Today would have been the 59th birthday of artist Keith Haring. Haring grew up in Kutztown, part of Pennsylvania’s Americana Region. During his 31 years, Haring would rise to prominence as an artist for his generation, creating pieces on topics like war, sexuality, birth and death, many with a political message. But no matter how famous he became, one man that knew him says the artist never forgot where he came from.
Artist James Carroll, owner of the New Arts Program organization and museum on West Main Street in Kutztown knew Haring and said as a young artist Haring used to come to artist presentations at the exhibit space.
“It was incredible how he made his work. He always drew his paintings free hand,” said Carroll. “He didn’t sketch them out in advance. Early on I saw that given the opportunity he would go beyond, and he did.”
He loved children and when visiting his hometown would go to the local elementary school to see the kids. “He had a generosity of spirit, which I admired,” said Carroll. “He saw the possibilities of someone making something of themselves and wanted to encourage that in children.”
During Haring’s 1987 art show for the New Arts Program, he had finished installing his artwork but couldn’t escape the feeling that something was missing. “He asked me if it would be ok if he painted the floor, and I said sure,” Carroll recalled. “So Keith went to the local hardware store and came back with a few cans of paint and went to work creating a masterpiece on the floor of the gallery.” Carroll has since had the floor sealed in layers of polyurethane to protect the artwork, which was not given a formal title by Haring. Admirers of Haring’s art are delighted to discover it in such an unlikely place as the floor of a gallery.
“The night of the opening there were over 700 people that attended, so there was a long line out the door of the gallery,” Carroll continued. “They all wanted to talk to him, to meet him, to be in his presence. Many brought along objects for him to sign. He took the time to talk with all of them. He was a very accessible person; if I called him, he was the one who answered the phone; even when he became famous that is how it was. He stayed humble no matter how famous he became.”
When in Pennsylvania’s Americana Region, visit the New Arts Program to see Haring’s floor artwork during its open gallery hours Wednesdays – Sundays. And you can visit one of his public art sculptures, “Figure Balancing on Dog, 1989,” in Kutztown Park. Pieces by Keith Haring are also on display at the Reading Public Museum. On Saturday, May 6, 2017, Kay Haring, Keith’s sister will be at the GoggleWorks Store. Her book “Keith Haring: the boy who just kept drawing” will be available for purchase and signing by the author.