In unassuming Scranton, Pennsylvania, a coal-mining town likely more famous for being the setting of The Office than much else, stands a small castle. The turreted building is actually the Colonel Louis Watres Armory, which served as the home of the Pennsylvania National Guard Brigade from 1900, when it was built, to 2011, when the guard moved into a new building to keep up with the demands of the modern day (read: Wi-Fi). The hulking, 102,000-square-foot structure sat vacant for a few years, and the state of Pennsylvania decided to sell it, a potential wrecking ball looming, pending a buyer.
At the same time, artist Hunt Slonem, whose Neo-Expressionist paintings hang at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim, and the Whitney, among other museums, was being evicted from his studio on 34th Street and 10th Avenue in New York. The building was slated for demolition to make way for the shiny new Hudson Yards complex. By studio, we don’t mean a typical Manhattan shoebox, but thousands of square feet of space housing not only his painting facilities but also a trove of rolled up canvases from decades of work, collections of 19th-century furniture neatly arranged in vignettes, hundreds (if not thousands) of odds and ends like old busts and sculpturally stacked top hats, and a menagerie of tropical birds. “I’m such an accumulator of stuff,” Slonem tells AD. He’s an accumulator of properties, too, with seven historic buildings as part of his portfolio, each filled with part of his collection.
As luck would have it, a neighbor brought to Slonem’s attention the availability of the Watres Armory just as the artist was seeking a new space. Within weeks in 2015, Slonem became the newest tenant in Scranton – a renter, for now – and he sent about 500 truckloads of his precious collection across state lines. It was the largest project he had ever tackled by twofold, yet within a few years, he had completely renovated and decorated the space. “I must have gone into some supernatural state to achieve all this so quickly,” he notes. (It’s fitting, as Slonem tells us paranormal investigations at the armory have revealed some otherworldly guests, much to his delight.)
Slonem poses in front of one of his paintings.