately very heart-wrenching. I hit a lot of rough points when it came to other people. Lyrics-wise, a lot of the songs come from past experiences. Certain songs I write come from other peoples’ standpoints. There are some songs I’ve written about friends, family (and) experiences I’ve seen that they’ve had. I feel sad songs really relate to people. My most recent release is called “Not Your Time.” It’s about suicide and depression awareness. I was inspired to write that because in my last semester at school, I was learning that 3,000 to 4,000 people commit suicide each day. In the song, I kind of created this character that many people with depression can relate to and many people who have had to endure the aftermath of suicide can relate to. Sometimes you hear songs that maybe it isn’t a specific person, but overall it’s something people can relate to.

Do you have a particular favorite lyric or song you’ve written?
A song is “Be OK.” (Listen to “Be OK” here) It’s an R&B tune. That one really speaks to me. It’s actually about someone who left unexpectedly, and it leaves you questioning and wanting to feel OK with yourself and the overall situation.

Who are your musical inspirations?
I’ll start off jazz-wise. Ella Fitzgerald, obviously. She’s the biggest influence. This may come as a surprise, but Lady Gaga. She’s a big influence because not only is she a big jazz singer, but she is so diverse. Songwriting-wise and vocal-wise, I like Stevie Nicks (both solo and with Fleetwood Mac) and Fleetwood Mac.

Tell me about your business, Elphie Productions.
Elphie Productions is a character party business. I partner with Lolipop Productions and Be Our Guest, which are both similar companies. I dress up for public events and kids’ parties and portray characters kids like. You really have to become the character. I was big into musical theater as a kid. I still am, and I love Broadway. I took a couple acting classes as a kid. At these parties, that’s who you are to the kids. You have to be everything that they’re expecting you to be. I do the makeup, wigs; I make sure I look exactly like the character, and I sing. They sing with me, and I think the most rewarding thing about it is when you open your mouth to sing these songs, they think it’s really (the princess). They’re amazed by it.

What made you want to start this business?
It was actually very accidental. My mother is an elementary school teacher. She runs an after-school program that has a summer program she is heavily involved with. The parents wanted a princess-themed camp, so she put one together. She said to me, “You have your old prom dress, right?” She told me she was going to get me a wig and she needed me to dress up. I’ll tie this to psychology. Up to about 5 years old, kids are very bad with facial recognition. If you can get a kid who’s older to let their imagination go free and they start to believe it’s the character, you’re doing the right thing. One of the parents took a photo the last day of the camp. It ended up going in the paper, and I started getting calls from there. I thought, “I can start doing this.”

What are your hobbies outside of music?
In my free time, other than listening to music and trying to learn and expand, I like to read about psychology. I was glad I chose that field. It’s helped make me well-rounded and learn more about people, which has helped my music. I love animals and my pets. I have a fish and a dog. Her name is Coco. She’s the absolute light of my life. She’s a Pomeranian and Havanese Yorkie mix. She’s wild and keeps me on my feet.


For more on LeahBeth Evans and The Frost visit LeahBeth’s Youtube Channel  or The Frost’s Facebook Page 


Photos by Emma Black


Up Close & Personal – Beth Burkhauser

Up Close & Personal – Beth Burkhauser

Beth Burkhauser is a Trenton, New Jersey, native but considers herself a “transplanted NEPA Scrantonian.” She has spent most of her life, thus far, living and breathing art. She majored in art at Marywood University then taught art at various schools in Scranton for 35 years before retiring. She is now an adjunct professor of art education at Keystone College and the artist facilitator and designer for Heart to Art, a women-owned, community-based mural-making initiative. She also is the founder and director of the Hexagon Project, an international art project focused on connectedness. While she has faced tremendous adversity in her life, including the deaths of her son and first husband and a divorce, she considers her daughter, son-in-law and three grandchildren to be her biggest blessings in life.

Meet Beth Burkhauser…

What led to your interest in art?
My grandfather was an artist. We had a lot of performing and visual arts in the family. It was one of the things I found that I had ability in. I was always involved in other disciplines. I was editor of my school newspaper, and I was editor of my college yearbook and newspaper. I didn’t see barriers between those things.

Talk about your passion for teaching art…
I taught for 35 years and never did I come in and not feel challenged. I had a job right out of college. It was interviewing people, but I actually was falling asleep one day interviewing somebody, and I thought to myself “this is not where I want to be.” Not one day did I feel that way in teaching. It’s always been a challenge.

Can you tell me about the Hexagon Project? 
I taught in a very diverse school, in a neighborhood that made me very mindful of the need to see our connectedness and our commonalities and not get hung up on how different everybody is, but to bring people together in common ways. Our project is really the Interdependence Hexagon Project, but we say Hexagon Project for short. It is about connectedness and that’s what interdependence is. Sondra Meyers, one of the founders of the Interdependence Movement, invited me to be a part of her local project. I wanted it to be visual in some way, and I wanted to involve students and community. I envisioned it being a mail art kind of thing where people would make the shape of a hexagon and it all connects. Hexagons are tessellations, and they connect infinitely, so that’s why we use the shape. Instead of a rectangle or square, it’s a hexagon. The makers of the hexagon and the art can see themselves as being part of a larger whole and your artwork is connected to other peoples’.

What about seeing the diverse group of students made you want to start a movement?
One of the themes of my teaching career has been integration of subjects. I always wanted to collaborate with teachers and connect curriculum when I was a teacher. We did that; in fact, our school became a model school for the integration of the arts as equal partners in education. We use the arts to connect everything together within the curriculum. It was natural for me to do something after I retired that still continued that meaningful way of making images that connect. I don’t think that art is a discrete discipline. Art includes all life, all history and every subject matter you can think of.

In what ways is a hexagon a metaphor for interconnectedness?
As you look in places like the molecular structure like carbon, we live in an interconnected material world. You think about bees and beehives and the whole concept of that colony of workers and then other people find other kinds of ways of thinking of the hexagons as metaphors. The hexagons — being an art teacher — I could say is just a drawing project, but no, I want people to take this project as far as they want to, with a one caveat, and that is use the hexagon template and then you can do anything you want to with it. Any medium can have meaning with this project.

How do kids become connected to one another by participating in the Hexagon Project?
The teacher has got to make that happen, and the best way is to have a show of hexagons in their own school before they send them to us. You can get people thinking about a certain concept and then you put them all together on a floor and talk about them. In fact, putting the hexagons down in a configuration where you see someone else’s, you can put [hexagons] next to each other based on similar colors, concepts or other things. That’s the perfect way to have kids share what they’ve made. We will be launching a new website in October. Teachers will be able to enter digitally and put photos of the artwork up, so every participant in the world will be able to see each other’s hexagon. That will make this even more meaningful.

Is there one specific hexagon that stands out to you for its message or its artwork?
One boy was interested in a sports-related issue. He says it’s on over-powered NBA teams. Many fans and players are complaining that the Warriors and the Rockets are too over-powered with the better players. He solved it. He said they have to get together to figure it out and debate on it. His drawing has people protesting one side and the other. That is a fascinating piece of artwork with the thinking that went into it. He is a fourth-grader. That is what this project allows kids to do, to find things that have meaning to them and get it out there.

What is the biggest thing kids can take away from being part of the project?
My belief is that when a child takes an idea that connects to their heart and has meaning, and takes the time to put it into a visual image to express that idea and take a stand on it, that stays with them for their entire life. That can make a difference in the decisions they make about the issues that they have analyzed and expressed.

Have tragedies you’ve been through, including losing your son and husband, affected how you go about this project or even life?
I have to say I did lose my first husband when I was only 27. I had a great-aunt who went through the Depression. She lost everything she had saved all her life. She saw people killing themselves and not able to cope. She said to me “You know what I did? I just had to keep going. I’m just going to do whatever I can to rebuild,” and that’s what she did. She just had the strength and determination and resiliency to do it. I feel like that influenced my life a lot, so when things happen, I think about that. There’s nothing wrong with getting support, counseling and help. I’ve taken advantage of that in my life, and it’s helped me a great deal. My son (who died from the disease of addiction) and I were very close. He helped many people with his counseling. He was just a wounded healer and couldn’t help himself. Even if everyone is smiling and looks great, we all have darkness and adversities and how we deal with them really makes all the difference.

