Former Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Wilkes-Barre opens as art gallery
WILKES-BARRE — A local church has a new lease on life after an artist decided to purchase it and turn it into an art gallery.
The Art Center of Wilkes-Barre has an open house from 1 to 5 p.m. Nov. 20 inside the former Sacred Heart of Jesus Church, 601 N. Main St., to showcase the paintings of the building’s new owner Ray Lapatinka.
A Kosovo native, Lapatinka studied at Pristina University in his home country before travelling to New Jersey where he earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Montclair State University.
Lapatinka opened his own gallery in 1996 and began teaching at Bergen County Community College in New Jersey, where he mentored art students for four years.
But it was a visit to a friend and a chance encounter with a real estate agent that would eventually plant him in Wilkes-Barre.
Lapatinka met Mericle Real Estate broker and former Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Commerce member Steve Barrouk at Cafe Toscana while spending time with the restaurant’s owner, Marcello Ameti.
“He visited the area, and he loved it,” Barrouk said of Lapatinka.
Through mutual friend and business colleague Hysni “Sam” Syla, who owns the Wyoming National Bank building and the Sacred Heart School, Lapatinka was introduced to the church.
“When I saw the beauty of the church, I said, ‘If I can get it for a reasonable price, I’m going to preserve it, because I saw the sign outside that said it was a historical landmark of Pennsylvania,’” Lapatinka said. “I thought it would be beautiful to preserve it and turn it into a gallery.”
Lapatinka, who specializes in 19th century romanticism portraiture, images in an idealized reality, now has the church walls adorned with his work but only after a lot of labor was put in.
“It took a year and a half to get it ready,” Lapatinka said.
Barrouk, who has been involved with the development and renewal of Wilkes-Barre for almost 40 years said Lapatinka’s work has brought a cultural presence to a building that could have gone neglected.
“I saw the area and thought I could bring to the town something different,” Lapatinka said. “I want to make it like a small museum, so everyone can enjoy it.”
Reach Matt Mattei at 570-991-6651 or Twitter @TLArts