Q and A with Ronald Howard

R. Howard, Michael’s Magic

Manayunk Roxborough Art Center has many wonderful members that voluntarily contribute to the success of the center. MRAC’s Esther Griffin talks with members about their careers as an artist/writer and their role at the Art Center. Next up is Ronald Howard. Howard’s second life as an emerging artist began over 10 years ago when he retired from his first life of service to Rev. Leon H. Sullivan and the global OIC skills training movement that spread to over 20 countries around the world. Howard began his art training at the Fleisher Art Memorial and has enjoyed classes from several gifted artists since. He currently serves as the president of the MRAC.

What is your role as president of the MRAC?

As president of a non-profit, all-volunteer art cooperative, my role is to make it all work. That means: selecting, recruiting and training people to fill key leadership roles needed to ensure the success of our three main programs - art exhibitions, humanities programs and classes for all ages from youth to seniors. It means the development of strategic and annual work plans that serve as benchmarks for measuring progress. It means working together with selected local partners and maintaining and growing the membership base of the art center. An important job – along with the treasurer and the rest of the board – is also ensuring that financial support is secured to keep the art center operating with effectiveness and efficiency.

R. Howard, Window Lights

Who are the members of the MRAC? What sort of atmosphere do you think they create at the MRAC?

MRAC members represent a diverse mixture of people. There are two main groups of members of our art center - visual artists and writer/poets. Sixty percent of our current membership are visual artists working in diverse mediums - graphite, ink, oil, watercolor, acrylics, photography, mixed media, ceramics, sculpture, etc. Most are young to middle aged emerging artists, who work full-time jobs/careers to support themselves. There are also several well established and respected artists within our ranks. The visual artists gather at the monthly art exhibition openings offered by the center. The other forty percent of the art center members are writer/poets who also gather in homage to the written word for monthly humanities programs, poetry critique circles, and periodic writing workshops. Art and Humanities events are scheduled together at each exhibition opening reception to encourage interactions among all members. The atmosphere is very informal and welcoming.

Who does MRAC collaborate with? And do you see more partnerships in the future?

Active partnerships are underway between MRAC and the Roxborough Development Corporation (RDC ) / RoxArt Gallery - MRAC art exhibition sharing; and Journey’s Way (MRAC art classes for seniors).  New initiatives are underway with the Manayunk Development Corporation (MDC) and the Summit Park Apartment Community. We are active participants with the Arts and Business Council, and the Philadelphia Cultural Fund. We intend to expand future collaborative ventures to organizations and groups active in the Roxborough and Manayunk neighborhoods of the city and we welcome ambassadors that are willing to support our Art Center in any way possible, whether that is by helping us with fundraising, making new introductions or promoting our events.

R. Howard, Portrait of Raul

What has been your favorite event at MRAC so far?

My favorite event at MRAC is the annual December Ekphrastic Art Exhibition. As a final show in the calendar year, we strive to bring together both arms of our membership (visual artists and writer/poets) in a collaborative art exhibition which features poetry written in response to visual artworks. The writers are allowed time to read their poems, along with projected images of their visual artwork muse. The event also serves as a year-end holiday party for the full MRAC membership and their partners.

What makes MRAC special?

The juxtaposition of visual artists together with writer/poets as the membership base for the art center provides the dynamic that makes MRAC unique. The on-going monthly focused attention to the needs and interests of these two groups helps to explain why the 2018 Classic Towns awards designated MRAC as the best art gallery/workshop for both Roxborough and Manayunk.

R. Howard (after Guayasamin), King Juan Carlos of Spain

You are also an artist and poet yourself. Can you tell a bit more about your work?

My personal creative interests include drawing, painting, photography and poetry. MRAC provides an ideal outlet for producing and displaying my artwork in each of these areas. Recent art classes at MRAC focused on fundamentals of portraiture have inspired an important new set of skills and a stream of graphite portraits of which I am proud.

Are there any projects you have on your wish list as an artist?

My wish list of projects includes drawing portraits of as many of my family members as possible, continuing to paint watercolor portraits based on the oil portraits of Oswaldo Guayasamin, and taking classes to learn the art of sculpting.

