Lancaster, Pa., is justifiably famous for its picturesque countryside, its Amish farms, its Pennsylvania Dutch cooking, and more. But this quaint – yet growing – small city is turning into a thriving arts center, which is drawing both tourists and new residents alike who want to be part of the scene.
On a recent trip to Lancaster, which coincided with the American Quilt Society’s national quilt show, held in the recently unveiled Lancaster County Convention Center (attached to the new Lancaster Marriott), I took the opportunity to stroll along Lancaster’s aptly named Gallery Row. More than 90 galleries and studios line North Prince Street and the surrounding blocks, with a variety of artwork on display and for sale –from the colorful oils, watercolors, and acrylic originals of Christiane David to the folk art, antiques, and garden art at CityFolk to the paintings, prints, and note cards of Liz Hess, known as Lancaster’s “Red Umbrella Artist” (for obvious reasons—most of her works include a red umbrella).
The performing arts don’t get short shrift here either. I enjoyed touring the beautiful Fulton Theatre, America’s oldest continuously operating theater which is also a National Historic Landmark. Music lovers can get their fix, too, courtesy of the Lancaster Symphony Orchestra.
If you time your visit to Lancaster right, you can enjoy a First Friday (held the first
Friday of every month from 5pm to 9pm), when galleries and shops stay open late, host exhibit openings and artists” receptions, and offer entertainment and refreshments. Twice a year – spring and fall – the city also hosts Lancaster Arts Walk, a celebration of visual, performing, and culinary arts.
If you don’t want to wait for the next First Friday or Arts Walk, take a self-guided driving tour of the Pennsylvania Artist Trail, sponsored by the Pennsylvania Arts Experience and established to promote the arts along the scenic river valleys of Southeastern Pennsylvania. The Artist Trail follows the Route 30/Route 113 corridor between York, Pa., and New Hope, Pa. The trail is based on the success of the “HandMade in America” Craft Heritage Trails of North Carolina and is attracting arts-minded travelers from around the world to visit the state and the studios of Pennsylvania’s many artists and artisans, as well as the museums, galleries, historic inns, bed and breakfasts, scenic, heritage and cultural attractions located in the region.
Artists on the trail – from painters and weavers to glassblowers and woodworkers – open their studios to visitors and offer “behind the scene” tours and the opportunity to see the creative process at work (or at play, depending on how you look at it). The Pennsylvania Art Experience also offers a concierge service to help travelers line up studio visits and offers suggestions for lodging, meals, and more.
For a look at Lancaster’s long tradition of textile arts (the Amish and Mennonite communities are known for their expert workmanship), I also visited The Heritage Center Museum (don’t miss the working 1920s print shop on the top floor – as a working journalist, I was fascinated by this, but you – and your children –will be, too, and you can take part in a hands-on demonstration of the printing process) and Lancaster Quilt & Textile Museum. Both are located in the compact, walkable historic district, adjacent to the Central Market, the oldest public market in the country (where you will be able to find traditional Pennsylvania Dutch crafts and treats, such as shoofly pie and handmade pretzels).
Speaking of food, the burgeoning arts scene has led to an increasingly sophisticated foodie scene as well, with excellent fare at such restaurants as Carr”s, which emphasizes American classics with a twist; Annie Bailey’s Irish Pub & Restaurant, for authentic Gaelic grub; and the casual coffeehouse/bistro, Prince Street Café (great cappucino!).
I’ve been to Lancaster many times and while I love the traditions and beauty of the Pennsylvania Dutch region, as an arts lover, too, I was excited to see how this creative city is proving a haven for artists and visitors alike. I”ll definitely be going back!
If You Go: