May 05, 2016

A sample of artist Stephen Knapp’s lightpainting
A sample of artist Stephen Knapp’s lightpainting

Worcester artist brings inspired innovations to illuminate campus

Adding to a career that has seen his work featured in Spain, Germany, Japan, Taiwan, and all over the U.S., artist Stephen Knapp will soon be gracing the outer walls of the Gordon Library with his “Lightpaintings.”

Beyond being a Worcester native and son of WPI grad Walter Knapp ’38, the artist’s work has a special commonality with the guiding principles of the university.

“Stephen’s work marries both innovation and technology – just like WPI prepares its students to do,” says Madelyn Jones, director of donor relations and stewardship at WPI.  “The coming together of technology and arts in this way exemplifies WPI’s commitment to our Humanities & Arts program.”

Preparations begin for the lightpainting installation
Preparations begin for the lightpainting installation

The idea to bring Lightpaintings to WPI began five years ago after a trustees meeting in Naples, Fla., led to a visit to a local art museum where Knapp’s work was featured. Attending the visit was former chairman of the board Steve Rubin ’74 who connected the artist with his father, an alumnus of his fraternity Phi Gamma Delta (Fiji). Not just a member, Walter was Purple Legionnaire (chapter advisor) and two-time recipient of the Durrance Award. From this connection, Rubin put the wheels in motion by contacting the artist directly.

Since then, Rubin, Jones, and assistant VP for facilities Fred DiMauro, as well as others on campus, have been instrumental in actualizing this idea: a Lightpaintings instillation as tribute to Walter Knapp ’38 and other Fijis who have passed. The work itself will be gifted by the Fijis and the Knapp family.

“Like a projector, the piece requires the contrast of light to dark to experience the piece in its intended fashion,” Jones says. “During daylight hours, the artwork appears to just be uniquely shaped colored glass on the façade of the Gordon Library.”

“Then, the afternoon sun will hit the glass and begin to project rays of light across the building,” adds DiMauro.

“When it becomes dark, the carefully placed lights within the installation will turn on and the projection will become more sharp and the colors more vivid,” Jones continues. “The colors cover the spectrum and the shapes of the projections vary based on angle, volume of light, and the strategic placement of other pieces of glass.”

This marriage of science and creativity defines Knapp’s work, and allows the observer to rethink the mutual exclusivity with which those two terms are often viewed. In that light, members of the WPI community with a scientific focus should find much to connect to within the work.

Artist Stephen Knapp
Artist Stephen Knapp

“The use of light may attract the curiosity of electrical engineering and physics students; chemical engineering students may wonder about the coatings on the glass,” DiMauro points out.

“The library is such a well-used building by so many students and also by faculty and staff,” Jones adds. “The high traffic the building receives means that the most people on campus will have the opportunity to view and enjoy this unique work of art. As students walk across campus, this piece will really catch their eye.”

Besides acting as a memorial to the artist’s father and what his fraternity has contributed to WPI, the installation should also serve as an inspiration to current students and a statement of purpose that echoes the university’s commitment to “theory and practice.”

As Jones puts it, “Imagine being a student emerging from intense studying at the library at 1 am before finals. Resting your eyes upon this striking piece of artwork should reinforce that technology and innovation belong together. Applying technical knowledge can be a form of art and expression.”

Lightpaintings will be unveiled on the outer walls of the Gordon Library in the coming weeks. More information will be available shortly.

For more on the artist Stephen Knapp, visit