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Architecture professor using
four stories' worth of windows to display art
Melissa Mitchell, Arts Editor
photo to enlarge
courtesy James Warfield
Warfield is exhibiting "Dancing Lessons from
God" on the windows of Flagg Hall, 1207 S. Fourth
— James Warfield is giving new meaning to the phrase “picture
In what he describes as something of a “guerilla exercise,”
the emeritus professor of architecture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign recently appropriated
a four-story bank of windows on the south façade of the U. of
I.’s Flagg Hall, transforming the windows into an “off-the-wall”
display space for 65 “exploded” sketchbook images.
“Exploded,” in this context, is Warfield’s euphemism
for “blown up” – as in “enlarged.” The
artwork, which fills the windows of the former residence hall located
at 1207 S. Fourth St., consists of 3 x 4 foot reproductions of 8 x 10
inch on-site studies made by Warfield during 40 years of professional
travel throughout the world.
The exhibition, “Dancing Lessons From God,” will be on view
through March 19 and may be best viewed while driving north on Fourth
Street between Peabody and Gregory drives in Champaign. Warfield said
the exhibition title is derived from a quotation by author Kurt Vonnegut:
“Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.”
photo to enlarge
courtesy James Warfield
of Warfield's images, taken from journals and sketchbooks
dating from 1963 to 2004. The drawings were done during
field research around the globe.
images, which date from 1963 to 2004, were copied from research journals
and sketchbooks created on location in destinations that have included
Australia, Bolivia, China, Ecuador, Greece, Mali, Morocco, Namibia,
Nepal, Papua New Guinea, Tibet and Turkey. Warfield drew some of the
sketches while pursuing field research in vernacular architecture; others,
while coordinating study-abroad programs in China, Greece, Mexico and
Warfield traces his inspiration for displaying the sketches in such
an unorthodox manner to a couple of sources. For starters, he said,
he just wanted to mark an “eerie” milestone in his career.
Before retiring from the architecture faculty a year and a half ago,
Warfield had an office in the school’s Temple Hoyne Buell Hall.
After his retirement, he moved to Flagg Hall, which has been used by
many people in the architecture school as a studio facility. Warfield
said the recent move took him back to his early roots at Illinois.
“This is where I used to eat when I was a student – when
my wife and I lived in the dormitories over here. So, it was basically
a matter of coming back to a place I’d known as a student and
a place where I had also taught. In one sense, it (the exhibition) was
wanting to do something and claim ownership of the building.”
A deeper motivation, however, was his interest in exposing students
to the rapidly vanishing art of sketching by hand.
“Computers are dominating architecture education today,”
he said. “And that’s a fine thing. You can do things with
computers that you couldn’t do otherwise. But drawing is something
that’s falling by the wayside. It’s good for students to
see the sketches. If they don’t see this, they don’t know
Although Warfield also is a masterful photographer who believes the
camera is an invaluable documentation tool for scholars of vernacular
architecture, he maintains that sketches still serve an important purpose
in the field.
“To me, sketching is an intellectual exercise,” Warfield
said. “The wonder and beauty of travel sketches is that they are
subjective and interpretive. They are about travel, about thinking,
about seeing.” And, he added, “for architects, the ability
to ‘see’ is paramount … to understand not only what
is physically there, but also to interpret and to imagine.”
Since the exhibition went up last week – just as students were
returning to campus after the winter break – responses to it have
surpassed Warfield’s own imagination and expectations.
“Students are coming up to me, wanting to do independent study
to learn this skill,” he said.