The art scene in Pennsylvania’s Americana Region is one of the most important and celebrated endeavors that makes the area a culturally rich and diverse place to live and visit. From visual artists to fiction writers to musicians and more, artists from the area continue to thrive and produce some of the most compelling and meaningful works today. To get a handle on just how impactful they are, let’s take a closer look at some of the most important artists who are originally from Berks County that continue to improve the lives of their audiences around the country and the world.
John Updike was a literary writer who was born in Berks County in 1932 and called the area his home. Today, you can visit local spots that were important parts of Updike’s youth and inspiration as an adult.
In his youth, Updike worked at the Reading Eagle Company as a copy boy and regularly visited The Peanut Bar, which are both still open and operating today. If you want to get a glimpse of his upbringing, pay a visit to his childhood home in Shillington, which was repurposed and designed into the wonderful John Updike Childhood Museum.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Updike also frequented the Reading Public Library. The library now includes an astounding archival collection of Updike that was donated by the writer himself and offers works from his mother’s collection. Additionally, Alvernia University, with the help of the John Updike Society, has become the permanent home of a collection of the author’s works in Reading, PA.
Wallace Stevens was a poet who won the Pulitzer Prize for his “Collected Poems” in 1955. Stevens’s father encouraged his son’s early education by installing in their home an expansive library and by strongly suggesting reading. At age 12, Stevens started public school for boys and began studying classics in Greek and Latin. In high school he became a very successful student, earning high marks and proving himself as a talented orator. He also showed early writing skills and ambition by reporting for the local school’s newspaper, and after finishing his studies in Reading, PA, he elected to further pursue his literary endeavors at Harvard University. His poetry has been particularly attractive and impactful among students and academicians and has fostered extensive interpretations about his work.
Photo Credit: © Luigi Novi / Wikimedia Commons.
Born on September 12, 1964 in Berks County, PA, Chip Kidd is an associate art director at the New York publishing house, Knopf. His childhood was strongly inspired by American pop culture and comic books, which inspired his interest in graphic design. He graduated from Pennsylvania State University and was employed at the publishing house as a junior assistant in 1986. Kidd did freelancing for a wide variety of firms and created more than 70 book jackets annually. Some of the publishing houses he freelanced for included Farrar Straus & Giroux, Amazon, HarperCollins, Scribner and Penguin/Putnam. At Pantheon Book he designed graphic novels, but in addition to graphic designing, Chip Kidd also wrote novels. In 2001, he released his first novel The Cheese Monkeys, an academic satire story.
Keith Haring was raised in Kutztown, PA, and became more than just a successful artist: he was considered an artist for his generation, creating works that grappled with topics like war, sexuality, birth and death.
Artist James Carroll, owner of the New Arts Program organization and museum in Kutztown, knew Haring and said as a young artist Haring used to come to presentations at the exhibit space. When in Pennsylvania’s Americana Region, visit the New Arts Program to see Haring’s floor artwork during its open gallery hours and visit one of his public art sculptures, “Figure Balancing on Dog, 1989,” in Kutztown Park. In 2014, Haring was one of the inaugural honorees in the Rainbow Honor Walk in San Francisco, a walk of fame noting LGBTQ people who have “made significant contributions in their fields”
The Pennsylvania Americana Region continues to help artists thrive with institutions like the Reading Public Museum, GoggleWorks Center for the Arts, the Freedman Gallery, the WCR center for the arts, and more. It’s always the perfect time of year to visit where our authors and artists found their inspiration and sense of community.
Photo credit: Reading Fightin Phils
World-famous musician Taylor Swift was raised in Reading, Pennsylvania on an 11-acre Christmas tree farm. This farm is the same one featured in her family footage, which was included in her “Christmas Tree Farm” music video. Swift attended West Reading Elementary Center and Wyomissing Area Junior Senior High School before her parents sold their family farm in Pennsylvania and moved to Hendersonville, Tennessee, so she could pursue a career in country music in nearby Nashville.
Much of her earlier shows in Berks County included events at Pat Garrett’s amphitheater in Bethel and singing the national anthem at the Reading Fightin Phils baseball team’s home games. She also performed at Reading’s Sovereign Performing Arts Center in 2007. Taylor Swift continues to travel back and visit Berks County to stay close with her roots and celebrate what makes Pennsylvania’s Americana Region so special.