To contact Ron directly, email rhoward42@mac.com

(Would you like to leave a message for Ron or the MRAC in response to this blog? We would love to hear from you! Write your message in the ‘comment box’ down below, click on ‘post comment’, write down your name and click ‘leave comment as a guest’)

Q and A with Mike Muir


To learn more about the Manayunk Roxborough Art Center’s people, MRAC’s Esther Griffin will be talking to several members, learning about their life, their work and their membership of the MRAC. Next up is Mike Muir.

Mike is writer and visual artist and creator and co-producer of Divine Dali, Magnificent Madness, a dramatic reading with original script about the ‘life of a brilliant artist, tormented by his muse, twisted by his ego and diminished by his insecurities’. The event will take place on Sunday October 14th from 1.30 till 4 pm at the Montgomery Township Community & Recreational Center, 1030 Horsham Road Montgomeryville, PA 18936. Tickets can be purchased online following this link for $15,- or at the door.


Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I spent four decades working in financial services and banking. The last 25 years at an executive level serving in many roles from Vice President of International Operations, to Managing Director of Consumer Lending, Chief Credit Officer, Chief Operating Officer and even an acting CFO for a short period of time.

I moved with my family from Canada to Orange County California in 1988, accepting a promotion in Avco international Headquarters, a subsidiary of Textron. I retired in 2006. I have been with my beautiful wife Marie for 46 years and we have three adult children and five grandchildren. I thank my lucky stars for my wonderful family.

In 2010 I became a member of MRAC and I have served on the Board of Directors since then. Recently I have led an initiative to establish a performing arts program: it is wonderful working with the Humanities Program to write and produce original scripts on the lives of great artists. First Vincent van Gogh and this year Salvador Dali.

Practice for  Divine Dali, Magnificent Madness : a table reading

Practice for Divine Dali, Magnificent Madness: a table reading

You came up with the concept of a dramatic reading for the MRAC. The last one about Vincent van Gogh was a huge success. This time you wrote about Salvador Dali of which the final performance will be on October 14th. How did this concept come about?

The format was inspired by productions of Spoon River Anthology I have seen. The first one, on Broadway in 1965, led by Jason Robards. The writing process requires extensive research followed by the selection of specific, pivotal events in the artist’s life. It becomes a series of free verse snapshots that tells the tale of an extraordinary individual.

Who inspires you as a writer?

My strongest influences as a writer have been Edgar Lee Masters, Dylan Thomas, Paddy Chayefsky, Robert Burns and of course, William Shakespeare.


Are you involved in other arts?

I have written several screenplays and have also been a featured visual artist at MRAC on two occasions.

I guess you could call my work ‘Gaelic Impression’! Not so strange maybe if I tell you I was born in Dundee Scotland and spent my childhood there. My influences have been the Canadian Group of Seven and French Impressionist painters. On two occasions I won awards for best oil painting in Juried Shows. My use of colors has been described as vibrant and my brush stroke as lyrical.

What do you like about MRAC?

MRAC is a 501 C-3 nonprofit Art Center celebrating its 66th year already. It is an excellent organization for emerging artist and for poets and writers. It also offers art classes for adults and children, as well as literary workshops.

The MRAC’s coat of arms was designed by me for which I chose the Latin phrase, ‘Vita Brevis Ars Longa’ (Life is short Art is long) as the motto.


Q and A with Bill Kosman

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Although he is trained in drawing, water colors, sculpture and oil painting, it is the latter that seems to be Bill Kosman’s passion.  After a career of working as a journalist and corporate marketing executive on the East and West coasts and in Europe (and many art classes in evenings and summer), he now finds joy as a professional oil painter based both in Philadelphia and Normandy, France.

Kosman is hosting an exhibition ‘Hope for the Homeless’ at the Manayunk Roxborough Art Center in support of the Bethesda Project. The Opening Reception is Sunday October 7th from 12 – 3 pm. The show will continue Saturday the 13th and Sunday the 14th from 11 am – 3 pm. MRAC’s Esther Griffin talks with Kosman about his art and his upcoming exhibition.

