Drawing and Providing Inspiration
Madi Vanduren, “Bluegill,” 2018, watercolor, 12 x 18″
by Jill Schoeniger
Professor Richard Hamwi, Ph.D., is marking more than three decades as an artist and educator by doing what he knows best: drawing inspiration from nature and providing inspiration to his students. The culmination of this is “Legacy, a Faculty & Alumni Showcase,” an exhibit in the Freedman Gallery this spring. It features pieces by Hamwi alongside works from three of his former students: Adrienne (Lastoskie) Brendlinger ’07, Ray Reyes ’16, and Madi VanDuren ’18.
Hamwi is no stranger to exhibits, as his work has been shown in more than 30 solo exhibits from New York City to Washington, D.C. His work is a part of a number of permanent collections, including the National Museum of American Art of the Smithsonian Institution and the Phillips Collection.
Even though he grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and went to Queens College, his work now is largely inspired by nature. He attributes that to his family’s spending summers when he was a kid in the Catskills Mountain. “My fondest memories are from those times,” he explains. “That has stayed with me.”
As much as he enjoys working in nature, he doesn’t discount the influence the city has had on his career. “New York City is the art center of the world,” he says. “Being in New York you are exposed to so much — the museums and galleries — plus just the experience of living in Brooklyn. All that was very enriching to my life and still is.”
With his predilection for the outdoors, it comes as no surprise that he uses the term “sense of adventure” when discussing his work. To him this means: “exploring possibilities and taking some risks in not knowing the outcomes but guiding the materials that you are using. Many artists like to have a plan and work toward a definite goal they envision. I might have a feeling I want to use certain colors, combinations and sizes. I know the components involved, but I don’t necessarily know the exact image that will evolve.”
With degrees in both drawing (M.A., University of New Mexico) and painting (M.F.A, University of California, Santa Barbara), he gravitates toward watercolors and collages. “I always preferred working on paper to working on canvas,” he explains. “I’m interested in the transparent qualities of watercolor. And then collage gives me a chance to develop textures and explore compositional possibilities that I wouldn’t have otherwise.”
The exhibit at the Freedman Gallery features five watercolors and a collage by Hamwi. “They are predominantly watercolor and ink,” he says. “I use inks as well as watercolor because the colored inks have an intensity of color that you cannot quite achieve with watercolor.” All the pieces were created outdoors while he was on sabbatical last fall in the region known as Pennsylvania’s Grand Canyon in the north-central part of the state.
The college typically offers art professors returning from sabbatical the opportunity to do an exhibit, explains David Tanner, director of the Center for the Arts. “I asked Dr. Hamwi if he would consider expanding his show to include student artists that were influenced by his teaching technique,” says Tanner. “He was thrilled by the idea and, in turn, put us in contact with Madi, Adrienne and Ray.”
This showcase is a perfect fit for this artist-educator, who has graduate experience in both studio art and art education. At Albright he has been teaching both types of courses since 2004. “The extent that I enjoy it so much is reflected in this show,” he says. “It’s really a wonderful thing to be able to think back on students who stood out in your mind and get back in touch with them.”
Each of the participating alumni credits Hamwi for helping them learn as artists through his drawing, watercolor and collage classes and through his personal interest in developing their talents.
“When I first started my education at Albright, I had very little experience working in watercolor and was definitely apprehensive,” says VanDuren, who earned a co-major degree in studio art and arts administration. “But Dr. Hamwi quickly fostered a learning environment where my love for watercolor could grow.” She now works only in watercolor and chose to include in the show prints of original watercolors that are “pieces that incorporated techniques that were learned from Hamwi’s teachings, such as wet-into-wet, glazing and pointillism.”
Reyes, who majored in digital studio art, also works in watercolor as well as color pencil and digital. He says Hamwi has helped him with art techniques and theories, and introduced him to “the world of abstract art that continues to be very inspiring.” Reyes, who is a freelance illustrator and designer, explains, “I chose these pieces because I felt they are great examples of taking what I have learned from Dr. Hamwi’s teachings and applying it to my personal style and interests.”
The third graduate is Brendlinger, an art education major, who works primarily in watercolor and etching glass and is also an elementary art educator. “Artistically, Dr. Hamwi has helped me to focus on faces and improving my talents there. He also strongly supported my figure drawing, which later led to my senior art series,” she explains. “What I have taken away from Dr. Hamwi the most was his emphasis on being an educator first and an artist second. Art is my outlet; however, my passion and career is educating the young minds and the community about the importance of art.” Pursuing her passion has paid off, as she received the Delaware Art Teacher of the Year award in 2018.
Hamwi cites all the great teachers who supported his artwork — as far back as his finger painting in elementary school — as reasons he became an educator. Among the many lessons he has imparted to his students, two stand out: Remember that your art should express yourself both intellectually and emotionally and that art is also work, so you need a clear vision and self-discipline to be successful.
For him the best part has always been the “gratification of seeing students do something they didn’t think they could accomplish.” Seeing their work on display alongside his own takes that gratification to a whole new level.