Kutztown University alum awarded for ‘Buy American’ painting inspired by old Saucony Shoe Factory, Kutztown

Laura Dillon - Berks-Mont Newspapers Doors the old shoe factory in Kutztown.
Painting by Douglas Wiltraut of the doors of the old shoe factory in Kutztown.

Kutztown University alumnus Douglas Wiltraut won an award for his painting, “Buy American”, inspired by the now closed Saucony Shoe Factory in Kutztown.

The John J. Newman Medal is awarded to one artist each year and was presented to Wiltraut in June 2014 at the 60th Annual Exhibition of the National Society of Painters in Casein and Acrylic. The event is held in New York City. Wiltraut has been President of the society for more than 25 years.

“It’s always an honor,” said Wiltraut, of Whitehall. “Daniel Greene presented the award. He is a prominent portrait painter out in New York City.”

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Wiltraut found his inspiration for the award-winning painting at the old Saucony Shoe Factory in Kutztown.

“Both my wife and I went to Kutztown, and she got a job at the shoe factory as a receptionist,” said Wiltraut.

Last summer, Wiltraut’s brother was visiting from Georgia, and they went to see the factory where Wiltraut’s wife had worked. The factory has since been closed down, but the building still stands.

“We were driving by, and I got the idea,” Wiltraut said. “In general, so many jobs have left to go overseas. Manufacturing used to be a big deal around here. The only way to bring it back is to buy American,” he said.

Thus the idea and title for his painting came into existence. However, it is not like this for all of Wiltraut’s pieces.

“Sometimes you see something, and you just want to paint it,” he said. “The story will come later. Other times, you think about an idea for a while.”

For Wiltraut, his piece “Buy American” is a social commentary on the decline of the manufacturing industry throughout our country. A lot of Wiltraut’s work has been inspired by daily happenings around him.

“I stay conscious of worldly events to see how I can make commentary on them and how they apply in everyday life.”

A life-long artist, Wiltraut’s desire to become an artist began in first grade.

“One of my girl classmates claimed she could read palms,” he said. “She read mine and told me I would grow up to be an artist.”

Wiltraut spent the rest of his school days pursuing that goal.

“In 5th grade, we had a visiting artist,” he said. “He pulled out the color alizarin crimson, and I had an epiphany moment. I thought, ‘I’ve got to be able to use that,’” Wiltraut said.

From then on, Wiltraut would find any excuse to spend his days in the art room and even took summer art classes whenever he could.

“All my heroes were upperclassmen who were artists,” he said. “Most of them went to Kutztown, so it wasn’t even a thought for me.”

Wiltraut pursued a degree in Fine Arts Painting at Kutztown University and graduated in 1973.

At Kutztown, Wiltraut met his mentor and life-long friend, a professor named Tom Quirk, who introduced Wiltraut to his favorite medium, egg tempera.

“All through high school, I would stay in the classroom as other students were leaving. Their paints would leave behind fumes,” Wiltraut said. “When Tom Quirk introduced me to egg tempera, I liked it because it was the only thing that didn’t smell.”

Quirk passed away last month, and Wiltraut had the honor of receiving his art easel.

Wiltraut has painted countless pieces in egg tempera and dry brush watercolor. He has been awarded the Butler Institute of American Art Award, the Ralph Fabri Medal and the Today’s Art Medal, among numerous others. In 2001 he was awarded the Rothermel Award from the Kutztown University Alumni Association for distinguished achievements.

To find out more about Douglas Wiltraut, visit www.douglaswiltraut.com.