Pilot who becomes a painter creates religious art

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The painter’s studio is on a tree-lined country road, past the stream and at the end of a gravel road Henry Wingate. The foyer and hallway of the Madison House are littered with faces peering out of framed portraits. The cavernous atelier is filled with larger-than-life paintings, costumes, and easels. Busts are waiting to be sketched by students, a bouquet with his wife’s flowers and a bowl of apples are waiting to be immortalized in a still life. A colossal north window lets in all the natural light the artist needs to turn canvas and paint into lifelike works of art.

Art was always Wingate’s favorite subject at school. He avoided abstract art and preferred to capture reality with paint and brush. After years of painting, he believes that working from life or using models instead of photos makes the difference. “I try to make things look lifelike and not just three-dimensional,” he said. “(I try) to draw and paint in a way that our eyes work in real life. The things that catch your eye first should be painted this way and the things that merge with the shadows should merge with the shadows. “

As Wingate grew up it was more difficult to find someone to teach him this classic approach than he expected. In the mid-1980s, modern art appeared to dominate the art departments of Virginia universities that interested him. At his father’s suggestion, he went to the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., And played on the sprint, or easy, soccer team. “I kind of gave up on art at this point,” he said.

After graduating in history in 1988, he attended flight school for two years and became an F-14 Tomcat pilot stationed near Virginia Beach and aboard the USS Kennedy. He enjoyed the challenge of learning to fly and the journeys that accompanied his ministry. “I (flew) over the Nile, over the desert of Algeria, over Cyprus,” he said. But he fell in love with Italy. “I’ve seen Florence and Venice and Rome and Sicily and Naples – just such a beautiful country. I try to go back to Italy as often as possible, just because of the influence, the beauty of the place, the architecture and the art. “

When he finished his service at the age of 28, he considered his future career. His father spotted an ad in a magazine for a studio or work studio teaching painting in the representational style he had always loved. After doing some research, Wingate moved to Boston in 1994 to study with the artist Paul Ingbretson. He spent five years under his tutelage, as well as brief stays in Florence, with the painter Charles Cecil, who, like Ingbretson, was a fan of the more traditional Boston School style of painting.

“I was thrilled when I found Ingbretson,” said Wingate. “Many modern artists think this is so old-fashioned that it was all done before. But precisely because so many portraits have been created, new people keep coming in who could be painted, ”he said. “(The people are) so interesting, so varied. Working out of life, you can spend time with people and try to bring some of their signature poses or gestures into the painting. That is what the painting could make so similar to them. ”

After years of study, he began to make a living from his art around the same time he married his wife, Mary. The couple now have seven children – Agnes, Henry, Cecilia, Evelyn, Esther, Julia, and Anna – and are parishioners of St. Peter Church in Washington, Virginia. While his work was initially mainly portraits, he is increasingly being commissioned to do religious pieces for churches. In the Diocese of Arlington, he owns paintings in the shrines of St. John the Baptist Church in Front Royal and St. Raymond of Peñafort Church in Springfield.

Henry Wingate created a painting of the Holy Family for the Oakcrest School in Vienna. COURTESY

His most recent work is a 2.40 x 2.40 meter painting of the Holy Family for the chapel of the Oakcrest School in Vienna, an independent school for girls in grades 6-12, which is guided by the teachings of the Catholic Church. Working with the school, he determined the right shape and size for the painting above the altar at every step. He began sketching the models and eventually decided that Mary should hold the Baby Jesus in the cradle while Joseph gestured at him. Then he scaled the whole thing up and sketched the scene with an ox, donkey and two cuddly sheep on his studio wall. Small allusions to Oakcrest were everywhere, including the school uniform tartan subtly hidden in a basket.

Wingate enjoys creating art that not only adorns a church, but hopefully brings people closer to the faith as well. He remembers someone telling him that he would stare at his portrayal of the Annunciation as he prayed the joyous mysteries. “My dearest and best compliment was when someone at St. John’s said, ‘That really helped me pray.’ ”


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