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Arlene L. Popko: Portrait of the Lady Behind the Paintbrush

Here's the scoop on a local lady whose art will be featured in three different exhibits this month.

It’s an exciting time for area artist Arlene L. Popko, whose work will be featured in three different art exhibits over the coming months. Though, truth be told, Popko is no stranger to artistic achievement. She has accomplished many things over the years, both on and off the canvas, and approaches every-day life with an air of artistry.

Before you run off to check out Popko’s paintings, take a few moments to examine the following portrait of the lady behind the paintbrush.

Arlene Popko was born in Lawrenceville and developed a love for art early in life. However, she put her artistic ambitions on the backburner and, at her parents’ encouragement, began working at age 15.

Rather than attend college, Popko continued to work through her teen and early-adult years, and went on to build a very successful career in the travel industry over the course of approximately 35 years. As part of her career, she trotted the globe—taking several thousand photographs along the way.

Popko remembers the motto she used back in her working days, “I believed that, no matter how horrible or boring a task seemed, there was always something fun about it.”

Popko’s ability to find the silver-lining was put to the test when she endured an injury that forced her to significantly change her lifestyle. She triumphed by returning to her love for art. By focusing her energy and enthusiasm on her artistic abilities, she was able to deal with her disability in another area.

None of this happened over night, however.

Popko dabbled around with oils until the fumes got the better of her and she turned to the watercolor palette. When she attempted to compliment her self-taught painting skills with formal classes, she had a few disappointing experiences before she found a class that actually worked for her.

This long and winding path eventually led Popko to the McMurray Art League, of which she has been a member for nearly a decade and which she considers part of her extended family. Through her numerous affiliations with its members, she has gained valuable personal and professional experiences.

A strong proponent of art therapy, Popko has taught art to deaf children and other persons in difficult life situations. She believes that the palette and brush can help a person understand and express his feelings, and overcome hardship.

In fact, Popko has a particular palette she has passed along to students in very trying circumstances. The palette was first loaned to a lovely young lady with terminal cancer. It has since touched the hands, and lives, of over a dozen other people.

Popko regularly donates artwork to various nonprofit organizations for auction. In 2009, she received a Conservation Award from the Covered Bridge Chapter of the Rough Grouse Society because of her dedicated donations to its cause. Other charities to which she has donated her work include The Cancer Caring Center of Bloomfield, UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and Family Links.

Artist. Traveler. Philanthropist. Let’s add a few more things to the list. Often called “the green witch” by friends, Popko is a life member of the Herb Society and has a recipe published in their acclaimed cookbook.

The green witch also has a green thumb—Popko is very passionate about gardening and is a member of a local gardening club. She has written and lectured on the topic, including lectures about garden folklore and potions at Phipps Conservatory.

Popko sees art in all she does. Even when she takes a break from painting, she still visits museums, reads books on the topic and turns other aspects of her life into art. From the way she arranges the plants in her garden to how she sets the dinner table or cooks a meal, art is all around her.

Discarded canvases are art—and a silver-lining. She shreds them and weaves their strands into baskets.

Her home is art, too. She herself designed the layout of her custom-built ranch-style home in Venetia. And, she was in charge of its decoration. The halls of her home are lined with her own artwork, mostly watercolor landscapes chronicling her life’s travels as well as the evolution of her artistic form.

Popko primarily paints realistic landscape and still-life watercolor renditions of things related to her travels and love of gardening. She has recently taken on the challenge of portraying people.

Her work follows a traditional approach, though her style and voice is distinctly present in each painting she creates. Indeed, Popko notes that the highest compliment she can receive is when someone recognizes her work before seeing her signature on the piece.

And, speaking of her work…

Popko’s piece entitled “Tea House at Vizcaya” will be on display at the Waterworks Show at Fein Art Gallery in Pittsburgh’s North Side. The show opened on April 29 and will run through May 28. It is presented by the Pittsburgh Watercolor Society, of which Popko is a member.

Gallery Sim, in the South Side of Pittsburgh, invited Popko to show a painting in its Capturing Carson show, which opens May 8 and closes June 5. The work she has entered is titled “Carson City Saloon.”

The McMurray Art League will feature Popko’s work in each of the two prongs of its Values in Art exhibit. Her painting, “St. Adalbert Church Krakow Poland,” will be on display at The Galleria in Mount Lebanon from May 6 to May 15, and then will be moved to join her paintings titled “Beach Treasures” and “The Cabin Faced West” to show at the MAL studio May 6 through May 21.

Carolyn Johnson May 05, 2011 at 03:17 PM
Great to read the article about Arlene. I've known Arlene for about 38 years. We go way back- She came to my Monday Painters 35 years ago. Then I heard her wonderful Herb Lecture at Giant Oaks Garden Club. Then I had her come and teach and demonstrate at my Monday Painters. She does beautiful work. Such an amazing person. How she addresses her illness and keeps on going is a tribute. Keep going Arlene, Carolyn Johnson
Joyce Purucker May 05, 2011 at 08:09 PM
She is my sister and I am very proud of her. Joyce Purucker
judith lauso May 06, 2011 at 04:55 AM
Arlene is a joy to be around. She always has a wonderful way of presentation...in art and conversation. It's a pleasure to call her a friend. I so enjoyed the article. Judi Lauso
Debby Popko May 08, 2011 at 04:00 PM
What a lovely article! You deserve the recognition. It's wonderful that you can live your lifes passion. It's great to have the portraits of the girls which are awesome. (I still have the lighthouses too!) Thanks for all the memories. Debby
Sarah Beth Martin May 09, 2011 at 03:22 PM
Thanks to all who commented on this article. I am pleased that you enjoyed it! Arlene is so lucky to have such wonderful friends, family and colleagues. The comments you each left help to further tell the story of this awesome lady. You've added "friend" to the list of Arlene's notable accomplishments. Thanks again, and keep reading!

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