It All Started…

Sequential storytelling: From Murals to Film

Marriott / Steinhauer / Vandegrift Davala

From Essex House Murals, South Central Park, NYC

        I began my career in the studio of muralist Roger Steinhauer, as a paid apprentice. Roger had continued the traditions of his own former employer, Shirley Tattersfield, the doyen of a Philadelphia mural tradition that has extended to the present day. Philadelphia’s mural painting is thriving and can be seen all over the downtown gable ends, thanks to these visionary artists.

         Marriott was almost exclusively the commissioner of Roger’s work. During the years I spent with him, we completed murals for The Essex House, South Central Park, NYC, Dulles International Airport, and Marriott hotels and Hot Shoppe restaurants up and down the east coast from New England to Puerto Rico. The experience was formative and unforgettable. We travelled to many of these locations, and enjoyed visiting the Marriott commissioning agent “Don” in his beautiful Georgetown Washington D.C. home…all an incredible education for young apprentices.

         In 1996 the Berman Museum of Art, Philadelphia, mounted an exhibition entitled “Shaking the Tree, L. Vandegrift Davala and Studio”, in which I got to thank the great artist’s in whose studios I worked, and those artists who had worked in mine. Here is the essay I wrote for the exhibition catalogue in tribute to Steinhauer:

            “ROGER L. STEINHAUER

            From my earliest memory, I wished to be an artist, yet there was nothing in my youthful environment that supported or reflected this desire. In 1969, Philadelphia mural painter Roger Steinhauer moved his studio to the suburbs in order to accommodate the large panels he was regularly commissioned to complete for sites all over the United States. At the time of his move, several sizable works depicting Queen Elizabeth,           Raleigh, and related historical scenes were requested of the artist for the      Essex House, Central Park, New York. Steinhauer was experienced at            training assistants. After all, he had served his own apprenticeship in the studio of muralist Shirley Tattersfield. An urgent call to local schools for         art students resulted in my being hired to train as an apprentice mural        painter. Entering Steinhauer’s studio, I was thrust along by the      momentum of Queen Elizabeth’s procession, emerging from the work      with senses sharpened. The pungent odor of casein on large white   panels, bright matte colors roaming freely behind black calligraphic line,   handling the exquisite sable brushes to form the larger-than-life   themes…………. unforgettable!

            In Steinhauer’s studio we learned a respect for tools that only tradesmen know, and enjoyed the privilege of working at what we love. Although each commission had a strict purpose to fulfil, we learned that greater artistic freedom was achieved when working within certain imposed limitations. Years later in Ireland, I opened my own studio for     architectural restoration and decoration. The lasting legacy of my experience with Roger was in the shaping of my expectations. I continue    to believe in an art form, which is positioned usefully within its culture,        thriving as a business and appreciated by its people, without artistic         compromise. Our goals are similar: to depict the survival and triumph of       the human spirit within a monumental or architectural space. We are             mural painters.

Steinhauer recently confided in me that he thinks of himself as a   frustrated architect. I believe his work is architecture. His panels form an     integral part of the hotels, restaurants, airports and other buildings in          which they hang. They sustain and surround, welcoming human presence while always honoring scale, sensitive to focal distance, at the same time surprising the viewer with detail. These are the reasons I was  drawn to work with him, and these are the values I continue to work with today.

            L. Vandegrift Davala, 1996”

            Mural painters during the renaissance, filled the cathedrals and churches with rich stories  told in sequence. They were the filmmakers of their day.

My apprenticeship in architectural  and sequential storytelling with Roger Steinhauer, grounded me in principals that still serve    me today as a filmmaker.

            When asked if I have changed my profession, I’ll always answer, “not at all…only, now I paint          on a thirty-foot canvas…with light.”

         Roger passed away a couple years ago and I inherited his original portfolio with all the old Marriott sketches and memorabilia. It is my hope to ensure that the great work that he created will be documented and remembered. I have attached a newspaper interview in which Steinhauer speaks about his Marriott work and apprentices.

Fresh out of college, and Steinhauer’s studio……

Fresh out of art college I founded a building restoration company in County Clare Ireland, specialising in restoring, decorating, designing, sign writing, gilding and colour consultancy. It was a one-stop-shop for all aspects of business design – interior and exterior. We tackled sick building syndrome, traffic flow and post construction “corrections” using visual tools. During the 10 years of this business, we worked all around Ireland, receiving many awards for Best Shop Fronts, and a special “Award for Outstanding Contribution to Architecture and Design”, Presented by Irish President Patrick Hillery. The principals of molding and shaping a space, for the benefit of the people using it, were developed during these years. Many of my commercial clients began to ask me to “fix” their homes – and that was the beginning of my “House Doctor” experience.