Up Close & Personal – Erika Dutka

Up Close & Personal – Erika Dutka

Erika Dutka is an Archbald native who recently moved back home after living and working in Philadelphia. She attended Valley View High School and later earned a GED. She is a bartender at Barret’s Pub in Archbald and is thrilled to be back home. She gives credit to her daughter, Moira, 3, whose birth she says really grounded her.

Meet Erika Dutka…

Q: What do you enjoy most about bartending at Barrett’s?
A: I love my coworkers because they have all been there so long. Some of them even waited on me when I was little, so it’s nice we are a family. Also we get a ton of regulars who come in all the time. They know you, your kids, your mom and grandparents. If I work five days a week, I see them every day. They keep us going and are so friendly.

Q: You are primarily a bartender but have many other roles. Describe some of your other roles.
A: I waitress. I also do all the menus with hand stamping and run our social media accounts. I’ll hand-write or hand-draw things or design them on the computer. I feel like when you’re a local spot, you should have special things that you put your work into. I recently drew slime on the menu for Halloween to add touches and make it personal. I’ll decorate here and style the chalkboards if people are having parties.

Q: Describe your perfect drink. 

A: My perfect drink is definitely seasonal. It’s beautiful, decently priced and packs a punch so you don’t feel like you’re getting ripped off. I would want a nice warm apple flavor with a little bit of cinnamon, a lot of booze and a nice after-bite.

Q: What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned through the work you do?
A: Definitely teamwork makes the dream work. You have to work as a team with everyone involved and make it work no matter how you feel about certain people. That doesn’t mean just the front of the house, it means the back of the house, understanding the kitchen and the customers, and everything in between. I love bussing tables or doing whatever I need to do to help someone else. When it’s busy and everyone is working, you are just like a well-oiled machine, and those are the nights you are most proud and gain from the most.

Q: What do you enjoy doing when you’re not bartending?
A: I love doing stuff with my daughter. We go to the park a lot and for walks. I love to just do little things with her and pull her in the wagon. I’m with her or my family 100 percent of the time I’m not working.

Q: What is your favorite part about being a mom?
A: At the end of the day, just laying down with her. I love to see her learn and grow. I never want to be away from her. I’m super proud of her. It made me have a realization about life and how to treat others. I’ve learned the value of the time you spend with people you love and helping them learn and be successful.

Q: Talk about your community involvement.
A: My family and staff at Barrett’s help me do Baby Pantry Palooza every year. It benefits St. Joseph’s Baby Pantry in Dunmore. We do raffle baskets. Last year, James Barrett and his dad and friends played music, so it was a big open mic of local artists. We gave away a fire pit, and St. Joseph’s is always very appreciative. When I came back from Philly and had my baby shower, I got so much stuff. I remember thinking, “If I didn’t have this, what would I do?” Nobody should not have what they need.

Q: Have you had a moment or time in your life that helped shape who you are today?
A: Having my daughter definitely changed everything. It was the best thing that ever happened to me. I care so much more about people. I have more compassion, patience, understanding, and I’m so much more appreciative of every second of my life.

Photos by Emma Black

Up Close & Personal – Jeff D’Angelo

Up Close & Personal – Jeff D’Angelo

Jeff D’Angelo had always planned to join his father’s clothing business. The South Scranton native graduated from Scranton Central High School then studied business at Lackawanna College with the intention of one day working for his dad. He did, but he also established Jeff D’Angelo’s Design Group, a “prop shop” where he is the creative artist and owner. He also works for Marywood University as the assistant chief of safety. He has two grown children and lives in the city’s Minooka section with his wife of 37 years, Diane.

Meet Jeff D’Angelo…

Q: Can you describe the work of Jeff D’Angelo’s Design Group? 
A: If I’m doing a theme party, I’ll dress up and bring my actors, and we get the people involved. Part of our job is to get people dancing and make sure they have a good time. I’ll research a theme, I’ll print pictures out and look at them. I now have more than 90 themes and 10,000 props. I’ll make sketches, blow them up, put it on foam, cut it with an old-school handsaw and paint it.

Q: How did you learn about art?
A: I have no art background. I’m all self-taught. I look at different artists to see how they do it, and I try to copy their styles. There was an artist, Jack Davis, he used to work for Mad Magazine. I loved his style. My wife found out where he lived in Georgia and had him send me a birthday card. She said he was really nice. I said I needed to talk to him. I called him up and told him I was a self-taught artist and I asked him questions. He was nice enough to tell me things.

