Marywood Alumni Retreats into Woods to Find Muse

By Kenny Luck
Staff Writer

Half way between Tunkhannock and Montrose sits Springville, PA. Hardly acknowledged by anyone from the outside, this small farm-like community is not on the short list of many artists to take up residence – that is, unless you are Ryan Ward.

Ward, 26, a 2007 graduate of Marywood University, first moved to Springville last June but has had ties with the area for two years. “I heard they had killer pancake breakfasts at the [Springville] firehouse,” Ward says jokingly, “and that convinced me to move out here.”

Ward lives in what was once a school house. It is unknown exactly when it was built (a good guess might be in the early turn of the 20th century) but the long hallways and high ceilings are characteristic of architecture of an earlier period, while the building is accessible by two main doorways. One entrance is marked “Boys” while the other is marked “Girls” – reminders of the prudishness of early twentieth century American social norms.

Yet the real reason for Ward’s exodus from Scranton is much more practical. “You lose sight of your pursuits longer than you would like to admit,” he tells me, referring to all the distractions that come with living in an urban setting. After his roommates moved to Portland, Oregon, last May, the painter decided that the time was right for him to start focusing on his work again. Ward’s Thoreau-like reclusiveness is unique. While most artists hoping to make it big move to urban centers such as Philadelphia or New York City, Ward chose a different path. For him it is not so much about where he is but rather, what he is doing.

Holding to a figurative approach, Ward is influenced by abstract figure painters like De Kooning and French artists such as Matisse. He does not like being confined by titles. “I am reluctant to title pieces,” he admits, “because I think it’s very easy to limit a work by its title. I want to open doors with my work not close them.”

For two years from 2006 to 2008, Ward helped operate the now debunked Test Pattern Art Gallery on Adams Ave. in downtown Scranton with fellow Marywood students. For a time, the gallery was a force on the local art scene and Ward was the one responsible for finding talent to highlight at the gallery. Both local and regional artist alike showed their work. However, by early 2008 Ward grew tired of the business side of the art world and wanted to focus more on creating his own work. That decision led him to other opportunities.

In mid-October, Springville School House Art Studio’s hosted its annual “Artists Weekend” which featured local and regional studio artists, painters, and sculptors.  The event was hosted by James Penedos, a painter and owner of the school house. It provided Ward with the opportunity to showcase some of his work, as he literally opened his apartment door to passersby and art enthusiasts.

Like most other artists Ward is forced to support himself by means other than his artwork. He is a server at Twigs Restaurant located about twenty minutes away in Tunkhannock. Several times a week he makes the commute south through the rolling hills and austere farmlands en route to the restaurant on a narrow country road which parallels Lake Carey, always reminding himself why he chose this lifestyle. “It’s a lofty pursuit,” he admits, referring to the artist’s not-so-glamorous lifestyle. “But it’s worked for me.”

For now, however, Ward is content making art in Springville. Between the long drives to work and intervals of solitude, he is preparing for his upcoming show this month. His work will be displayed at Marywood University’s Suraci Gallery on the second floor of the Visual Arts Center on Saturday, February 20th. His work will be juxtaposed with Marywood Professor Mark Webber, who will be showing on the first floor of the Suraci Gallery. Ward is noticeably excited for his winter show. He hopes that the Marywood show will introduce his work to the community in a memorable way.

“I try to make work that reaches a broader audience,” he says. “My approach is process- oriented, and I like to keep the work open-ended.”