For many Houghton graduates, having a productive and impactful career working in county government and planning, developing and delivering health and human services to those in need would be a dream job come true. The ability to retire and take it easy after the rigors of public service would be eagerly anticipated. That is, unless you are Gary Wolfe, class of ’77, then you might also obtain two Master of Art degrees and go on to a successful painting career.
“When I was young, I had no idea what I wanted to do,” Wolfe said. He had always enjoyed art growing up. “I took art courses all through my growing up years, but my mother insisted I get a job as a respiratory therapist.”
So Wolfe did just that for about four years; then Houghton College crossed his path. At the time, he was living in Buffalo, N.Y. and was a part of a street ministry team. A number of his teammates were Houghton students, and soon Wolfe found Houghton to be a good fit for himself as well. He describes his time at Houghton with the following words: community, challenge, mentors and eye-opening.
Wolfe graduated from Houghton in 1977 with a Christian Ministries degree. This was an extremely formidable time for Wolfe. “Biblical studies challenge one to think about life in a different way,” Wolfe said. “I sometimes call my faith both an inspiration and an adversary in what I do.”
After graduation, Wolfe entered into a 28 year career in public service as a case worker where he eventually oversaw partnerships and ran school health programs. During this time, Wolfe began developing a passion that had always been present – painting. While still working for the county government, Wolfe took art classes at the University of Buffalo, eventually earning master’s degrees in both painting and art history.
Since retiring from public service, Wolfe is now a self-employed artist with quite a resume. He has had almost 60 exhibits and awards.
Out of the Darkness: Putting a Face on Homelessness is Wolfe’s most recent project. It is a collection of paintings that chronicle some of Western New York’s homeless.
“We as human beings do not grow until we’re vulnerable; that’s where God transforms us,” says Wolfe.
The homeless in his painting are vulnerable, and through his work others can become vulnerable as well. “I’m trying to bring the vulnerability into my art,” comments Wolfe. “I am challenged by art and compassion. We have to communicate in whatever we do, and for me that is painting. Communicating vulnerability and compassion through art.”
This drive and desire for vulnerability is not just something that Wolfe stumbled upon recently, it reaches far back into his early life, just like painting.
Wolfe explained that the more one studies, the more one sees things. “Houghton put me on the journey of inquiry and motivated me to a life of learning and art,” he said. “There’s a tendency to be reductive and polar, and the issues are never the answer. The questions are what we wrestle with. Questioning is the lifelong learning.”
Along with lifelong learning, Wolfe values the liberal arts side of Houghton. “The liberal arts tend to synthesize,” he said. “It’s not just vocational training. It’s about growing as an individual and becoming creative. Creative people can draw from a number of subjects and interchange them. Like a language translator, liberal arts people can translate ideas across disciplines.”
Wolfe currently resides in Niagara Falls with his wife Linda. They have three grown children, Bethany, Joel and Nathan.
To view more paintings by Wolfe, please visit www.glwolfeart.com/wp/images/ .