A painting from a nationally-recognized artist made its way to Gannon more than a decade ago, and a second and third soon followed. But the paintings did not have to journey far because their creator is Erie-born Joseph Plavcan.
Plavcan attended Academy High School, what is now Erie’s Northwest Pennsylvania Collegiate Academy. He began exploring his artistic abilities with encouragement from his teacher and an accomplished painter, George Ericson. Ericson was not the only one to recognize Plavcan’s unique talent; the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts eagerly accepted him into its program. Shortly after, Plavcan was awarded a scholarship that took his studies to Europe where his life as an artist was forever shaped.
Plavcan returned to America a year later and graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts. A scarcity of jobs during the Great Depression led him to accept a teaching position at Erie Technical High School where he worked for the next 40 years. Many of the students he taught went on to find national and international acclaim, like Richard Anuszkiewicz, a painter, sculptor and printmaker.
Plavcan was also known for the large scale of canvases he worked with - many of these reach more than 20 feet in length and hung in industries throughout the country. A few of these murals were painted specifically for local Erie businesses, such as one that hung in the former Erie Press Club.
This massive, 7-foot-high, 23-foot-long, 200-pound mural tells a story of historical and political drama in a 1940s setting. Journalists cluster together in a newsroom as the Lindberg baby is kidnapped, the Millcreek flood sweeps through Erie, a train derails, and Tokyo is bombed.
The painting, known as the “Erie Press Club” mural, underwent conservation to remove smoke that had tarnished the canvas. In 2009 the mural was donated to the university by a relative of Plavcan and hung in Gannon’s A.J. Palumbo Academic Center. Appropriately enough, the painting even portrays a priest standing aside what appears to be a Gannon student dressed in a maroon and gold graduation gown.
A second painting, “Bountiful Harvest,” can be found in Gannon’s Center for Business Ingenuity. The painting originally was at the Saint Vincent Hospital, but is now displayed at Gannon after a Dahlkemper School of Business board member, Marty Eisert, and his wife, Kathy, donated toward its conservation.
View a time-lapse video of the installation in the Center for Business Ingenuity.
The third painting, “The Four Seasons,” came from the Saint Vincent Hospital and has yet to be restored.
Mary C. Gensheimer, co-director and assistant professor of Communication and the Arts at Gannon, said the university is thoughtfully trying to bring high-quality art to campus walls. She spoke to the importance of these efforts.
“You can look at paintings on a screen via internet, but when you look at something close up, it gives you a different experience,” Gensheimer said. “You can see all the brushstrokes, and you understand the technique and the artistry. You could only do that by looking at the real canvas. It’s the difference between listening to a recorded piece of music and having a vocalist perform in front of you.”