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Just Who Is Jon Gnagy?

February 13, 2009 - Phyllis Sigal

Ball, cube, cylinder, cone. By using these four shapes, I can draw any picture I want. And so can you! Hello friends, this is Jon Gnagy, to prove to you that you can learn to draw by following my step by step television lesson. So get your papers and pencils ready, and we'll start right away! —introduction to Learn to Draw with Jon Gnagy

Bob Villamagna's current art exhibit at Ohio University Eastern in titled "Jon Gnagy Was My Homeboy."

The obvious question then, who is this Jon Gnagy and why is he Bob's homeboy?

The question was asked at Thursday's opening reception honoring the great Bob Villamagna, assemblage artist extraordinaire.

Jon Gnagy (1907-1981) was a television artist who brought art instruction to many youngsters for several decades in the mid 20th century, beginning in 1946. (In fact, Gnagy's "Learn to Draw" was the first program transmitted from the antenna atop the Empire State Building on May 16, 1946.)

Bob was one of those who sat glued to the black-and-white television every Saturday morning at 10:30 a.m. watching Pittsburgh Channel 4's broadcast of this artist. (Well, until his catechism classes at 10 a.m. cut into his Gnagy-time. He'd only be able to catch the last eight or 10 minutes after rushing home from the church.)

"I had all my stuff out, but I would just sit on the floor and watch him," Villamagna noted. The look in his eye and wistfulness in Bob's voice as he spoke of these memories proved just how enthralled this little budding artist was at the age of 7 or 8.

Gnagy had "all the right tools," Bob said. He had the kneaded erasers and graphite sticks. Bob just had dark pencils. He was convinced if he had the right tools, he could do what Gnagy did. Eventually, his mom did buy him a John Gnagy Drawing Kit. (Those kits are still available, according to Gnagy's Web site!)

It was the way Gnagy shaded that really got Bob. He could draw a scene, then at the last minute he'd go in and shade-shade-shade to bring the drawing alive.

Bob said he learned about light and shadows from Jon Gnagy.

"I thought this guy was 'the man,'" Bob said. (And, he is not alone. Check out the guest book at Gnagy's site for some great memories.)

Well, I think Bob Villamagna is "the man" when it comes to art.

His 28 pieces — assemblages, collages, printed metal and mixed media — on display at OUE evoke a laugh, a memory, a tear, a connection ...

You have until March 5 to meet his art, his characters. You'll be glad you did.


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