Drawing on Lititz: The legacy of John Andrew Wenger

By on June 1, 2016
The original pen and watercolor artwork of John Andrew Wenger, a founding member of the Village Art Association, will be sold at the Lititz Historical Foundation, starting this Friday at 5 p.m.

The original pen and watercolor artwork of John Andrew Wenger, a founding member of the Village Art Association, will be sold at the Lititz Historical Foundation, starting this Friday at 5 p.m.

You’ve seen his art, but you may not know his name.

John Andrew Wenger was one of the most prolific artists in Lititz, capturing the architecture of historic buildings and the lush landscapes of the countryside. His popular tourist brochure “Walk Down Main Street” depicted the history of downtown Lititz in his distinctive pen-and-ink style.

Now, art collectors and those who appreciate Wenger’s art will have a rare opportunity to own one of his pen and ink drawings or watercolors. The Lititz Historical Foundation will hold a exclusive sale of more than 100 of his drawings and paintings on Friday, June 3, from 5 to 9 p.m.

“We were fortunate enough to have many of John’s works donated to the foundation through the generosity of a relative,” says Charlene Van Brookhoven of the foundation.

The original pen and watercolor artwork of John Andrew Wenger, a founding member of the Village Art Association, will be sold at the Lititz Historical Foundation, starting this Friday at 5 p.m. Most of his works depict scenes and buildings in and around Lititz.

The original pen and watercolor artwork of John Andrew Wenger, a founding member of the Village Art Association, will be sold at the Lititz Historical Foundation, starting this Friday at 5 p.m. Most of his works depict scenes and buildings in and around Lititz.

No doubt that John Wenger would have been pleased to know that his work would find new homes throughout Lititz. For many years, his paintings of rural scenes, historical farms, mills and small towns throughout Lancaster and surrounding counties were stored away and unseen. After the death of his son, the paintings were discovered and donated to the foundation.

Wenger had been an active member of the Lititz Historical Foundation from 1982 until his death in 1992. His “Walk Down Main Street” drawings showed the many homes and buildings that lined Main Street.

Original artwork by John Andrew Wenger

Original artwork by John Andrew Wenger

His art had a characteristic style that was loose, free and often left in what some might think was unfinished. That was done on purpose. Parts of a building might show great detail, with every brick and vine drawn precisely. That contrasted with the open spaces that were left to the imagination.

As a watercolorist, he used vivid colors that showed the progression of the seasons, as in verdant greens of summer and warm autumn hues. His watercolors had a breezy quality that gave each work a sense of energy. He did indeed work quickly, doing a gorgeous painting in less than an hour, sometimes just a few minutes.

As his work had great character, so did John Wenger. To members of the Village Art Association, of which he was a member since its start in 1966, he was known as quite the character.

To some he seemed grumpy and irascible. He could be impatient and terse. On Tuesday evenings when he joined other Village Art Association members at the studio of artist Al Taft back in the 1970s, the group would often critique each others’ work. The banter turned out to be something like a Don Rickles and Jack Benny exchange as he insulted an artist’s ridiculous choice of color or their lopsided perspective.

In truth, Wenger was a lovable curmudgeon, who would quietly offer a tip to a younger, less experienced artist, and show them how to construct a tree in five deft strokes of a brush, instead of drawing every branch and leaf.

Wenger was born in Lancaster in 1917 and graduated from the Pennsylvania State University in 1939. A natural artist from childhood, he worked for Andes Advertising Agency and later bought the Lititz-based company. He and his wife Jane were active members of the Lititz community, and he was often seen at his easel in downtown Lititz, then exhibiting his work at the Lititz Outdoor Art Show.

His legacy to the Historical Foundation are the timeline panels in the front room of the Lititz Museum, which was started in early 1992, with Wenger providing the text and artwork. He didn’t live to see the finished project. He died in August before it was completed.

The opening of Wenger’s art exhibit and sale will take place at the Lititz Museum, 145 E. Main St., Lititz, on June 3, from 5 to 9 p.m., with refreshments. This coincides with the Taste of Lititz event. Following the opening, the sale will continue in the Museum Gift Shop during regular museum hours.

The sale will feature some 100 matted, unframed paintings in a variety of sizes, with prices ranging from $25 to $100. All proceeds will go towards Lititz Museum improvements and outreach.

Laura Knowles is a freelance feature writer and regular contributor to the pages of the Record Express. She welcomes feedback and story tips at lknowles21@gmail.com.

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