Q: How did you get interested in art, having never had formal training?
A: I always liked to draw even since I was a little kid. Whenever I went to a store and I wanted to buy a game or something, I was always attracted to the box that had artwork on it. I’d play with that toy then look at the box and try to draw what was on it. I used to color in coloring books when I was 4 or 5. I’d go around to my neighbors and rip the pages out and ask them if they wanted to buy them. I thought it was the greatest thing in the world until my mother found out. I just loved art.

Q: What is the most gratifying part about owning the design group?
A: My favorite part is when I take the finished product and people see it for the first time. I love when they say, “I didn’t know you were going to do this. It’s better than I expected.” That, to me, is the greatest compliment. The other thing I like is when people who really can’t afford art want to buy the art. If they can’t afford it and they want to buy something, they really must like it. The average guy who is just making enough money might ask me to paint him something. That’s more important to me than a millionaire asking me to decorate his room.

Q: What hobbies and interests do you have outside the business?
A: I was a golfer back in the day. I was a half-decent golfer. I have not missed a Miami Dolphins game in 13 years. My family and I make sure that wherever we are at that point, that we schedule everything around the game. My daughter, my wife and I, since we’re in Scranton, we meet every Sunday to watch the three-hour game. My son lives in South Carolina. He watches it there. We consider it like a movie because we don’t know how it’s going to end, but it’s full of excitement.

Q: Have you had time in your life that helped shape you into who you are today?
A: People will come over and say they love my stuff. I like just putting smiles on peoples’ faces. My parents taught me to be good to a janitor the way you would to a president. If your grandmother is having a 90th birthday, I’ll put the same blood, sweat and tears into somebody’s million-dollar celebration. I think that’s what shapes my life.

 

Photos by Emma Black

Up Close & Personal – Lindsay Barrasse

Up Close & Personal – Lindsay Barrasse

Lindsay Barrasse has done a bit of everything. She owns and operates Voyager, a video production company she started with her husband, Dave. She also is the founder of Zen-Doh, teaches yoga and recently self-published a book, “Graffiti d’Italia.” She is a graduate of Bishop O’Hara High School and Keystone College, where she earned a degree in fine arts. She lives in Scranton’s Green Ridge section with her husband.

Meet Lindsay Barrasse…

Q: You have a little bit of everything going on in your life. What is your current focus?
A: My husband and I own a video production company, Voyager. We work together on projects of all spectrums. We travel to New York, New Jersey, and we were recently in Arkansas. I also found so much help with yoga in my life, and I now teach it. I wanted to learn why it is so healing physically and mentally and more about the stretches. It just comes so natural now, and I love teaching it.

Q: What is the concept behind Zen-Doh? 
A: Zen-Doh is an aroma-therapeutic play-dough infused with essential oils. It’s in between a putty and a play dough. I make it at home with all-natural ingredients. It’s like a science experiment, because I have to add things at certain times. It’s a stress-relief toy. You can play with it and mold it and twist it in your hand. Just the act of doing that, even without any smell, relieves stress by sending neurotransmitters to the brain.

Q: How did Zen-Doh come about?

A: My husband and I were in a car accident the day after our wedding party. I had to go to physical therapy where I had to mold and manipulate putty. I didn’t like the way the play dough smelled. My sister got me scented play dough, but the fragrance was overpowering. I thought, “I wonder if I can make something and use the oils I had at home, because they smelled so much better and they were natural.” My first batch came out awesome.

Q: What can people expect in your recent self-published book?
A: My husband and I went to Italy in July. I’ve wanted to see the Colosseum for as long as I can remember. We went to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, and I took this photo of (a piece of art of a woman, which is on the front cover of my book). I looked at the photo, and I looked at the wall, and I said to my husband, “I’m going to do a book.” I just wanted to document everything from Florence to Rome and Venice, Naples and Pompeii. Art is everything. I love books and having a tangible object in my hands, and they last the test of time.

Q: Tell me about your upcoming show, “Make Your Own Damn Sandwich” in the Scranton Fringe Festival.
A: I’ve worked with an improv group, Here We Are in Spain. I performed with them last year in the Fringe Festival. I decided I wanted to get an all-female improv group. The show is going to be hilarious. It’s just comedy. It’s half-scripted, half-improv. We have a “Game of Thrones” sketch in there and a lot more. We are having so much fun with it.

Q: What is it like to be an improv performer?
A: I love it. I prefer improv or unscripted material. With improv, you get one shot; you have to think on your feet. It’s not about being funny as much as it’s about being honest. If you try to be funny, you’re not going to be funny. If you’re honest, you can be funny.

