George Skamai may be Armstrong County’s commissioner, but his private life has been spent quietly removed from the mainstream hustle and bustle of politics.
In the quietness of his home surroundings in Rural Valley, he is a multi-talented artist, conveying his images using wood-burning techniques, watercolor, line drawings, and much more.
He was at the Ford City Library last night as his artwork was displayed to the public.
Skamai said he spent most of his teenage years as the class artist and class clown.
“Instead of taking notes in school, I would find myself doodling! It was my ability to process. I was doodling, but I was listening. Sometimes I was writing notes, but it helped me to take information in. At the time I didn’t realize it – I just got in trouble for drawing a lot!”
Skamai was known for doodling while he was Chief Clerk in the Commissioners’ office, and even now, as commissioner, has used the margin of his agenda for an occasional rendering of something while he participates in meetings.
At age 18, Skamai created his first wood carving of a hunter and a grouse. His father took it to work with him at PPG Industries in Ford City to showcase it to his coworkers. He came back and said one worker offered him $35 to sell it.
“I never dreamed it would develop to the point where I was producing artwork for (someone else).
Skamai was working for a law firm when he began producing greeting cards for the business.
“I remember the idea the first year – they were going to take a piece of art that I created and turn it into a holiday card and print 3,500 copies. It continued for 14 years. They grew in popularity to the point that we were printing 13,000 cards each year. It was very satisfying.”
Skamai is unique in his talent, in that he has managed to create images that reflect various periods of art in our history.
“Norman Rockwell was an influence. I appreciated what he did – the story he could tell with a single piece of art. He used a technique where he exaggerated features to emphasize the point that he was trying to bring through on his art. I could never take it to that extent because I was working with people I knew. So I didn’t want to make them look like caricatures. But on the fine art, I looked at some of the Renaissance artists like Michelangelo and Leonardo de Vinci. Looking back, I see the influence, but at the time, in retrospect, it was just something that appealed to me and I wanted to reproduce that style.”
Skamai began with wood burning, requiring him to master various disciplines to create the final image.
“I always felt that when I was doing portraits especially, that working with wood was somewhat limiting because the wood-burning pen would take the heat more readily over the grain than between the grain. So maintaining total control through that was difficult. It was time consuming. I always thought ‘If I could just do this with a pencil, paint brush, or a pen, I could do so much better.’ ”
His Catholic heritage led him to create wood art of the suffering Christ, the crucifixion, and the Virgin Mother.
Skamai said that although he had a wife and three children, he was able to find time late evening and sometimes into the wee hours of the morning to pursue his passion. Through every season of employment, he has been able to weave his art into his job – even in county government.
“I’m working on something. The cupola of the courthouse (the dome) is in disrepair. One thing I thought about doing was producing a card or a print of the courthouse. I want to take a unique angle on it because there have been enough photographs and drawings of it over the years. If I could do that somehow and get it reproduced, I would like to use the proceeds of it to go toward the repair of the cupola because it is an expensive endeavor – over $250,000.”
If you invite him over for lunch, make sure you have a pen beside his napkin at the place setting. You may end up with a masterpiece from Armstrong County’s version of Norman Rockwell.