Beth will be set up with the Hexagon Project at the Lackawanna Arts Fest on Courthouse Square on Saturday, Aug. 4 and will have an opening exhibit on Sept. 7 at First Friday in The Marketplace at Steamtown. For more information on The Hexagon Project visit hexagonproject.org/


Photos by Emma Black

Up Close & Personal – The Kimchi Dude

Up Close & Personal – The Kimchi Dude

Some people may know Randy Ryan as “Rein Beau,” a name that stemmed from his first business. To others, though, he is known as “the Kimchi Dude,” his business name and brand identity for homemade, healthful foods. He recently opened a stand in the Marketplace at Steamtown, where his menu frequently changes to feature his new ideas or holiday specials. While he is mainly self-taught in the culinary arts, he credits a culinary class at Wallenpaupack Area High School as his introduction to the craft. He graduated from Wallenpaupack in 2005 and lives in Scranton.

Meet Randy Ryan…

How did “the Kimchi Dude” come about”? 
Originally, the first company I started was just juice. It was called Rainbow Juice. Through the process, I ended up elaborating the menu and the concept. I put all my eggs into the kimchi basket and kind of just rode that out and switched to the Kimchi Dude. The idea behind Rainbow Juice was just a company, whereas when I transitioned to the Kimchi Dude, it would be more about me and a personal brand and what I’m putting out and what I’m proud of. Rein Beau kind of stuck from there.

What is the concept you’re trying to show through the Kimchi Dude?
The main priority of the company is to create sustainable culinary, so using ingredients that can be grown sustainably and of course are healthy for the environment and people. I didn’t just want to create healthy food, I wanted to create delicious food that anybody can enjoy.

Can you describe kimchi?
The simplest method is to call it Korean sauerkraut. It’s fermented vegetables, Napa cabbage, Daikon radish, green onion, carrots, ginger, garlic, gochugaru, Celtic sea salt and just a little bit of sugar to activate the process.

What got you interested in creating something that’s so different?
The push for sustainability is a huge thing. Our nation as a whole is extremely wasteful. I just figured the government isn’t really doing anything, so I wanted to do whatever I could.

How did you learn about kimchi prior to starting this business?
I’ve always been very intrigued with the eastern cultures, whether it be sumo, smithing and the culinary, of course. Somewhere along the lines of researching the eastern culture, kimchi sprung up. I was just very intrigued. It’s what they call an eternal food. It’s kind of like honey in a sense that it won’t go bad, if prepared correctly, and it can sit for hundreds or thousands of years. It’s super sustainable. It was a way for the South Koreans to preserve the harvest through winter and have something to eat. Its a probiotic, ketogenic food. It’s kind of the best of (all) worlds — health, deliciousness and sustainability. After the first batch I made, I loved it, and it went from there.

How did making one batch for yourself become a full-time business?
Back in those days, I was sharing a lot of food with people just to kind of get my products out there and gain recognition. I was sharing little jars of kimchi with people, and they were obsessed. They’d call me up at midnight and say, “I need to swing by and get some kimchi,” so I knew it was time to put more focus on it.

Can you describe your products?
The original juice concepts were called earth juice, sun juice and moon juice. They correlate with the colors. Earth is a green juice, sun is an orange juice, and the moon is a white, cashew milk and is white like the moon. Earth juice is mixed greens, and I describe it as a vegetable candy, sweet and sour. It might sound nasty, but it’s totally not. I find a balance in my drinks between fruits and vegetables, so they’re nice and sweet. Sun juice is, of all the juices, definitely a pick-me-up. Moon juice may fall in the category of dessert. It has maple syrup that sweetens it up and cinnamon.

You say your menu is “the most innovative in the valley.” Why?
First of all, I don’t use recipes. Everything is made from scratch. Not a single thing on the menu is or will be made from a pre-made ingredient. One-hundred percent of things I make will use whole foods, scratch or basic ingredients. I don’t think anybody else can claim that. On top of that, I’m creating five times more compost than waste. To add in, people are losing weight, reversing illnesses and all these other things that I didn’t expect along the way. There’s an aspect of wellness to the menu.

What is something running a business has taught you?
Discipline for sure. Getting up in the morning, if I didn’t show up today, it’s not happening. The biggest thing is discipline, finding a balance (between) personal leisure and running a business. It’s a balancing act and takes practice.

Have you have a moment or time if your life that helped shape you into who you are today?
I think opening this stand for sure. You listen to entrepreneurs and speakers say, “You’re never going to be ready,” so just say yes to things. It was probably in March or April, I put a deposit in for this place, I wrote a check and said, “I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’m just going to do it and see how it goes.” It was one of those moments when I had to stop waiting for other people to help me, jump right in by myself and stand on my own two feet. It’s working out so far.

What has been most gratifying so far?
My favorite part, now that I have a spot, is people coming here on dates or first dates and inviting other people. It’s more of like a gathering space. It’s a new element to the business that I just love.

Did living in different places give you a different perspective on anything as opposed to being in NEPA?
Totally. Even if you just go to Philadelphia and you eat, then come back to Scranton, you realize the food culture here is 10 years behind. It’s very limited. It’s one of those things where you only know what you experience. I grew up in a trucking family, so that helped a lot. We were always going somewhere.

Do you hope that your stand and products will contribute to growing the food culture in NEPA?
Definitely. Part of becoming the Kimchi Dude was that I would establish a personal brand as a chef and be able to open different concept restaurants. This is one. This is sustainable, whole food and raw diet. There are plans for a gourmet burger bar. Maybe there’s pizza (shop) down the road or a noodle shop.

Your food and products have an element of art to them. Can you describe how it is art?
My philosophy is life is art. Art can be anything from painting to the way you design your furniture to the way you dress yourself. Culinary for me, includes the plating and a lot of minor details that are often overlooked. I appreciate culinary as an art because it’s the only art that can stimulate all five senses.

The final word is yours.
Don’t be afraid to try new things. A big shift in my life was the first time I tried high-quality sushi. That was probably the start of me losing a lot of weight, feeling better and clean. And I’ll often hear that people don’t like kimchi because they’ve tried it from someone else. My kimchi is a balanced recipe, not too spicy, it doesn’t have the fish sauce, and most people who try it end up loving it.


Photos by Emma Black 

Up Close & Personal – Melissa Wollmering

Up Close & Personal – Melissa Wollmering

Melissa Wollmering is a printmaker and adjunct professor at University of Scranton and Marywood University. She loves all forms of art, and has taught other areas of art in the past. She grew up in Minnesota and earned a bachelor’s degree in studio art from Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota. She also has a master’s of fine arts degree in printmaking from Marywood University. She and her husband, Andrew, live in Scranton.

Meet Melissa Wollmering…

What first got you interested in art and more specifically in printmaking?
I think my parents probably encouraged all my siblings to pursue art. I have artists on both sides of the family, so it was kind of just always an option. I’ve always had an interest from a young age. I don’t know if there’s any particular moment I can say that sparked it, but I’ve always liked making things. I grew up on a farm, so we were allowed to just go into the barn and just make stuff with whatever we found. It was nice to have that urge and put it into something more directed. As for printmaking, I had barely even heard of it until college. I went to a school that randomly had a very solid printmaking program. I was introduced to it in college and I just loved it. I insanely loved it. It was magical.

What about printmaking got you hooked?
I would say the materials and the process. You’re kind of like a mad scientist. The method that I started with is called intaglio, which is kind of a strange one to start with, people usually start with relief, it’s a little easier. The nature of intaglio is so cool because you have a copperplate, you get to carve it and then you get to throw it in vats of acid, and burn it and cut it. The process was so fun. It was a lot of substances, materials and processes… and a vat of acid, how cool is that. There’s this element where you don’t have full control, which I thought was really exciting.

