Some people believe that Brad Stalnaker was born with a crayon in his hand, and they would not be far off with that assumption. Stalnaker, who was born and lived in Elkins until he graduated high school in 1981, is remembered by many people as the "go to person" for any sketch.
The Monongalia Arts Center in Morgantown is hosting a show through the month of March celebrating his life. The show, "50/50" is a multimedia show celebrating his 50th birthday and featuring art from the time he was young until now. The exhibit showcases his life and his life long love of drawing, the progression of growth and the variety of mediums used by Stalnaker.
"The show is also a tribute to my grandfather, Dick Stalnaker," Stalnaker said. "He was the chief of police in Elkins, and he was the first person to inspire me to draw. But the show also is a celebration of the friends, family members and colleagues who helped me during the past 50 years."
Brad Stalnaker’s art is inspired by his grandfather, former Elkins Chief of Police Dick Stalnaker. Using carbon paper, Stalnaker learned to draw cartoons at an early age, and then began to make his own comic books with friend Ron Nash. Currently, they illustrate the weekly web comic ‘Rope and Boney.’
Stalnaker said he was only four when he began drawing.
"My grandfather gave me carbon paper that I put under the comics so I could see what I was drawing," Stalnaker said. "I continued to draw until I was able to draw the characters myself."
Stalnaker said Popeye is the center piece and what bookends the show.
"The first thing you see in the gallery is the 1963 entry of Popeye that my granddad drew," Stalnaker said. "This is the first piece in the show and starts the exhibit. 49 pieces later the final piece - is a 3D drawing I did of Popeye."
Stalnaker is the son of Jim and Carolyn Stalnaker. He attended Central School where he put his talent to good use.
"I have a poster that I drew in 3rd grade for Central School's Christmas play. I wasn't in the play, but my wife, Becky Farris Stalnaker, and friend Ron Nash were in the play.
"We also did a play in 4th grade, and I drew the cover of the play, and other kids in the class colored the program. It was for a play called Dead Dog Gulch. Becky and I were both in that play."
"I am so proud of Brad and all his accomplishments," said Becky Stalnaker.
"We have known each other since the third grade. He was talented and a huge Elvis fan back then and nothing has changed. He found his passion early in life and embraced it. I love watching his creativity go from an idea to the finished product."
Stalnaker said he and his childhood friend Ron Nash have worked on many art projects together.
"In 5th grade, Ron and I made our first comic book, 'Not Human.' We were in Mrs. Lemon's class when this comic was made. We should actually reproduce this because the story line and characters were original - but who has the time."
Nash and Stalnaker still collaborate on the weekly web comic 'Rope & Boney.'
"We have been coordinating on this project for nearly two years," Nash said. "We also worked on comic books throughout our time at Elkins Junior High and Elkins High School. I am more of the writer and Brad is the illustrator."
Nash said he drove from his home in Stamford, Ct. for the opening of Stalnaker's show.
"It is a good thing and I am happy and proud of him," Nash said. "One thing I remember was art is Brad's form of expression. People would ask him to draw something and he would do it. He is a wonderful artist with many media forms including drawing, sculpture, graphics and photography."
While a junior at Elkins High School, Stalnaker also served as a cartoonist and illustrator for the Paw Print, the school's newspaper. One early cartoon featured art teacher and instructor Mary Ann Nichols buried in a sea of newspapers rolling off a Risograph machine. Elkins High School principal Charles Basil was overseeing Nichols' efforts. The caption read, "So Mrs. Nichols, you want to have a school newspaper?" Following the release of the paper, Basil came into the room to ask who had drawn the cartoon, asking if students really thought it was a true likeness of him, or if it was drawn just a little bit too heavy.
Stalnaker's high school art teacher, Coach Will Shaw, also attended the opening of the show in Morgantown.
"It was just like a slice of the old time played out in 50 wonderful pieces," Shaw said. "It was really cool. Brad was a stand-out kind of guy who had lots of passion for what he was doing. He would come into the art room and I don't think he did a piece of work that he was not psyched to do. He thoroughly enjoyed his work and he was always comfortable with it."
