Once in a lifetime: Whitehall artist receives national exhibit top prize
Douglas Wiltraut has received the Robert Sanstrom Prize, a Gold Medal, and $5,000, as an honorarium, for his painting, “Fading Away” (2018, egg tempera on panel, 22 in. x 33 in.) at the 65th Annual Exhibition of the National Society of Painters in Casein & Acrylic (NSPCA) held at the Salmagundi Club, New York City.
The organization was founded in the 1950s and the society’s top prize, named for Robert Sanstrom, can only be received once in an artist’s lifetime. Sanstrom was an artist and NSPCA associate membership chairman who left his $1.2-million estate to the society as a legacy gift.
For the multi-award-winning Wiltraut, who lives in Fullerton, Whitehall Township, the award is more than another honor for artwork he has created. It highlights the ecological message behind his painting of a fading collection of butterflies displayed in an old wooden shadowbox, which in turn is hanging on a sun-baked plaster wall.
“The painting is an environmental statement piece reflecting the decrease in butterflies as a result of increased use of herbicides and insecticides,” says Wiltraut. He recreated his childhood butterfly collection to serve as the model for the painting.
As a child, Wiltraut enjoyed his mother’s butterfly bushes.
“I’d get into the butterfly bush and it would be swarming with butterflies back then,” he says, adding, “like 30-40 butterflies at a time would be on these bushes.” These days, Wiltraut laments, “I probably now have that many butterfly bushes in my yard to get maybe a dozen butterflies.”
Wiltraut the artist has made social commentary with a few of his other paintings. “Old News” depicts stacks of bundled newspapers placed on the curb.
He is concerned about the destruction of the world’s rain forests, so he created “The Silent Ax,” depicting a dull and rusted axe blade.
“If all the axes in the world were rusted, it would show they’re not being used. Therefore, the forests wouldn’t be cut,” he conjectures.
As with “Fading Away,” Wiltraut’s paintings are highly-detailed and provide a dramatic use of light and shadow.
Wiltraut prefers working in egg tempera.
“It’s one of the oldest painting methods that there is,” he says. “It involves mixing egg yolks with raw powdered pigments. It’s the stickiness of the egg and durability of egg yolk that makes it so wonderful as a painting method. It gets super hard as a rock after six months of curing.”
Wiltraut is especially fond of how the medium captures the effects of luminosity. Its wax-like matte patina also reflects no glare.
Wiltraut also enjoys working in watercolor.
“Fading Away” is in the collection of a prominent Lehigh Valley doctor.
Wiltraut’s studio is open for “First Fridays” on Bethlehem’s South Side. The next “First Friday” is 6 p.m. - 9 p.m. Dec. 6.
Information: douglaswiltraut.com; 610-264-7472