Are you working on any projects right now?
There is an organization called Big Ink, which is a printmaking collaborative out of New Hampshire. They have a mission to spread large-scale woodcut or relief work. A lot of organizations in printmaking are seeking to promote the methods because not many people know about it. They have a very large press and they go to different galleries and have events. They ask certain artists to cut blocks. There are five artists, and they have a big event — the whole day you print big-scale and they exhibit them. It’s a very collaborative, fun event in addition to producing art.

What are some of the previous shows that you’ve had your work displayed in?
I’m part of a printmaking guild. That’s a really fun kind of a show or organization to be associated with. A lot of printmakers are associated with guilds where you do editions and then print trades. So everyone would create an edition of, say, 25, and then you get one of everybody else’s print. You get to have a huge art collection because every time you are involved with it, you get 25 pieces back. Printmaking or even a lot of arts can be sort of solitary, but there’s something inherent about printmaking that’s collaborative.

What is the printmaking atmosphere in Northeast Pennsylvania like? Are you able to collaborate with other artists?
The print community is quite strong in Scranton. We have this studio [at University of Scranton], and at Marywood University. Peter Hoffer, who has managed the printmaking department for 40 years, has created a lovely community. There are other teachers, including Chris Medley at The Workshop downtown. There are actually quite a few people who do printmaking in the area, and a lot of artists, even if they identify as a painter or sculptor, dip their toe in print making probably once or twice. It’s a very open thing where if you’re looking for something different, a lot of people will just try it, and if there’s a studio, it brings people in.

What other types of art do you enjoy or do you like to do?
Photography, I love it. It’s a real sister discipline to printmaking because a lot of the processes are similar. Photography is very process heavy if you do the darkroom and film. And digital is very process heavy in a different way. I did a bit of that and it’s always in the back of my head as something fun. Also, when you are a print maker, you’re tied to the studio pretty tightly. You don’t walk around and do stuff outside like a painter. With photography you really can go out in the world. I really like being an acting agent out in the world and getting a little more exposure outside of the studio.

What artists inspire you?
I was very into Klimt and Egon Schiele for a few years. I very much admire the work of Helen Frankenthaler and Kiki Smith as well. I get so much enjoyment out of almost every artist I encounter. I also like Munch, he’s Norwegian and he worked in the 19 century. He came up with some multi-colored relief wood cuts so I’m very interested in his work. He has a very strong existential sort of concern and I’m very interested in art theory and of course philosophy and the osmosis so he’s quite interesting to me at the moment now. Also, Käthe Kollwitz, she’s great and another printmaker, also a woman, which is nice.

What is your favorite part about teaching?
You’re always learning. I love getting to explore new methods and different exercises for the students and see them learning. Whenever you see a light bulb go off or that they really love something, that is amazing. It’s just nice having a community of people exploring.

Either from an artist’s standpoint or a teacher’s, what is one of the biggest challenges of printmaking?
Printmaking is challenging in that you need space for materials and process. You can’t do it anywhere. It takes a certain amount of physical space. Another thing that a lot of people find challenging, but I love it, is you can’t go faster than the process allows. Sometimes the speed at which you can work is a challenge.

What is the process of printmaking like?
There are different types of printmaking. Relief would probably be what people are familiar with or perhaps screen printing, which is what’s done to make T-shirts. Essentially when you’re printing, you’re taking ink from one surface and transferring it to another. You’re working with a matrix as opposed to a paintbrush. You’re working from a finite mold and transferring it to a substrate. What you do to the matrix before you print is where all the variation comes in.

Have you had a moment or time in your life that helped shape you into who you are today?
I had a professor in undergrad. He was a wonderful sculptor. He was advising me one day. I was trying to decide what to do with my life, as one does in college. He sat me down and he said ‘Don’t wait for an epiphany. You know what you want to do, just pursue it.’ Art can be a difficult area because sometimes you’re not sure if you can really make a living. I think that was a lovely deciding moment hearing that.

Photos by Emma Black: 

Up Close & Personal – Steve Werner

Up Close & Personal – Steve Werner

Steve Werner is a multi-instrumentalist and Scranton native. He plays the handpan among many other instruments. A graduate of West Scranton High School, Werner studied human development and family studies at Lackawanna College and Penn State Worthington. He is employed by Keystone Community Resources and works as a vocational job coach. He lives in Scranton.

Meet Steve Werner…

What do you do at Keystone Community Resources?
Basically what we do is we work with kids with disabilities and we give them job training, so whatever they’re interested (in), we just show them around and give them experience.

What is your musical background?
I started playing in middle school, because they offered band class. They just asked me what I wanted to play, so it was the drums. I was probably the worst one in the class. I didn’t get it for a while, and then it just kind of clicked. I’ve been playing ever since.

What other instruments do you play?
When I was about 18, I started playing guitar, and I did both (guitar and drums) for a while. With drums, I played more rock music; with the guitar, I liked classical music better, so I started to learn how to do that.

Can you compare playing solo, in a duo and in a group?
I love being a solo artist because I can just do whatever I want when I want. I get to do different kinds of gigs; with the handpan and the solo stuff I do, the music is more mindful. I do stuff for yoga, meditation. I just got done doing something in the ICU at Geisinger Hospital. I take it to schools where there are people with disabilities and play for the kids and in nursing homes. I really enjoy doing that as opposed to playing in bars all the time.

Many people have probably seen you playing the handpan. What exactly is that, and can you give some background on it?
Basically it has anywhere from eight to 18 notes. Mine has nine. It’s in a circle, and it’s a key. Mine is in D minor. It starts with the base note on top, and from there it goes around through the whole scale. They’re made by hand, so each one takes a while to make. Most people have to be on a waiting list to get one. I think it took me eight months to get mine from the day I ordered it. Some people wait even longer than that. They wait years. Just because you want one doesn’t mean someone is going to make you one.

How did you get into playing this unusual instrument?
I had back surgery in 2013. I had a lot of nerve damage in my leg and foot. The doctors didn’t know how much use I was going to have. I started (looking for) drums I could play with my hands because I didn’t know if it was going to work to be able to play drums (and tap) with my foot. I looked around, and this popped up. They’re hard to get. Mine is from Germany. I had to write this guy a letter. I knew nothing about him, nothing about these drums; he could have been a scam, but I wanted it so badly. That’s what I did, and it worked out.

What is the music program at Geisinger you were recently a part of?
It’s a county program run by Maureen McGuigan. It’s called Arts Heal. I play music in the ICU. I couldn’t really talk to the patients, but the families gave me a lot of feedback. They said it’s very soothing to hear the music. The doctors and nurses came up to me; they said it’s really helpful because it drowns out the background noises and beeping in the hospital. It’s really nice.

What thoughts or emotions do you have while playing around people in places such as the ICU and hospice?
You definitely want to play with more of an intention to relax people or calm someone down. Families don’t always get the best news. You want to go in there and have a lighter touch to everything. I’m really glad the county does it. It blends the two things that I do. I’m really only good at two things, and they’re my two passions, so to be able to combine them like this, I’m really grateful.

Talk about your recently released solo album.
It’s called “Incantation.” It’s got nine songs and has the handpan on it. It’s focused around the handpan, but it has some other instruments. I use a lot of acoustic instruments; I play the acoustic guitar, I have somebody play the piano, I have a cello player. I kind of blend electronic sounds into it. It’s kind of natural sounds of music versus the scientific side of music.

How would you describe your own style as a musician? 
I sent (the album) out to a bunch of industry professionals just to get an idea of what I was working with. A lot of them said it’s kind of in the ambient, new age (genre), but it’s kind of its own niche too. I would classify it as new age music, but it also has its own unique sound to it.

Who are your musical influences?
A woman named Loreena McKennitt, she’s a Celtic world music artist. She’s from Canada, and Tori Amos, I’m a huge fan, that’s probably my biggest one. I really like the band REM and Led Zeppelin.

What has been your most memorable music experience?
Definitely going to see Tori Amos was really cool. As far as performing, the ones I get the most out of are the ones playing for the disabled children. I really like that stuff more than everything else I do.

