Celebrating Cullen Yates: Fundraiser paints picture of Poconos artist

For the
Pocono Record

Large undertakings often have humble beginnings, and the impetus for the upcoming art show and auction at Shawnee Inn, "Cullen Yates: 99 Years at Shawnee Inn," is just such a case.

Yates, one of the few artists in the Northeast to be inducted into the National Academy of Art, was a longtime resident of Shawnee-on-Delaware whose paintings have been compared to Winslow Homer's, and whose prolific body of work during his life won awards throughout America and abroad. It all began because folks at Monroe County Historical Association decided the upstairs of Stroud Mansion — its headquarters — needed a new coat of paint, and this has morphed into a celebration of the most lauded painter in northeastern Pennsylvania, with perhaps the largest collection of Yates paintings assembled since the artist's death in 1945.

Amy Leiser, executive director of the historical association, explained how it all began.

"We decided the upstairs needed a new coat of paint, and this Yates painting, which was over by the fireplace, was moved to this wall," Leiser said, seated beneath the large landscape on a recent sunny afternoon. The light on the southern wall made it evident that the painting needed to be cleaned, and Leiser contacted Shawnee native James Sittig, who specializes in restoration of old paintings.

"It took a couple of weeks to stabilize it and clean it. Most of the damage (in old paintings) comes from the reverse, but Yates protected the backs of his paintings with homasote or wood. I found exhibition labels on some of his paintings with the original price on them," Sittig said, adding that the turn-of-the-century prices have appreciated significantly in the last century, with many going at auction for the high five figures instead of four.
When he was done with the job, he called Leiser, who recalled the conversation.

"As we were talking, we realized that there were so many (Yates paintings) sprinkled throughout the area. There are Yates paintings at the Pocono Medical Center, the PNC bank and a really large one at the Elks," Leiser said, adding that besides the Yates owned by MCHA, there were also numerous paintings by the famed artist in local collectors' hands, many of whom agreed to loan their paintings for the show.

She added that Shawnee Inn seemed the natural place to hold the event, and the Kirkwood family obliged by donating the space for the exhibit.

Yates' paintings range in size. Many of them were small enough to fit into the case he carried from locale to locale, but he often used the smaller pieces to recreate the same scenes on larger canvases.

The huge piece in the Elks Lodge on Washington Street, East Stroudsburg — of which Yates was a member — is typical of his style in some ways, atypical in others, according to Sittig.

First, at about five by nine feet, it is much larger than most of Yates' pieces. The painting shows a herd of elk at dusk beneath a luminous sky, and features the striking colors and brush techniques of the American Impressionistic style, but it is different from other Yates' works in one other important respect.

"It's not a typical Yates simply because of the subject. Yates rarely did animals. He did some portraits while he was in France, but for the most part he was a straight landscape painter," Sittig said.

Yates secured his place in the Poconos from Charles Worthington after honeymooning at Buckwood Inn, now Shawnee Inn, in 1911. Worthington was so taken by the artist that he offered a piece of land and a "cottage" in exchange for a painting. According to Sittig, the painting with Shawnee Inn in the background and colorful rowboats sprinkled in the foreground around the shore of the river was the one he painted for his house above the village.

"Nora Hauser is a local artist who was born in Shawnee, and she just published her memoirs. It was her father who made those boats in the painting," Sittig recalled, underscoring the deep bond between the artist and the little village by the river.