Lightpainting Illuminates WPI’s Gordon Library Facade

The installation, an innovative combination of art and technology, is a gift from Phi Gamma Delta to honor advisor Walter Knapp '38, father of the artist
May 13, 2014

Art, technology, and innovation have come to light in a bold and vibrant new way at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) with the installation of a Lightpainting on the front of its George C. Gordon Library.

The installation is a gift from Phi Gamma Delta fraternity to honor Walter Knapp '38. Knapp was a longtime advisor to the fraternity and twice received national recognition for his outstanding leadership of the WPI chapter. He was also active on the President’s Council and was the first alumnus selected for WPI's Senior Honorary Society Skull. The first artwork of its kind on any Massachusetts campus, the Lightpainting was created and installed by Stephen Knapp, a Worcester native and Walter's son.

Lightpaintings are created using specially treated glass that acts as a selective prism, transmitting one color and reflecting its complement. As his palette, Knapp uses multiple pieces of glass that have been cut, shaped, and polished, allowing him to manipulate the light and “paint” with pure color. Using only two 75-watt lights, Knapp's installation illuminates the façade of the library while keeping to WPI's commitment to a "green" campus.

"It's a great canvas, which is why I was drawn to it," Knapp said of the library facade. "It's in such a perfect sight line on the campus. It’s a blank slate, and at night there's nothing there. It’s a really great dark area, just crying out for something. I wanted to create a large piece of artwork for the campus. I wanted people to look at art, technology, and innovation and see how they can all come together."

Stephen Knapp is an American artist best known as the creator of Lightpaintings, which have been called the first new art medium of the 21st Century. He is one of a small group of artists who work with light, and he has gained an international reputation for large-scale works which transform light into art. His installations are currently in museums, and in public, corporate and private collections; they exist in media as diverse as light, kiln-formed glass, metal, stone, mosaic and ceramic. Knapp has had solo museum exhibitions at the Boise Art Museum, the Chrysler Museum of Art, the Naples Art Museum, the Butler Institute of American Art, the Dayton Art Institute, and the Flint Institute of Arts, among others. His work has appeared in many international publications, including Art and Antiques, Architectural Record, ARTnews, The Asahai Shimbun, Ceramics Monthly, The Chicago Sun Times, Interior Design, The New York Times, Progressive Architecture, Sculpture Magazine.

Stephen E. Rubin, a WPI alumnus, donor and longtime trustee, who has remained active with Phi Gamma Delta since his undergraduate days, had looked for an artist whose work would stand out and accentuate a portion of the campus. During a trustees meeting in Florida a few years ago, he saw some of Knapp's work and thought it would be a great addition. Following the Florida meeting, Rubin met with Stephen Knapp, and suggested that WPI needed a lightpainting to honor Walter Knapp.