How would you describe your art?

In one way, I live in two worlds when I practice my art of oil painting. In one world, I paint urban scenes in Philadelphia, and I try to show brave people on the streets of the city, confronting life and trying to build a home and a good life for their families in often difficult circumstances. In the other world, I paint landscapes of the beauties of France’s Normandy region – the fields of various crops shifting in the wind, the stands of trees, the historic villages (almost all with a church steeple rising above the skyline) the beaches, the complex colors of the sea, and the wonderful Normandy skies.

I love just letting myself go, letting my right hand take over, and then only guiding my brush when it comes to careful details, like those of the human face.  But in the last few years, things have been changing. Most important, I find my groove more easily. Real often, I achieve a painter’s high, and the forms, the colors and the mixes on the canvas seem to happen in the most natural way. Of course, this comes after some years of painting, when I’ve achieved a certain level of confidence and I feel that I’ve internalized many of the painting techniques I use.

And then there’s content. More and more I want to get certain ideas across. In Normandy, I remain so struck by the beauty of the landscapes that I tell myself I just want viewers to feel the same emotion I feel in painting when they look at one of my paintings. And in Philadelphia, I want viewers to feel the same emotion I feel when I see Philadelphians and new immigrants, of different cultures and colors, trying so hard to keep it all together.

Now, I see these two worlds converge. This past summer, in France, I’ve starting putting more and more people in my paintings - people working or enjoying themselves on vacation. The shift just seemed so natural. And while painting these people, my painting style has remained consistent. That is, I want to represent the people in a kind of rough-hewn, free style, getting beyond the niceties of their facades to their essences.


You paint both in Philadelphia and in France, can you explain your connection to France? 

In painting, I believe that real artists have to work hard and consistently to achieve a technical level where they can express their ideas and emotions. And the same consistent effort is necessary to achieve a level of confidence, so that when I take my brush or palette knife, I can add a strong stroke of color, without dabbing it little by little and – thereby – ruining its impact.

But sometimes serendipity takes over. And that was my case a long time ago. If you were to ask me:  What’s this thing about you painting nine months in the year in Philadelphia, and then the tree months of summer in France? I have to credit serendipity.  It just so happens that, while in Paris a long time ago, lightning struck, and I became the husband of a French wife, my wife Catherine. From that moment on, my life became worlds more rewarding and also bi-cultural. While working in the States, we usually vacation with our children in Normandy. And during the seven years I was a reporter in Paris, we usually spent some time during the summer in my hometown of San Francisco.

This connection to Normandy was a big break for my painting. I’ve been painting most of my life, earlier as a hobby and now as a profession. And while I worked as a journalist and later as a marketing executive, I often painted landscapes in Normandy. Frankly, my painting was okay for an amateur, but not impressive. Then, one day almost twenty years ago, Catherine suggested I try painting with a palette knife. Frankly, it was a miracle. Yes, I’m not the first artist to use a palette knife, but it transformed my painting. I mixed paint on my palette, and then I applied it directly on the canvas, most often mixing and blending it on the canvas itself. The experience was liberating. I felt a new freedom that I knew I would be able to apply to my painting in the future. I felt an ease and confidence. And, looking at the rich surface I was able to produce, I believed the palette knife was a method I could use to express the beauty in saw in Normandy. 

That summer, I painted about ten small paintings of specific landscape scenes, and took them back to Philadelphia. On my return, I showed them to the two partners – John and Paul – of the gallery on Philadelphia’s Pine Street, Show of Hands. They loved them, and my first gallery exhibit was a success.


You take the lead on the October exhibition titled 'Hope for the Homeless', your art in support of the Bethesda Project. What is that project about and what makes that project special to you?

How many times do we walk down the street in Philadelphia, and we see homeless people, sometimes with a backpack at their feet or a shopping cart at their side full of their possessions? And how many times do they hold a hand out and ask for money for a meal?  Sometimes as we rush by, we don’t really pay attention to them. Sometimes we realize, ”There, but for the grace of God go I,” and give them money and tell them we hope our small offering helps. But all of the time, we know that a small contribution will make little difference in their lives and in the lives of so many other homeless people.