What is something that sticks out about the NEPA music community?
This is the best community. Everybody is so tight; there is no competition, and everybody is supportive of each other. We share musicians and bands and bounce back and forth. It’s like one big family. It’s great. We promote each others’ bands, we play on each other’s albums, we get shows together, we’ll help people get shows out of the area. It’s just everything.

What is something being a musician has taught you?
I had a teacher when I started playing in sixth grade. When I was having trouble, he told me 90 percent of music is listening. I kind of took that and put it to everything else in life and just listened to what people say and take everything in before I act or open my mouth. I’d definitely say listening is the most important thing.

What are some of your hobbies outside of music?
I really like football; I like the Eagles. I like going to baseball games. I don’t like watching baseball games because that’s boring to me, but going to baseball games is really fun. I’ve always watched it on TV, but then I went to a Phillies game a few years and thought, “This is fun,” and people get rowdy and stuff, so I really like watching baseball live.

Have you had a moment or time in your life that helped shape you into who you are today?
Definitely working in the field that I work in made me grow really fast. In my field, you see a lot of bad things every day, so it kind of gives you a perspective on how things are. I started doing that when I was around 20 for a college internship and just stuck with it.


Photos by Emma Black

Up Close & Personal – Lance Miley

Up Close & Personal – Lance Miley

Music, and particularly rock, has been part of Lance Miley’s life for as long as he can remember. Miley founded and owns Rock School of Music, Clarks Summit, a nonprofit organization designed to offer music to all children. There, he teaches guitar, vocals, keyboard, drums and bass. On Friday, July 13, he and Making Music Matter for Kids will host the free Summit Fest Rock the Block block party on Spring Street in Clarks Summit from 5 to 9 p.m. Miley also is the vocalist for the band Metal Mob and has performed alongside many musicians throughout his life. He grew up in Sussex County, New Jersey, and now lives in Clarks Summit with his partner, Robin. He has three children, Lance, Kelsey and Jacob, and two grandchildren, Silas and Layla.

Meet Lance Miley…

What is Making Music Matter for Kids? 
A nonprofit that supports low-income and disadvantaged youth. It also supports all kids. It’s not just for low-income. The cool thing is it’s the low-income (who) are supporting the kids who have families that can pay for it. We keep our prices low and affordable. The kids that are getting grants don’t need to be ashamed, because they’re supporting music for all kids. We have about eight kids who are getting grants. Right now, we need support. The program started with me moving from New Jersey to Pennsylvania. We opened shop in Lake Wallenpaupack in Greentown at the end of 2010. We had students coming in and working with us, and all of a sudden parents couldn’t afford $20 a week. I didn’t have the heart to say I couldn’t teach them anymore, so I volunteered my time. We started the nonprofit. We had an event at Wally Fest at Lake Wallenpaupack. Our first event was in 2015. We were just beginning to look into becoming a nonprofit. It was 100 percent charity through the community. In 2016, we put in for the 501, and in six months, we received our 503(c)3 application, a couple days before the event.

What got you interested in teaching?
As far as instructing, I realized that there’s a need. As far as teaching goes, I was teaching pretty young. I got serious about it probably 15 years ago. The bottom line is you have to give it away if you want to keep it. It’s always nice when you get a student who progresses, and you get to see them go off to college. There’s a lot of joy in it and passion about it. I just love teaching, and I get more out of it than gigging. That’s really why I teach.

What is your favorite thing about teaching?
My favorite thing is when the kids come back and they’ve done their homework. I get to see it pay off. It’s always 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. I’ve been doing it long enough that I can tell right off the bat if they’ve done their homework. It inspires me to see kids grow. Music is an amazing tool.

When did you realize you wanted to be a teacher as opposed to a performer?
2008 was our first event. After touring for a couple of years, I stepped back and looked at my life and realized I love to perform. Don’t get me wrong, it’s so exciting; on stage I get to be somebody I’m not, I get to show my talents, but I knew back in [the early 2000s] I saw the direction music was going, and I didn’t want to include myself in that.

What is the project you’re working on with Metal Mob?
We’re in the studio. We’re putting together a press kit, and we’re going to be playing A-rooms, national clubs, maybe a couple local things. Metal Mob will be at the event on the 13th working with the kids.

Guitar was the first of many instruments you played. What interested you about it? 
It was Glenn Campbell, and it was the pick. He was singing, and he reached into his pocket and he pulled it out and started doing these riffs up and down the neck that were just magical. For a 3-year-old, I had seen the pick and I needed to have a pick, so asked my dad to get me a pick, and he got me a guitar and a pick. I was correct about the pick. The right hand (if you’re a righty) is what makes the guitar come to life.

What happened after you got your first guitar and pick?
It was my first guitar; I was probably 3 or 4 years old. By second grade, I was playing in the school dances, parties. I took some lessons. I was a young kid doing some stuff, promoting the events, then Boy Scout gigs and into high school.

If there is one thing you could give or teach your students, what would it be?
Give back. Give what I’ve taught and whatever experience I’ve given them to another human being. Give charity. It’s greater than humility and gratitude. There is no humility or gratitude without charity.

What is one thing you’ve had to overcome or learn as a teacher?
Pride. Without a doubt. Every year, I get groups of kids together, and they would work together with me for two or three years and all of a sudden they decide they’re going to do it on their own, and it’s never worked out too well for them. I just remember that it’s not mine, it’s the greater power, the gift comes from above.

What is your favorite thing to teach and why?
Guitar. It’s almost universal. Learning guitar, I’m able to play keyboard, bass. I’m able to play other instruments. The instrument has much of the quality as every other instrument out there, combined. There are so many different ways to play modes and scales. With guitar, you can have three different patterns. Guitar is the greatest tool, but it also enhanced my vocals. It’s given me the opportunity to do vocals.


Up Close & Personal – Eleanor Gwyn-Jones

Up Close & Personal – Eleanor Gwyn-Jones

Eleanor Gwyn-Jones is an independent Mary Kay director, author and the proprietor of the Lion’s Den, Clarks Summit. Having grown up in London, she says her British accent may fool some people, but she considers Northeast Pennsylvania to be home. She has published two novels, “Theatricks” and “Jazz Hands,” and has two additional novels that will be published soon. While she has worked her way through the ranks of Mary Kay, there is more to her story than “lotion and lipstick.” She attended secondary school at Parsons Mead and earned a degree in biology from University of Southampton, both in England. She lives in Scranton’s Green Ridge section with her partner, Matt Mang, and their rescue dog, Beanie.

Meet Eleanor Gwyn-Jones…

Tell me a little about yourself. 
I came 14 years ago on a fiance visa. I met this handsome, dashing American hunk. The visa process is so complicated. I was surprised it would be so difficult for me to get a visa. We really had to go through flaming hoops. I lived in West Pittston for a wee while. It was sort of the beginning and the breaking of the fairy tale. I had the opportunity to go back to England when that relationship ended. I had just started my business here, and I had just gotten an agent for my first novel. It seemed foolhardy to go back home with a tail between my legs, so I started a new chapter. I moved to Clarks Summit, and I really went gung-ho with my Mary Kay business and really dived deep into writing.

Of the cities you’ve lived in, what sticks out most about NEPA?
I have made such wonderful friendships here. Ride-or-die kind of relationships with girlfriends who I know would champion me to the end of the earth, and I them. I feel very fortunate at finding them. When you vibrate at a certain energy level, you find these fabulous people who similarly want to change the world and want to make an impact. People who are joyful and who are passionate and love what they do, and are on a mission, and that’s what I love and was able to find here.

What was your pre-U.S. life like?
I always wanted to be an actress. When I was 17, I got selected for the National Youth Theater. This was a summer camp in London. It was this glorious summer. All the school counselors said “acting is very well and good, but you really need to get an education, because 99 percent of actresses are out of work.” I got myself a BSc honors degree in biology. It wasn’t easy, because when you don’t love a subject, it’s all work. After three years, I got through it, and I was ready to pursue my passion to be an actress. I started to audition for drama schools, but I had no idea how expensive it would be to go to drama school. I got through a couple rounds of auditions, and I went to this weekend workshop, and it was just a nightmare. I really disliked the whole experience. Then I auditioned for a children’s company. They needed someone who was going to be an actress and could do some administration things. They selected me. I started promoting the shows and worked as an agent for the company. I took the company from being a few shows here and there to three or four shows a week.

