The Carbon County Art League (CCAL) presented its 32nd annual arts gallery Sunday at the Anita Shapolsky Art Center in Jim Thorpe.

According to CCAL President Earlene Russell, the gallery was a way to demonstrate the social value of art and how it has thrived in Carbon County since the art league's inception. The gallery attracted hundreds of intrigued guests throughout the day and its success demonstrated Russell's point.

Russell and CCAL founder and former president Frank Sebelin say the league has grown substantially since its humble beginnings.

"When we first started the Carbon County Art League it was an amateurs' group and we had no idea what we were doing. We kind of made things up as we went along," said Sebelin. "Our first year we had four members. Our third year we had grown to seven; after our fourth year we were already up to almost 20 members. When I finished my presidency after seven years, there were nearly 50 artists in the league. It grew so fast, none of us saw it coming.

"This is the most people I have ever seen at one of our galleries," he added.

A total of 136 works were on display. Paintings and photographs made up the majority of what was exhibited, but there were also mixed media sculptures and crafts.

Forty-six artists contributed to the exhibit, which according to Russell is 20 more than last year.

CCAL membership, which is estimated at 80 members, is not the only thing that has changed since the organization's establishment. According to Russell and Sebelin certain policies have changed that provide their artists with more opportunities to gain recognition.

Both Russell and Sebelin explained that the galleries were originally just a way for the league to share its art with the community and make some sales. However, the artists wanted a way to gain more recognition for their work.

The first solution was to hire official judges to award a first, second, and third place winner. Many members rejected this idea and it was later replaced by a democratic process whereby visitors to the gallery vote for their favorite piece. The votes are tallied to decide a winner in the categories of watercolor, acrylic, oil, sculpture, photography, and works on paper.

At Sunday's exhibit, Bill Wentz was awarded best in show for his watercolor Fall Still Life.

Gary Embick won first and second place for his watercolors Yum and Coming Storm. Wentz received third place for his watercolor Mount Pocono Farms.

Steven Keger won first place in the acrylic category for his work entitled Winter Light. George Miller and Mary Kocher received second and third place respectively for Ambient Light and Studio Still Life.

Kocher also won first place for her oil still life called Autumn Arrangement. Nicholene Fulton and Deborah Miller were awarded second and third place in that same category for Huckleberry Cans and III respectively.

Tecu'Mish Munha'Ke won first and second place in the sculpture category for Angel of Sisterly Love and Totem of 3 Sisters. Miller took third place in the same category for her mixed media work II.

First place in photography was awarded to Jack Mroz for Mauch Chunk Sunset. Maryann Shwartz and John Stoj received second and third place for their photos This Old House and Swallows at Mealtime.

In the miscellaneous category of works on paper, Miller was awarded first place for I; Linda Mann and Patricia Delong were awarded first and second place for Tribal Elder and Oxbow.

The public response to the gallery was substantial. A regular flow of visitors perused the assembled art and spoke with the artists.

"I don't even know what to say. I haven't seen everything yet and I am already having a hard time finding a favorite. Every piece in here is wonderful and the setup is nice," said Heather Walbridge of Coopersburg.

The success of the CCAL and their galleries leave no doubt that the arts in Carbon County are thriving.