Joseph Plavcan's "Erie Press Club Mural"

Joseph Plavcan's "Erie Press Club Mural"

When we experience art in a gallery – like the Schuster Art Gallery at Gannon – we feel human. We feel alive. When we are surrounded by art on a daily basis, our minds are opened and expanded.

And now to add to that in our daily lives here, Gannon recently acquired a painting by Joseph Plavcan; considered Erie’s most influential and renowned artist.

Joseph Plavcan grew up in Erie; he began his studies at Pennsylvania Academy High School. After two years at the academy, Plavcan won a Cresson Scholarship to study and travel in Europe where he was influenced by experiments in color. Today, color is the most outstanding element in most of his paintings.

After a couple years abroad, he returned to Erie and took a teaching position at the Erie Technical High School where he taught there for 38 years. It was during this time that he gained the respect of several generations of students, and earned a reputation as Erie’s most influential art teacher.

In 1981 – at the age of 72 – Plavcan passed away. His work continues to influence many people through his art.

Gannon has acquired Plavcan’s “Erie Press Club Mural,” an oil painting on canvas. The massive painting stands 7 feet tall and 23 feet wide. When Gannon obtained the piece, it was rolled up and carried in a plastic bag. Several faculty and staff members, along with master-framer Joe Popp, framed the mural.

Now, with its framing, the mural weighs about 300 pounds; it took eight people to stand it up. The mural is now on permanent display in Gannon’s Palumbo Academic Center. Special care has been taken to preserve its quality – it is displayed away from sunlight, under diffused lighting and protected from human ware. The painting is illuminated by several lights. One light illuminates the sun, other lights pinpoint events, and the rest wash the entire work.

“I am passionately in love with this picture; it is phenomenal,” said MC Gensheimer, professor in the theatre, communication and fine arts department who helped obtain and frame the mural. “In the mid 1940s, Joseph Plavcan was contracted [by the Erie Press Club] to do the mural on one of the walls. The mural tells a story of historical, political drama.”

The painting portrays reporters producing news stories in a newsroom. The stories are displayed as images throughout the painting. Some of the stories included in the painting are: the bombing of Tokyo, the Millcreek flood of 1915 (called “Erie’s Blackest Day“), the Hindenburg disaster and the Homestead riots. Plavcan also incorporated a self-portrait (see the man sitting at the bottom?) and illustrated his humor (see the chicken on the roof?) in the mural.

Perhaps the most interesting parts of the painting to those of us involved with the Gannon community are the priest and student in the center – the magnetism of the piece seems to draw toward these two figures. Gensheimer and others who spent so much time helping with the painting speculate that this image of a priest standing with a student wearing a maroon and gold graduation hood symbolizes Gannon.

“I am most fascinated with the fact that maybe this painting ended up here because it belongs here,” she said.

[Photos of painting taken by MC Gensheimer]