Monday, March 21, 2011

Ivana Pavelka

Ivana Pavelka is a co-founder and co-manager of the photographic gallery Camerawork in Scranton and is a professional photographer who has had many solo and group shows. Her professional career includes teaching in the art department at Keystone College (La Plume, PA), giving workshops and residencies as a rostered artist in schools, and working as a commercial photographer. She is also a professional bookbinder who was trained in European methods in Prague, where she grew up. When she came to the United States in 1980, she free-lanced as a bookbinder for such institutions as the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She has lived in Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania, since 1991.

PREFACE (from the book)
by Ivana Pavelka
edited by Dr. Philip Mirabelli

Churches are a prominent feature of the architectural and cultural landscape of Lackawanna County, but a good number are closing. Mary Ann Moran Savakinus, the director of the Lackawanna Historical Society, and I decided to create a photographic record of some of these churches in order to document and preserve this vanishing part of the county’s history. This project developed as I was working with four other photographers on postcards for the Lackawanna Historical Society. In reviewing my photographs for the postcards, I noticed that churches form quite an interesting part of the visual landscape of the county and that they also play a large role in its immigration history. This realization led to the idea for Framing Faith.

The history of a community has to be constructed. So Mary Ann and I thought–what better way than to have members of the community take part in the construction? Since I am a Pennsylvania-rostered artist who often works with students in residencies and workshops, we decided that I should give a workshop in photography to help document the soon-to-be-lost church structures, which have served as the focal points of their local communities, and then to turn our photographic results into a lasting testament–a book. We proposed this project to the ARTS Engage! program, Northeastern Educational Intermediate Unit (NEIU 19) and the Lackawanna Heritage Valley Authority, who generously provided funding.

Student photographs and my own pictures became the basis of the visual record presented in this book. Through art, especially photography, one learns about the community in which one lives. Photography is, by its nature, partly a learning process and having students take part opened the community in a new way for my own personal exploration of Lackawanna County’s history.

Each community built its own church. Architecturally diverse, they added greatly to the rich visual landscape of each town. These churches served many functions in people’s lives. What may first come to mind is that a church is a house of worship for people of a certain religion, which may well extend across national and cultural borders. Religion, however, is also a deep expression of a community’s culture, and a particular church is often associated with a particular culture or ethnic group. It is built by or for the group to service the community’s needs, frequently in the style of the churches whence the group originated, and often to provide services in the native language of the group.

Lackawanna County is rich in ethnic diversity, to a great degree due to its coal-mining history, and it boasts a wide variety of types of churches. Churches are places of worship but also satisfy the need for a meeting place, a shelter and asylum, and provide a sense of belonging to a community. As Jeffrey Howe notes in Houses of Worship, one of the “main goals” of a church is “to provide a house of worship that would bring [people] together and remind them of their shared identity.” Here are places where languages are used that immigrants could understand and where they could be surrounded by the architecture within which they had lived in their countries of origin–in other words, a place in which they could feel at home in a foreign land. For successive waves of immigrants, such churches were places where one could seek advice and help, where one might find opportunities and contacts. The churches provided a starting point for a new life. For new generations, these churches continued to be places of aid, succor, advice and ritual. They also became part of their cultural tradition, their history, their memory, and a node around which new traditions were formed. A record was needed, we felt, especially since these closings affected families who were losing a part of their traditions.

Form and function, or beauty and use, are not separate entities, and the needs these churches served were expressed in interesting, and frequently, beautiful physical forms. The churches, often had spires by which one can navigate by, becoming landmarks in the rich architectural
landscape of the county.

In the workshops for the student photographers who participated in this project, Richard Leonori gave a lecture on the churches’ architectural background, which informed and inspired us as we set out to provide a photographic record of the soon-to-be-closed structures. Scranton Diocese Chancellor James Earley assisted us in selecting the churches to be photographed and provided contacts that enabled us to access the sites without which our project would not have been possible. Chancellor Earley also generously gave talks on the histories of the churches.

We photographed 10 churches, taking about 2,000 pictures, allowing students to learn a wide range of skills, techniques and approaches. Then I edited the student pictures, creating a 30 photograph traveling exhibit, which appeared in the Carbondale Public Library, the Albright Memorial Library (Scranton) and the Taylor Community Library. The approximately 2,000 pictures that the students and I took will become part of the permanent collection of the Lackawanna Historical Society. From this large set of photographs, I selected images for this book that I felt were not only evocative and technically proficient, but also served to document interesting features of the churches–whether the photos were my own or those of my students. At this point, Sarah Piccini became part of the project, to research the background of the churches and to write accompanying historical material.

I enjoyed working with students in exploring and recording this fascinating aspect of Lackawanna County. I hope that those for whom the churches documented were important parts of their lives, they will be able to revisit some of their memories through the photographs. And I hope the end product of the learning process and labor of love that my students and I undertook–this book–offers an enjoyable and informative experience for anyone who picks it up.

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