This online exhibit chronicles LGBTQ+ artwork of Central Pennsylvania. Explored within are the lives and art of different LGBTQ+ artists from or living in areas such as Harrisburg, Lancaster, York, and Carlisle, as well as art from various institutions and programs within the area. Art comes in many different shapes; from more classical forms of art such as drawing or painting, to physical art in the form of costumes, clothing, and sculpture, to performance art such as acting, singing, and dancing. Art is an expression of self, a creative outlet, and a calling for many. This exhibit aims to explore the lives of LGBTQ+ artists from the area and looks at the intersection of queerness and art. Included in this exhibit are the artists Jude Sharp and Paul Foltz along side art from the Inspired Exhibit and the Gay Era newspaper.
This exhibit was created for the LGBT Center of Central PA History Project largely using materials from the Dickinson Archives.
Additional materials on artists highlighted in this exhibit can be found here.
mage: Jude sharp at the desk in her shop; photo by John Powl
Jude Sharp is a crafts person, an artist, a jeweler and a lesbian. She was born in November of 1947 in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania and has lived most of her live in Central PA. Jude opened her first jewelry shop at 21 with her ex-husband in Denver Colorado. After moving back to Central Pennsylvania Jude met her first girlfriend. Her current store, J.A. Sharp Custom Jeweler is located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Jude Sharp has crafted jewelry in her laundry room, dining room, and studios - anywhere she could create.
Jude Sharp grew up moving around between different towns in Pennsylvania following her father's job as a Methodist minister. Her mother worked from home raising Jude and her two younger sisters as well as performing the role of the minister's wife. Possibly influenced by moving around a lot as a kid or her budding queer identity, Jude recalls feeling like an outsider in her schools, "I always felt like an outsider but I don’t know whether that was because of me or because I was moving around I always sort of thought it was ‘cause of me." Jude graduated from the Philadelphia High School for Girls and has a high opinion of schools segregated by gender through high school. From there Jude attended Tyler College of Art in Philadelphia, a part of Temple University.
When asked about when she came out Jude talked about the freedom of realizing her identity as a lesbian woman when she began dating her first girlfriend. Jude also remarks on her regret at not discovering that aspect of herself earlier. Jude Sharp's youngest sister, Cate came out to their parents 3 years earlier than Jude. While her parents did not have the best reaction when Cate came out, by the time Jude was in a same-sex relationship and felt the need to come out they had settled in. Jude recollects what Cate said to her when she came out, "Wow, all I can say is that its about time." Jude says that her family was accepting of her sexual identity. Her father, a Methodist minister, went so far as to write an essay to present to other ministers debunking the idea that scripture was anti-homosexuality.
Jude Sharp was able to start working in a commercial jewelers right after graduating from Tyler College of Art, where she worked for about a year doing repair and assembly work. After that she worked part time on Jewelers Row at the same time she was making jewelry at home. She credits her early work experience with teaching her techniques of jewelry making and how to make it a career she could live off of. Jude opened her first jewelry store in Denver Colorado at the age of 21 after moving their with her ex-husband. Jude briefly lived in California with her then-girlfriend before returning to Pennsylvania in 1979. Starting then, she made prosthetic legs and other orthotics for 5 years, making jewelry in her dinning room whenever she could. Jude Sharp then opened Sharp Jewelers with her partner Sue Martin in the summer of 1984 in Lancaster. While their romantic relationship did not continue their business partnership did until they sold Sharp Jewelers in 2001. Jude's current store is named J.A. Sharp Custom Jewelers, which she sold to Andrea M. Amey in 2019. Jude continues to work there creating custom jewelry using responsibly-sourced stones from historic downtown Lancaster city.
Jude Sharp does not credit her identity as lesbian as a factor or influence in her pursuit of art, as a member of the LGBTQ+ community and an artist, her craft and queerness are inherently linked through her. In her life Sharp opened several different jewelry shops, as discussed above, it's notable that for Sharp Jewelry and JA Sharp Custom Jewelers, Jude opened both business in conjunction with her partner at the time. This is a relatively small detail, though notable nonetheless. Jude would often also go to pride celebrations and women's festivals to sell jewelry from a booth, and advertise in the Lavender Letter, a newsletter for the lesbian and Sapphic community in and around Central Pennsylvania at the time (see image).