Barrasse’s show “Make Your Own Damn Sandwich” will be performed at 518 Lackawanna Ave., Scranton, on Saturday, Sept. 29 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Sept. 30 at 3:30 p.m.

Her book, “Graffiti d’Italia” can be pre-ordered through her Indie Go Go campaign here. Individual prints can also be purchased. The money will support her art efforts throughout Scranton and beyond. 

Photos by Emma Black

Up Close and Personal – Melanie DePietro

Up Close and Personal – Melanie DePietro

Scranton native Melanie DePietro is an art instructor at Eclectic City Studio in Scranton. Eclectic City Studio, owned by designer Jeff D’Angelo, features four artists, including DePietro, each of whom teach workshops in their niche. She found a home to display and teach art there after D’Angelo discovered her artwork online. DiPietro teaches glass painting and also is the designer, artist and founder of Painted Wine Glasses by Melanie. She lives in Scranton with her husband, Scott; children, Nicholas, 20; Colette, 16; Maximilian, 9; and Scotty, 7; and their dog, Jolie.

Meet Melanie DePietro…

Q: Tell me a little about yourself.
A: I am 43 years old. I’m a mom of four, sometimes six. My husband and I have six kids, two his, two mine and two ours. We have a big family. The youngest is 7, and the oldest is 20. I was born and raised in Scranton. I graduated from West Scranton High School. I went to the University of Scranton for a few years and eventually graduated from Wilkes University. My bachelor’s degree is in psychology; however, I have a minor and focus in studio art and art history.

Q: How did you end up doing art after studying psychology?
A: I’ve liked art my whole life. I’ve been painting and drawing since I was a little girl. I went into the psychology field because my oldest son was diagnosed with autism. I got interested in that field and started researching that. I was a stay-at-home mom for about seven years. I can’t just stay at home; I always have to do things. It was during that time that I went back to school and finished my degree at Wilkes. I just finished my degree in 2016. I started doing art and creating again. A good friend of mine, she and I wanted to do a fundaraiser. She said painting on glass was really big. I just got really into it and became obsessed. I posted a few pictures on my Facebook page, and it just took off from there. Jeff D’Angelo saw my page and said he needed some people to paint in his studio. He paints and stencils giant props. Working with him has enabled me to network a lot and meet a lot of new people. I’ve been able to get into the Eclectic City Studio and work with other great artists.

Q: What types of designs do you paint on glasses?
A: I do a range of things. Dog portraits, cat portraits. I’ve recently done a llama and a goat. Some people want something commemorative. I can do lettering by hand. Some people like glitter. Sometimes people will give me a picture and tell me what they want.

Q: What message do you hope to spread by doing art?
A: A lot of people will ask me to paint their dog that just passed away. Anybody can get a picture and have it printed on a glass. When you get an artist to paint your pet, it’s coming from them, it’s unique, and it’s their perspective of what the animal looks like. People really go for that.

Q: What types of art classes do you teach?
A: I’ve been teaching art workshops for about two years. We do paint and sip, usually BYOB or BYOW. Classes are anywhere between 10 to 60 people. A lot of the paint nights are fundraisers. It’s a nice, fun way to get people together and do creative things. A lot of times, people will get intimidated. I’ll show them the glass, and they say, “I can’t paint that.” I break it down step-by-step and show them how.

Q: What is your favorite part about teaching?

A: I feel like I am putting on a performance when I teach, but I’m sharing my talent and breaking it down. I love when people come in and feel challenged. They are intimidated about it at first. They walk out with a big smile and say, “Look what you helped me do.” Everyone’s piece will be similar but different in its own way, and you want it like that because it’s your own. Being able to create, share and teach something I love has made me feel like I’ve finally achieved my dream.

Q: What artists are you inspired by?
A: I am inspired by the classics. I don’t know if it inspires my style of the way I paint, but I have a deep respect for Monet, Michelangelo, da Vinci. I just love the classic style.

Q: Can you describe your lifestyle outside of art?
A: My kids are in soccer. My one son plays guitar. There is always someone playing music in the house. My daughter plays basketball. It is crazy and chaotic. Sometimes it’s difficult to fit my part-time art in there, but I prioritize it and make time for it. Doing art is my time, and I love to do it.

Q: What other hobbies and interests do you have?
A: We have a boat at the lake, so we like to do boating. I love the beach; we try to go every year. We try to do family things.

