Whiting returns to artistic beginnings
The College’s first fine arts graduate made painting not his life’s work but his life’s pleasure.
Photo by Stephanie Gross.
Just beyond the studios of Fayerweather Hall, headquarters of U.Va.’s McIntire Department of Art, once stood an old army barrack where James H. Whiting (Fine Art ’52) attended classes in oil painting, wood-block printing and other graphic arts. Whiting, the first to graduate from the University with a bachelor’s degree in Fine Art, fondly remembers afternoons spent in the large, open room, which was heated by kerosene stove. “It sounds primitive, but it was really very comfortable,” he recalled. “The building had lots of windows, and the light was very good.”
Although ultimately a subsequent degree in commerce determined his career in the textile industry, Whiting’s gratitude to the art program runs deep. “The program expanded my life in many ways,” he said. “I have no regrets about the education I got in the arts. It’s been very broadening for me and made my life measurably better.”
Since retiring Whiting dedicates a great deal of time to an interest in historic preservation and, of course, oil painting, his favorite medium. At one time unwilling to make a living with, in his words, “his limited talent,” Whiting has been commissioned to paint landscapes and portraits. He also teaches oil painting gratis to beginner painters at a community college in Richmond. “It’s great fun at the end of the semester to see their work and how thrilled they are with it.”
He attributes much of what he knows about art to Charles Smith, the program’s first head and Whiting's favorite instructor. “Mr. Smith was a remarkable man,” said Whiting, who, as the only majoring student at the time, received a great deal of one-on-one advice from his much-admired instructor. “Fred Nichols and William O’Neal, who taught architectural history, laid the foundation for my love of historic preservation,” he added.
Even now, Whiting draws from his experiences of 50 years ago: “I often use the knowledge I gained in that cold barracks studio to enlighten my own students.”