2006 Distinguished Teaching of Art Award
Lester Van Winkle, Virginia Commonwealth University
Lester Van Winkle is an exceptional teacher and mentor who taught sculpture at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond for more than three decades. He joined the Art Department at VCU in 1969, nurturing the Sculpture Department into one of the most renowned and nationally recognized sculpture programs in the United States.
From Lester’s Laws: Van Winkle’s Serious Musings on Making and Critiquing Sculpture, 23 Laws to Learn and Live By in the VCU Sculpture Department:
1. The only thing worse than a bad piece of sculpture is a big bad piece of sculpture. Even worse, a big bad red piece of sculpture.
Colleagues at VCU wrote with heartfelt enthusiasm on Van Winkle’s behalf. In an eloquent jointly drafted letter, three contemporaries wrote, “For thirty-five years Mr. Van Winkle was an indispensable member of this department. His humanism and intelligence were crucial to the foundation on which the department’s nationally recognized program has been built. His core strengths, an orientation toward wonder, a deep respect for the individual, and the determined search for the depth of things are woven into the department’s academic mission.” Vigorously illustrated in these thoughtful comments is the impact that Van Winkle has made not only on the VCU Sculpture Department but also on the Art Department as a whole. Through his efforts at VCU, he has made a major contribution to the greater dialogue of sculpture on a national level.
One of the most challenging aspects of teaching art will always be the critique. Van Winkle’s students speak of the strength of his critiques and the impact his sincere, thoughtful, and cogent criticisms have had on their ability to think about their work. One student wrote, “Van Winkle’s critiques are renowned; his discussions are frank, insightful, and discerning. He asks big questions, guiding each of his students with a deft touch and sensitivity that unleashes their innate talent and determination, qualities of the self that enable a student to one day become his or her own teacher.”
Van Winkle has enjoyed an illustrious career as not only an educator but also an artist. He has received prestigious commissions in Richmond, Virginia, and two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts. His record of exhibition is impressive: his works are in numerous public and private collections, including the Fine Arts Museum of Mobile, Alabama; the National Collection of American Arts, Washington, DC; and the Louise Bourgeois collection, New York. He has been a frequent participant in CAA panels and presentations, consistently from 1990 through 2003.
A fellow artist writes, “He is a brilliant formalist. He understands with invested passion the impact of the tiniest visual choices, and his students inherit both his knowledge and his passion.” An impassioned artist who constantly challenges himself in his own studio, Van Winkle has done what all great teachers must do: he has selflessly and ardently shared of himself to inspire his students.
The last of Lester’s Laws is the simple wisdom we should all hear at some time from a trusted and respected professor: “23. Trust your intuition.”
Jury: Michael Krueger, University of Kansas, chair; Michael Aurbach, Vanderbilt University; Yong Soon Min, University of California, Irvine; Wayne Potrantz, University of Minnesota; and Muriel Magenta, Arizona State University.
Read a list of all winners of the Distinguished Teaching of Art Award from 1973 to the present.