The programs of the Bethesda Project are making a difference. Of course, one of the best places to learn about the project’s programs is on its website – www.bethesdaproject.org.  As far as I’m concerned, what I find important is that the project’s programs are part of a unified strategy that includes meals, emergency shelter, but also help in finding and keeping long-term housing through rental and purchasing help, and also assistance repairing a home and paying utilities. And this help begins with individual counseling to identify underlying problems and find the best tactics to solve them.

Of course, I believe that the Bethesda Project deserves our support. That’s the entire reason for my exhibit “Hope for the Homeless” at the Manayunk Roxborough Art Center. So, I definitely believe in the project’s efforts. I know that this exhibit on its own is but a small contribution. But we have to keep trying. We, as a society, have to find ways to solve the problems that continue to deprive so many people of rewarding and useful lives.  


Why did you become a MRAC member?

Frankly, I had a very positive feeling on my first visit to the Manayunk Roxborough Art Center. The people were – and remain – warm and friendly. There’s an atmosphere of helpfulness and of camaraderie and of the importance and appreciation of art. Then, there is a small group of people who are not only prize the wide choice of programs offered by the MRAC, they actually roll up their sleeves to keep those programs running. In addition, there’s a spirit of adventure, for example a non-profit organization like the MRAC working hand in hand with anther non-profit, like the Bethesda Project.   

What is your best tip to future MRAC members?

How can a new or current member of the MRAC get the most from his or her membership? For me, the answer is simple: Give of yourself, and you will get more than you give. Yes, there is a wealth of programs, like reciting and enjoying poetry, improving your art and exhibiting it, stimulating your ideas and benefiting from others’ ideas, and simply discussing life with other artists. But, frankly, more people have to get involved in supporting those programs. And that takes sacrificing some of your time for the greater good of all.


Q&A with Karen S. Elliott

To learn more about the Manayunk Roxborough Art Center’s artists, MRAC’s Esther Griffin will be talking to several members, learning about their life, their work and their membership of the MRAC. Next up is Karen S. Elliott.

Karen has been a long-standing member of the Manayunk Roxborough Art Center and knows like no other how the Art Center can contribute to a sense of community for local artists and art-lovers alike. Karen’s career is very eclectic, the result of her many interests, but it all revolves around one thing: creativity.

Karen has her own pop-up show ‘Fall Crafts & Creations’ on Sunday September 23, 2018 from 12 - 3 pm at the MRAC.


You are a very versatile artist. What different types of art do you create?  

I am an art Major and studied art in many forms. I am the writer of 6 published poems, I wrote 2 copyrighted songs, I am a photographer, I studied acting with John Barth and performed in several theatre productions like Fiddler on the Roof and the Sound of Music. I was awarded for a solo performance in singing in New York and was a model with John Robert Powers. I am a hair designer, was awarded the AMBBA award in hair design and I have a cosmetology teaching license. And the list goes on, so yes, you can say I am an artist of many interests.


What or who inspires you?

I am mainly inspired by the surface I work on. Whether that is a canvas, a body or a stage. Different surfaces let me create different forms of art and crafts and that fits perfectly with my wide interest in the arts.

You are organizing a pop-up show 'Fall Crafts & Creations' on September 23rd. What can people expect of this show?

I offer original art that is created by myself: traditional artwork, crafts, jewelry and silk flower arrangements, among others. It is a pleasure to see others choose a piece of artwork that fulfills their desire.


How long have you been a MRAC member and what is your role in the organization?

I have been a member for over 20 years! Apart from being a participating visual artist, I attend meetings, help out behind the scenes to look after the facilities and I regularly co-host the exhibitions. The MRAC is a wonderful art center to cultivate your inner creativity, at any pace. 

What would you advise future MRAC members?

To create and to inspire the next generation.

Q&A with Christina Tarkoff

To learn more about the Manayunk Roxborough Art Center’s artists, MRAC’s Esther Griffin will be talking to several members, learning about their life, their work and their membership of the MRAC. First up is Christina Tarkoff.

