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“The Last 4th of July:” Local artists collab at Avenue 209

LAURA JAMESON/THE EXPRESS Jared Conti, left, and Sarah Smeltz, right, stand with Smeltz’s piece “The Witch’s Hat” and Conti’s poem. This piece is the two’s second collaboration which lead to “The Last Forth of July.”

LOCK HAVEN — Avenue 209 Coffee House is hosting a collaboration of two artists this month.

It was a random pairing that brought poet Jared Conti, of Lock Haven, and graphic designer Sarah Smeltz, of McElhattan, together during an art show at The Station Gallery in November for a Visual Word and Speaking art exhibit.

The exhibit consisted of artists creating a piece through any medium they chose to capture the essence of a poem.

Smeltz created a piece called “Alice” to match a poem created by Conti.

When the Clinton County Arts Council held another exhibit in April of 2019, Conti was quick to ask Smeltz to work with him.

This time Conti created a poem to match Smeltz’s piece called “The Witch’s Hat.”

It was after this exhibit that Conti encouraged Smeltz to collaborate with him on a bigger project.

And so “The Last Forth of July” exhibit began to take shape.

“He said ‘you need to do this,'” Smeltz said about the collaboration.

Conti gave Smeltz various poems and she created an art piece to match. They vary from black and white photographs, which she has captured over the years, to digital paintings and acrylic pours featuring a folded gold technique created by Smeltz herself.

Each poem is part of a series called “Traveling Tales of Waybackwhen” which currently has five parts, “The Last Forth of July” being just one.

The series is written in long ballad format and focuses on Lock Haven and the surrounding area in a post-apocalyptic setting, Conti said.

“It’s like a post apocalyptic fantasy,” he said. “I think that sometimes for all the negativity that comes from our place on the map, we have a lot of potential here.”

Conti was born and raised in Lock Haven and currently manages Avenue 209 Coffee House.

He first became fascinated with the apocalypse genre in high school when he read “Robinson Crusoe” and Stephen King’s “The Stand.”

“It just put that little idea in my head,” he continued. Conti began reading into the genre more before he started writing his ballads. A release date for the series has yet to be determined, he said.

Conti’s books will focus on Lock Haven as a whole but do feature specific places in the city such as The Fallon House and Grove Park. Some of these pieces are currently on display at Avenue, he said.

The collaboration between the two artists for this exhibit has benefited them both, they said.

“It’s definitely what I’ve needed to further my writing,” Conti said. “I know that there are three new pieces that I’ve written because of this exhibit.”

Conti has always enjoyed writing, having gone to college for English Writing.

“What helped me with doing this project was Jared,” Smeltz said. “It made me challenge myself and put my art first because I’d gotten away from it because of graduate school, work and life.”

Smeltz currently holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Graphic Design with a concentration in print and recently received her Master’s Degree in Integrated Marketing and Communications with a specialty in creative concepts and execution.

“I’ve always been into art and I’ve always credited my aunts on my father’s side for where I get my creativity from,” Smeltz said.

“The Last Forth of July” will be on display at Avenue 209, 209 Bellefonte Ave., Lock Haven, from now until July 31 with all of the pieces also available for purchase.