Every year, the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts brings a burst of color to the streets of downtown State College with decorative banners and art. But tucked away amidst the action is one staple of the festival: its poster.
For over 40 years, Lanny Sommese has designed the poster that can be found in storefront windows, and on the pins sold to guests for exclusive festival perks.
The current design features the "unofficial mascot," as his daughter Saige describes it — a jester standing behind an easel, which features a painting of his own feet he seems to have created.
She explained that the jester design is a result of a decade of contributions from nearly a dozen of her father’s “apprentices.”
Her mother Kristin said the design had been well-liked by the family and was presented as an option several times but was never selected. She added that her husband had not completely finished the piece until this year.
The Festival’s Executive Director Rick Bryant said the design has been “very popular” thus far and continues the mission of having an important element of the festival created by an artist versus an advertising company.
Bryant reflected on Lanny’s contributions for the festivals for several decades and said he was initially “a little bit afraid” of the artist.
“He’s this creative genius, and I’m probably not,” Bryant said. “Over the years, we’ve grown to have, I’d say, a warm relationship.”
That said, the director said with a laugh that Lanny doesn’t “always think [Bryant’s] opinion is right.”
Lanny asked his daughter, who graduated from Penn State in 2018 with a degree in graphic design, to help him with the design for a second year — a request some might find intimidating.
However, Saige is not a stranger to seeing her work on display, given that she helped design the logo for the THON 2016 “Believe beyond boundaries.”
She explained that one of her graphic design classes was tasked with submitting logos, which could potentially be selected as a future THON logo. This process first started in 1991 when Saige’s mother, who worked in the Stuckeman School of Visual Arts, sought to improve THON’s image.
“I’m very proud of her,” Kristin said of her daughter’s accomplishments, adding that she wasn’t “surprised at all” at Saige’s honor.
Regarding the Arts Fest poster, Saige said her father often asked for her thoughts on his designs, even when she was a child. She said that when she was younger she always asked her father why he was creating such “weird” drawings.
Kristin said she was not surprised when her husband asked their daughter for her assistance, considering that Saige has had a small role in the process for many years. Kristin added that Lanny also asked his wife for critiques, for example, if a poster should be more colorful.
Bryant approved of Saige’s involvement, stating that she is bringing the design process “into a new generation.”
Last year’s design featured something completely new in the history of Arts Fest: a female subject. Centered in front of a yellow and pink watercolor background, a simple outline of a female jester held the spotlight of the design.
Saige said the idea of having a female subject stemmed from her support for female representation.
Despite having a father who annually contributed to the festival, Saige said she did not attend her first Arts Fest until she was a student at Penn State. She explained that her family often spent their time at the beach during the festivities.
As a retired distinguished professor emeritus of visual arts in Penn State’s Stuckeman School of Visual Arts, Lanny has been involved in the world of graphic design for nearly half a century, publishing two books, being featured in exhibits around the world and participating in the Alliance Graphique Internationale, an elite international group of graphic designers based in Zurich, Switzerland.
His wife explained that though the State College population sees her husband’s work most often via the posters, her husband is more globally known for his “social and political” pieces.
“I think Lanny’s work will be known, not for Arts Fest, but for his political, social and environmental statement work,” Kristin said.
Kristin also taught within the graphic design program for 30 years, and their son Zane is currently entering his junior year at Penn State within the same program.
Being part of a family with a shared interest, Kristin said she first realized the cohesive passion over a typography discussion when her son disagreed with her love of a certain font.
Regarding future Arts Fest posters, Saige said she is open to the idea of continuing the legacy her father has created.
“I really love doing things like this with my dad…,” she said. “Going forward, I would love to try to create something like that that is more than trying to make money. I think it’s really important to me that I contribute to something that goes back to the community and tradition.”