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Art is Life: Family, Friends, Collectors Celebrate Memory of Late Artist Wayne Trapp

By Jessica Isaacs | jessica@highcountrypress.com

Editor’s Note: Watch for updates as loved ones continue to share stories and memories of Wayne. 

Family, friends and creative minds across the region are mourning the recent loss of local sculptor and painter Wayne Trapp, whose unique perspective on the world around him and passion for making art have impacted the lives of many people over the years.

Trapp passed away late last week, and some of those who were closest to him have opened up to share their precious memories in his honor.

Wayne Trapp is pictured holding a pneumatic hammer, which is used for chipping stone. Photo courtesy of Becky Trapp.
Wayne Trapp is pictured holding a pneumatic hammer, which is used for chipping stone. Photo courtesy of Becky Trapp.

Born and raised in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, Trapp spent two years in the army, ran a studio in Lima, Ohio and even farmed in Vermont for several years before he found his way to the Blue Ridge Mountains in 1980. Immediately developing a strong connection to the High Country, he established his home and his studio here. Tucked away in the quiet community of Vilas, the place grew along with him over time.

Throughout his career, he created larger-than-life sculptures in stone, steel and other metals, a number of which have been included in the annual Rosen Outdoor Sculpture Competition at Appalachian State University over the past three decades.

His towering creations have belonged to a vast array of corporate, private, museum and university collections across the country, as well as in many public exhibits.

His artwork has prompted viewers in many states to open their minds and hearts, but his passions for life, beauty and other people have also left significant marks on the world.

“Wayne was all about being happy and finding new things that make you happy. He encouraged people to live fearlessly, and I think that’s a beautiful thing,” said Becky Trapp, his wife of four years. “He had a zest for life, a childlike curiosity and was romantic about all things. Everything was special to him.

“He leaves his legacy in all of us.  The way he influenced our lives.  To those of us who knew Wayne, he is much more than a grand artist.  I feel very lucky and blessed to have known him. He was a man who changed lives.”

Plans for celebrating his life include an upcoming memorial service and, in the future, a retrospective show at the Turchin Center for Visual Arts, although plans for both are tentative at the moment.

The words of Trapp’s family, friends, patrons and fellow artists speak volumes about the legacy he leaves behind:


Zoey Brookshire, artist and friend:

Photo courtesy of Becky Trapp.
Photo courtesy of Becky Trapp.

“I met Wayne 20-25 years ago when I moved back to Boone and had been working as an artist for about 10 years at that time, so I was pretty much established a modernist. When I moved here, I didn’t quite know what I would find, aesthetically, and I felt like there was a good possibility that I would be really lonely. I met Wayne almost immediately and it was just wonderful to find a kindred spirit; a modernist, someone who cared deeply about art. He was well aware of the sacrifices that we so willingly play to be part of a tremendous experience that is modern art. That was the first thing we shared. I would paint and be really excited about a painting and he would come to my studio, look at it and we would jump up and down. Then he would call me, I would go to his studio and see his latest painting and we would jump up and down again. We were both very excited about what we did.

“Another part of Wayne’s life that I was excited to share with him was ink. You don’t see a lot of ink on paper, and he was an absolute master with a brush. His dancers are just absolutely extraordinary in their vivacity and just the essence of what can be done with brush stroke. He was a marvel.

“He was a great lover of poems and we would read each other poems. I would read one to him that I found and then I would hear from him a couple of days later with something else. He read very, very well and it was always a pleasure to listen to him. He had a deep, deep passion for music. If you visited Wayne’s studio, chances were really good you would hear an outrage of classical music blasting throughout the studio and the sculpture garden. He was very fond of Bach and he would actually swoon to the sound of one of Bach’s partitas. He loved fine food and he was an extraordinary cook. We’ve had many wonderful meals with Wayne. My husband and Wayne were both gourmets and they were always sharing menus from their travels. It was just marvelous to be having these fabulous dinners, lunches, brunches or whatever you had been invited to in his sculpture garden and the exquisite home he has shared with Becky these last few years.

“If you went to Wayne’s house, you would probably hear some polka music, too, because he loved it. It was merry and bright. WH en he was growing up in high school he played in a Polka band in Pittsburgh and he was a fabulous accordion player. It was beautiful. He was such an elegant man and that contradiction is just delightful.

“Wayne was a very passionate man. I think everyone you speak with will end up probably using that word. I’ll miss him. I loved him. I think, in time, he will become perhaps an abstraction. That’s wonderful for his work, and I think there’s an element of sadness in that for those of us who knew and loved him. He was an awfully good friend and they share a place in your heart.”


Davis Whitfield, apprentice, colleague and friend:

Photo courtesy of Becky Trapp.
Photo courtesy of Becky Trapp.

