Originally published in print in Laini’s Little Pocket Guide to Easton, Third Edition, 2010 and on its companion website.
They flee from New York City and elsewhere, because they found a warehouse building at a price they couldn’t pass up. Or because Easton reminds them of a place they once knew, long ago and far away. Maybe it’s because their friend Karl Stirner convinced them to come. Or because of its historic charm and the opportunity to create art in seeming anonymity.
Interviews by Kelly Prentice
Photos by Larry Fink
About the artist: A sculptor who works on a monumental scale, reflecting his work ethic and ambition, Stirner has a passion for attracting artists to Easton and collecting 20th century West African, Pre-Columbian, and Polynesian sculpture and objects.
Where he’s from: Germany
Studio/gallery location: 234 Ferry Street
When he moved here: 1983
Why he lives in Easton: I first came because a friend said you could buy anything you want for real cheap here, which turned out to be totally true. I came out here because I found this great building for practically nothing. Plus, it was one hour and 10 minutes through the tunnel and there’s an amazing world there in New York.
But then after living here for a short time, it suddenly seemed like this amazing location: this great historic town that had a lot of wonderful old buildings. It had a real sense of history. You know, Ben Franklin walked these streets, and it was all amazing. It became part of my life, I started to feel really centered here.
His philosophy: I worked hard to bring artists into town. What I would do was study where there were properties available and they were just kind of giveaways at the time. And people would come and if I didn’t know the property I would find one. The result was I was a realtor operating without commission. It was a lot of fun.
What makes him smile: When I lived in Upper Black Eddy, somehow I acquired this little newspaper that was published in Phillipsburg. It was by a city council guy decrying the fact that there was “so much urinating and fornicating in the city’s alleyways.” I just thought that was funnier than hell. So I put it up on my wall and for years and years, to everyone who came along, I said, “Look at that crazy thing!” That’s how I developed the attitude about Easton. Then I moved here and discovered, there are some serious people here. There’s an old society here that’s ongoing . . . and the love of this town that is in these people. Geez, the Declaration of Independence was read here. I’m not a historian type at all, but that’s impressive.
How he sees Easton’s future: There have been some enormous changes in Easton lately due to our [new] mayor. We’re now coming back. I’m now on a committee at Lafayette College to restore the Silk Mill on 13th Street, a community arts project that could have enormous impact on the city.
About the artist: Self-taught impressionist artist influenced by Bob Thompson, Lester Johnson, and Red Grooms, Barrell owned his own gallery called The Sun in Provincetown for many years.
Where he’s from: London
When he moved here: 2000
Why he lives in Easton: I had a very nice studio in Jersey City but the building was condemned. And I had a lot of work [to store] . . . So I wanted to find a building that was big enough to make a studio, living space and storage. Karl Stirner was very influential in saying, “Come to Easton!” It is a great place. It’s got a very Americana kind of flavor. It’s multiethnic. You can walk down Second Street and see all buildings influenced by the Dutch, by the Germans, by the English all side by side—it’s characteristic of America to me, people being able to live side by side.
His philosophy: I’ve painted daily for almost forty-five years. I still believe that the life of a painter is magic.
What makes him smile: When you see the Circle or the Square bustling with activity on a Saturday, that makes me smile. Sometimes you feel like you are back in time. When I was sick a few years ago, I ended up reading all the books of Jefferson, Washington and Adams. I got a real history of America and so much of it took place in this area. It was a crossroads.
How he sees Easton’s future: The town administrators, they have a lot of pride. It’s been on the upswing, it looks like a restaurant center now and theater is very good. I think there’s a lot of artists squirreled away. For example, Ultra Violet. She was one of Andy Warhol’s actresses, and she’s very famous. Last year she came by, but I’m not sure if she’s living here now or not.
About the artist: Abstract expressionist painter influenced by his interest in spiritualism, mysticism and political commentary, and influenced by his travels in Africa and South America. He was invited to be an American ambassador to Brazil; professor emeritus of CCNY-City University of New York.
Where he’s from: Omaha, Nebraska
When he moved here: 2000
His philosophy: This year I am appearing with the President of Brazil, Mick Jagger and Bono and a famous soccer player to donate a painting for poor indigenous people of Brazil. I’m working with the largest indigenous tribe outside of the rainforest. They’ve made me a cultural ambassador and we’re trying to get money from the government to help fund a museum for the indigenous. When I was in Mexico, the poor people were fighting against the wealthy. I wrote to the Pope that he should give back money to support some of these indigenous peoples’ businesses, and the same in America. I am working with the Liberation Theology; they are trying to get the church to help the poor. The structure of the church is for the rich landowners and against the poor people.
What makes him smile: Easton, to me, is like 1932. I grew up in a town like Easton—Omaha, Nebraska. It’s very nice getting out of New York. It’s not the same as when I first came to New York and you had great socialists, intellectuals and Communist movie houses. Now it’s a generic city. But Easton seems to me quite liberal and forward thinking.
How he sees Easton’s future: The economy gets better, then worse. For small places like this it’s harder to recover. New York City can go through ups and downs and around and then it fights back. I think it’s good that these fancy restaurants are here; it brings people in, but then they should have galleries open later, so people have somewhere to go after dinner.
About the artist: Her figurative and symbolic semi-abstract paintings are noted for daring colors and the prevailing theme of man’s place in the universe. Whistler is concerned with the idea of the enslavement of man through forces he does not understand and is also a relief sculptor with Native American influences.
Where she’s from: Amsterdam, though she is a U.S. citizen and lived in Oklahoma for many years.
Studio/gallery location: 158-B Northampton Street
When she moved here: 2004
Why she lives in Easton: We wanted to move to New York but when we saw what the prices were, we said, “Oh my, we can’t do that.” So we started looking at places close by. A very good friend of ours was teaching at that time at Lafayette College. She said, “Marta, why don’t you come to Easton?“ I didn’t know anything about Easton. We came here and looked around. I told my husband Dudley, “I am really a city girl.” We looked downtown and saw this house with a sign on it. The realtor said that one was not available but gave us the key to another house and went in by ourselves—it was a disaster area. Lowered ceiling. Carpeting. Plexiglas. Six layers of linoleum that had to be removed . . . But I believe a house has a soul, and this house has a soul, too.
Her philosophy: I want to prod your mind to see what you see, not what I dictate. I’m sometimes dumbfounded by what other people see because I realize it was probably [in my] unconscious. Individuality is one of the most important things. Children are pushed to fit in, when they should really be embraced for their differences. I can’t believe schools have been cutting arts programs. How are children going to express themselves?
What makes her smile: I love history. I love old towns, old houses. There’s something about Easton that’s very difficult to describe; the past lives of people who lived here many years ago and houses that speak to you, that want to be occupied. Every time I return home, I feel like this old house says, “Welcome back, Marta Whistler!”
How she sees Easton’s future: There is no perfect city in the world. So let’s take everything the way it is. Let’s bring more people here to realize that Easton is a great place to live. We are not too far from New York, we have the beautiful Delaware River and then you go into the country and you think you’re in a different world. And I think Pennsylvania people are on the whole very warm and genuine people.
If you’d like to learn more about Easton, check out this little walking tour from the 2nd Edition of laini’s little pocket guide to EASTON.