Can you talk about your novels? 
The first two focus on Enna and her journey. She’s the original Brit out of water. She’s a director and in “Theatricks”; she goes through the visa process. … I took nuggets of things I knew, so she meets an American, she’s trying to fight for her theater, which is being threatened to be overtaken by the property developers, but she’s failing. I really dearly wanted to write about the visa process because it was quite hysterical (for me). … It’s finding where home is, finding what’s important to you, what women prioritize and value, and sometimes what we need is not actually what we want, or what we want, it’s not what we need. So in the second book, she leaves the theater and she actually becomes very involved in yoga, which is something that is important to me. I want my characters to feel, and I want my readers to feel. I try to use a lot of symbolism and imagery.

Does your acting background influence you as a writer?
All of my novels thus far are written in first person. We really see in the first two Enna’s perspective, and in the third, Evie’s, and I put myself in that position. I’ll often be writing and tears will be pouring down my face because I’m feeling it. I often find that times in my life when I’ve been dreadfully unhappy, I’ve been super creative. I guess that means you get to live your life vicariously through all these different versions of you.

Do you have a favorite topic to write about?
Obviously my background is in theater, so there’s something very lovely about writing scenes that are set in a theater, because that feels like home to me. I guess I like to create it artificially. Although I do feel at home in this area, I feel sad that there’s not a big theater.

Has your perspective of the U.S. changed since arriving and living here?
I have come to notice that in Northeast PA there is that community that is welcoming. As a small business owner, the support that I have had has been, both for the writing and having my Mary Kay business, has been really heart warming. It’s that relationship-building, and people have time for you here, whereas I believe when I was in New York, and not to speak badly about New York, people didn’t have time to talk to you or find out about you. Whether you’re writing stories and you’re learning about people or whether you’re trying to help you or your small business thrive, it’s all about the people you meet along the way and how you can help them. I think we’re better together. When we support each other, if my customer base hears about your business, then you might have more potential customers than if you tell your customers about me.

You own the Lion’s Den in Clarks Summit. What is the concept behind it? 
When I became a Mary Kay director, you have what’s called your unit, but your unit and a number after it sounds very utilitarian. Most Mary Kay directors give their unit a unit name, and I wanted something that symbolized more. I was named after Eleanor of Aquitaine, and she was the mother of Richard the Lionheart, and Richard the Lionheart fought in the crusades. It just fit, so my units are called the Lionhearts. So I was looking for a space that was local and that I could invite my girls, that I could praise them to success and I could teach them and I could meet my own customers and have great interactions with them and really have a base. … This isn’t a shop. I don’t sell products from shelves. What it is is it’s an experience, and it’s a training center, it’s a success center, it’s where, whether you’ve had a good day, you bring your energy to the table, you lift people up, and if you’ve had a rubbish day, we build you up. It’s really so much more than just lotion and lipstick.

Up Close & Personal – EunJin Newkirk

Up Close & Personal – EunJin Newkirk

EunJin Newkirk is the business face of Newkirk Honey. She and her husband, Jason, have run the business from their home since 2011. They care for honey bee colonies in their backyard, which also is home to chickens, goats and dogs. They sell their honey at several local vendor fairs and recently opened a stand in the Marketplace at Steamtown. EunJin and Jason live in Scranton with their daughter, Areum.

Meet EunJin Newkirk…

How long have you been beekeeping, and how did you get started?
My husband started beekeeping in high school, helping his neighbor who had 10,000 hives, more than 20 years ago. Most of their work was for commercial pollination rather than producing honey. That was how he initially learned how to work with bees.

Why did he decide to continue with it? 
We moved from Iowa in 2011 when my husband took a job in Waymart. I was sure that I could pursue a career in design, but it wasn’t happening. After a while, Jason began to urge me to start a beekeeping business. It became my full-time job.

What is your favorite part about your job?
My favorite part is interacting with customers. As a maker, hearing how people like our food is a wonderful feeling, and the encouragement keeps us going every day. Also designing my own label is a part of the job that I really enjoy.

Can you talk about the setup of your hives? You have this all based at home, and everything happens outside your house?
We set up our hives over different locations, but most are in Lackawanna County. A lot of them are located on the West Mountain in Scranton, which is also where we live. Last year and this (year), we maintained 200 hives over seven locations, and we plan to keep those numbers for a while. As bees don’t need attention every single day, we stop by one-by-one to see if any of them need more boxes or other maintenance throughout the year and harvest the summer honey.

Can you share a memorable beekeeping story?
Not too long after my daughter was born, we were going to drop the nuc boxes (mini hives that we rent from bee sellers) back to central Pennsylvania. We were excited about how good the year was going to be with new bees that we purchased. It was the first time we made a purchase with the money that we made by selling honey from a year before. I was about to get in the truck and got stung by a bee. All of a sudden, I started having a hard time breathing. My husband took me to urgent care, and I ended up in the emergency room. It was a big sign that I am very allergic to bee stings, but we had no idea. That night, we really had to think seriously if we can keep this business with my personal … condition. My answer was yes, because I was just falling in love with bees.

What is your favorite honey product to make and use or eat?
It’s absolutely the Raw Honey Fruit Tea. But obviously we use the Wildflower Honey the most.

Why is Raw Honey Fruit Tea your favorite?
It’s created with my family tradition. I still remember that when the seasonal fruits started coming out to the market, my mom and grandmother always bought a bulk of them. Or oftentimes we just went to the orchards and preserved (the fruits) with bags of sugar and kept them in a jar, then made tea throughout the year. It was so good, and they told me how each of the different ingredients work for minor physical issues. As I am a beekeeper, I got creative with using my honey to make a better flavor in the most natural way. And it came out from there. But the thing that you have to know is, in Asia, “tea” means basically anything you drink. So tea often doesn’t contain an herb or any other dried leaves or flowers. Sometimes people ask if there is any tea in it, but it’s just a honey and dried fruit and natural extract.

How long have you lived in the United States? And what brought you here? 
I’ve been in this country for 12 years now. I was born and raised in South Korea and decided to come to this country in 2006. I came to New York City to study English but always had a dream of living in this country permanently. There are many reasons why I wanted to be in this country, and I am making the dreams come true one by one. All I can say is whatever the reason was, I am in a dream that I don’t want to wake up from.

Can you talk about your family and what it means to you to be part of a family-owned business?
We harvested our first honey at the same time our daughter was born. Now she is almost 6 years old. When we started a business as a family, we wanted to be hard-working Americans who provided high-quality products and had integrity so our children can learn that the products that are sold are reliable and something they can be proud of.

What are your hobbies and/or interests outside of beekeeping and the business? 
I had a minor in Asian fiber art, so I do embroidery and some crafting. But with my career and experience in the food industry, I am also interested in food product branding as well as visual marketing in farm brands.

What advice would you give someone who wants to try beekeeping? 
Do it for fun. It’s a pretty expensive hobby if you really want to do it right. You can get easily frustrated as they are very difficult creatures to deal with. 

Have you had a moment or time in your life that helped shape you into who you are today? 
I am and have always been active. However during my pregnancy, I had a hard time dealing with muscle pains all over my body for the first time. So I started working out on a not-so-serious level only for a couple of hours twice a week. Now I feel even better than before the pregnancy.

What is a fun fact that most people don’t know about you? 
I always come up with crazy and quick ideas that make people surprised or panic. For example, I decided to come to the U.S. and all it took was a week of thought and the following week I was in New York City.

Up Close & Personal – Rachel Rafalko

Up Close & Personal – Rachel Rafalko

Rachel Rafalko, designer and founder of Boheme Gardens—an online seller of handmade jewelry, teas, plants and more—weaves many creative hobbies into her life. She also owns Gemini Natural Images, through which she works as a natural light photographer. A graduate of Mid Valley Secondary Center, she studied art at a vocational-technical school. She and her fiance, Billy, live in Throop with their 2-year-old son.

