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Sept. 5, 2013 Volume 35, No. 3

Landscape architect creates art at home and at work

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John Glenn, a senior landscape architect in Campus Facilities, started oil painting five years ago. He said he appropriates his skills in architectural rendering to his paintings. Photo by Rob Hill.

John Glenn, who took up oil painting five years ago, is working on a farm-scene series

In John Glenn’s desk drawer, there is a stack of broad paper sheets. As he takes out the stack and flips through each page, various landscapes of the MU campus emerge, mostly drawn in color markers. He calls them sketches, but they are so much more — they are his art. 

Glenn is a senior landscape architect at MU. Since joining the university five years ago, he has created landscape renderings used in literature to potential donors. “We are the conductors,” Glenn said of landscape architects. “We bring together the architects, the engineers and anybody in the building industry to try to marry buildings with the site. We work on parking lots, set scenes and we do gardens, trying to create a space and an environment.”

His passion for drawing and painting started while taking architecture classes at University of Kentucky. He graduated in 1985 with a BS in landscape architecture. His focus was on residential design, which he described as “more personal” than other architectural fields. He was not a big fan of perspective and the clean lines his colleagues were drawing. He preferred sketching the landscapes surrounding the buildings.

“My architecture professor didn’t really like me drawing too many lines,” he said, smiling. “But he later said, ‘You just go ahead with that, you’re a landscape person anyway.’ So that’s when I kind of started my art.”

Before joining MU, Glenn had 25 years of experience in landscape architecture and related fields, including managing horticulture at a zoo. He is expert in making quick renderings of landscapes using markers and colored pencils, which are used in presentations of architectural design ideas. He explained rendering as “coloring a plan or a perspective of what the site would look like.” 

But rendering wasn’t his artistic passion. He always had a special interest in oil painting because his father worked in the medium when Glenn was a child. Around the time he started at MU, he took up oil painting as a hobby and joined a weekly painting group.

Gloria Gaus, a local painter in the group, said Glenn is shy and humble about his work. “He seems to like to capture nostalgic scenes and family moments,” she said. “He definitely has a talent.”

Glenn’s skills in oil painting and skills as a landscape architect draftsperson complement each other.

“Painting really is looking at something and studying it,” he said. “So it continues to help me at MU. And in turn it makes my graphic renderings stronger. What I do here helps [my paintings], too.”

The most satisfying part of painting for him is that he can record what he sees and how he feels.

“The reason I do landscapes is that I think people are losing their connection to America,” he said. 

“Landscape painting gives them an opportunity to sit back and see what’s happening in the countryside, and how farmers and ranchers provide food for our tables,” he said.

In his recently built home art studio, Glenn plans to create a series of paintings of his family’s farm.

— JeongAn Choi