Q: What is something that most people don’t know about you?
A: I have a lucky apron that I wear to teach my art classes. I found it at a yard sale. It has a picture of Michelangelo’s “David” on it. I kind of use it as an ice breaker at the beginning of classes. I censored it with a little leaf. Another thing is that one of my weird talents is I can look at colors and I know right off the bat what to mix to recreate the color with paint. I absolutely love the artist Prince. I’ve loved him since the fourth grade. I was about 9 years old when my Prince obsession started. I often listen to his music while I paint.

Q: Have you had a moment or time in your life that helped shape you into who you are today?
A: When I was a single mom for a while, it was very difficult. It was challenging. I always wanted to do something that was for me to try and (get) a little extra spending money. I was proud to be able to develop something that came from me. It didn’t come from anybody else. I was able to show my children that if there is something that you like to do, just do it.

Photos by Emma Black

Up Close & Personal – Krista Kalamity

Up Close & Personal – Krista Kalamity

Krista Kalamity is a face and body artist who owns and operates Transmogrification Station. A native of Peckville, she graduated from Scranton High School and lives in Scranton with her son, Casper, 15, and flame point Siamese cat, Spaceghost.

Meet Krista Kalamity…

How did you get into art?
In grade school, the art teachers at Valley View were amazing. I’ve always loved colors and the fact that I can have an imagination. Cartoons were always my favorite thing. When I found out I could watch cartoons on TV and draw them at the same time, I thought that was amazing. Probably my start came from watching cartoons.

What other types of art do you enjoy?
I love watercolor. I’m not the best at it, but I have a lot of fun with the different colors you can come up with and blending one color into another. I also love chalk art. I was working at the Keys on Penn Avenue. There is a chalk board on the wall, and every week I would do up the menu with different designs. I also do embroidery and sewing. My grandmother taught me to sew when I was younger, so I kind of dabble into a lot of different things.

Of all the arts you’ve tried, how did you end up as a face and body painter?
In high school, I would always draw on my hands and arms. One thing I always wanted to do was get into tattooing. I never had the money for an apprenticeship, because to get a really good person teaching you is a couple thousand dollars. My mentor, her name is Rachel; I met her about 10 years ago. She was doing face painting. We ended up just clicking, and she asked me if I wanted to do face painting. It was the next best thing to tattooing, plus, unlike tattooing where you have to be 18 or older, little kids can get it done too.

How did you come up with your business name, Transmogrification Station?
I was trying to come up with a magical, shape-shifting type of persona. I asked some friends. My buddy Rob came up with Transmogrification Station. There was an old comic from Calvin and Hobbes where he’d go into a cardboard box that was called a transmogrifier. He’d walk in and turn into something else. Even though it’s a mouthful, it’s fun to hear kids say. It definitely fit what I was going for.

What is Transmogrification Station’s motto?
My motto is “face painting and body art for all kids at heart.” Young or old, anybody can do it.

What is your favorite part about your job?
All the different things I can come up with. I had a party a few weeks ago at Nay Aug Park. There was an old man sitting in my chair, and he told stories about Nay Aug and how he used to live here. He said he wanted a frog leaping over his head with lily pads and the sun. The things people come up with on a whim, I can paint. I love being able to put someone’s idea and thought on their skin in a way they can see it.

If you could give advice to an up-and-coming face and body artist, what would you say?
If you see my setup, all the paint that I have is for the skin. It’s makeup that’s made for your skin. There are some artists who do amazing work but use sharpies. You can break out. Some people use acrylics that have metals. You never want to use acrylics. You want something that’s going to be safe, especially with kids, who can break out so easily. If anybody wants to get into it, spend the money on the right stuff.

What inspires your designs?
A lot of different cartoon artists and other face painters inspire me. The face-painting community is great. We’re all about sharing designs. If somebody comes up with a design that’s quick for a kid who doesn’t want to sit still, we’re allowed to use it as long as we credit them.

What are some misconceptions about body paint?
I think a huge misconception in the body art world is that you don’t have to be completely, physically fit. You don’t have to have the biggest breasts or tightest butt, and it still makes you feel good about yourself no matter what. Another big thing is people think, “Oh, you’re nude. You’re such a terrible person for posing nude.” It should be about the art aspect, not what you’re looking at underneath. We just want to have fun and show off what we’re capable of as artists without people thinking it’s a sexual thing.

You put in so much time to art, but it is temporary. Why do you enjoy that aspect, i.e. body art, which comes off in the shower, and chalk art, which washes away.
I’ve thought about this so many times. The thing that drew me to being a tattoo artist, when I was younger, was that my art would be on somebody for the rest of their life. That’s an honor to come up with a piece for somebody. Through the years as I really thought about it, there are so many people who regret getting a tattoo even though they were so set on it. I kind of like doing something that’s temporary. It’s in the moment; it’s right here and now. I’ve painted on my legs so many times. I can wash it off and start again. One week they’ll think something looks awesome and it’s so cool, but the next week they’ll think something else is more awesome.