Jude Sharp also remarks of the sense of community and love she felt when working with other members of the LGBTQ+ community.
"...for me personally when I first got involved with Pat I felt like I had such a huge weight lifted off of me, because it was like, I didn’t have to try to be something I wasn’t anymore. It was just like, “Oh my god, this is right, this has been right all along and it just took me all these years to figure it out,”
- Jude Sharp, Oral History, August 2016
Advertisement for Sharp Jewelers. July 1999, courtesy of LGBT-009 Lavender Letter Collection, Dickinson Archives
Paul Foltz is a custom designer, teacher, performer, and a gay man. He grew up in Steelton, Pennsylvania and now resides in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Paul is widely recognized in the Greater Harrisburg area primarily known for his role as Theatre Harrisburg's resident costume designer where he has worked since 1981. Paul also works as an adjunct faculty member for the Harrisburg Area Community College in their theatre department as well as runs his own small costume and design business. In addition to Paul's craft he was a founding member of the Harrisburg Men's Chorus and raised money for AIDS patients with Lily White and Company.
Paul grew up in Steelton, Pennsylvania in a strict Catholic household and later went to a Catholic college. Paul mentions his Catholic background and proximity to the church as a major factor of his confusion about his sexual orientation in his early life. Paul graduated with a degree in English Language and Literature from Saint Anselm College before going abroad to get a graduate degree in theatre studies. While abroad in London, England Paul first started living as an openly gay man.
"But when I came back here with my family, because I had been living so openly for close to two years, I just figured, [laughing] “I’m not going back in the closet! God, no!”
-Paul Foltz, Oral History, March 2015
Paul Foltz recounts his coming out in conjunction with his time abroad in London. At the time that he was there London had recently decriminalized homosexual acts leading to a growing strong and open LGBTQ+ community. This encouraged him to be open with himself and others about his own sexual orientation. Upon returning to the United States, Paul continued to live openly as himself. He recounts his coming out to his parents individually, remarking on being "pretty lucky" because his coming out was relatively simple. Paul has always lived his life based on the principle "you take me as you get me," he mentions never coming directly out to others after his parents, never saying "surprise, I'm gay," but also never tried to hide who he was.
Paul Foltz has been involved in theater for most of his life. The theater is both a place of expression, community, and passion for Paul. One of the main ways he interacts with the theater scene has been through costumes design and creation. Paul's costumes vary in style, era, extravagance, and gender, but are each works of art. Paul recounted feeling connected and accepted within the realm of theater as a gay man, jokingly saying that "if you're not gay in the theater, everyone just assumes you are anyway."
Paul Foltz founded Lily White and Company in 1982. It was an organization composed of entertainers and female impersonators, or drag queens. Operating in south central Pennsylvania, Lily White and Company ran from 1982-1997. The organizations focus was to raise funds and awareness for the HIV/AIDS crisis. During the Lily White and Company's life, Paul's favorite show was the Christmas cabaret, a Lily White Christmas, which took slightly different forms over the years but never the less was a classic. Lily White and Company was an intersection between queerness, activism, and performance- things that have characterized Paul Foltz's life so far.
Paul Foltz (left) on stage with another performer
In the late 1980's Paul became one of the founding members of the Harrisburg Men's Chorus, affectionately referred to as the Gay Chorus by its members. Paul talks about the chorus founding, naming it an outlet both for art and camaraderie. The Gay Chorus was a way in which Paul met and created relationships with other members of the gay community, a rare opportunity outside of the few gay bars in the area. Despite the positive memories the Gay Chorus brought him, Paul also recounts it being a source of resistance from the community. While Paul was a member, the group was only colloquially referred to as the Gay Chorus but officially operated as the Harrisburg Men's Chorus. However the group as a whole was still fairly open about the nature of their chorus which lead to a number of establishments and churches barring them from performing. The group later officially changed its name from the Harrisburg Men's Chorus to the Harrisburg Gay Men's Chorus. They operate under this name today.
