Spotlight on Pennsylvania Makers & Creators
Pennsylvania's long history of creativity and craftsmanship is thriving — and this diverse group of artists across the state are living proof.
In Pennsylvania, your imagination is the only limit to your creativity — if you can dream it here, you make it here.
Even better? Your friends, neighbors and community members will support you as you stretch and grow your artistic side.
The commonwealth has a long history of craftsmanship and artistry, a theme that has carried through to the 21st century in the form of makerspaces, co-ops, markets and more.
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Whether you're into woodworking, painting or anything in between, you're sure to find your niche in Pennsylvania's thriving creative culture.
Here are five PA artists and makers who are creating hand-crafted goods and one-of-a-kind art pieces, keeping the spirit of creativity in PA alive and thriving.
Partake Goods, Lancaster, PA
Inspired by a project he saw on Instagram, Josh Rittenhouse hand-carved one wooden spoon every day for the entire year of 2017.
Born and raised in Lancaster, PA, Rittenhouse says this year-long experiment gave him the confidence boost needed to begin selling his spoons online and at local maker markets. He uses primarily hand tools, including an ax and special spoon-carving knives to make his spoons, which he sells under the brand name Partake Goods. In recent years, most of the wood for his spoons has come from downed trees on his property.
"I like the idea that it's much more environmentally sustainable making things by hand than large commercial operations," he says.
Plus, he likes that his spoons are everyday utensils that can be used over and over again.
"Hearing that my coffee scoops become part of someone's morning ritual that they use every morning is really satisfying," he says, "and knowing my cooking and eating spoons can be part of someone's everyday life and even passed down to future generations is also a really cool feeling."
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Spoon-carving is a side gig for Rittenhouse — he works full-time for a local printing and sign company and runs a landscaping business — but even so, he feels like he's part of the maker community in Lancaster. He often sells his spoons at the markets organized by Creatively Lancaster, a group working to help artists and makers promote themselves and sell their handmade products.
"They've really been doing great things locally to get makers exposure and opportunity," he says.
Pine Springs Pottery, New Bethlehem, PA
Art has always been part of Marie Lewis' life. As a child, she remembers lots of arts and crafts projects, drawing, painting and sewing.
In college, she discovered pottery and knew she had found her true passion. She started by giving away her pieces, then slowly, she began selling them. After more than 25 years, pottery is now her full-time career — she runs Pine Springs Pottery from a little shop and studio at her historic farmhouse on a country road in New Bethlehem, PA.
Though being an artist in rural Pennsylvania can be challenging, she's also found it to be incredibly rewarding. She's inspired by how PA residents are creatively shifting away from the industries that built their towns — farms are becoming wineries, historic mansions are becoming bed and breakfasts, old railroad lines are becoming hiking and biking trails.
"People in our small towns are very community-oriented and, as such, are great supporters of small businesses," she says. "Local businesses are owned by people we know — our friends, neighbors, relatives and friends of friends. We support each other, we collaborate, we share and our whole community is stronger because of it."
"The Wilds Co-op has become a second community for me as well, expanding the reach for my business, collaborative opportunities and kinship with other makers," she says. "We are a widely varied group of artisans of all mediums, ages and backgrounds, but we share a respect for the region and the creative talents of those who live here."
Lewis says she's proud to carry on the historical tradition of making pottery for home use, with some modern updates. Starting with a humble lump of clay, she completes each step in the process by hand. The end result is both beautiful and functional.
"To me, it means to add a beautiful touch to the everyday bowls of oatmeal and plates of spaghetti and also that even the smallest of things that you do with love are beautiful and should be celebrated," she said.
Ujamaa Collective, Pittsburgh, PA
The Ujamaa Collective isn't just one maker — instead, it's a cooperative of Africana women who are artists, entrepreneurs, makers and community leaders.
The collective, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary and has roughly 30 members, runs a fair-trade boutique in Pittsburgh's Hill District. Ujamaa Collective's members are authors, artists and makers, creating everything from hand-drawn prints to jewelry, handbags, home decor items and hair and body care products, just to name a few.
The collective also supports the next generation of Black women makers through the Aya Duafe Arts & Entrepreneurship Program, a project-based, experiential business incubator for girls of color ages 13 to 21.
"We're not showing up as the experts who have arrived at a particular destination, but we have experiences that, collectively, we can share with each other," says executive director Lakeisha Wolf. "While none of us individually has the answer, collectively, when we come together, we do have everything we need. The power of our collective work results in these collective benefits that we all get to experience."
White Oak Studio, Sugar Grove, PA
Debbie Penley grew up surrounded by artisans — her grandparents made plastic canvas crafts, her aunt sewed everything from clothing to stuffed dolls, and her dad illustrated for fun. Her mom always encouraged Penley and her siblings to do art projects, whether it involved finger paints or Play-Doh; her favorite class in school was often art.
Penley, now a 42-year-old mother of four, is the maker behind Sugar Grove's White Oak Studio. She's a self-taught multimedia artist specializing in fiber and clay, with pieces ranging from stoneware plates to felted gnomes and other critters.
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Her source of inspiration? Anything that makes her smile.
"I like geometry and humor," she says. "I also like to make pieces that evoke human emotion, such as a mother holding a child. But my main work with fiber has been with animals, though I am experimenting more with abstract work. If a customer walks into my booth and begins to grin, I know that I've done what I wanted."
Though being an artist in rural PA can be difficult, Penley has found ways to connect with other artists and makers. She's a member of the Wilds Cooperative of PA and the Fiberarts Guild of Pittsburgh, which has hosted an array of online meetings, lectures and other events during the coronavirus pandemic to help its members stay connected.
As an artist, Penley says she enjoys the sense of accomplishment she feels after a long day of creating and the idea that she can bring a stranger joy with something she made with her own two hands. She also loves being part of the long history of artists and craftsmen and women who have been doing this work for centuries.
"When I am working in my clay or fiber, I am connected to people who lived in such a different time, and yet, their hands formed bowls and cups, yurts and shoes, and they created something out of raw materials through many hours of skilled labor," she says. "It helps me to respect the work I am doing and understand the privilege I have to live in a time when the objects I make need not be utilitarian but can simply exist for art's sake alone."
Marvel Woodworking, West Chester, PA
Gregg Marvel spent most of his adult life working as an IT consultant.
Then, in 2013, he decided to focus his attention full-time on making furniture, a hobby he'd been dabbling in since 2000. Today, he runs Marvel Woodworking, which specializes in custom wood furniture, cabinets and accessories.
"I didn't really have any plans when I started. I just basically didn't want to do IT anymore," he said.
He started by building a small workshop in the basement of his West Chester, PA, home. He quickly outgrew that space and more than tripled the size of his workshop. He launched his business by making small items he could easily sell on Etsy — jewelry boxes, for example — and by attending a few craft shows a year. He also takes custom requests for everything from dining room tables to display cases.
As a woodworker, he says he enjoys using both sides of his brain and the fact that the products he makes will last for hundreds of years. He also loves the transformation that his pieces go through from start to finish.
"When you go to the lumber yard, you're just bringing back slabs of wood — they really don't look like much," he says. "I like taking those raw pieces of wood and deciding how to use it, turning it into something."
This article was sponsored by the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.