What is your favorite part about being a mom?
My son, Casper, and art are the two things that keep me going. If I have the worst day, he’ll come over and hug me and say, “Hey mom, what do you need?” He’s one of my best friends. We talk about everything, and we’re super honest with each other. He is a great kid, likes video games, plays music, he sings and does sports. He is very well-rounded.

What other hobbies do you have?
I love to hike and camp. Ever since I was 8 or 10 years old, my parents would take me camping for a week each summer. I played in the river and waterfalls. Nature is a huge thing for me.

Have you had a defining time or moment in your life that helped shape you into who you are today?
Having my son. I used to skip school. I wasn’t a terrible delinquent, but I had my son at a young age of 18. I decided to step into the role. We do so many things together, and he really grounded me. I’m a kid at heart, but I have to be an adult for him.

 

Photos by Emma Black

Up Close & Personal – Jesse Mower

Up Close & Personal – Jesse Mower

Jesse Mower is a Carbondale native and lead vocalist and guitar player for band Static in the Attic. He graduated from Luzerne County Community College with a degree in music technology. He is employed by Gentex Corp., a helmet manufacturer, in Carbondale.

Meet Jesse Mower…

What is your musical background?
In high school, I was in the marching band. I had the cape and all of that. I started on the drums, which I think helped me a lot with rhythm. When I finally started learning guitar, it was easier to get rhythm down. I was 13 when I got my first guitar. I got it from a buddy, and I just kind of sat on it for a long time.

How did you become the vocalist for Static in the Attic?
It was so bad at first. We were trying to get a singer when we were younger. We were around 16 when we started the band. We realized we all suck at singing, but someone had to do it. I just tried to do it. I never really had lessons, but I should have, I think.

How did Static in the Attic form?
We were all in high school together. Our drummer, Jules Borosky, and I would stay after school with the band director. We asked if we could stay after and jam. It was really weird (and) bad at first because it was just guitar and drums, and we didn’t know what we were doing. Eventually we got more buddies to join. We got Tom Murray, who now plays bass. We didn’t get any gigs for a long time because we were little. We played in some bars when we were younger, which was good because we learned how we had to handle ourselves as we got older. Now we are a three-piece (group). We do the power trio thing. We are trying to play more and record stuff.

Have you also performed as a solo artist?
It was all band at first. I never really did any solo stuff, but now I am trying to get into it. I’m very bad at it, too. It’s much easier to sit in front of two people, and I don’t have to do it all. There’s a lot that goes into getting a set list and picking good songs and getting the full-time musician thing going. I think I like the band more. It’s easier to rely on them. I am starting out doing solo gigs.

What is something you’ve learned in your recent time as a solo performer that is different than being in the band?
You can’t guitar solo as much. That was the most depressing part. But the voice is a lot more important too. Instead of doing a guitar solo for a part, I’ll try to sing it. It’s a lot more work on the voice. You have to take a different approach. It’s cool to figure out songs that don’t work acoustic and figure out a way to do it. It doesn’t always work, but it’s fun to try.

Who are your musical inspirations?
I gotta say Jimi Hendricks, just like every guitar player. I was big into Paul Gilbert, who is a shred metal kind of guy. The technical ability always got me. I love those kind of guys. Guthri Govn is another one. Buddy Guy is also my guy.

Can you describe your style as a musician?
It’s deep-rooted, but I like going fast. It’s a bit of a mix. With the band, we aren’t really a blues band. It’s more funk, rock, blues. I played with the Soul Shakers for a while. They were really a blues bands. They did some funk and stuff too. It was cool to be able to play traditional blues. I love the blues rock kind of thing and guitar solos. I love the jam band kind thing too.

What is the band’s style?
The power trio is awesome. Tom will be driving the bus. We do a lot of improvs, which is the best part. It’s cool because him and Jules drive it and I just bounce off them. We always look at each other and dance at each other. The blues part comes from me I think. They were never really into the blues much until we started playing together. Jules is like a rock punk drummer. She does it all. Tom is the oldest; he’s 24, and Jules and I are 22.

Being so young, what part of being a musician do you feel you display extra maturity in?
Jules’ parents are in a band, so we would always practice in her basement. That was cool because we got to learn what to do and what not to do. That was helpful and a big part. It was really great to have someone to help us learn how to act. We do blues jams. The first time I was invited, I took my guitar. People see a kid come on stage and think this kid doesn’t know how to play the blues. It’s cool to get through tests like that and prove yourself. The best thing about being so young is we have so much time to grow.

