In 1996, I had been working as the MBNA resident artist for a number of years; producing paintings of their various office buildings around the world (see Putting it all in Perspective). All of my assignments were challenging, especially the aerials of headquarters in downtown Wilmington, DE, but as far as a single building goes nothing was more overwhelming than The Grand Opera House of Wilmington!
My assignment was to fly to Wilmington, DE, from Maine, photograph The Grand Opera House and produce a painting in time for the 25th anniversary of its major renovation in 1971. The Grand Opera House was originally built in 1871, and had gone through major league hard times, almost closing, but was fortunately saved by a group called the Grand Pioneers, who realized the historic importance of the building to downtown Wilmington.
I was excited about the opportunity to paint a building with such cultural and historical importance. I remember walking through downtown Wilmington, turning a few corners in search of an opera house and there it was! In front of me stood the most ornate building I believe I had ever seen, much less painted.
My first thought was “Oh no, look at all of the little details!” The plethora of architectural details including Masonic images, dental moulding, arched windows, columns, pediments, draperies were compounded by the cobblestone brickwork in the foreground. I was overwhelmed with its magnificence.
I took as many photos as I could, from all different angles, up close and with a wide angle lens.
I ended up painting a relatively large painting on board (26" x 28"), which enabled me to capture all of the tiny details. I added touches of impressionism to the cobblestone sidewalk and dappled it with sunlight in order to soften the foreground, allowing the viewer to focus in on the grand façade.
Affirming the arts’ vital role within the community, The Grand Opera House mission statement reads: “The Grand Opera House entertains and engages its communities through exceptional, diverse live performances and educational outreach.” Working at promoting a greater understanding of the arts, the opera house hosts performances that help lift the spirit.
Looking back, I remember this painting to be one of my most challenging, but also extremely rewarding. The renaissance of this important, historic building of downtown Wilmington symbolizes how important the Arts are to humanity. How through heroic joint efforts and seemingly insurmountable challenges, remarkably philanthropic people can keep ART alive! I’m grateful I had the honor to paint The Grand Opera House!