A rich legacy of art
● By J. Chambless
Artist Daniel Garber, in his brimmed hat, taught art classes in front of the Crystal Diamond Springhouse.
The Chester Springs Studio is part of the village of Historic Yellow Springs, which is comprised of 11 buildings and 142 acres and whose reputation started with the flowing waters there.
The village in picturesque West Pikeland Township has a long history that includes a period in the mid-1700s as a medicinal spa, where people whose health needed a boost would partake of the iron-rich “yellow springs” talked about by the local Native Americans.
According to “The History of Historic Yellow Springs” by Sandra S. Momyer, during the Revolutionary War, Gen. George Washington established temporary headquarters there, and later part of its property was loaned to build a hospital for the Continental soldiers injured at Valley Forge.
Following the war, Yellow Springs reverted to a popular spa for about 80 years, when sulfur and magnesium springs were discovered on the property. After passing through many owners, in 1868, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania acquired the spa, and used the buildings in the village to house and educate the orphaned children of Civil War soldiers.
But it was in 1916 that the village was established as a creative mainstay. John Frederick Lewis of The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts purchased then 37-acre property for a summer school. Many visual arts were taught there, and those classes often led to performing arts productions.
Open-air painting classes were popular, and continue on the grounds today. Painting and sculpture classes using live or animal models were taught. However, after World War II and into the 1950s, art became more abstract, so the realistic work done at the PAFA school was not as popular, and Yellow Springs again went up for sale.
In 1952, the village was purchased by a 26-year-old film director, Irvin Shortess “Shorty” Yeaworth Jr., who established a studio there to make Christian films under the name Good News Productions. He also explored the realm of more secular films, most notably making the sci-fi classic, “The Blob,” starring Steve McQueen, in 1958. McQueen and other stars of the film lived there for a time during filming, according to Historic Yellow Springs Executive Director Eileen McMonagle.
Neighbor Connie Fraley took a great interest in the historic site and the production company. Her attention and influence brought other artistic disciplines to Yellow Springs, and it was through Fraley’s efforts under the Yellow Springs Association that, in 1970, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
When the property was available for sale in 1974, it was bought by the Yellow Springs Foundation, which had been formed for the purchase. Historic Yellow Springs, Inc. – established after the merging of the Association and Foundation -- deeded the Chester Springs Studio as a separate entity in 1978. The studio officially became part of Historic Yellow Springs in 2007.