It’s a heavy, existential question, but what do we leave behind when we’re gone?

This question is the crux of an art show that will be taking place at photographer Scott Church‘s art gallery, as a part of this month’s First Friday Art Walk in Downtown Lebanon.

The show displays the works of a local artist, the late Gary Zitkus. It’s a wide ranging body of work consisting of self-portraits, abstract paintings, and pieces that feature three-dimensional relief work, with recurring themes of neurosis, mental disorders, death… and fish.

A painting by Gary Zitkus.

If you aren’t familiar with the name of the artist, you’re not alone. Until recently, it was a name unfamiliar to most in the local art community.

“I’m having trouble finding people that knew him,” said Church, “I’m surprised I didn’t know him.”

Several weeks ago, Church was approached by a man who said that he was caring for his neighbor’s house, since the neighbor had passed away in 2015 and their family lived far away. He mentioned that the man, while a good neighbor, was a shut-in who over the course of ten years rarely, if ever, left his home.

Church was told that the man’s name was Gary Zitkus, and that he was a painter.

After being offered the chance to take a look at Zitkus’s work, Church obliged and upon arriving at the nondescript Lebanon home, he was greeted by “stacks upon stacks of paintings and boxes filled with sketchbooks, writings, and other paperwork.

Among the paperwork was a 1973 diploma from Lebanon High School. According to a Lebanon Daily News article from May 11, 1973, Zitkus won the top award for painting at the school’s senior art show.

Zitkus’ art needed to be removed from his home as it had been sold and the new owners were preparing to move in.

“(Zitkus’s art) just screams at you, and you just want to grab everything and run,” says Church.

To prevent the art from making its way to the dumpster, Church took two truckloads of canvases and boxes back to his studio, and began to try learning about the man who created such incredible pieces.

A painting by Gary Zitkus.

While he hasn’t been able to find much information about Zitkus, Church managed to contact one relative, currently residing in upstate New York.

While they said they loved Gary, they had no desire to keep his work or make any money off of it. Their only request was that a portion of the proceeds from the sale of the pieces be donated to St. Francis Breadline in honor of Zitkus, noting that he was a devout Catholic.

A self-portrait painted by Gary Zitkus.

While some of the paperwork found amongst the art indicates that Zitkus himself tried to have his work shown in galleries around Central Pennsylvania, it seems as though this never panned out during his lifetime.

Church felt that these pieces needed to be seen.

“The work deserves the show. It’s amazing,” said Church. “I’d have to think that this would be a show that he’d enjoy seeing.”

The pieces will eventually be for sale with Church mentioning that he wants to see the paintings find their way into the homes of people who will appreciate them.

A piece of art by Gary Zitkus.

As per the family’s request, a portion of the proceeds will be going to St. Francis Breadline.

According to Church, the show is about much more than simply displaying Zitkus’s work.

“I want to try to show who this man was as a person, not just as an artist, and give him the show that maybe he never had.”

The show will begin at 5pm on May 3 in Scott Church’s gallery located at 39 S. 8th Street in Lebanon. Find the full May First Friday map here (PDF).

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