In Focus: Tony Junker

Since the coronavirus led to the cancellation of one of the Annual Adult Student Exhibition reception and prize ceremony, in which we celebrate the achievements of our adult students, we are highlighting a number of the exhibition’s prize winners each week. The series, In Focus, begins with Tony Junker, a retired architect whose design work has left an indelible mark on the fabric of Philadelphia. 

For Tony Junker, inspiration came in the form of a cluck and a wing when he stumbled across a clutch of roosters during a visit to one of Maine’s many county fairs. The watercolor portrait of his favorite bird, which he titled Official Portrait, received first place in the works on paper category in this year’s Annual Adult Student Exhibition.

“You may not believe this,” Junker said with a laugh when we connected with him this week, “but I decided to position him according to the Mona Lisa. It’s obviously a different size, but the proportions are the same.”

In 2016, Junker moved to Society Hill and reignited his interest in art at Fleisher after putting it aside for nearly 40 years to steer one of Philadelphia’s prominent architecture firms. UJMN, which he founded with his partner, Mark Ueland, designed and renovated countless in the city and beyond, and it was widely recognized for its expertise in sustainable, museum, and exhibition design.

Junker’s interest in art and architecture began at a young age. Growing up in Brooklyn, he would regularly head to classes at New York’s Arts Students League, and his travels during his short stint in the U.S. Army were always accompanied by a paperback catalog Frank Lloyd Wright’s works. Junker said he would visit as many of those architectural landmarks as possible a be regularly called away from his duties in the artillery whenever someone needed a sign created.

“I’ve always felt that I am a creative person,” Junker said. “Creation is something I have to do, it’s just in my nature. Visual art is where I feel most comfortable right now and I’m learning so much.”

While Junker did not join Fleisher until recently, his familiarity stretches back quite a bit. When he and his wife lived in Lansdale, their neighbor married Francis McCarthy, who taught classes for adults and young artists at Fleisher for more than 50 years. The two eventually collaborated when Junker designed the Mummers Museum at 2nd Street and Washington Avenue in the late 1970s and McCarthy designed a number of tiles for the project.

While much of the country remains on orders to stay home, Junker says he is staying creative and continuing to explore watercolors. His current subjects are largely spring flowers, he says, but he is focused on capturing light in the philosophy and spirit of Louis Kahn, perhaps Philadelphia’s most famous architect and a Fleisher student. It was in Kahn’s studio that Junker first met Ueland.

“What intrigues me is the way light comes through the paper,” Junker said. “It seems like there’s a whole world to itself and you could learn forever from it. I’m not feeling at all lost during this period.”

Pictured artwork by Tony Junker, from top, Matriarch, Official Portrait, ARK.

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