Shaw said the comfort came through in the show.
"He was as genuinely excited at the exhibit as he was when he was 15 years old," Shaw said. "He shows that this is him and it's fun to do. In school, he did not like watercolors but he painted a watercolor landscape. I was critical of it but it was one of the 50 pieces in the display. I was taken by that and it made me feel good and brought back great memories of that dusty corner room at Elkins High School where we had art class."
Writing and music are two other loves Stalnaker possesses.
"I have helped publish two Elvis books, coproduced and animated the WVPBS show, 'The Griffin and the Minor Canon,'" he said. "It was shown at the La International Short Film Festival, won the 2002 Best of the Best Award for local programming and was nominated for a Regional Emmy Award."
Stalnaker completed a pen and ink drawing of the Clay Lick School, located on Laurel Mountain Road in Elkins for his mother-in-law Wilma Leombruno.
"I attended this school for seven years," Leombruno said. "I took Brad to see the school and it looked like it could collapse at any minute. He took a photo of it and went home and drew the picture for me. It brings back memories of my teacher Elizabeth Burke in the one-room school house where we moved up each year by moving to the next row of seats. I was just blown away with the picture, and he used it on the invitations he mailed to everyone for the opening of his show."
Two of Stalnaker's plaster sculptures are also on display at the Morgantown show. They are images of Bruce Springsteen and Clarence Clemons from 1982.
Stalnaker said these pieces were also featured in the fanzine "Backstreets."
Stalnaker also displayed two of his large pencil drawings of the "Lord of the Rings" for his daughter Jesse, a post graduate at West Virginia University studying chemistry. His son Evan, a freshman at West Virginia University in the medical field, did the voice-over for Pete the PRT.
"In 2006, the WVU Visitor's Resource Center asked me to do something for little kids who come in for tours," Stalnaker said. So we came up with Pete the PRT. He is an on-going project, and I am currently working on a new episode as well as signage and posters for the PRT stations and a new welcome animation for the Visitor's Resource Center.
"This type of 3D animation takes an incredible amount of time building the models and then animating. This is why you see movies like Brave and Toy Story with thousands of animators and artists working on the movie, and why they take about four years to produce."
"It was a big help that my Mom kept the drawings from when I was 4, 5 and 6 years old," Stalnaker said. "It was her idea that I use sketch books and keep all my stuff together as opposed to having hundreds of sheets of papers lying around. I think the exhibit at the Monongalia Art Center would be cool for grade school students to see. If you are in kindergarten, you can see kindergarten drawings. Junior high students can see things they can relate to and anyone interested in the arts can see the growth and development at each stage of life. I hope someday soon to have my display featured in my Elkins hometown as well."
Stalnaker is a motion graphics artist at West Virginia University and a team that produces the University's national advertisements, holiday cards, and animations for Pete the PRT. He also teaches animation and digital film at the Douglas Educational Center in Monessen, Pa.
"Because I am a graphic designer by title, I was feeling guilty the show didn't have much graphic stuff," he said. "I was thinking of other ways to incorporate the 50/50 theme, so I wondered how many concerts I'd seen at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena before it was torn down. Ironically I saw 50 shows there, out of the 308 concerts I have attended to date. I made a seating chart and list of all the 50 shows with row/seat number because I still have all the ticket stubs. I also enjoy working with photography. Items included in the show in Morgantown mostly are some experiments I did with light and shutter speeds - a bit abstract, but still fun.
So with all of this talent and all of these accomplishments, one might ask,"What's next for Brad Stalnaker?"
"I'm working with my cousin Bill Stalnaker and Judy Byers of Fairmont State University to possibly animate some West Virginia ghost stories. I'm also in negotiation to possibly illustrate a children's book. Finally, I guess I'll get stuff ready for my 100/100 show in 50 years," Stalnaker added with a chuckle.