At the bottom of the hill the first thing you spot is a gem encrusted boulder. If you glance to your left down a slight incline you are greeted with a beautiful Chinese bridge bowing across a small creek. It’s enchanting and welcoming.
You walk up the gravel road swallowed by graffiti covered trees. Pink polka dots pop from the muted colors of a (as of last week) snow-less winter. Melting two-faced hearts glare at you with beady eyes. They reach for the sunlight high above the mingled branches.
Approaching the top of the incline the fog grows more dense. You see steel rods extending from the ground like weeds with jars and bottles fastened to the tops.
It is then you see the concrete archway.
As you get closer you notice the objects embedded into the hardened rock: PEZ dispensers, computer mother boards, bottle caps, glass stones all intricately arranged into patterns. Faces bulge out of the rock eerily staring at you, questioning your intent to pass through…
The first Enclave piece was the Millennium Folk Arch depicted above. It was constructed in 1999 as part of an art course at Lehigh University entitled “Raw Vision: Creativity and Ecstasy in the Work of Shamans, Mystics, and Artist Outsiders.” The course listing is verbatim below, copied from Lehigh’s course catalog:
LET’S LOOK TO DEFINE SOME TERMINOLOGY HERE:
◊ What is outsider art? The definition I fancied the most is from britannica.com:
◊ What is an enclave? Merriam-Webster defines it as:
Thus this OUTSIDER ART ENCLAVE is an area (the sculpture garden) different from the lands that surround it (Lehigh University’s campus) filled with unconventional pieces by self-taught artists.
The Raw Vision course was taught by Norman Girardot, a Professor of Religion Studies at Lehigh University. He is currently promoting his book on the “godfather of contemporary American folk and visionary art”, Howard Finster: “Envisioning Howard Finster: The Religion and Art of a Stranger from Another World.”
Norman was not only responsible Lehigh’s Art Enclave, he was also part of a the joint creation of:
- The Chinese Bridge Project (the bridge pictured in the beginning of this post); and
- Lehigh-Bethlehem Harmony Pavilion. The Pavilion’s brochure can be found here.
I had the honor of sitting down with Norman in his home in Bethlehem to discuss the Art Enclave and the stories and images behind its creation and everything weird in South Side. It was very enlightening and thoroughly enriched this post.
So let’s return to the college course that started it all!
To build the Millennium Folk Arch, Norman and his class joined forces with students from Broughal Middle School. The group worked under the tutelage of Mr. Imagination (Gregory Warmack) on the project acting as the ‘art mentor’. The project was jointly sponsored by Lehigh, the Banana Factory, and Broughal Middle School.
As noted, the Arch was the first piece, but many others followed. There were also other contributing artists such as Jimothy the Fool (Jim DiFonzo), Susan Small, and Loly Reynolds (previously Kinney).
The Raw Vision course ran for a total of eight sessions.
The format of the Raw Vision class was two part. One part took place in the classroom and the second a “theory-into-practice” portion that took place out in the field. With the direction of artists, the students would work on a pieces in the Art Enclave often with ritual opening ceremonies to consecrate the land. One ceremony was described by Lehigh University below:
Image provided by Professor Norman Girardot
The Raw Vision course always transformed itself each time is was taught. Later in the class’ lifetime, sessions would work on maintaining and repairing the Enclave and engaging in community projects in South Side Bethlehem. One example was the mural on the Wildflower Cafe. The 6th session of the Raw Vision class paired with Loly Reynolds and the Community Artists of Bethlehem to compose the tile and glass mural on the whole northern wall of now closed Wildflower Cafe. A video of the construction on the mural can be found on YouTube. The video is worth a watch to appreciate all the tedious work that went into it.
Another fun aspect of the Art Enclave is its basis in mysticism and coming into existence when the “Blair Witch Project” film came out. Since the beginning, the Art Enclave has been full of stories – some that are true, and some that are false – but that is what makes life fun – mystery of the unknown.
Now let’s look further at the other Enclave pieces.
The Art Enclave Pieces
PIECES STILL INTACT AND PRESENT
- Millennium Folk Arch (as mentioned above)
This was the first piece assembled. The skeleton of the structure was composed of Professor Girardot’s wood from his old porch. The skeleton was then covered in metal mesh, concrete spackled on, and embedded with recycled treasures. There are also hand prints from the students who worked to build it. It is now the gateway to enchantment.
The Lehigh Millennium Folk Arch has even been noted in the first edition of The Outsider Art Sourcebook.
- Throne of Regeneration by Randy Kinney
This piece was created Randy Kinney. It is a glorious throne, welcoming you to take a seat. On the throne is a beautiful mosaic of a flower and the colorful tiles pop in the muted landscape of the Enclave.
