Over 540 artists submitted 1,850 entries for the 55th annual Art of the State exhibition, which has been showcasing creative work at The State Museum of Pennsylvania since 1968. This year, Bucks County is well-represented, with three locals selected to have their pieces on view from Sept. 11 through Jan. 15.
Jō Adachi, Dave VanBlarcom and Carter Sio recently received the news that their talent earned them spots in the statewide exhibit. Not only will their work be taken in by the masses, it will be considered for awards.
Ahead of Art of the State’s grand opening next month, The Times spoke with Adachi and VanBlarcom about this impressive milestone.
For Adachi, who along with Sio teaches at George School in Newtown, landing a spot in Art of the State is meaningful for several reasons. Not only was this his first time entering, but the chosen piece holds a special place in his heart — it’s a painting of his eldest son relaxing in a grass field. This piece was created during a sabbatical in 2009.
“I wanted to do a reflection on how my teaching impacts my work, my life, a reflection on what it means to be an artist, a father and an educator,” he said. “So I went through personally-symbolic imagery and ideas and kind of put it in through portraiture of my kids.”
Adachi’s son was also pleased that his likeness will be featured in Harrisburg. This wasn’t exactly the case for his younger siblings.
“The other two are unhappy because they’re not in it,” Adachi said with a laugh. “I submitted three paintings, one of each of my kids, and the oldest happened to get selected.”
As for VanBlarcom, a photographer currently living in Newtown, this was also his first time applying to participate in Art of the State.
“I’m super honored, really. It was totally unexpected. A friend of mine recommended the show to me. He’s actually an oil painter and he knew I did some photography stuff. I entered not really expecting anything, so I’m really surprised and excited to have been accepted,” he said.
The chosen photograph is a shot VanBlarcom took in 2020 during a large-scale Black Lives Matter protest in Philadelphia. It depicts a speaker addressing a crowd on Broad Street. For VanBlarcom, a major part of his process is focusing on the art and craft of photography, rather than simply snapping a photo.
“I kind of just put myself into the moment and relay what I’m feeling and seeing while I’m out at an event or a protest or a rally. I feel like those are the easiest times to really capture that emotion and tell a story with a photograph, when people are really passionate about what they’re doing, what they’re speaking of, and what they’re acting a part of at that time,” he said.
VanBlarcom, who began to take photography seriously as he photographed his nephew’s wrestling meets, still considers himself an “amateur” and is constantly putting in effort to grow and enhance his craft. Adachi shared a similar belief that one can always learn and get better at an artistic medium.
“Sometimes people talk about how it’s something you’re born with. But I think the creation, the inspiration of making art, comes from practice and developing your craft,” he said. “As an educator teaching high school students, I really see that. It’s hard in the beginning. People think they can’t do it, but with a little practice, I get them going. I think everybody has the ability. It’s really exciting to be able to share that and help people be creative. It’s a lifelong journey.”
Currently, Adachi is finishing up a number of commissioned pieces, including a landscape and building, and working on several watercolor paintings. He usually has a sketchbook in his pocket and is always looking for new inspiration. All the while, he’s excitedly and nervously awaiting the launch of Art of the State.
“That would be amazing if I get selected,” he said. “But even if I don’t, there were many submissions and I’m honored to have been chosen. Plus, there’s two teachers from George School. We have a great art department.”
VanBlarcom is also keeping busy photographing Tyler State Park, local festivals and concerts, the latter of which is one of his favorite subjects.
“You see the passion while they’re playing their instrument or singing a song. You can almost feel it through the photograph when you capture that emotion,” he said.
Moving forward, both have specific goals in mind. Adachi is determined to break the assumption that one can’t be a successful artist while working and raising children: “You can be creative, have a job and have a family.”
Meanwhile, VanBlarcom plans to introduce his photography to more people through exhibits.
“I’ve put some of my photos out for a couple of things that I’ve seen on Instagram, but this was really kind of the first show that I’ve submitted to. So that made me even more mindblown that I was actually selected to take part amongst all of these other fantastic artists,” he said. “After this confidence booster, I’ll definitely be submitting to more in the future.”
Samantha Bambino can be reached at email@example.com