Meet Rachel Rafalko…

How did you first get into photography?
I had been hanging out with the guys in the hardcore bands for years, then I started photographing
them at shows. I also got into the festival scene. The people from the festivals, they’d see me taking pictures, and I’d meet them through that. Photography turned from taking pictures of them into being friends with them, because you get to know them over the years. It has helped me be more social, because I’ve always been sort of an introverted person, and photography is almost a gateway to help me meet people.

What is your favorite thing about photography?
I really need to get out more and do more landscape photography, because that’s where my passion is. You don’t have to chase (landscapes). You don’t have to tell them what to do. Most times, I don’t go looking to take pictures. I just happen to have a camera on me at the time, and I walk around and see what I can find. It’s more like a treasure hunt.

Do you have a favorite original photograph? 
I was working at Ritter’s Farm Market and was cleaning the flowers. I just happened to notice that one grew as a double daisy and it looked like a heart. A corner of it was even used for my first business card.

Where does your business name “Gemini Natural Images” come from?
I’m a Gemini, and I’ve always prided myself on that. I think it suits me perfectly. I see things from so many different aspects that I think it suits me to be the twins. “Natural” comes from the fact that I don’t really like to Photoshop or over-edit my photos. I want people to see things the way they really are. I thought “images” sounded better than “photography.” It’s an image in your mind that you remember, not the photograph.

How does gardening fit into your life?
I love plants. I actually had a brown thumb until I was about 30, and then all of a sudden I was able to grow things, and it was amazing. I always wanted to have a garden but ended up killing my plants. I think it’s fantastic to be able to eat your own plants; everything tastes better, (and) you know the source of where it came from. The condition of the world right now and the condition of our food, I think there’s a lot of waste going on. When you’re gardening, you get to preserve things.

How about the teas you produce?
The ones that I do grow, I dry in big baskets and mix them up every day. As far as flavors, I use a lot of what I think tastes good. I try to study as much as I can with what’s going to do what for a person and what could have an adverse reaction.

You also make and sell jewelry. Can you describe your design style?
A lot of what I learned at vo-tech and the composition part of the courses helped me with the way I build jewelry. I can see what balances each other out, what colors will look good. A lot of people would think that these look kind of fancy, but I try to make them so that you can wear them with jeans and a T-shirt and they won’t look out of place. I’m not a person who wears much jewelry, but I do wear a lot of these because I think they can go with just about any outfit.

Do you feel each of your hobbies is complemented by the others?
Oh yes, all day long. Some of the greatest pictures I take are of my garden and things I’m growing. The photography ties in with the jewelry, I know how to display it; I know how take photos of it to make it look more attractive. You see so many people trying to sell something, and they just don’t display it right. It can be the most beautiful thing in the world, but maybe they have it hanging on their dirty hand. If I get a day where I can sit and create the whole day, I’ll spend 10 minutes in the garden, two hours editing. I can’t focus on one thing. I think that’s why I do so many things.

Have you had to overcome any major challenges in your life?
My mom passed away last summer. That was really hard. It put me into some deep feelings. She was hurting for a long time, and it was the right thing that happened for her. I think that was the biggest hurdle I’ve faced in my entire life. My dad has been through a lot losing my mom and still helped us through getting our lives together. Everything I do, I hope that she’s proud of me, and I still keep her in my mind just like I did when she was alive. I want her to see me and say, “Wow, you’re doing great,” so she knows she did things right with me. The way I’m raising my son is the way she raised me.

What is your favorite thing about being a mom?
The amazement of how fast he grows and learns things. Sometimes he learns things that we didn’t even teach him. It’s just nature that he does these things at a certain time in his life, and it’s absolutely amazing. Have you had a time or experience in your life that helped shape you into who you are today?
I was always very introverted, and it was April 1999 that I had a really big change in my life. I met a lot of people who welcomed me into their group, and it was an extremely large group of friends. It really showed me how to open up to people. With these people, we did everything together all the time, and it really helped me open up as a person.

What do you enjoy doing aside from the business and business-related hobbies?
Cooking. My fiance is a cook at the University of Scranton. When we met, that was one of the things that bonded us. We both considered starting a catering business someday too. We actually catered my own baby shower. Leading up to it, I cooked for two weeks rolling around in an office chair because
I was so pregnant.

Fun fact?
I’m obsessed with the Muppets and “The Simpsons.” I have every episode of the Muppets show, including the ones from the ’90s.

Up Close & Personal – Susan Crane

Up Close & Personal – Susan Crane

Susan Crane picked up her first bonsai tree many years ago, and her passion for the craft has only grown since. A graduate of Mansfield University with a degree in elementary education, she works for Geisinger Marworth in Waverly Twp. but also founded and owns 2 Cranes Plants. She runs the business from her home, selling bonsai, topiary, succulent and ivy wreaths and kokedama. Crane blends her educational background with her passion for bonsai, noting that “I have a classroom where I train young trees, with their individual needs in mind, so they develop into beautiful bonsai.” She and her husband Bob, whom she met when they attended Central Scranton High School, live in Scranton and will celebrate their 40th anniversary this year. They have two children, Sarah and Matthew, and a granddaughter, Grace.

Meet Susan Crane…

Talk about your work at Marworth.
I’ve been there 21 years, and I work in the outpatient office. I schedule appointments; I do the intake information, the pre-admission information; I get them scheduled, collect stats, take care of charges and stuff like that. It’s a varied position.

How did bonsai become such a big hobby of yours?
I’ve always loved plants. When I was in college, I always had plants. I think that’s where it started. I bought a little ficus tree, and it had all those little rocks glued into the pot. It was a very pretty pot, and I didn’t know what to do with it. I had never seen anything like that, and it was just fascinating to me. I didn’t have any clue how to take care of it. I found a nursery in Laflin. When I called, a woman answered, and I said I have this little bonsai tree. I told her all about it and how I didn’t know what to do with it. She said, “I happen to be the president of the NEPA Bonsai Society.” I almost fell out of my chair, I just couldn’t believe there was a bonsai society in Northeast PA. I decided to go to the next meeting because I was really interested, so that was the beginning. I’ve been in the club for 18 years now.

Can you talk about your involvement with the NEPA Bonsai Society?
I’m the vice president. It’s a new role for me. The club has just been a really exciting thing for me, and to have other people who are also that excited about it, it’s wonderful. They’re wonderful people. They’re really like my family. I just love them and feel very supported and encouraged there. I never feel intimidated, and bonsai can be very intimidating. I just love it.

Can you tell me more about bonsai?
It’s an ancient Asian art. “Bonsai” means “tree in a pot” or some kind of container. The goal of bonsai is not just to put a tree in a pot, but to make the tree look natural and old, like something you’d see in nature, but it’s miniaturized. There are all different techniques and styles and different pots and rules you have to know. You don’t necessarily have to follow them, but you have to know them. A lot of it is pruning techniques and thickening the trunk, because the thicker the trunk, the older the tree will look, and how to position the branches. A lot of trees when they’re older, the branches bend downward and kind of tell a story. Using wire is one technique to shape the branches. There are logistics to it, and there’s an art to it. The most important part of Bonsai is you have to know what kind of tree you have, and what does that tree need — whether it be light conditions, watering, temperature — you should have success.

What are some challenges of growing bonsai? 
We’ve had such crazy weather, it’s really difficult. The nights can be cold; we can get too much rain. A lot of times, I’ll move some things that can’t take any more water and put them on my porch where they’re more protected. If they get too much rain, they can get root rot. It’s a balancing act when you have a lot of trees. You have to know what they want and what they can tolerate and care for them accordingly.

What setbacks have you faced with bonsai?
You lose trees. I had a beautiful rosemary, and I lost it this year, and I don’t know why. You’re nurturing these and taking care of them. You want them to grow and survive and look their best. It’s almost like a child. I think a challenge for me is wiring. What branches do I keep? What branches do I lose? People help me. That’s where the club comes in. They like to share information, and it’s very nurturing. If I didn’t have the club, I don’t think I’d be doing this, because I could never do it on my own.