How did you first get interested in music?
My folks were really big into music. They love concerts. I remember playing “Guitar Hero.” I was really into it. My sister had a little, cheap guitar with missing strings. I wanted to try it. I also watched old rock videos on YouTube. It’s weird being able to have YouTube; it’s like cheating because I don’t have to buy records.

Talent aside, what would you be doing if you weren’t playing music?
I’d probably try to get a studio or work in a studio where I could bring artists in, record bands and make albums for them. I’d also mix their tracks and put them together. I’d like to get into that or maybe cooking.

What other hobbies or interests do you have?
Cooking, but I’m probably not very good at it. I love video games.

If you could perform alongside any musician living or dead, who would it be and why?
I’d say Jimi Hendricks so I could steal his mojo. It’s cool to be around other players who you can sponge up what they’re doing and add it to your repertoire.

What is your favorite part about being a performer?
I geek out about all of it. When you have a good crowd and they’re in it, the connection. There’s nothing like looking out and seeing someone who’s so into it. It makes it seem like everyone together is making it happen. If you have a less-enthusiastic crowd, the show is going to be less enthusiastic. Luckily we don’t have too many of those.

What is something that most people don’t know about you?
I bet a lot of people don’t know I have really long hair, because I wear a hat all the time. My hair would stick to my face and I wouldn’t be able to perform.

Have you have a defining moment or time in your life?
One of the big things that helped me as a musician when I was younger is that so much stuff was gifted to me by friends and family. The amp that I play through was given to me. I am way lucky. I don’t know if I deserved it, but that helped so much. I am just grateful for the music and the stuff and to be able to do it. I can’t wait to be able to give a guitar to someone and help out.

Do you have anything you’d like to add?
We are coming out with a live album soon. It will probably be an EP with five to eight songs. We did a show at Mountain Sky, and it was recorded. We are happy to have some newer stuff, since we’ve grown as a group. It will be our first album as the current three-piece. It will have a lot of new flavors. It’s energetic blues rock. It’s pretty upbeat; there’s a lot of improvisation. That’s why we wanted to do the live thing. Even in the studio, we want to do it live because that’s our mojo. It’s hard to do it piece by piece, and we have so much fun being together. It will hopefully be out by the end of the year.

Photos by Emma Black

Up Close & Personal – Mark Lucchi

Up Close & Personal – Mark Lucchi

Mark Lucchi owns and operates Lucchi Family Wine Cellars in Scranton, but he considers his business to be more of a means to form and maintain friendships and enjoy camaraderie than a money maker. While he credits his loyal customers for helping allow him to do what he loves, he likes to think of them more as family. He also works for the City of Scranton Department of Public Works. He is a 1988 graduate of Scranton Technical High School and studied radiology at Johnson College. He lives in Scranton.

Meet Mark Lucchi…

What is your role at the Department of Public Works?
I do whatever they need me to do. It can be anything from patching potholes to driving a garbage truck, plowing roads, cleaning storm drains — basically we do it all. My official title is pack master operator.

How long have you been making wine?
I’m a third-generation wine maker. As a hobby, I started making my own wine with my dad. I’ve been making wine about 20 years, but my dad is 80 and he’s been making wine with his father since he was about 4 or 5 years old. My dad made wine his whole life, and I always helped him pick grapes. At Christmas dinner, we’d toast, and I said, “Pop, this wine is pretty good.” And he said that was the stuff from the yard.

How did your hobby become a business?
It’s labor-intensive and costly to make wine. We were making wine and giving it away. It began to get very expensive, and we couldn’t just keep giving it away. People liked our product, and we started making wine for other people. In 2013, I licensed my wines through the state Liquor Control Board and federal government. We became a licensed winery. It went from a hobby to a business and, knock on wood, I am blessed.

Can you describe the labor-intensive wine-making process?
Back in the day, with my dad, we hand-picked the grapes then washed them, de-stemmed them, ran them through the grinder — everything was manual. Now we have machinery doing it. Technology has advanced so much that we’re able to eliminate the grinding and pressing of the past. We can get juice shipped in. Our Pennsylvania products we still grind and press. We get five or six people together and go out there, and it’s all about the camaraderie. We’ll go out and just work eight hours.

