An art professor in the Ohio Valley has been named the 2016 West Virginia Artist of the Year.
His work has won several different awards over the years, but this particular one came as a big surprise.
West Liberty University Professor, Robert Villamagna, was selected by Governor Earl Ray Tomblin as the 2016 West Virginia Artist of the Year.
This prestigious award didn’t come without lots of hard work and dedication.
His love for art began at a young age after his family took a trip to the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh.
It was the Knights and armor on display that first inspired him.
“I started to take this pencil and draw these Knights and Amor and they weren’t stick figure they were 3-D,” Villamagna said. “I remember I just got into it, because I was really inspired by those nights and my dad said wow those look really good.”
That positive feed back gave him the courage to chase his dream even after his dad passed away when Villamagna was just 15 years old.
“A week after I graduated high school, my mother told me you have two choices you have to join the army or you have to get a job, because you are not going to sit on your butt all summer and I don’t have money to send you to art school, he recalled. “That’s when reality set in.”
He went to a vocational school in Youngstown, Ohio, but was drafted shortly after.
‘While I was in basic training, I applied to be an illustrator, they tested me I passed, so for the whole 4 years other than basic I was an illustrator for the air force and that was a great job.”
He then spent the next 13 years at Weirton Steel saving up money to attend Franciscan University.
No matter where he worked, art was always there.
“In the mill there were spray cans laying around and I did what was called the wall of labors,” he said. “I did portraits of any labor worker the portraits were 6ft from head to chin and they lined the walls.”
After college, he continued to chase his dreams, submitting his art work to dozens of fairs and exhibits. In 1996, his path took him to West Liberty University where he’s been sharing his talents with student ever since..
“I try to encourage them to keep going, because things are going to happen but its how you push through those things.”
That very advice he teaches to his students is what led him to receive the prestigious award for West Virginia Artist of the Year.
“I got a little misty, because ever since I was a kid I wanted to be involved in the arts I had to go through a backward approach to get there but art has always been a big part of my life,” Villamagna said
His art can be found in The Gallery on 43rd St. and Contemporary Craft in Pittsburgh, the state collection in Charleston, as well many festivals right here in the Ohio Valley.