Luther Henninger always liked to create, even taking classes taught by Walter Baum, founder of the Baum School of Art and the Allentown Art Museum. Working to provide for his family led Luther to set aside his paintboxes, though, returning to them only after retirement. By then, his paints had long dried up, but his interest in art had not, and 12 years later he still hasn’t looked back.
Read on to find out more about Luther and his journey to becoming an accomplished artist …
When did you know you were an artist?
That’s a tough question. I ‘m still working on that answer. I always liked to create. Maybe that’s why I chose to be a draftsman.
As a kid, I liked bikes and baseball and Cub Scouts. In junior high school, wood shop, printing shop, electrical shop and machine shop had my attention. My mother saw fit for me to attend art classes given by Walter Baum and Clarence Dreisbach on Saturdays. Later I attended the Baum School at 12th and Walnut. I still have two of my pictures from Walter Baum’s Saturday class, and they definitely show he painted in a tree or fixed the canal boat to look like a canal boat before I took them home.
Mr. James Musselman, my art teacher in high school, was a very strong influence on me. I could go to the art room instead of study hall. Mr. Musselman had after school projects that we could work on, such as working up newspaper advertisements or making posters for local events. He took the class to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which was my first trip to an art museum, and he encouraged his students to attend art school after graduation, preferably to study commercial art. As a result, I attended the Philadelphia College of Art for one semester.
When did you decide to pursue it as a career? Where did you go for your training?
After my brief experience at higher education post-high school, I was fortunate to be offered a job at a local steel fabrication plant as a clerk and became an apprentice draftsman. I saw an opportunity at Bethlehem Steel and I was hired as a clerk and draftsman of steel products manufactured by the company.
The next job was a draftsman with a civil engineering firm. This job turned out to be a great learning experience, all the while taking night classes at the high school and at the Penn State extension on Ridge Avenue, then moving on to Everett Associates as an architectural draftsman and working for Lee Everett. He would return from a painting trip to Mexico and offer his watercolor sketches for sale for a few dollars or sometimes free for the taking. I have one of his sketches hanging in my home. A growing family meant finding a better paying job with more benefits, so I transitioned to a major local industry and stayed there for 30 years until retiring.
What has been your hardest challenge, and how did you overcome it?
Deciding to begin painting after retirement was a big challenge. I found my old paint boxes, but the paint was dried up. I bought new paint, brushes and canvases. I tried plein aire first and then moved to in-studio work. None of my work was much good at first, but I kept after it. Now after 12 years, I think I have reached a level where I can express my thoughts and creativity.
What achievements are you most proud of?
Being accepted at shows sponsored by the Lehigh Art Alliance and Bethlehem Palette Club is definitely an achievement. I consider acceptance in the Pennsylvania Art of the State show in Harrisburg and the Biggs Museum of American Art in Dover (Del.) definitely major successes.
Winning an award in the Stover Mill Gallery show was a recent highlight. I am also delighted being accepted to submit paintings for the Baum School auction. I had my first one-man show at our church, before COVID, and actually sold a few paintings.
What’s your advice for anyone who wants to explore art, but can’t seem to find the time or feels intimidated by a blank canvas?
Get formal training at a local art school or with a local teacher. Learn to draw before learning to paint. You may be interested only in 2-dimensional work, but experience 3-dimensional work too. The creative opportunities are unlimited. Give it a try. You will be surprised how much fun it can be.
ART@EPL is the library’s exciting partnership with the Lehigh Art Alliance and the Lehigh Valley Arts Council. The series is funded through a grant from PA Partners in the Arts, making it possible for area residents to enjoy free art lectures, exhibits, and workshops from local artists working in pastels, charcoal, sculpture, and watercolor among others.