What is most gratifying for you?
I’m always saying to my husband, “Look how beautiful it looks. I can’t believe how pretty they are.” He says, “They all look the same to me,” but if someone else sees how pretty it is and wants it, and I can tell them how to take care of it, it’s really gratifying. Sometimes at shows, people say things like, “You have the most beautiful table or booth” or “I don’t know which one to get. They’re all so nice,” and it’s just very gratifying that someone is interested in something I’m doing.

Is there a spiritual element to growing bonsai?
There is. People delve into all sorts of spiritual aspects, but for me it’s like a Zen. I know when I’m working on my trees, I don’t know what else is around me. I don’t know if that’s spiritual or not. I am totally focused on that, and it’s very relaxing. Some people are very into what the tree is saying to you. They’re living things, and just like we like the sun and the air, they do too; they are happy. If something isn’t happy, it tells you and shows you. It might drop all its leaves, or have bugs or insects.

What are your interests and hobbies outside of bonsai?
I was in the orchid club, but that’s another plant. I had a dog and just put my dog down. I used to spend a lot of time with her. We used to take long walks together. Bonsai is enough. (Laughs) It’s a lot and can be pretty crazy.

Have you had a time or moment in your life that helped shape you into who you are today?
I think my husband has been such a support to me and has let me do my own thing. He always let me do whatever I wanted to do and never gave me flack. His support and my kids’ support has been wonderful. It’s so gratifying to know that I can do something that other people are interested in, and I really like that I can help them. I’m doing what I really love to do.

Up Close & Personal – Don Fisch Jr.

Up Close & Personal – Don Fisch Jr.

Don Fisch Jr. is a Scranton native who works as a digital solutions leader at Friedman Electric and recently launched DF Custom Concepts, through which he builds wooden stools with personalized or custom silhouettes carved into them. A graduate of Scranton High School, he earned degrees in culinary arts and hotel restaurant management from the Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park, New York. Fisch loves spending time with his family and extended family. He and his wife, Abby, live in Scranton with their children, Andrew 3, and Ellie, 5 months.

Meet Don Fisch Jr. …

Tell me a little about yourself.
I’m 36; I’ve been married six years. I’m from Scranton and went to middle school and high school with my wife. I went to college to be a chef and went to culinary school for four years. I moved home about 10 years ago to be closer to family and decided to change careers. The (Buy Local Marketplace at Scranton Cultural Center at The Masonic Temple) was the first show I was publicly at (as DF Custom Concepts). My father was a carpenter, so I learned a lot of good traits from my dad. We formalized DF Custom Concepts very recently.

How did a culinary career lead you to electrical sales and then the launch of a business?
I call it the triple play. Culinary school was my passion at the time. It was the business I grew up in, and I really enjoyed it. I didn’t work around here. I worked in Hershey, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., as a chef, which is a very different type of atmosphere in the restaurant world than it is in Northeast PA. When I decided to come home 10 years ago, my intention was to just come home for a brief period and then conquer another city. I quickly realized two things: One, I didn’t want to move away (I had started dating my wife), and two, the type of restaurant industry experience that I was into was certainly not around here. It wasn’t for me as a profession, so I made a big, drastic move to completely change careers. All the while, woodworking has always been part of my life and a hobby.

What do you do at Friedman Electric?
My business card says “digital solutions leader.” I work with customers and our associates essentially to make people’s lives easier through a digital channel. I meet with companies or our customers and try to streamline and digitize their buying process. I work with their software and figure out what kind of tasks we can do mutually with a partnership to make our customer more effective and inevitably make us more effective and profitable.

What is the process of making stools like?
For the silhouette stool, we can make up to four images on them. The first step is Abby and I brainstorming what sets of images go together and are marketable. We make a template then transfer the image to raw stock, cut it out, paint it, then begin to assemble it. For customers who are looking for something unique, it’s the same concept. We have a conversation about the interests of the individual who it’s for and what can we do logistically or technically from a cutout perspective, because not everything can be done in a silhouette. There’s a technical thought that goes into it, and is it realistic?

What challenges or obstacles have you had to overcome through launching the business?
I never really thought about having to market something, because I was always building to custom requests. It’s a different philosophy now with what will sell. What can I be profitable with, and what can I make and produce in a manner that’s consistent and technically possible? That was a challenge, because it was new to me. Also, trying to judge the market of where can I sell the product based on my time and my cost of material and still be happy with what comes back. Being new to the market, the last thing I want is to be written off as too expensive. I’m trying to find that happy medium where I’m happy with the profitability and the customer doesn’t feel like they’re being taken for a ride.

What are your hobbies outside of woodworking?
Cooking is a hobby. For a period it was my profession; now it’s a hobby again. I like anything outdoors. We go for hikes and bike rides. I also spend a lot of time maintaining our aquarium and with the kids. We love to travel. We don’t do nearly as much now that we used to, but anytime we can get a day trip (in), we try to.

Have you had a defining personal moment?
There is certainly something that made me think about life differently. When my son was born, leading up, it was all remodeling the room, and we had checklists of things we had to do, and it was a rigid process. We had to do so many tasks before we got to the hospital. Oddly enough, the night before Andrew was born, my wife checked the last thing off her list. Andrew was born the next day; there were all these emotions and hype. The day we went home, we walked out of the hospital, and we had Andrew in hand. The doors shut, and we got in the car. I looked at Abby and said, “We came as two, and we’re leaving as a family.” It was this overwhelming moment and realizing we were responsible for a child. I’ll never forget the moment we pulled out of the parking lot and left the hospital plus one.

Fun fact?
Abby and I started going to school together in seventh grade. In high school, both of us were involved with the plays. We dated for a week during one of the plays. I (sarcastically) say that she’s been chasing me ever since. We went separate ways and didn’t reconnect until we moved home. When we went on our first date, I told her the two things I remembered from dating her were the pancakes she made with her grandma and her favorite ice cream. To this day, 10 years into our relationship, we make those pancakes every weekend and have ice cream almost every night.

The final word is yours…
If there’s any takeaway, my family is by far the most important thing in my life. Both (Abby and I) come from fairly sizable families and are very close to our families. That’s why we moved home. I left what was a great career, and Abby was a scuba-diving instructor in Hawaii and Jamaica, and we came back to NEPA. We both left good careers and completely started over. We have a handful of friends who we regularly see; I think it’s the NEPA-ian way. As far as the business end of things, it’s new, so I want to make a name for what it is and I want it to remain fun in two respects: one, it doesn’t get overwhelming and (I) let it evolve into whatever it’s going to be; and two, that it remains fresh and there are new things and customers driving me to be better at the craft.

For more information about DF Custom Concepts visit Don’s website: facebook.com/DFCustomConcepts/

Up Close & Personal – Tyler Dempsey

Up Close & Personal – Tyler Dempsey

Tyler Dempsey is a professional drummer and drum instructor who gives lessons out of his home and at private studios in Wilkes-Barre and Moscow. He is the house drummer at the Deerhead Inn in Delaware Water Gap; weekend drummer at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse at Mohegan Sun Pocono, Plains Twp.; and plays every other Monday with his trio at Crotti’s on Ash, Scranton. He is a graduate of Abington Heights High School, earned a liberal arts degree from Penn State University and studied jazz performance at New Jersey City University. He lives in Clarks Summit with his dog, Finley.

Meet Tyler Dempsey…

How did you get started playing drums?
My cousin Corey gave me my first pair of drumsticks. I really looked up to him, and I saw him playing. He was a huge inspiration, and I wanted to be just like him. His brother Todd gave me my first drum set, so it was the cousin connection that got me started. I was probably 7 or 8 years old.

Given your age, what interested you in jazz as opposed to mainstream pop music?
Corey gave me a Buddy Rich CD. I had been listening to pop music before that. I remember him giving me the CD and specifically thinking I want to do this for the rest of my life. I do like other types of music as well. I play with some indie rock groups and a country group, but I love jazz. It’s really expressive music, and I like the improvisational aspect of it.

