Joseph A. Whalen

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Joseph A. Whalen (American, 1927-2015) was a painter and educator born and based in Lockport, NY. He worked primarily in watercolors and acrylics, often painting barroom scenes, landscapes, and portraits.

As a young boy, Whalen spent three years in the hospital with a bone disease. He began drawing during this time to pass the hours. He started painting between the ages of 16 and 20 and then went to Rochester Institute of Technology to study art. After completing his degree at RIT, Whalen studied at the Albright Art School, the University of Buffalo, Niagara University, and Buffalo State College. Over the course of his education, he credits teachers Sister Mary Julia, S.S.M.N., Marion Hazen, and Ralph Avery as particular inspirations.

Whalen taught art at North Park Junior High in Lockport as well as at Niagara County Community College (NCCC) for 33 years. He founded the Niagara Frontier Watercolor Society (NFWS), became a member of the Buffalo Society of Artists (BSA), and was president of the Market Street Art Center in Lockport. He gave private lessons at his summer studio in Olcott Beach and spent four summers in the medical illustration department at Roswell Park Hospital and three summers in the technical illustration department of the Cornell Lab. He also produced freelance illustrations for local community theater playbills, anti-smoking campaigns and community events.

Whalen’s paintings and drawings, taken as a whole, constitute a chronicle of life in Lockport over more than a half-century. He exhibited his work at such venues as Buffalo's Burchfield Penney Art Center and the Albright Knox Art Gallery, the Kenan Center in Lockport, NY, as well as Lockport's Market Street Art Center, and he won a Gold Medal from the BSA.

Throughout his career, Mr. Whalen drew inspiration for his graphite sketches and watercolors from Lockport’s dive bars and dark alleys, populating his compositions with rough-looking characters who seemed to be trapped in a distant, Dickensian era. He was also inspired by the rural vistas of Niagara County, creating many light-drenched landscapes and scenes of rural roads, dilapidated barns and rusted bridges.

In 2013, Whalen was designated a "Living Legacy" by the Burchfield Penney. Joseph passed away in Niagara Hospice House after a long illness. He was 87.

“As much as he is known for his art, Joe is also highly regarded for his humor, storytelling and knowledge of local families and history,” a program accompanying Whalen’s recent 2015 retrospective exhibition in the Market Street Art Center read. “As a teacher, the number one lesson that Joe has attempted to pass along to his students is the importance of being a good citizen. In that regard, Joe leads by example.”

(Source:, Burchfield Penney Art Center, "Artists: Joseph A. Whalen";, obituary, "Joseph A. Whalen, Lockport artist and teacher", Colin Dabkowski, Dec. 18, 2015; Buffalo News, obituary & article, "Joseph A. Whalen, popular artist and teacher inspired by Lockport roots", unknown page number, December 19, 2015.)