In conjunction with the LGBT Center of Central Pennsylvania History Project and the Dickinson College Archives, the Susquehanna Art Museum hosted an exhibit of art from LGBTQ artists. The full title of the exhibit is Inspired: Contemporary Responses to a Legacy of Courage, which ran from June 28th to July 1st in 2019. It later traveled to the Lancaster Museum of Art for another showing later that year. In honor of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, Inspired challenged artists to create a unique piece of artwork of any medium based on the LGBTQ+ archive collection housed at Dickinson College. The collection ended up documenting various stories and moments in history of LGBTQ+ life in Central Pennsylvania. The following is a selection of artwork from the original Inspired Exhibit.
Artwork captions were taken from the original Inspired exhibit.
Tran's identity and social consciousness as a gay man was shaped by the governments willful neglect of the queer community during the AIDS crisis. He recalls news of gay men dying of an unknown disease at an alarming rate while growing up in Los Angeles during the Reagan administration. Tran was inspired by the activist that resulted from institutional homophobia, and his artwork explores the social politics surrounding the contemporary queer community.
Photographs from the series were created in response to the stores and information shared by pioneering activists Joy Ufema Counsel and Paul Foltz. These pieces expand the focus of the AIDS epidemic to include stories of how AIDS impacted smaller and/or rural communities in central PA.
In 1991 Counsel founded York House, the first AIDS hospice in PA. Angel for Bernie was inspired by Counsel's stories about her patients. In Angel for Bernie, Tran imagined and created an angelic body that Bernie, a patient in an advanced stage of the disease, might have seen in the last stage of his life.
Classic Foltz is inspired by Paul Foltz's drag persona Lily White. As Lily White, Foltz performed drag shows in the Harrisburg area to fundraise for AIDS organizations, including York House Hospice.
To see more about Sahn Tran click here.
Sahn Tran, Angel for Bernie, No. 4, digital c-print, 20" x 24"
Sahn Tran, Classic Foltz, digital c-print, 20" x 24"
Villalon's work investigates the struggles and perseverance of the LGBTQ+ community in the their fight for recognition as citizens worthy of equal treatment. The Exorcism depicts a child being subject to conversion therapy. Conversion therapy is the highly controversial process of attempting to change an individual's sexual orientation using physical, psychological, or spiritual interventions. Medical, scientific, and government organizations in the United States and Europe have expressed opposition to this practice, declaring it invalid, ineffective, and unethical. A bill to ban the use of conversion therapy on LGBTQ+ minors in PA was introduced in the General Assembly in April 2015. The bill had 20 sponsors but died without any legislative action. Since that time, conversion therapy on minors has been banned in various cities and counties in PA., including Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Allentown, Reading and Bucks County. In December 2018 Harrisburg City Council unanimously voted to support Resolution 83-2018 condemning conversion therapy for minors. While the resolution itself is a policy statement and not an outright ban, it does provide that the Law Bureau shall draft legislation which provides for a complete ban of conversion therapy within the city of Harrisburg by the end of the second quarter of 2019.
To learn more about JC Villalon click here.
Truman's artwork investigates the ways queer people experience the world and society's perception of them. They explore the dichotomies of the LGBTQ+ existence: hate, discrimination, death, violence, pride, life community, renewal, and strength. I Am Someone and The Riot illustrate the fear and courage shown during the historic Stonewall uprising.
To learn more about Finnley Truman click here.
Finnley Truman, I am Someone, 2019, collage, 11" x 13"
Finnley Truman, The Riot, 2019, collage, 11' x 13"
The stories of the LGBTQ+ community in central Pennsylvania have been captured in cartoon form by the team of Frank Pizzoli, the Editor in Chief of the Central Voice newspaper, and Brad Gebhart, Central Voice cartoonists, for over a decade. This creative duo has compiled some of the most relevant social commentary cartoons from their time working together to highlight the important issues facing the LGBTQ+ community.
Above is a digitalized video of the comics that make up Our Voice by Cartoon.