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Cover of Spring - Summer 2003 Issue

 

John Walrath '02

Recent Graduate Captures Longwood in His Art

John Walrath '02
If Longwood ever decides to hire its own artist, it should give John Walrath a call.

Before graduating magna cum laude last year, Walrath had done numerous works of art depicting campus buildings - a stained glass of the Rotunda, a layered drawing of Grainger, a cardboard model of Hiner, drawings of the Lancaster clock tower and Lankford Student Union, and black and white photographs of the aftermath of the fire of 2001. The stained glass was bought by President Patricia Cormier, in whose office it hangs, and eventually will be displayed in the future Rotunda. Two of the other works also were purchased, and he was later commissioned to do a copy of the drawing of the clock tower.

"Longwood has been one of the biggest influences in my life," says Walrath, an art major whose concentration was interior architecture. "I found my niche here."

He now works as a project coordinator for the Williamsburg Inn Design Studio, which is responsible for design-related issues for Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

"I work primarily for the Williamsburg Inn, and also with other historic homes the Foundation rents out," he says.

His stained glass of the Rotunda was the first work of art that he had ever sold. It also was his first experience with stained glass. "I went to a store in Fairfax called Virginia Stained Glass, where they showed me how to cut the glass, and I bought a how-to book. It wasn't difficult, but it is a time-consuming task. It took me a while to get the hang of cutting the glass. I've pretty much mastered it."

The stained glass hangs, suspended by chains attached to two hooks, from a window in Dr. Cormier's office in Lancaster. "I made the wood frame for this and also for my Grainger work. Both frames are red oak with pecan stain. I like the way the wood looks when it's stained; the appearance of the grain is unique."

Dr. Cormier, who attended the show, sees parallels between Walrath's art and Longwood's recovery from the fire. "When I first saw this marvelous piece at John's show, I was amazed at its quality," she says. "I also 'bonded' emotionally to this new interpretation of the Rotunda. When the Ruffners rise from the ashes, this beautiful stained glass will figure prominently in a suitable location. John's artistry renews our faith that our signature buildings - the physical soul of Longwood - will be with us once more for future generations of students to enjoy."

In Grainger Hall, his favorite work in the exhibit, three overlaid sections of paper glued to matboard, each separated by a half-inch, incorporate the various architectural elements of the 98-year-old building which, heavily damaged by the fire, had to be torn down in September, 2001. The work is in a box-like, glass-encased wood frame.

"I got the inspiration to do this type of work at the Washington Square Art Show in New York City, which I attended over Memorial Day weekend in 2001. A man was doing similar work on a smaller scale, and I bought one of his pieces. I took his idea to the next step and refined his technique. I drew it on paper first, then took it to Kinko's to make copies. Next, I decided which elements of Grainger would look best layered, then used Prisma color pencils on paper, mounted the paper onto matboard, and cut it. This was the first time I'd attempted anything like this, which is unique. The best way to describe it, I think, is to call it a shadow box."

Another building is recreated in Cardboard Hiner, a model consisting of thin cross-layers of cardboard. "It's made to scale - one-eighth inch equals one foot. I got the inspiration from my brother David, who used to do three-dimensional puzzles. It was made by stacking flat cardboard pieces on top of each other to create the image."

Also in the exhibit were a drawing of Longwood's first president, Dr. William Henry Ruffner, and a collage, The Desires of Life After Longwood, which he had done for a class. "You can't tell," he said, pointing to the latter, "but this has articles about the fire from the Farmville Herald."

Walrath and his stained glass of the Rotunda whichh hangs in Dr. Cormier's office
Walrath and his stained glass of the Rotunda whichh hangs in Dr. Cormier's office
The stained glass in Dr. Cormier's office isn't the only piece by Walrath that adorns the campus. A drawing of the Lancaster clock tower, featuring three side-by-side versions ranging from rough to refined, was bought by Dr. Laura Bayless, assistant dean of students, who displays it in her office. Also, the Student Union purchased the perspective drawing of Lankford, where it hangs in a hallway near the Charlotte Room.

All of these works were from his senior art exhibit last spring. "It's unusual for a student in a senior art exhibit to sell several works; most sell only about one," says Johnson Bowles, director of the Longwood Center for the Visual Arts, who coordinates the senior art exhibits. Characteristically, Walrath's response was modest. "My intention wasn't to sell everything in the show. I wanted to show some of Longwood's history and the architectural elements of its buildings. The response to my show was beyond what I imagined. It was flattering."

One visitor to the show was the architect Fred Kuntz, owner of Kuntz & Associates in Alexandria, who had designed the renovation of the old Ruffner and is designing the new Ruffner. He also did the Grainger renovation in the early 1990s and that of Hiner a few years later.

"Mr. Kuntz was on campus the Monday before the show opened, and Dr. Cormier mentioned it to him," Walrath says. "He approached me in Bedford, not knowing who I was, asking about the show. I'm glad I happened to be in the building. We had the chance to speak for about 20 minutes."

As a result of the exhibit, Walrath sold another copy of the drawing Lancaster Clock Tower to Christine Todt, of the Student Affairs staff, who gave it to her husband, Brian, the assistant director of commuter life and special projects, for his birthday in 2002. And Brian, enamored of the stained glass of the Rotunda, commissioned the artist to do a stained glass image of his house, which he gave to his wife for a surprise anniversary gift four months later. Walrath made the frame for that piece as well.

The Northern Virginia native was a member of Phi Kappa Phi national honor society, Who's Who Among Students in American Universities & Colleges, the National Dean's List, Chi, and Kappa Pi honorary art fraternity. He participated with fellow Longwood students in the national Alternative Spring Break program and worked as a building supervisor in Lankford his last two years. Former professors describe him as soft-spoken, serious and sincere. "John is a real gentleman and was a very good student - he was always prepared and did high-quality work," says Randy Edmonson, his adviser and department chair. Mark Baldridge, professor of art, echoes those sentiments. "John was always superb. He was so conscientious, serious, hard-working and thorough."

Kent Booty
Associate Editor