Gamble showcases his life of art

John Gamble will display this watercolor of James Dean at his art show at Grove Family Library through Jan. 4.

A Greencastle artist will be featured in a one-man show in Chambersburg for the next month. 'John Gamble: My Life - Art and Artifacts' runs until Jan. 4 at Grove Family Library, 101 Ragged Edge Road S. It highlights 50 years of his artistic endeavors, with pieces ranging from still life and landscapes to portraits and abstracts, including the media of watercolor, oil, acrylics, photography and pencil.

Gamble, 66, has been interested in art since childhood. He grew up in the pre-television age in Tionesta in the northwest corner of Pennsylvania. The town of 700 had little to offer kids. "It was scenic and beautiful but in the middle of nowhere," he recalled. "I lived to go to the movies."

The small theatre showed movies one year after their release, and the offerings changed every two days.  So on Friday nights and Sunday afternoons Gamble was introduced to the outside world. "That's where I first met James Dean on the screen."

The famous rebel actor made an impression, and it deepened when he died on Sept. 30, Gamble's birthday. The youngster never forgot the larger-than-life impact of Dean, and finally in 2003 painted his portrait. It has been hanging in the living room and will be moved to Grove Library for the show.

Movies influenced another artistic creation which will be on display, a portrait of Marilyn Monroe.

The small school system did not have an art program but Gamble picked up drawing and painting anyway. His mother gave him an oil painting set and he made "what I call bad art."

Finally at Edinboro State Teachers College, he received instruction en route to an art education degree. He was hired by the Greencastle-Antrim School District in 1965 as its only art teacher and taught grades 1-12. He rolled a cart to each classroom in the combined high-and middle school and the scattered elementary schools.

During that time Peggy Ann Bradnick of Shade Gap was kidnapped by a mountain man and held captive for seven days. That brought out local, state and federal officers and captured the imagination of the citizenry. "It was a shocking event," Gamble said. "Everyone waited anxiously each day for the next newspaper."

The rescue and publicity surrounding Bradnick stuck in his mind for years. He painted her picture decades later.

Then Gamble received his own surprise. He was drafted into the U. S. Army at the height of the Vietnam War.  He served as a technical illustrator at a base in Washington D.C. and then as director of an after-school program on a base in Germany. After the two years he returned to Greencastle and settled in at the middle school. The district by then was hiring more art teachers. He kept honing his skills. "I learned along with the kids."

Gamble retired in 2001 after 36 years in the classroom. That opened the door for him to seek instruction in watercolor technique, which he had not previously studied. He attended Penn State Mont Alto at the Chambersburg Center and found out the style "is pretty tricky stuff." The teacher, Carol Rinehart, challenged him and also alerted him to the opportunity to stage a show at Grove. It was something he had always wanted to do, and the first vacancy, nearly a year away, allowed him time to put everything together.

Gamble has nearly 30 pices on exhibit, some of which are for sale. The display also contains artifacts from his life: birth certificate, family photographs and other items. "I wanted it to be something completey different from what other artists have done," he said.

He also wrote an informational sheet on pivotal points of his life for visitors to read as they examine his art. He will be present at a reception from noon to 3 p.m. Sat., Dec 5. The display will be available for viewing during regular library hours.

Gamble and his wife of 33 years, Suzanne, have one son. Ziggy is a junior at Temple University majoring in film. The artist this year is president of the Greencastle Area Arts Council, which he and Suzanne founded 28 years ago. A springboard organization, Gallery 7, formed to display work by many artists in a central location for various periods. It is now open at 107 E. Baltimore St. through XXX.

Gamble is also a driving force behind First Friday, which debuted in Greencastle last March in cooperation with the Chamber of Commerce. He also teaches private art classes.