story by Sean Bodley
Dr. Lester Griel is a professor, researcher, and adviser at Penn State. Some of his closest colleagues in the Department of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences decided to commission a work of art to honor his fifty years of teaching at Penn State. They wanted to commemorate his passion for providing opportunities to students, his down- to-earth character and warm personality. A gift that my contact for the project, Kristin Cox, said would “last a lifetime.”
For most of them, it was their first time working with an artist. Commissions require sensitivity and, as Department Head Dr. Val Beasley said, “a willingness to listen.” It was clear they hoped for an artist who would be able to express their vision. So, I composed a contract assuring that the group would have input on the direction of the work. At my first meeting with the group, they enthusiastically discussed many ideas for the painting.
Based on the group’s ideas, I created three different initial concept sketches, which I then presented to the group. Everyone shared their thoughts on everything from the overall composition to which facial expression best showed Dr. Griel’s warmth and subtle humor. By providing choices to the group, I was able to make it a truly collaborative effort.
I find that communication between artist and client is crucial when working to create a custom piece. With the group’s input and a wealth of reference photographs, I was able to integrate their ideas with my own artistic vision.
Per the group’s request, I completed the painting in secret, so that it would be a surprise. I figured the true measure of success would be Dr. Griel’s own reaction when the painting was unveiled at the annual department picnic at a local park. His expression upon seeing the artwork convinced everyone that the project was successful! He interacted with the piece by pointing out the building in the background and sharing a few words about the painting. Dr. Fred Metzger, a former student of Dr. Griel’s, donated the commission to the Department and thought, “the painting was great because it showed Dr. Griel’s connection to the patient […] and most importantly his students.”
The contributions of everyone who participated led to the success of this piece. It now resides in the VBS advising center in Henning Building at Penn State. The archival quality of oil paints is measured in centuries, so this work will last many lifetimes. Hopefully it will inspire future students to convey knowledge about animal health with enthusiasm that will rival Dr. Griel’s.