A Fine Art Field Note

A Fine Art Field Note

A Fine Art Field Note

Snow is falling on everything. It’s a dusting right now but the landscape, framed by our home’s 128-year-old windows, is already transformed. I recently met a man who is probably staring out his window right now, deep in study. The Western Pennsylvania weather suits him just fine because of these frequent changes.

Tools of the trade. A New Wilmington artist’s brushes.

Tools of the trade. A New Wilmington artist’s brushes.

Where do I begin this story? Maybe I’ll start with Betsy’s Flower Shop, a seasonal outdoor boutique right next to Jack’s Rocks...Rock Bottom Prices. Our 7 and 5 year old like to work a point of sale and this past fall, Betsy and Jack set-up shop. A very kind neighbor, Susan stopped and bought all our inventory, rocks and flowers, closing business for the day. Later, Susan contacted me to let me know she had a friend who lived just outside of town... “He’s a very talented painter, it’s not a hobby. This guy is the real deal.” She asked if I’d like to come by his studio for an introduction. This was a first for me. I love art but at this point in our lives, we’re not exactly collectors. 

It turns out, Susan Shafer, who lives in little old New Wilmington, is a professional opera singer. Years ago, she and her husband Richard were singing for fun together in the Youngstown Choir. Susan stuck out and the director gave her some extra coaching and encouraged her to go for the Pavarotti Competition in Manhattan. The winner received a scholarship to Juilliard. Susan won. The couple moved and Susan went to Juilliard (pregnant) and became a professional opera singer in New York, returning to the area some years later to raise their son. Susan became an artist-in-residence at her alma mater, Westminster College.

And here I was, sitting in the back seat of the Shafer’s car, getting a deeper glimpse into the talented artist community that exists here in this college town.

We arrived at the studio. A hundred plus-year-old home just across the road from the Neshannock Creek. Stepping inside, I felt transported to my childhood. It was difficult to break away from the paintings and make proper introductions.

Inside Landscape Painter, Thomas McNickle’s Pennsylvania studio.

Inside Landscape Painter, Thomas McNickle’s Pennsylvania studio.

I spent hours in the woods of Western Pennsylvania as a kid. Any season. Rain or shine. With friends, siblings or on my own with my dog. Living art. It was holy. Western Pennsylvania is not famous for its natural beauty, but it should be. In Thomas McNickle’s studio, I was surrounded by memories stretched onto canvases. Streams gurgling under ice. Sunlight bouncing off of snow in a clearing. Fields of wildflowers. Dark shadows under dense canopies. All quiet. Gentle movement beckoning stillness.

I was moved by McNickle’s paintings. I was eager to see his website modernized to allow his work to breath. His old site was created in the early days of the internet and was ready for a renovation. Thomas and I got to work together, creating the new site.

‘Big April Sky’  Watercolor. 11x18. Thomas McNickle.

‘Big April Sky’ Watercolor. 11x18. Thomas McNickle.

McNickle absorbs the landscape that surrounds us here in New Wilmington and shares his interpretation on canvas. In a way, it is what we are attempting to do with farm-to-table dining here in Western Pennsylvania. We see the fields, the people working them. The gourds in a crate, the bags of vibrant lettuces, the multi-colored brown eggs or the golden raw honey. We see. We interpret. We’ll share our impressions with you through our menu. I wanted Thomas’ website to look like our plates, I suppose. Big. Wide. White. Let the art, or the food do the talking.

What started out as a studio visit ended up being what I like to call a ‘field note,’ when we go and check out what the local farmers are growing and how they’re doing it. Through these visits, we get to know the area better. We get to meet the keepers of the ‘foodscape’ here. In this case, however, we met someone, an artist, a local, who paints the muse that inspires all good growers, nature.

Thomas and his wife, Jani have become friends. Or I’ve just spent enough time in his studio now to qualify as a pretty serious groupie. Thomas hangs at galleries in Pittsburgh and North Carolina but his work is still created here in New Wilmington.

We are striving to cultivate a sense of place with this restaurant, a connection to the land that supports us, and if you’ve spent any moments of stillness in Western Pennsylvania’s woods or fields, you’ll understand why sharing McNickle’s work helps us do just that.

Find more of Thomas McNickle’s impressions of Pennsylvania at thomasmcnickle.com.

Artist Thomas McNickle (second from left) with friends at The Tavern on the Square.

Artist Thomas McNickle (second from left) with friends at The Tavern on the Square.

And now… A Quick Restoration Update:

Your incredible support and enthusiasm for the re-imagining of The Tavern on the Square as a farm-to-table restaurant has given our team the confidence to dream about all the potential. We are finalizing our renovation/business plans and intend to complete the work this spring. We’ll hire and train as we wrap construction and hope to open our doors this summer. Good things take time. We’ll have exciting details to share with you in our next newsletter. We can’t wait to meet you at The Tavern!

With gratitude,

Maggie Noble

Meet the Author

Add some profile text to talk about the author


Explain the benefits of subscribing