Remembering David Armstrong
It has been almost twenty years since Pennsylvania artist David Armstrong died, but his paintings and life have certainly not been forgotten.
David Armstrong was born in Connecticut, but fell in love with the Pennsylvania countryside while attending college at Bucknell University in Lewisburg. He and his wife Georgia—they met at Bucknell as a freshmen—purchased a small farm in Unityville, Lycoming County. Armstrong has been called one of the foremost American realist painters.
His daughter, Katy Armstrong, in conjunction with Don Kline, owner of Valley Gallery and Gifts in Jersey Shore, are commemorating his life and the twenty-year anniversary of his death, with the release of limited edition prints throughout the year. For those of you who are not familiar with David Armstrong and his art, he was not only a celebrated and prolific artist, but he was also an ardent environmentalist and conservationist, and very generous in general. He used his art to benefit many organizations.
In 1980, he put on a show with John Denver at the Hammer Galleries in New York City to benefit Denver’s Windstar Foundation, which promoted both environmental harmony and world peace. Armstrong’s first one-man exhibition of watercolors was at the Hammer Galleries in 1974. He continued to have one-man exhibitions every other year there until his death in August of 1998. At every exhibition, his paintings were sold out.
Armstrong had thoughts of studying piano until he took an art course at the Taft School in Connecticut with Mark Potter, who became his mentor. That course determined another—the course of Armstrong’s life. Georgia Armstrong recalled that Potter had a different take on how to teach art. Rather than suggesting that students try a variety of mediums, Potter told them that if they liked what they were doing, they should throw themselves into it and not explore other options. That worked well for her husband. “He loved every day what he was doing,” Georgia says. “His only frustration would be the weather, because it could change a scene before he finished painting and he would have to wait for the scene to return.”
Armstrong always did his art right out in nature where the scenes were. He purchased an old Amish plow horse named Bess, and a buggy, shortly after he and Georgia moved to Unityville. He would throw his canvas and watercolors in the buggy and set off with Bess to paint in real time in the real world.
Georgia, Katy, and son, Chris, all had very similar memories of how they felt watching David Armstrong paint. “Witnessing that huge blank white paper and all those sketchy lines becoming a landscape was never less than absolutely miraculous,” Katy says.
“It was amazing to watch it come together in real human time. He was a wonder to me,” says Georgia. And Chris adds, “The work was like breathing to him, and witnessing the process of creation from beginnings to final result was like magic. One of my fondest memories, and there are so many, is of getting off of the school bus with my sister and walking down the hill to the house and seeing Pa sitting on the ground one leg folded under him, one knee up, painting under the apple tree. He was very accessible while he was working. And it was always amazing to stand looking over his shoulder at the reality he was seemingly effortlessly re-creating, whilst he carried on a seamless dialogue with us about our day and our studies.”
Chris Armstrong is a very talented artist himself and specializes in seascapes. He also went to the Taft School and studied with Potter. He tributes Potter with teaching him technique, but says his father was the biggest influence on his art career, which wasn’t always easy. “I would draw next to him and then get frustrated in the comparison and he would laugh and say, ‘Keep going! Remember, I have twenty years on you!’,” Chris recalls.
John Baylor also has many stories about David Armstrong’s art and life. John’s wife, Nancy, was David’s manager for a number of years and John helped set up shows. He recalls that during the first show he helped set up, he noticed that some of David’s paintings had frames that were held together with electrical tape. So John decided he should learn how to frame, and he did. John also spoke of all of the celebrities that David drew into his life. Arnold Palmer and his wife, Winnie, were collectors of David’s art, as was former Pennsylvania governor William Scranton. Actor Jack Palance took art lessons from him, and the two put on a show to benefit the Geisinger Children’s Hospital in Danville in 1992.
So if you are now intrigued, and want to see or purchase a David Armstrong print, make the trip to Valley Gallery and Gifts in Jersey Shore. As you drive along the back roads, passing Amish farms and mule-driven plows working the field, you won’t believe that an art gallery with the works of David Armstrong is anywhere around. But it is.
Don Kline became the official printer for Armstrong’s art in 2009 and uses the giclee printing process to achieve archival quality reproductions. Katy Armstrong is still determining the best way to commemorate the twenty years since her father passed away.
“I am considering new images to print and running specials on previous images. I am considering printing his self-portrait, Wolf Moon, issued as a giclee in November. It is also possible that we will consider showing his originals,” Katy says. She recently ran across a scrap of paper on which her father had written: “I want to help people to see, see the common place in an uncommon way.”
“On any given day I appreciate anyone and anything that helps me see things differently, especially their beauty or splendor,” Katy continues. “It’s my hope his work will still inspire people to stop and stare and appreciate the amazing world around them.”
Check out Valley Gallery and Gifts online at www.donkline.com. See more of David Armstrong’s work at www.david-armstrong.com/prints. You can also see Chris Armstrong’s art at www.armstrongartists.com.