“We met at my little college back in Mississippi. In my last semester we started an outdoor sculpture program and I was a student representative when Wayne’s piece won an award. We had a reception for him and I saw a guy outside smoking cigarettes, so I thought, I’ll go hang out with that guy. I didn’t know then that he was the artist. Wayne and I had an instant connection. We snuck off from the party and he showed me the beginnings of what would be his book. He asked me what I wanted to do with my life, and I said, ‘I don’t know how or why, but I want to make art. That’s my calling for life.’ He asked me to come back to his studio in the cool mountains of North Carolina. It was one of the opportunities where you just have to take a chance, so I called him up. I apprenticed for him for more than 10 years.

“It was what I have always wanted. Since I was little, I knew I was destined to be an artist of some sorts. My dream was to apprentice with an aging master, and everything kind of fell into place when I met Wayne. It was like a kismet meeting — it was meant to be.

“This is tough on me. I spent almost every day of my life with Wayne for 10 years and I started to help him more as his career slowed down and mine started picking up. He was like my best friend and a second dad to me, kind of like my soul mate. We had a lot in common and I’ve never worked with anybody as well as I have with Wayne. It was a ballet of sorts to watch us work together, just a magic experience. He had such a passion for art and it was nice to have that.

“Wayne was the person who thought everything in life was some form of art; the kind that could find art in everything. Music, food … he could find beauty and artistic value in anything. I have never met anybody like that, and it was a form of inspiration. I am here today because of Wayne. He helped me become who I am as an artist and I give all of my thanks to him. He helped make my dream happen, and I wouldn’t be where I am if it weren’t for that old guy. Becky and Wayne gave me a folder of drawings and sketches he had done for sculptures he never got to do, and at some point I would like to do some of those in his honor.”


Jerry Kline, collector and friend:

Photo courtesy of Becky Trapp.
Photo courtesy of Becky Trapp.

“Art is a very personal thing. To me, it’s the eye of the beholder. When I first saw his work, it touched me and I wanted to find out about him. At the time, I did not know he was from this area. The owner of Linville Ridge had several pieces of his work and also worked with him to learn sculpture. When I learned that, I called him, went by to see him and we began our relationship.

“I bought his work because it gave me such pleasure and inner peace, and I bought it right up to the very end. You can tell by this conversation that my relationship with him was beyond patron and artist. I am in Myrtle Beach right now, where we have a home and several pieces of his work. When I found out that he passed away, not only did it touch me, but I walked around and saw what he had done and how much it meant to me, and it made me very, very sad.

“He was my kind of people, my kind of man. He was honest and he had integrity. He had ability. He could communicate. I was attracted to him, and so was my wife. It gave me pleasure to see him every time I saw him. Every time I saw him I would give him a hug, and it made me smile. A lot of times I would call him just to check in with him.

“He will be missed. He was, I think, a star among stars. He was a man for all seasons. He came to play every day until the very end and he gave it his best. He leaves a legacy of a good name, and that’s what everyone should strive to do.”


Toni Carlton, artist and friend:

Photo courtesy of Becky Trapp.
Photo courtesy of Becky Trapp.

“I met Wayne in 1980 at an art exhibit I had at ASU at what was then called Farthing Gallery. Later, when I opened my own gallery called Woven Works, he became one of my artists around 1984. We were friends, fellow artists and worked together from the mid 80s to the early 90s at Woven Works/Carlton Gallery. We also worked together as friends and artists, drawing and painting together regularly for several years. The inspiration to become a better artist, explore new media and ideas and courage to be a gallery owner was imminent from our time together. In 2012, we had a show for him when we expanded Carlton Gallery’s extra showroom/gallery space. His abstract paintings and brushwork drawings filled Carlton Gallery with vibrant color and fluid movement.

“Wayne was passionate about art, life, food, music, beauty, dance and gardening. He loved exploring new ideas, was hardworking, competitive, great at art marketing. He was polite, generous and funny, laughed a lot … it’s hard to separate Wayne as a person and as an artist … they all seem so interconnected. He was a sculptor in almost any media, with excellent drawing skills who became a painter, as well. His paintings were abstract with cold wax and oil with a sculptural quality. He did brush drawings with ink and had an amazing skill of capturing the figure in movement with just a few brush strokes.

“Wayne’s artwork graces many walls, pedestals, lawns, courtyards, museums, private and corporate buildings, as well as collections by local and regional friends. His passion for art, drawing, painting, sculpting, designing and creating, as well as engaging with other artists, friends and clients, will live on in the spirit of his art, his publications and in the memories, heart and minds of those whose lives he inspired.”


Photo courtesy of Becky Trapp.
Photo courtesy of Becky Trapp.