What does it mean to do the wine-making around your friends and family?
I am blessed. My parents are 80 years old and relatively still healthy. My dad instilled a very good work ethic in me. It’s a laughing and joking atmosphere. Even though it’s a lot of labor, when our friends come over and enjoy a glass of wine, that pays for itself right there. We get buddies who come over and help us out, and I have employees who give us a hand. We are really family-oriented. Unfortunately I never got to meet my grandfather Mario. You can find my dad, Robert and my mom, Mary, they come with me to events (to vend). My mom will be out, and someone will say “Hey, Mrs. Lucchi, how are you doing?” She doesn’t know them, but they say, “We’ve seen you at the farmer’s market or festival, and we bought wine from you.” Sometimes people we don’t know will come in and have a glass of wine or two, and by the time they leave, they feel like family. My greatest reward is when people send us a nice review or positive feedback. We strive to treat everybody with respect.

You mentioned there is a great camaraderie among not only you and your family and employees but also among other local wine makers?
We buy local as much as we can and we support each other, even the wineries here. Sal Maiolatessi is one of my dear friends. We just all sat down in February and formed Lackawanna Wine Trail with the local wineries. When I was going through the licensing process, Sal was helping me constantly because he already did it. Now, a buddy of mine is opening a winery in Taylor, and I’m helping him. We all work together. Everybody thinks it’s a competition, but we all have our own niche. We’re constantly on the phone with each other. If there’s an event or someone is organizing a bus trip, we help each other out. I don’t know how the other small businesses are, but this is very unique, and that’s what I love about it. We all go to these festivals and work together. If somebody hears of something going on that could benefit all of us, we reach out to each other. Nobody wants to see anybody hurt.

Some of your wines have creative names. Where do the names come from?
We’ll be down in the wine cellar like mad scientists blending wines together. We come up with different names. Sweet Mary Rose is a Concord Catawba. I named that after my mom. Her name is Mary Rose, and it’s a sweet wine, so we call it Sweet Mary Rose. We have a lot of fun with these wines. A lot of people get a kick out of our names, like the Sexy Sisters wine, (which) is a Niagara Cayuga that blends two sister grapes. Another is Sweet Trouble. It’s sweet, and if you drink enough, it’s going to get you in trouble. People love that, and we interact with them and joke with them at the festivals. They laugh at all the names, and we love to have fun with them.

What is your favorite wine either to make or drink, and why?
It’s funny, I still drink beer. I never really drank wine until 20 years ago. I guess my palette has changed. Seventy-five percent of the wines we sell are sweet; now I enjoy drier wines. I like a nice pinot noir. That’s one of my favorites.

Outside of the business, what are your hobbies or interests?
I enjoy hunting and anything involving nature. Whether it’s walking by Nay Aug gorge and sitting by the falls, I just love the tranquility and peacefulness, or boating at Lake Wallenpaupack. I don’t have the time like I used to. Right now, hunting season is starting, but it’s also harvest season. I work full-time, and this is easily a full-time job too. I love anything by the water or outdoors. I ice fish a bit during the winter. The winter months are a little slower in the wine industry, so I get out with my guys and go ice fishing. One thing with the wine, it dictates to you when it’s ready. You can’t say, “Oh, I’ll get it next week.”

What is something most people don’t know about you?
I’m petrified of heights. On ladders and roofs, I get crazy. As big as I am, I’m a little baby when it comes to heights.

Have you had a moment or time in your life that helped shape you into who you are today?
I lost a dear friend. We all think we’re going to live forever, but life can change in the drop of a dime. I get up every day and thank God that I’m able to get out of bed. That opened my eyes. I try to do something good every day for somebody else, whether it’s buying somebody a coffee at the drive-through or telling someone they look nice today. I always say if we all took our own problems and threw them in a pile and saw everybody else’s, we’d want our own back.

Photos by Emma Black

Up Close & Personal – Diksha Dosaya

Up Close & Personal – Diksha Dosaya

Diksha Dosaya, a henna tattoo artist who owns Heena Tattoo in Dunmore, brings aspects of her native Indian culture to Scranton. She and her sisters have practiced the art of henna together for as long as she can remember. She earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in business administration from University of Rajasthan in India. Dosaya moved to the United States from India 10 years ago when her husband, Dr. Rajiv Bansal, started his residency following medical school. They have a 3-year-old son, Vihaan, and live in Dunmore.

