G. Luther Washington, 83, teacher, artist


G. Luther Washington, a city public school teacher and an artist who painted in oils and watercolors, died Sunday of complications of renal failure at Greater Baltimore Medical Center. He was 83.

The Ashburton resident began teaching horticulture, social studies and history in 1937 at the then-Colored Vocational and Technical High School, now Carver Vocational-Technical High School. He retired in 1976 as an administrator.

In 1962, he was awarded the Classroom Teachers Medal of the Freedom Foundation in Valley Forge, Pa.

"Luther was a good teacher who set a wonderful example for his students," said Mildred Taylor, whose late husband was a colleague of his at Carver. "He stayed many long hours after school helping students to succeed. He was a kind, thoughtful and generous person."

While teaching was Mr. Washington's vocation, art was his avocation.

His interest in art was stimulated by a junior high school teacher in his native Reading, Pa. At the insistence of that teacher, he entered a Community Chest poster contest and won the second-place prize of $20. But art had to take second place while Mr. Washington pursued a career.

However, after he retired, he decided to fulfill his desire to become an artist and enrolled in the Maryland Institute, College of Art, from which he earned a master's degree in fine arts in 1986.

Working in a basement studio in his home, Mr. Washington had completed more than 300 works of art at the time of his death. His works were exhibited in Michigan in January.

"He studied with me," said Raoul Middleman, a noted Baltimore artist and teacher who described Mr. Washington's work as having a "fantastic feeling for nature with his forte being his landscapes."

"He had a richness of personality and a great deal of generosity. He was a wonderful human being," Mr. Middleman said. "He transmuted his sensitivity for colors and his work resonated with his knowledge of trees and flowers. His work really sang."

Mr. Washington's knowledge of trees and flowers was the result of his education. In 1936, he earned a bachelor's degree in horticulture at Hampton Institute in Virginia. In 1949, he earned a master's degree in education at New York University.

While a student at Hampton, he was a member of the Glee Club and the choir. In 1936, he traveled to Washington, where he was received by Eleanor Roosevelt at the White House.

Being a guest at the White House belied Mr. Washington's humble beginnings. He was one of 12 children. His father was a drayman, and his mother, who instilled in him a love of music, was a homemaker.

"He shined shoes as a youngster and high school student, and the amazing thing is after he graduated from college, he had to go back home and shine shoes until he got a job teaching in a segregated school in North Carolina," said his son, Valdemar L. Washington, a Flint, Mich., Circuit Court judge.

"He came to Baltimore and took the teaching position at Carver after his mentor suggested he leave North Carolina," the son said.

Mr. Washington enlisted in the Navy in 1939 and was assigned to a band, playing clarinet and piano. He was discharged in 1945 as a musician second class and returned to Baltimore and teaching.

At his Ashburton home, he planted colorful gardens.

"He escaped everyday pressures by tending his yard and had flowers and evergreens growing everywhere," said the son.

Mr. Washington was a member of the Maryland Historical Society, the Johns Hopkins University chapter of Phi Delta Kappa fraternity, Phi Alpha Theta fraternity

and a supporter of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

Services are set for 11 a.m. today at Episcopal Church of the Holy Trinity, 2300 W. Lafayette Ave., where he was a communicant.

Other survivors include his wife of 45 years, the former Vivian Irene Chamberlain; a brother, Allen Washington, and a sister, Henrietta Stroman, both of Reading; and two grandsons.

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