What about hearing the jazz music for the first time made you want to make music a career?
The recording that I referenced, something about the excitement and the power of hearing a big band really got me going. The idea of being a musician as a professional came a little later on. I saw other musicians that I looked up to and mentors and teachers of mine, and I just liked their lifestyle. I liked the freedom of being a musician, having some days free and a flexible schedule. I also liked the travel of it. I think it was the mentors and teachers that I was around that got me hooked on being a professional.

Where is the coolest place you’ve traveled to play music?
I subbed on an 80-day tour for about a month. We drove from Scranton to Texas to California and back. We got to see a lot of the country, and there were some really cool spots in California that we played. That was a jazz tour, but we played in venues that Jay Leno has played and other bigger venues, so it was really cool.

What groups do you perform with?
Recently I joined a group called Lewis & Clarke; they’re an Indie band led by Lou Rogai. He heard me at the Deerhead Inn and decided he really wanted jazz musicians to try playing his music. I also play with a band called Porter and Sayles, and that was through the jazz connection as well. Now I’m leading my own trio at Crotti’s on Ash. That’s more of an electric jazz thing, which isn’t done too often around here. There’s a guy named Matt Vashlishan who plays ewi, which is an electric wind instrument, so that’s kind of a rarity. I have Joe Michaels on bass and myself on drums, and we play a lot of original music. That’s been kind of pushing the limits of the type of music going on around here.

What is your favorite part about being a drum teacher?
I like the problem-solving aspect of it and seeing issues that students have and trying to figure out the best way to address it. I end up learning more about what’s going on and look at things in more depth to uncover what’s happening. If I wasn’t teaching, I’d probably be doing things in drumming and not think about what it is and how to explain it, and the teaching brings that out of me. I have to think more analytically.

What is something performing has taught you that you try to teach your students?
I’ve been told before that your job as a sideman or a drummer in general is to make everybody else sound good. So being a team player and just to make it like we’re playing music, not working music. It should be fun and engaging for everyone.

How did performing lead you to teaching?
I took a bunch of lessons over the years, so I was surrounded with different teachers. I kind of picked up on their teaching styles and different ways of doing things. It was always an interest of mine to share things with other people.

Do you play any other instruments?
In high school, I tried to take advantage of as many musical opportunities as possible. I did band, orchestra, choir and music theory. I was a bass in the choir and played the upright bass in the orchestra. I also took piano lessons in high school. I still fool around with the piano and bass a little bit, mostly to try to write music and improvise rather than to write actual songs.

What led you to stick with drums?
It was that initial attraction. Even though there are other cool instruments and I have fun playing them, the drums have been unwavering. I don’t know what it is about the drums, but I just know that I like being in the driver’s seat. A lot of people describe playing the drums as driving the boat or the bus; you have a lot of responsibilities, and it’s kind of an important job to be a drummer in a band, and I like that drummer.

What are your hobbies and interests outside of music?
I really enjoy fitness. I like going for runs and going to the gym. I have a puppy named Finley. We spend a lot of time together. I like taking him for walks and playing with him. I enjoy exercising and would love to run a half marathon or full marathon some day, but that’s a huge undertaking.

Have you had a time or moment in your life that helped shaped you into who you are today?
In terms of music, I was asked to do a high-profile gig, and I got fired before the show. It wasn’t in a nasty way, but (they decided) to use somebody else, and that was a real hit to my ego. That was kind of a turning point, and I realized there’s a level of preparation for every situation. I’m not always going to be the best guy for every situation, and there are of course people who do things better.

To follow updates about Tyler’s upcoming shows or book drum lessons, visit his Facebook page  or website tylerdempseymusic.com

Photos by Emma Black



Up Close & Personal – Melissa Carestia

Up Close & Personal – Melissa Carestia

Melissa Carestia is an art enthusiast working to grow the Scranton arts community. A native of Leonardo, New Jersey, she graduated from Keystone College with a degree in visual art and concentrations in photography, print making and book arts, and she is pursuing a master’s degree in arts administration from Drexel University. She is employed by AFA Gallery, Scranton, and sits on the board of Scranton Fringe Festival. In her spare time, you most likely can find her baking, hiking or having fun at a dance party. She lives in Scranton with her boyfriend.

Meet Melissa Carestia…

Talk about your role at the AFA Gallery. 
I’m the gallery coordinator. I’m here part-time, and I’m the only employee. I work with artists who are exhibiting (and) manage volunteers. I’m the public face, and I talk to people. I do outreach and plan monthly rotating exhibitions as well. 

What made you so passionate about art?
When I was a kid, I would always steal my parents’ camera and take pictures around the house. From there it spiraled. In high school, I was the kid who always had a disposable camera. It was something that I knew I wanted to continue doing. When I was looking at colleges, it was a no-brainer I wanted to go for photography. After college when I was looking for jobs, I realized I didn’t want to be making art for people as a living. I would rather have my art in my own time, but I want to help other people who want to make a living with their art. I feel like getting into arts administration was finding my calling. I’m also starting to get into arts advocacy work. If I don’t pursue that as a full-time career, being an advocate is always going to be a hobby of mine.

What specifically do you advocate for in the arts?
Part of it is education to the public, lawmakers. … It’s to help show the importance of arts and what they can do for people. There are a lot of things with the new tax reform that affect artists, so (I can be) advocating to have those lawmakers make sure that people such as art teachers who buy their own supplies are able to write that off in their taxes. Whether it’s art in health, education or the economy, you can find something to advocate for.

What type of art do you enjoy doing most?
I love to go out and take photographs. Anything I can do with my hands, so crocheting (too). I was getting into making paper collages at one point, and that was very methodical. I love learning new skill sets because I think you can apply that knowledge to other things like problem-solving.

Who is your favorite artist?
Ansel Adams is hands-down my favorite photographer of all time. His work speaks so much and is so beautiful. He really captured the landscape of America and helped conserve it. I love his work. I love (Edgar) Degas. The way he captured light; he and other impressionists were really inspired by photography, and you can see that through their work. I’m also super-obsessed with Nan Goldin and her “Ballad of Sexual Dependency.” It was amazing to see her prints in person.

Why do you enjoy supporting local art?
People are making great stuff. Old masters and things like the Impressionists, those are beautiful images that mean so much. People who are working locally and trying to make a living by selling their artwork are doing great stuff, too. We have an ample amount of talent in this area, and a lot of them are selling stuff for really affordable prices. Art is an investment, and it’s valuable, but if you don’t love it, why have it? Some of my favorite work is done by my friends.

Are there any upcoming events we should look out for at the AFA Gallery?
This is AFA’s 30th-year anniversary. The organization was created in 1988. We have some plans in the works. Sept. 1, we’re going to have an anniversary party here, and it’s going to coincide with our Founders Exhibition. An exhibition on the first floor will highlight our founding members, and then on the second floor will be the friends and active volunteers, so it will be founders and friends. There is also something very special in the works for October, so stay tuned for that.

With First Friday coming up, what type of work will we see on display at the next exhibit?
(This) month is always my favorite. It’s the member show. Twice a year, (AFA) members can exhibit work with us. It’ll be opening May 4. It’s going to be a sampling of what is currently being made in NEPA. You’re going to be able to see all different mediums with all different themes. It’s really eclectic and nice. It’s nice to see what local people are doing. You have people who do traditional oil landscapes, but you also have people who do found-object sculpture. 

What is your involvement with the Scranton Fringe Festival?
I sit on their board of directors. I also run their visual fringe, which is the visual art portion of the festival, and I sit on the programming committee, and we put together the schedule. The Scranton Story Slam is part of the Fringe Festival, too. I’m not heavily involved with that, but we do good stuff. We’re having our first story slam on May 12 at the Scranton Cultural Center, and I’m really looking forward to it.

Have you had a moment in your life that helped shape you into who you are today?
Getting that camera in my hand. I feel like if I didn’t do that when I was little, I don’t know what I’d be doing now. I had such an interest in image making and capturing moments that it has really spiraled into what my life is, and I love everything that I do, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. There’s this one picture, I must be 5 or 6, and my parents have this really large mirror in their house, and it’s me taking a picture of myself. Retrospectively, it’s so artsy; it was just me and something to take a picture of in that moment.


To learn more about the AFA Gallery or become a member visit the AFA Gallery’s website