By Blair Tellers
Blue, red and yellow beams of light glide in diagonal bars from the staggered panels of a stained-glass window, gracing the southeast wall of the Hixson Union Building's cafeteria.
The vibrancy of the window's hues changes from dull to blinding, depending on the time of day. Shifting rays of colors tint the faces of students dining below.
"When you're in the dining hall, imagine if you were in a helicopter and you were hovering right above the cross on the window, looking straight down from the top. There are abstract suggestions in the window, like a crown of thorns," says stained-glass-window artist Walter "Spike" Grosvenor, '63.
Grosvenor originated Whitworth's stained-glass program during his 31 years as an art professor. Along with the work he's done in dozens of homes and churches, Grosvenor is the artist responsible for illuminating the dining hall. Over the years, he has shared his passion and knowledge with others, leaving a lasting impression on students and faculty alike.
"He's like my second dad," says Susan Kim, '89, owner of Reflections Stained Glass in Spokane Valley. "Spike is one of the greatest men I've ever known. The way he treats people is fabulous, and he's an amazing artist. It was great to work with him. He's pretty much the reason that I'm doing what I do today."
Before he came to Whitworth, however, Grosvenor faced trials. Before being adopted by a Millwood couple, Grosvenor was a foster child on the brink of becoming a juvenile delinquent. Prior to enrolling at the college, he spent two years in the U.S. Army. As a Whitworth freshman, Grosvenor did "a few foolish things" off campus his first year and studied just enough to get by and stay on the baseball team.
Soon he dropped out of college and spent some time thinking about what he really loved, which was art. After deciding to return to college and focus on his passion, Grosvenor soon found himself on the Dean's List.
"I was in a lot of trouble for a lot of different things," says Grosvenor. "I probably wouldn't have made it anyplace else, because any other place would have given up on me. The people at Whitworth encouraged me when I needed to be encouraged."
After completing his graduate studies at the University of Washington, Grosvenor taught at a high school in Issaquah for five years. He then joined the Whitworth faculty as an art professor and taught courses in design and printmaking.
"When I graduated from Whitworth I thought I was a painter," Grosvenor says. "Then I got to grad school and saw people who really were painters."
At the time, the college did not have a glass program. The art department surveyed students in the late 1960s, asking what types of electives they would like to have. Stained glass was a favorite.
In order to teach the class, Grosvenor began educating himself. Except for a stained-glass course he took from Kim Gerl, owner of Aardvarks Stained Glass, Grosvenor remains, for the most part, self-taught.
During his time at Whitworth, Grosvenor treated his students with the same compassion and constructive criticism that his professors had shown him, encouraging them to be inquisitive and open-minded. In particular, Grosvenor would "adopt" the ones who were troubled by issues related to drugs, alcohol, or family, and would seek to support or advocate for them.
"I learn more from the failures," Grosvenor says. "I've always taught my students that we learn more from our mistakes than from the things that fall together perfectly."
Grosvenor firmly believes the benefits of art extend beyond college. Many alumni have visited him after graduation. A former student who became a doctor told Grosvenor that art classes were beneficial to him at medical school. Another student, now a lawyer, says that taking creative classes assisted him with studying the law.
"They told me it helped them to experiment, to be creative and inventive, and it assisted them in looking for solutions," Grosvenor says. "It's very rewarding to see my students doing things they love."
Grosvenor's success and perseverance as a stained-glass artist eventually helped him become a board member of the Stained Glass Association of America. The association maintains standards of excellence for the craft of stained glass, along with promoting awareness and appreciation. Grosvenor says the Stained Glass Association was a group of wonderful people whom he could always rely on for tips and new ideas, which, in turn, benefited his students.
As an artist, Grosvenor is blessed with recognition and success, having exhibited his work on a local, regional and national level. Recently, Grosvenor began experimenting with a new medium: fused glass. This process involves taking two or more layers of glass and putting them together under high heat. Assuming they are compatible with each other, the pieces expand and contract at the same general rate. Grosvenor first started working with fused glass in order to create something completely original for his windows. He is capable of completing an entire piece in one week.
The tendency to focus on imagery and symbolism over the technical aspects of his artwork is a trademark of Grosvenor.
Grosvenor says one of his most outstanding accomplishments is the recent installment of several 18-by-15 foot windows in his home church, Millwood Community Presbyterian Church. Grosvenor grew up in this neighborhood and observed the bricklayers who built the church in the 1950s.
Now retired from Whitworth and a successful artist, Grosvenor enjoys the luxury of blessing family and friends with his masterpieces.
"I'm at that stage of my life where if someone really likes my piece, I can just give it to him or her," Grosvenor says.
Kim, who collaborated with Grosvenor on the Millwood Church commission, says her experience of working with her mentor was a wonderful opportunity.
"With the Millwood project he did the designs, and I got to build the windows," Kim says.
Now successful in her own right, Kim made nearly all of the glasswork for the Davenport Towers. She also created the giant glass panels on the ceiling in the Davenport's Peacock Room and currently is working on a series of giraffe panels for the Davenport Towers. The panels are 30 feet long and four feet wide.
"Susan is my most successful student. She's like a daughter to me," Grosvenor says. "When she first started taking art classes at Whitworth she was a math major, but we got to her."
The retired stained-glass professor believes everyone has the potential for artistic creativity. Grosvenor delights in sharing his knowledge with anyone who wants to learn.
"One of the things I tried to do was convince my students that even though they didn't have a background in art, they could still do some very nice things. They just needed to have some confidence," Grosvenor says.
The relationships Grosvenor formed with his students and the time he spent working with them remain some of his fondest memories.
"I mean this, from the bottom of my heart. I had the best job in the world teaching those fabulous kids. Whitworth kids are just special. I loved my students," he says.
Note: Millwood Community Presbyterian Church, where Walter "Spike" Grosvenor's stained-glass windows can be seen, is located at 3223 North Marguerite Rd., Spokane, Wash.