Penn State Intercom......April 18, 2002

Teamwork works for Abington artists

By David Jwanier
Penn State Philadelphia Region

When you're an artist and one of your main goals is to make people take notice, it certainly doesn't hurt your ego any Abington_mural2when one of those people happens to be another "artist" who is at the forefront of getting noticed -- namely Steven Spielberg.

Spielberg, perhaps best known for his hit films, "E.T. ­ The Extra Terrestrial," and the "Indiana Jones" series, was dining at the Canal House in New Hope one summer evening when he couldn't help but notice the murals that Penn State Abington students Kristy Krajnenko and John Thompson painted in the establishment.

"Steven Spielberg went to eat at the restaurant, and he asked who painted the murals. He apparently thought they were pretty neat. I thought that was awesome," said Krajnenko, a senior. The murals at the Canal House, which were painted during the summer of 2000, include an Italian garden, plus renderings of larger-than-life figures in the world of entertainment, including Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Elvis, Stevie Wonder and Judy Garland, to name a few.

On the heels of their success in New Hope, Krajnenko and Thompson have been commissioned by Penn State Abington to do similar work in the Lares Union Building at Abington. They recently finished painting one mural that portrays the history of the campus, dating back to when it was the Ogontz School for Girls in the early 20th century, and another that focuses on the current and future of the campus. The venue might be vastly different, but the stakes are equally high for the painting pair: to create murals that have enough power to make people stop and look, to think, and to stand up to the test of what they hope will be many decades of adorning those walls.

"It's very challenging to please everybody, because it is a public mural. There is a certain degree of vulnerability in that there is never a time when an artist's work is going to make everybody satisfied," Krajnenko said. "We went out and did a lot of research in the archives room of the library, and we've been meeting consistently with administrators and (art teacher) Bonnie Levinthal. I didn't know that (aviator) Amelia Earhart went here, though she didn't graduate. I also didn't know that rich men used to send their daughters here so they could find rich husbands -- like arm candy. That's kind of sad. With the second mural, we want to depict all the majors that are offered and do it in a neat way."

Familiar landmarks such as Sutherland Building, the duck pond in the center of campus and much more also will be integrated into the murals, creating an intergenerational artistic landscape sure to impress those who have attended Penn State Abington since its inception in 1950, as well as those who predate the Penn State legacy there.

If painting seems like an individual art and not a "tag-team" event, Krajnenko and Thompson have enough variation in the way they approach the canvas to compliment and not clash with each other: Krajnenko considers herself a free spirit who attacks the canvas with passion; Thompson says his art is more a product of precision.

"He's very meticulous. I wish you could see his palette -- it's very neat, and none of the colors touch," said Krajnenko, chuckling as she considers her own not-so-pristine palette. "Mine are pretty much all together. He's really good at painting the 'masculine things,' and I guess I'm good at the feminine stuff. He's awesome at statues, and I'm good at the flowery stuff. You can tell our styles are different, but they seem to work well together."

Thompson agrees that he and Krajnenko work well together, though he professes that things aren't always rosy: "We butt heads sometimes, but on the flip side, sometimes it motivates us more. It's great to have someone there painting with you who can offer you immediate feedback. It gives you a bit of confidence, and when you get a compliment on something you worked so hard on (from onlookers), it definitely gives you confidence."

Both artists say their families have been instrumental in their early success as artists.

"My parents were always encouraging me to make pictures, and my dad kept everything I did," said Krajnenko, who has done Winnie The Pooh and Piglet murals for neighbors as part of a business she started two years ago called Imagine That Murals. It was Krajnenko who got commissioned for the Canal House job, and called in Thompson when she realized the project was too much for one artist. Thompson also does some projects on the side, including a Christmas gift drawing of his friend's mom's new Audi TT convertible sports car.

For Thompson, art always has run in the family. His grandfather, Harry Thompson, was a woodworker who has been "working with wood every day since he was 16," he said. One of his great-grandmothers also was an art student. After moving out of his parents' home and taking a year off from college in the late 1990s to figure out his career goals, it didn't take the younger Thompson long to decide that getting an education was a smart thing to do.

"Now that I've returned to school and I'm paying for it, I certainly want to do well and prepare myself for a career in art," he said. Thompson plans to enter the integrative arts major in the fall, while Krajnenko already is enrolled in the program.

Thompson, a junior, plans to put his photo-realism inte rests to work for a magazine after graduation, while Krajnenko aspires to hook up with an advertising agency. Neither is particularly interested in falling into one particular artistic stereotype.

"I'm not going to be a struggling artist," Krajnenko said. "I'm too determined."

The murals were unveiled April 10 during the Lares Union Building rededication. More than $5 million has been spent on renovations to the building, and the artwork is an appropriate finishing touch, according to Campus Executive Officer Karen Sandler.

"John's and Kristy's work is outstanding, and it's fitting that two of our own art students should exhibit their talents as part of a project that depicts our pride here at Penn State Abington," she said.

Up-to-date photographs of the murals can be viewed on the Penn State Abington Web site at  

David Jwanier can be reached at