By: Dylan Bowman, HAHS Board Member
September 7, 2023
Self-portrait watercolor of Gladys Sweigard (1921-2022). Painting provided by The Sweigard Family. Photograph by Dylan Bowman.
Art speaks to everyone in one way or another. At times, it is to some more than others, but each is individually affected in their own way by something made at the hands of mankind.
The art of Gladys Sweigard is no exception.
Gladys Marcie Parmer was born February 7, 1921, in Kylerstown, Pennsylvania, to Professor Preston Parmer and Dora (Lubold) Parmer. They lived in Halifax where they lived for many years, allowing Gladys to graduate school, and become a member of the Millersburg Art Association, the Halifax Area Historical Society, and a lifetime member of the Halifax Alumni Association in the adult years of her life.
In 1939, she married Russell Sherwood Sweigard and shortly after, the couple purchased J.E. Meredith's General Merchandise Store in Matamoras in the fall of 1944. Together, they operated the business as "Sweigard's Store" for nearly 30 years. Throughout this time, Gladys and their family had an immense impact on Halifax and surrounding communities, selling state-of-the-art GE appliances, Youngstown Kitchen sets, gasoline, and a wide array of general store merchandise until the store's closing in 1973.
Her lifetime love of art seemed only to be rivaled by her love of family, who fondly recall the many times that the kitchen table acted as the artist's inspired workspace.
"We knew when Mom was feeling creative we'd be standing for dinner!" recalled Cindy (Sweigard) Tobias.
Russell and Gladys Sweigard standing at the front desk of Sweigard's Store. Photograph provided by The Sweigard Family.
Gladys's watercolors often depicted local valley sights that can still be seen today, as well as some buildings (especially barns) that are no longer standing and have themselves been reduced to local history.
As an avid artist, Gladys created hundreds of unique oil and watercolor paintings, ink pen and pencil drawings, sculptures, paper mache, fabric sewing, leaf and flower prints, and carvings, all displaying her beautiful outlook on the world around her and her immense love of nature and the outdoors.
Her skills were noticed by many and she was asked to give classes to youth and called upon by others to create art for special projects, all the while growing her skills.
Gladys created art nearly up to the time of her death on September 24, 2022, leaving behind hundreds of pieces in the many decades she practiced art throughout her 101 years.
Some of the art of Gladys Sweigard including her watercolors, apple-dolls and Youngstown Kitchens model set from the store. Photographs by Dylan Bowman
A Woman of Many Talents
These artistic mediums were only a few of Gladys's many talents that would be exhibited throughout her lifetime. She (and her husband) was also a spokesperson for Youngstown Kitchens by The Mullins Manufacturing Corporation, a line of porcelain steel cabinetry and sinks that had its origins and rich history in Salem, Warren, and Youngstown, Ohio, starting as Kitterage, Clark & Co. in 1872 and being bought by William H. Mullins in 1882.
Sweigard's Store carried the model kitchen set that the manufacturer had given and trained them with at their own store in Matamoras. Gladys herself would use the model and its many components as she traveled door to door, helping her neighbors create beautiful kitchens in their homes. With her artistic eye, she excelled at this task.
Furthermore, Gladys was well-known in the valley region for her famous "Apple-Head Dolls."
Constructed from real apples (often Granny Smith picked at Biglerville and other local orchards), the dolls were made from bits of sewn cloth, cotton stuffing, and a real, dried apple that was used as the head of each unique character she created. The Halifax Area Historical Society has approximately five of these dolls on display as a lasting testament to her creativity and artistic wit.
For your personal artistic growth and convenience, above is the recipe of Gladys describing how to make your own Apple-Head Doll. Great project for the kiddies!
Friends and family of Gladys came from far and wide in the community to see the exhibit at the Historical Society and her paintings that were for sale by the family therein. To the Society's delight, a large number of new visitors and community members stopped by the exhibit as well, taking in some of the history and the art present. Approximately 35 attended the event, with many more adamantly awaiting the September 10th showing.
If you are interested in seeing the September Gladys Sweigard exhibit at the Halifax Area Historical Society or perhaps purchasing one of her beautiful, original paintings, visit our Events page for more information. We would love to see you there!
Friends and family of Gladys Sweigard gather at the Historical Society exhibit to discuss Gladys and her impact on the community. Photographs by Dylan Bowman