A school trip. A heartfelt letter. A gracious response.
When Eli Cummings went to the Crary Art Gallery in October with his Beaty-Warren Middle School class, he was moved by some of the works there.
The students of the seventh grade white team were given some information about the Pennsylvania Watercolor Society's International Juried Exhibition and were asked to vote for their favorite pieces.
Times Observer photos by Brian Ferry
An emotional Eli Cummings, a seventh grader at Beaty-Warren Middle School, above, opens a package from artist Daniel Vangeli, whose works shown at the Crary Art Gallery’s Pennsylvania Watercolor Society International Juried Exhibition inspired him. At top, Cummings gazes at the framed original painting he received from the artist.
One work in particular - a bold and busy New York City scene featuring a hot dog vendor - reached Cummings. His interest in the piece was memorable.
"One young man approached a board member present during the tour, Bonnie Anderson, and asked her numerous questions as to the price of the painting, the subject matter, and how the artist, Daniel Vangeli of Lebanon, Pa., executed his work titled 'American Dream'," Crary Board Member Meredith McIntosh said on Tuesday.
The next day, teacher Marian Aranyos asked her students to write letters about the trip to the gallery.
"Your picture stood out from everyone's paintings there," Cummings wrote in part of his letter. "Your picture inspired me to be good in class."
Asked what it was about the painting that spoke to him, Cummings had a ready answer. His other grandmother lives in New York City and he feels a connection to the city. "It looked more real to me and it popped with all the colors," he said.
Anderson contacted Vangeli and told him about Cummings and his letter.
"Mr. Vangeli was immensely pleased," she said, and he said Cummings' letter "made my day" and "I'm going to do something special for that boy."
On Tuesday, the white team gathered for a small assembly in the cafeteria. They were not told what the assembly was about. But Cummings, one of the first to enter, quickly grew suspicious. His mother, Misty, and grandmother, Sarah, didn't hide quickly enough. "I wondered why I saw my mom and my grandma," he said.
Then Aranyos read his letter and he knew what it was about.
Next, McIntosh and Anderson carried a large package over to Cummings. Inside, he found a print of "American Dream", a copy of American Artist Watercolor Magazine with Vangeli's self-portrait on the front, and a personal letter.
"I received a very nice phone call from someone at the Crary Art Gallery telling me how much you enjoyed my painting "American Dream" while visiting the Pennsylvania Watercolor Society's 34th International Juried Exhibition," Vangeli wrote. "Though it's not for sale, I wanted to give you a reproduction for you to enjoy."
There was one other item, carefully bubble-wrapped, inside the package. "I've also included an original watercolor miniature I had painted and would like you to have it," Vangeli said. "I don't know the man in the painting, I just enjoy painting everyday people."
The original paintings in the show carried prices of hundreds to thousands of dollars. Cummings was told his Vangeli original was a valuable piece. While some students recommend he sell it, Cummings wasn't interested. "I'm never getting rid of that," he said.
The painting of the man in a wheelchair was connected to "American Dream."
"The photo I used to paint this picture was taken in New York City the same day I had taken the photo to paint 'American Dream'," he wrote.
"Thank you again so much for your interest in my painting," Vangeli wrote. "It means so much to me."
A few years ago, the artist wasn't confident of his abilities. A friend convinced him to submit an entry to the Crary's 2010 exhibition. That submission won first overall.
"I really started getting serious about my art when I was around your age," Vangeli wrote. "Whatever you enjoy doing, whether it be art, music, sports, etc., keep going and pursue it. I wish you the best of luck with your future endeavors."
"It's such an honor to be able to give something to a young potential artist and to have the connection between the Crary and the artist through Eli," Anderson said.
"I didn't know my letter would actually get to him," Cummings said. "I want to say thank you to him."
Cummings asked his mother if he could go to the Crary again right away.
There is no show at the gallery this week, but McIntosh and Anderson invited Cummings to the Friday, Dec. 6 opening of the Crary's next show - an Irish Smith Retrospective - which runs through Saturday, Dec. 21.