When you approach the back of the throne you will notice it is also decorated. A huge snake slithers up the chair unbeknownst to its occupants.
- Concrete Tree of Sacred Debris by Susan Small
This piece was by Susan Small. Susan Small was a resident artist at the Banana Factory from 1999-2005. Another one of her pieces stands outside of the Banana Factory entitled ‘A Joyful Noise‘.
The Concrete Tree is over a decade old and still standing barely unscathed from the elements. The glazed knobs, that seem to resemble faces at the end of the branches, are not even chipped.
More ceramic accents on the tree are threaded cubes upon wire garland. They look really neat when dew from the morning drips from their corners.
- Terrace of the Mysterium Tremendum by Travis Cook
The now ‘fire pit area’ below was assembled as a gathering space for Professor Girardot’s class by an architecture student, Travis Cook, who re-purposed the stones from Lehigh’s campus during one of their building’s reconstruction.
- Olmec Head
A big block of concrete, this Olmec Head towers over you. The best part are the mirrored eyes – if you stare into them you are staring right back at yourself.
- Name Unknown…
There is also a dream catcher tree on the ledge of the Art Enclave with white tags dangling from it. Upon closer examination the tags are quotes. This piece was new to Professor Girardot when I explained it, but he seemed pleased the circle of life is continuing up in the Art Enclave. Pictured below are some of the quotes:
PIECES NO LONGER INTACT, NOR PRESENT
- Glass-Shard Shrine of Elvis the Divine by Jimothy the Fool (Jim DiFonzo)
This piece is sadly not intact, but was this magnificent wire mesh and glass piece of Elvis that was assembled to glow during a certain part of the day when the sun hit it. It seems some remnants are left behind on the grounds.
- Shed of Serendipity
A shed used to sit to the left of the top of the hill before the Millennium Folk Arch. It was adorned with artwork and was used as storage for upkeep supplies of the Enclave. Sadly this has perished due to break-ins, vandals, and the conclusion of the Raw Vision course.
This is merely a glance of some of the pieces that are still standing and have a formal name, or notable remnants still visible to visitors.
INFOGRAPHIC: SOUTH SIDE CONNECTIONS
The Lehigh Millennium Folk Arch and Art Enclave has many connections to our community. It should be valued as it creates ties connecting all of South Bethlehem together through art and education. Below is an infographic composed to display these ties and to the outgoing readers – aid in a day of adventure:
UPDATE (6/21/16): Now download The Tour Less Traveled map!
A CALL FOR ACTION
A motivation for this post was to look to save the Lehigh’s Art Enclave and spread the word about it, especially the history of its beginnings as its future is currently in jeopardy. I would love to display the affection the community has for this Enclave, or if all fails, I want to make people aware of this space to experience it before its potential demise.
As Lonnie Holley said, “Art is Life, Don’t Kill It.”
If you have any old or new photographs utilizing (in some sort of positive capacity) the Lehigh Millennium Folk Arch and Art Enclave please do one of the following:
- Link other readers to your photograph via a comment to this post;
- Use the hashtag: #LehighArtEnclave on any Instagram photos (old or new);
- Or simply email a link to your work to email@example.com and I can look to post it to this thread.
If you are interested in the journey and all the digging to collect information on the Enclave, check out THE STORY BEHIND THE POST.
UPDATE (6/21/16): Since this post, Lehigh Millennium Folk Arch and Art Enclave has been added to Atlas Obscura!
If you are interested in reading more about the Lehigh Millennium Folk Arch and Art Enclave, here are links to some great articles that aided in my research:
Millennial Arch Rises In Class On ‘Raw Vision’ Lehigh Students Join Middle-Schoolers In Flight of Imagination by Chris Sexton (The Morning Call, 2000)
All That is Strange And New At Lehigh by Linda Harbrecht (News – Lehigh University, 2003)
A Celebration of Creativity by Ella Studdiford and Linda Harbrecht (News – Lehigh University, 2003)
It’s Magical, It’s Mystical, and It’s Lehigh’s Hidden Gem by Gabrielle Salerno (The Morning Call, 2007)
Mr. Imagination’s Garden by Meghan Barwick (The Goblet, 2015) This article has some fantastic photos!
If you are interested in reading more about Outsider and Folk Artists, here are some links for you to check out:
Architecture of Obsession: Eight Outsider Art Gardens by Matt Bergstrom (Atlas Obscura, 2013)
At Home Then & Now with Mr. Imagination by Norman Girardot (Elsewhere Journal The International Journal of Self-Taught & Outsider Art, Issue 1, Aug. 2013)
Envisioning Howard Finster: The Religion and Art of a Stranger from Another World by Norman Girardot (2015)