New exhibit at The LIM showcases a modern-day Renaissance man
‘I always thought I was born under a certain star because I’ve been lucky my whole life.’
– Lumen Martin Winter
By Heidi Sutton
Lumen Martin Winter (1908 —1982) was an American public muralist, sculptor, painter and mosaic artist for more than 50 years. His most famous works are displayed at the U.S. Air Force Academy Chapels in Colorado Springs, at the AFL-CIO Headquarters and the National Bank in Washington, D.C., and at the Church of St. Paul the Apostle, Lincoln Center and the United Nations in New York City.
Through Sept. 17, The Long Island Museum in Stony Brook will present an exciting new exhibit titled Lumen Martin Winter: An Artist Rediscovered in the Art Museum on the hill. The exhibit, which includes 90 of Winter’s works of art along with photographs, letters and audio tapes, was made possible through a major donation by Alexander Katlan, a conservator for the museum, who began to collect artwork from the Winter family estate in 2015. Additional items are on loan from private collections and other museums.
“This is the first [solo] exhibition on this artist in a museum setting,” said Director of Collections and Chief Curator, Joshua Ruff. “Winter had been featured in other museums in small ways as parts of other projects; but this is the first time there has been a full-scale retrospective study of this artist in any museum anywhere.”
Divided into several galleries, the diverse exhibit explores Winter’s art and career from his early works as a cartoonist at a newspaper and as a student in art school, his years spent in Europe, time spent out West in the 1960s and his final years in New Rochelle. Display cases further showcase Winter’s work as an illustrator of books and magazines, stamps and medallions, including one for the Apollo XIII lunar mission.
“Lumen Winter was a name that I didn’t know a few years ago,” said Ruff during a recent guided tour. “This is a guy that made his bread and butter on public art commissions. These were projects that were done all around the United States — a lot of them were centrally located around the New York Metropolitan area.”
According to Ruff, “many of Winter’s biggest commissions and biggest projects were large-scale murals.” As a result, much of the artwork on view at the museum are preparatory works. For example, the large colorful mural that greets visitors at the entranceway to the exhibit is a preliminary corner panel for “The Fisherman,” a 14- by 28-foot mural on view at the HSBC bank in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, at the corner of Avenue U and 17th Street.
Winter’s favorite artist was Leonardo da Vinci and his mural replica of Leonardo’s “Last Supper,” which is the same size as “The Fisherman,” still hangs in the South Dining Hall at the University of Notre Dame. In the exhibit, a recurring video plays next to a colored print of “The Last Supper” in which Lumen describes his process in re-creating the famous work.
Ruff spent many hours researching and planning the exhibit in chronological order, visiting many of Winter’s murals in areas in and around New York, Washington, D.C., and even interviewing members of Winter’s family. “Many of Winter’s works were untitled, often not dated, so there was a lot of detective work” that needed to be done, said the curator.
According to Ruff, Winter started his academic career at the Cleveland Academy of Art and trained at the National Academy of Design and Grand Central Art Academy. He lived in New Rochelle from the late 1950s until his death in 1982 and had a studio in lower midtown Manhattan as well as out in Taos, New Mexico, for many years. “As a New York area artist, he was connected to the New York and Long Island artists that we have in our [museum] collection and knew them well.”
Winter did 13 different public commissions for public schools in New York City including “Voice of the Bell” a reference to the Verrazano Bridge, which was commissioned for a school on Staten Island. Some were marble sculptures but most of them were mosaic murals for the entranceway of the schools, said Ruff. Winter was also commissioned to do a lot of lobby work for the Sheraton Hotels across the country.
The exhibition is accompanied by a catalog that documents Winter’s works including what still exists and what is gone. Said Ruff, “We documented in the catalog all the projects that [the museum] had good details on. Unfortunately there are many that are gone or were moved elsewhere.”
For Ruff, creating an exhibit on an artist where most of his large significant commissions are gone or are in places that are hard to get to and see was a challenge. “What we have is the design work, the reference work, but then also what we really have is paintings that show his skill as a watercolorist and as an oil painter that he was doing for the love and joy of doing the art — without a profit motive.”
Winter once said that he had an intrinsic feeling that he could do anything. Scanning the exhibit, it is incredible how that statement rings true. It seems as if whatever medium Winter tried he mastered, including watercolor, red conte, gouache, graphite, oil, ink, charcoal, bronze and marble. There are incredible landscapes on one wall, abstract art on another and portraits on yet another.
Preparatory works for massive sculptures are also on view including sketches and designs for the Kansas State Historical Society’s “White Buffalo” marble sculpture, which depicts a Navajo Indian on horseback with a buffalo. This was Winter’s final commissioned piece and he passed away before finishing it. His son William, working from the designs of his father, saw the statue to its completion in 1983.
“I don’t think that people even realized in Winter’s lifetime how much he had really accomplished,” said Ruff, adding “Hopefully this exhibition and the catalog we’ve reproduced is a start and I’m hoping that continuously going forward this museum and other museums will be able to do more about him in the future, make more discoveries and that we’ll be able to connect him to other artists. It’s been a great journey so far …”
The Long Island Museum, 1200 Route 25A, Stony Brook will present Lumen Martin Winter: An Artist Rediscovered through Sept. 17. For more information, call 631-751-0066 or visit www.longislandmuseum.org.