Tell Us Your Story - Susquehanna MemoriesAug 30, 2015 09:20PM ● By Erica Shames
This ancient river—older than the mountain ridges through which it cuts—never ceases to intrigue me with her width, her depth and flow, and the richness of her colors.
Reading Hesse’s Siddhartha, “... the river is everywhere at the same time...” and reflecting on Norman Maclean’s words, “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it,” my first thoughts are always of the Susquehanna. How well I know her turns, her personality and pulse, and the primordial fragrance of her banks in all seasons.
That pulse I feel in my deepest being; what I learned about community I associate with her. Growing up in Bloomsburg, near her banks, I rode horses along her shimmering tributaries with my dear friend Wendy Hoppes. Walking near the Susquehanna now, I recall 4-H leaders Eleanor and Fred Gilbert, who patiently taught us mastery of tasks, some of which still serve me well today. We learned how to love and care for horses and how to prepare for and participate in trail-rides and shows. What I learned from 4-H about building successful ventures with others is the foundation of the work I do today. Mrs. Gilbert taught in the one-room school house relocated to the Bloomsburg Fair Grounds.
My father, a general practitioner of medicine, joked that he delivered half the town in his 31 years of practice. Before school, my job was to clean his office so it was fresh and ready for patients. After school, I delivered medicines to patients and cleaned flasks and test tubes he used to test medicines. Before becoming a physician, my father was educated as a chemist. He often made medicines for his patients. Known for his sense of humor and taking all the time needed with each patient, he accepted the Official USA Coins Blue Book value for silver dollars as payment for $2 office visits. He was paid in eggs, tomatoes, corn, sewing, herbs, delicious baked goods, and—in honor of the birth of a daughter of my greatly admired grade school art teacher—a hand-made tapestry inspired by her time in Egypt. That tapestry now hangs on my office wall; every time I see it, I remember the warmth of the community on the Susquehanna that was home.
In our early teens, Wendy Sue and I rode our bikes to the Susquehanna to watch grown-ups gently transfer clay from her banks into buckets. This clay was dried, sifted, re-hydrated and formed, as First Nations people did, to create pale terra cotta pottery. When fired, this Native American pottery was light as a feather—yes, I’ve held originals in my hands—yet they were utilitarian. A few years ago, poet/geologist Bruce Adams joined sculptor/geologist Roger Pollock to help me and a dozen others unearth some of this extraordinary indigenous Pennsylvania clay from which to form and fire sculpture.
Sculpture has defined much of my life for the past four decades as a fine art professional. While operating a sculpture studio in the Philadelphia area, my partner and artist, Zenos Frudakis, and I, the business manager, placed over 100 commissioned bronze artworks in public places. When Williamsport’s Susquehanna Health hired us to create a sculpture of volunteer Johnnie Lamade for the hospital, I welcomed the opportunity to see my Susquehanna again.
Lewisburg-based artist Karen Ross introduced me to her town, which I enjoyed visiting during trips to Williamsport. She described the River Towns project to me, and her inspiration of joining several towns—Lewisburg, Mifflinburg, Sunbury, Selinsgrove, Danville, Bloomsburg—through touchstone bronze sculptures to be placed near the river’s banks. Each sculpture would represent an aspect of a town’s history or could honor its wildlife—a turtle, a wolf or an eagle—those animals, in turn, representing First Nations.
Compelling public art can inspire and bring people together. River Towns sculpture could unite these towns, each individual piece serving as a marker along a trail for visitors accompanied by plaques about the region’s rich history. Lewisburg might lead this vision by commissioning a sculpture of its founder, Ludwig Doerr. His cordial, interdependent relationship with Native Americans was integral to the local community: individuals relied on each other in building peaceful, purposeful lives together. A sculpture might show him with a person of First Nations, since they built relationships that distinguished Lewisburg, and made possible its survival.
A ribbon of history
The area’s rich history includes the many abolitionists who lived in the area before and during the Civil War. Several locations within Lewisburg were Underground Railroad stopping points. What would it be like to honor our Susquehanna with bronze sculptures that tie all the River Towns together in a ribbon of history and community?
The memory of the Susquehanna—her music and perfume in the sunshine—fill my dreams. While in senior high school, I would glance out a hall window framing an elegant view of the river through the seasons. Little did I know then what lessons that river would weave together, constructing the foundation upon which I built a life and a business. When we stand in the presence of this great river, we witness, as did generations before us, her timelessness, power, and beauty.
Written by Rosalie Frudakis, formerly of Bloomsburg. She is president of Frudakis Studio, Inc., Glenside, Pa.