Tarkoff studied art at Temple University, Tyler School of Art. After a 20-year break from painting, during which time she raised a family and started her own graphic design company, she is back to her artwork in full force. Not only is Tarkoff a valued member of the MRAC, but she is also affiliated with the Philadelphia Sketch Club and a Professional Artist Member of the Mainline Art Center.

Tarkoff takes the lead on the next MRAC exhibition ‘Generations’, which opens with a reception on Sunday September 9th 2018  from 12 – 3 pm. Entrance is free and all are welcome to join Tarkoff and other members at this new show. The exhibition continues Saturday and Sunday September 15 & 16, 2018 from 11 am to 3 pm.

What sort of art do you create?

I make oil paintings in the "figurative realism" style, which can be defined as a style in which "realistically depicted human figure(s) are central to and a principal focus of the work."

With my paintings, I try to tell stories that cross traditional barriers such as gender, age, income, education & race to help us understand the most important art of all — the art of “being human.”

My paintings come from a combination of observation, interpretation, and composition. I use my visual language as an artist to restructure and interpret what I see.

I aim to create meaningful work that touches people.

How long have you been a member of MRAC and what do you like best about the Art Center?

I have been an MRAC member since July 2016. I love MRAC. After a 20-year hiatus from art, I started painting again in 2016. I took a big emotional leap by submitting to the MRAC July 2016 Juried Show. Thanks to all the CoOp members, I felt at home at the Art Center immediately. 

What I love most about the center is its artists. We have lively monthly meetings and I believe that together we help the Art Center grow and support our mission that "Art Brings People Together." I love that mission. I also love the Art Center's gallery space. It's not too big, not too small.  

You got an honorable mention at the MRAC 10th Annual Juried Show last July. What was that work about?

Yes, thank you! My "Women Who Shatter Barriers" series of four 8x10 inch collage oil paintings were chosen for Honorable Mention at the Annual Juried Show. It is an honor to be recognized for these paintings.

I was inspired to begin the "Women Who Shatter Barriers" series in March 2018 as a response to the "Me Too" movement. I was awed by the brave women who came forward to tell their stories. It made me think about all the women, famous and not, who break barriers with their talent, courage and "chutzpah" to challenge the status quo. Misty Copeland, Maya Angelou, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Malala Yousafzai are the subjects of my first four paintings. I was proud that the series is gaining attention and support. Three of the four paintings sold at the Juried Show. So that is always welcome support for the artist as well as the Art Center.

I will be continuing the series and I have a long list of women to paint. If anyone has suggestions, I'd love to hear!

You are the driving force behind the upcoming show 'Generations'; a show about creative families, showing art of several generations in one family. How did you come up with this concept?

The "Generations" Show concept began as a collaborative idea. Susan Kelly, Marilyn Lawrence (MRAC CoOp Members) and I were discussing our artwork at the MRAC "Philadelphia Places" show in 2017. We started talking about how we are all have families that make art. So, we said, hey, that is a great idea for an MRAC Member's show. And Voila! The result is the MRAC Generations Show! We have 14 MRAC CoOp Artist members and their families participating in the show. I am really excited about this exhibition and how the show represents the vision and artistic thread connecting our members and their families. This inter-generational exhibit celebrates MRAC members & their families who make art. It's a fun show for everyone.

What would you advise future MRAC members?

JOIN us. We are all volunteers. MRAC has no paid employees. It is a labor of love for all of us. We are all strong folks who love art, love the humanities and love the center. We are a community of artists, writers and poets. I know that my art has thrived since joining and becoming active in the MRAC community. Nothing is easy, art is hard work. Giving and receiving support from fellow artists makes the art gig a bit more fun and I look forward to the challenge of participating in our varied and creative shows. We intersperse annual shows like the Ekphrastic and Juried Shows with new themes such as last year's Philadelphia Places Show and this year's Generations Show. If you join us, you can suggest a theme for next year's September show! Also, as a member, you have the opportunity to use the gallery for your own solo show! That's a huge benefit. 

More about Christina’s life and work can be found on her website https://christinatarkoff.com