Meet Diksha Dosaya…

Can you talk about the traditional aspect of henna?
It’s very auspicious. If there is a wedding or festival, we have to put it on. It’s very lucky. Before marriage, you have to put on henna tattoos. They say that if the color of henna gets dark, your husband loves you; that’s just a saying. We grew up doing henna tattoos at home in India. It’s natural and comes from henna plant. We bring the leaves, dry them and make a light green powder. We put water, lemon and a little sugar in the paste to make the color a little darker, then you have to let it sit 12 to 24 hours. We make cones and put the henna paste in it, then seal it. Then you can make your own designs.

How have you expanded your henna art?
I was on an H4 visa, so I could not work. I was practicing because this is my hobby, and I love to do this. I enjoy putting henna on my hands and feet, especially when I get bored. In 2014, I got my visa so I could work. Some of my friends have a yoga studio (and) asked me to come do henna for their clients. I also take appointments to do henna.

What made you want to grow Indian culture in Scranton?
I like it here. I like the people. They are so nice and know so many things about India. They know about henna tattoos. When people see me, some say my henna is very nice and ask how I got it. One of my friends arranged to find some clients for me. I went to do the henna, and they were so happy. I love to do the henna, and I want people to know more about it.

What else do you want people to know about henna?
Different types of tattoos are well-known, so why not henna? It is temporary. There is no chemical in it. It comes from natural plants, and if you don’t like the design, it will go away in 15 days. If you want a certain design, then 15 to 20 days later you want a different design, you can change it. I want to show people we can do this type of body art. There are no needles, and it’s pure organic. Henna can also have a cooling and calming effect. In India, (it) can be 110 to 115 degrees, so sometimes people will henna on their feet, hands or head to keep them cool. It’s cheap, and it’s colorful. It smells good, and you can put essential oil in it as you put it on so it will give more of a relaxation effect. When you do live art in front of other people, they will feel more relaxed.

What makes you so passionate about doing henna?
I like to do different designs for different people. There are so many various designs with different variations, such as a sun or star. I like to do whatever people like. I love when I am able to do the design they want. That is what gives me a reason to do it. When people come back for a second time, after liking it the first time, that feels good, too.

Is henna art meditative for you to do?
Yes. I feel so peaceful and calm when I’m doing this. I am in my own world. It feels like I’m back in my home country. Sometimes you miss your family, friends or things, so when I’m doing this I feel like I’m back there.

Do you do any other types of art?
Sometimes I’ll practice mandala art, but I’m not that good. It is similar to henna. We do those at festivals. We have a festival called Diwali Festival. I do mandala art in my home on the floor.

Your 3-year-old son has taken an interest in doing henna as well. What is it like blending Indian and American cultures in his upbringing?
He is starting to do henna. Sometimes he grabs the cone and does henna with me. He is bilingual. He knows Hindi and English. We teach him our native language. Outside here, he speaks English. We’re trying to teach him all the traditions. I’m teaching him as much as I can, because when he goes back to India, he will need to know the traditions.

What else in addition to a design on their skin can people take away from getting henna done? Is there a spiritual meaning?
Applying henna can be a deeply moving and communicative experience for both the receiver and the artist. It opens a spiritual connection where a gifted blessing can be received. I want to give them the message that this is an art. It’s also auspicious and will bring you good luck, and good things will come their way. Any time anything good happens in India, they put henna on.

You are working with a start-up business called Om Indian Handy Crafts. What is that?
There are a few women who make bags and do embroidery and decorate the bags to make them look good. I sell them at some yoga studios to help them. In India, not many women are working, so I can help. I started this small business in 2014. I got the stuff from there, I sell it here. I go to fairs and hope to show people how pretty they are. Both that and the henna are connected to India. I like that I can bring a little bit of India here.

What other hobbies and interests do you have?
I love to spend time with my husband and my son. We travel a lot. We traveled before him as well. My son likes to travel. We went to Disney World last year. I also like gardening. I have a little vegetable garden at home. Those are my two main hobbies.

Have you had a moment or time in your life that helped shape you into who you are today?
I came here in 2008, and I got sick in 2009. I was very sick for two years. My parents didn’t have visas, so they could not visit me, and my husband was so busy doing his residency. I was alone at home in a different country. That time made me so strong that now I feel like I can overcome anything. Health is wealth, and if health is down, you feel so down. That was my turning point, and mentally I am much stronger now.

Is there anything you’d like to add?
I would like to thank my husband and my mom and my sisters back in India. They have always been great support in my life. One of my sisters came last year to visit me. Even though they are in India, my mom and sisters and I talk every day. I miss them a lot. I do like it here, because now I have a family and the community is great. I also get to do my hobby as well.

 

To see more of Dosaya’s designs and art or schedule an appointment visit her Facebook Page Heena Tattoo

 

Photos by Emma Black

 

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