SYRACUSE — This summer won’t be just any summer for Brian Whirledge.
Because he received a Lilly Endowment Teacher Creativity Fellowship Grant for $12,000, Whirledge, a visual arts instructor at Wawasee High School, will get to visit several countries in southern Europe during a seven to eight week span in the summer. He applied for the grant in September and was selected from among a large group of statewide applicants.
Whirledge noted these grants allow teachers the “opportunity for personal renewal” and to possibly fulfill a lifetime goal or dream. “They (teachers) can pursue something they couldn’t otherwise do,” he added.
His particular passion is Byzantine art and he has been painting icons from that era for about the last 13 years on his own outside of school. Byzantine art is religious in nature and from the Byzantine Empire era of about 300 to 1500. “It is medieval art and the icons have halos or gold leaf backgrounds,” he said. “They are often saints or about Bible stories. It is an ancient style of art which I have fallen in love with. It is the foundation of Western art.”
Whirledge further described Byzantine art as “the gospel in colors” and it is an expression of his Christian faith. “It is a beautiful art form,” he commented.
He will use the grant to visit several churches still standing from the Byzantine era in Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Greece and Istanbul, Turkey. While in Greece he will visit Mount Athos, a monastic republic on a peninsula and isolated from the rest of the world.
Visiting the churches will allow him to improve his icon painting technique and to study mosaics and then draw what he sees. He plans to spend a considerable amount of time at each church because, he said, the best way to learn is by studying the works of art.
Another portion of the itinerary will be visiting England, where his wife Rebekah and son George will join him. There he will study with contemporary icon painters who use, among other techniques, one known as egg tempera, which Brian hopes to incorporate into his teaching.
Whirledge received the same grant in 2012 while teaching in the Fairfield school district. During that summer, he studied art and music in Athens, Greece.