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Waynesboro grad Leah Markus on the art trail

May 17, 2007|by ASHLEY HARTMAN

QUINCY, Pa. - Growing up in the countryside of Franklin County, Pa., with parents that own an herb shop, it is no wonder that Leah Markus' artwork is inspired by nature, specifically orchids and insects.

The 21-year-old Quincy resident recently was awarded the Sarah Peter Fellowship, worth $1,750 for her jewelry and metal artwork.

When Markus was announced as winner of the fellowship, "I ran down like I was on the 'Price Is Right,'" she said. "I was so happy because of all that work."

Markus has been interested in art since she was a girl.

"I was lucky enough to have really good art teachers in my schooling and my parents have always been really supportive of my art as well," she said.

Some art teachers who Markus said especially helped her were Karen Papouchek and Trudy Gembe-Palughi, both of whom work at Waynesboro Area Senior High School. Markus graduated from the school in 2004.

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While Markus did not take any art classes during her freshman and sophomore years of high school, she "managed to fit five art classes in my junior and senior year of high school. It was enough to allow me to get together a portfolio that got me a scholarship to Moore (College of Art and Design)."

The daughter of Kalman and Dawn Markus is a junior at the Philadelphia school, where she is majoring in three-dimensional fine art, with a focus in Jewelry and Metal.

She learned about the Sarah Peter Fellowship in December of 2006 and researched it over her winter break. Markus described it as an artist grant that goes to a junior at Moore.

"Even if you don't win, it's a good experience all-around just to have under your belt as an undergrad," she said.

The fellowship required a five-page proposal detailing what the applicant would do with the money, and each applicant had gallery showings of his or her artwork. Three judges from various art fields determined the winner of the fellowship.

In her gallery of artwork, "I had a lot of pieces with the beetles in place of gemstones," Markus said. "I had a couple of pieces that had the abstracted forms of insects and orchids."

With the money from the fellowship, Markus will travel to Ecuador on June 7 for two weeks to study orchids and insects in their natural habitat with Dennis D'Alessandro, a world-renowned expert in the field of orchids, and Dr. Diego Vazquez, the head of the orchid department at Universidad de Cuenca.

"Dennis is pretty well-known for orchid studies," she said. "He classified over 1,000 orchids, 80 (of which) weren't previously known to science."

With Vazquez, Markus will be "looking at orchid specimens at the University and talking to him about orchids."

D'Alessandro is a friend of Markus' father, and Vazquez is D'Alessandro's friend from living in Ecuador.

From the trip, Markus would like to gain more knowledge of orchids and insects.

"Once you know something really well, it's easy for you to turn it into something else," she said.

"When we're there, we are going to be going from the Andes to the Amazon," Markus said.

Markus will be staying in the bungalows of the Eucagenera nursery and jungle preserve outside of the city of Cuenca. It is the largest exporter of orchids in Ecuador.

"Their jungle is pretty big from what I understand, so we'll be able to explore that," Markus said.

"I've always been pretty interested in nature," she said. "When I moved to Philly, I really missed nature orchids and insects."

Markus said she found that orchids and insects translate well to jewelry.

"I abstract them into jewelry and use actual specimens," she said. "I use the flowers and really brightly colored beetles in place of gemstones."

Victorian Science is also an inspiration for Markus' artwork, which includes items such as specimen boxes and old taxidermy.

In her parents' herb store, there is an antique bookcase that Markus likes because it resembles the Victorian Era. There is also a Victorian Science Museum near her school in Philadelphia called the Wagner Free Science Institute. It has remained the same since the Victorian Era (circa 1905), according to Markus.

Markus also works with silver, copper and bronze, and makes bowls and jewelry out of them.

After graduating from Moore, Markus plans to attend graduate school and hopes to one day make her own work and sell it.

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