A Temple influence lies in the shadings and shadows of paintings on the White House’s walls.
Aaron Shikler, a Tyler School of Art alumnus and the artist behind works depicting presidents like John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, passed away Nov. 12 in Manhattan at the age of 93 due to kidney failure, according to the Washington Post.
The Brooklyn-born painter enrolled at Tyler in 1940 when it stood at its original location in Elkins Park, just five years after its founding by sculptors Stella Elkins Tyler and Boris Blai.
“Coming from the High School of Music and Art in New York, this is a man who probably could have gone anywhere, but he came to Tyler,” said Dr. Jo-Anna Moore, a retired associate professor emeritus of art education at Tyler. “There was enough of a community, a pull, a place, a philosophy, that attracted him.”
During the height of World War II, Shikler was drafted into the Army Air Corps in 1943, pausing the pursuit of his artistic training. After returning to Tyler in 1947, he received his bachelor’s degree in art and education as well as a master’s degree in fine art.
In an era before digital technology, Tyler accented lessons on still life, landscape and portraits. Shikler experienced a classical curriculum, with training that stressed technicality through material, Moore said, who is currently writing a book on the history of Tyler.
In the first 15 years of the school, students received an intensive background in material and processes of painting. These methods were of European influence, like grinding linseed for oil paints.
“Although he would have evolved out of those methods, he would always use that foundation of materials,” Moore said. “These methods were embedded into him at a very important stage of his development as an artist and all that he did.”
John F. Kennedy’s wife Jacqueline Kennedy noticed Shikler because of his portrait of the children of actor Peter Lawford and Patricia Kennedy Lawford, one of JFK’s sisters.
His romantic and idealistic portrayal of individuals gave him recognition among high-ranking American politicians and celebrities, allowing him to complete portraits of individuals like former senate majority leader Mike Mansfield and R&B singer Diana Ross.
“It is easy to see why he was such a successful portrait artist because of his talent, keen observational eye and his way of putting people at ease so that they felt comfortable while he was capturing their likeness,” said Hester Stinnett, Tyler’s interim dean, who saw Shikler at his one-person exhibition at the Davis and Langdale Company gallery a few years ago.
Shikler composed the official portrait of JFK in 1970—seven years after the president was assassinated. Shikler’s work was inspired by dozens of photographs of Kennedy, according to The New York Times.
This photographic technique was not an approach introduced to Shikler at Tyler. It was not until well into the 1960s and ‘70s that photos were frequently used as first source for portrait painting, Moore said, making it a skill he developed on his own out of necessity.
Shikler received a Certificate of Honor at Tyler School of Art in 1976, followed by his election as a centennial fellow of Temple in 1985.
Shikler is survived by the Temple community.
“We at Tyler are always proud of all that he accomplished,” Stinnett said.
Grace Maiorano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.