The Whimsical World of John Lochtefeld -Fall 2015
by: Mollie O’Leary
John Lochtefeld has been meeting people all his life who tell him they wish they had followed a path similar to his own.
His advice has always been to give being an artist a try, and if you fail, then at least you won’t be haunted by what-ifs. Lochtefeld committed to being an artist full-time after retiring from his job as an art professor, and since then, he has cultivated his success as an artist through imaginative, fanciful creations.
His paintings and prints are characterized by bright choices in color and elements of fantasy, such as floating figures, castles and sea creatures. His gallery is tucked neatly into a space near the corner of Main and Fair streets, facing a small pocket park across the street. On sunny days, the light filters in through the windows and falls on Lochtefeld’s art, enhancing the already dream-like quality of his work.
The unassuming gallery and studio is full of the former professor’s vivid paintings and prints. Before finding a niche in the art world on Nantucket, Lochtefeld was a teacher. He spent his academic life at Mercyhurst College and Kutztown University, both in Pennsylvania, before settling down for a 25-year stint at Marymount College in New York, which has since merged with Fordham University.
“I loved every minute I was in the academic life,” said Lochtefeld, who taught all forms of art, including painting, design, print-making and wood sculpture.
After retiring from academia, Lochtefeld visited Nantucket around 1968. He walked into Congdon & Coleman Real Estate and asked for a place to rent that could house his wife, dog and five children, and still have room to show his art. Lochtefeld remembers the realestate agent saying, “I have just the place, come on!”
For the next four summers, Lochtefeld and his family came to Nantucket and he showcased his art at their place on Still Dock. Escalating real-estate prices a few years later spurred Lochtefeld to purchase a yearround location while he could still afford to do so. In 1973, he bought his current space on Fair Street, a four-unit apartment that serves as a studio, gallery and living space.
“I decided early on that no matter what happened, somehow, some way, I would stay in the arts,” Lochtefeld said.
After graduating from the University of Notre Dame with a bachelor of fine arts degree, Lochtefeld was drafted into the U.S. Army, a major detour in his plan to pursue the arts. He was sent to a base in Hawaii to be a radioman from 4 p.m. to midnight, but during the day he was free to do as he pleased.
“So I enrolled in the graduate school of painting at the University of Hawaii,” he said.
By the end of his service, Lochtefeld received his master’s in fine arts, proving that his determination to remain in the arts would not be easily thwarted.
Lochtefeld has been on Nantucket for 46 years and Fair Street has been his home for just shy of 20. In this time, his art career has flourished.
Many of his paintings, particularly his villagescapes, are abstract, focusing on color and shapes. He said that most of the towns he depicts are located on hillsides in Italy. The paintings are very reminiscent of Swiss-German artist Paul Klee, who Lochtefeld called a “tremendous influence.” Lochtefeld’s exploration of color and geometric shapes give his paintings a playful, almost childlike beauty.
“As a rule, I do not paint things by looking at them and painting them as I see them,” he said.
Lochtefeld has traveled widely through Europe, exploring Italy, France, England and Germany. He often takes scenes from Nantucket or from the places he has visited and transforms them into much more colorful, whimsical images.
It’s his style.
“I always tell my students there’s no right way or wrong way,” he said.
Sometimes Lochtefeld will be inspired to embrace realism in his painting. A small framed watercolor depicting an ancient ruin with almond trees in bloom hangs on the wall of his gallery, and is an example of some of that work.
Lochtefeld’s prints are often done with less color and much more detail than his paintings. For him, printmaking has a definite advantage because prints can be more affordable and reach a wider audience. His prints often portray ships, sea creatures, castles, trees and “flying” people suspended in midair.
These floating subjects are referential to the work of Marc Chagall, the Russian-born artist who studied and lived in France in the early 1900s and who Lochtefeld cites as a major influence on his work. Such ghostly subjects were a trademark of Chagall’s similarly dream-like art.
Lochtefeld also works in mixed media. He does most of these works on Japanese rice paper, mounting them on painted boards with acrylic. He uses a method called cross-hatching, which is essentially criss-crossing over the page with a pen, and combining this with watercolor. Using the cross-hatching to shade and the paint to add color and shape, Lochtefeld achieves his surreal landscapes and town scenes that dominate much of his work.
Lochtefeld periodically displays his art at Old Spouter Gallery on Orange Street, as well as his Fair Street gallery. He is open every day except Sunday from Memorial Day to Columbus Day. During the off-season, he displays a small sign in his window, reading, “Catch me in or call this number!” ///
Mollie O’Leary is a junior at Kenyon College. She was the editorial assistant at The Inquirer and Mirror this summer.