A Portrait of a Pennsylvania Artist: Stuart H. Frost

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By Katherine Joyce

Stuart H. Frost. Undated, Photographic vertical files, Portraits: Frost, Stuart H. Box 91, Eberly Family Special Collections Library, The Pennsylvania State University.

Stuart H. Frost was a quintessentially Pennsylvanian muralist who left quiet traces of his genius behind him. He traveled the world, spreading his art to places as magnificent as Washington, D.C.’s Capitol rotunda, and spent many years utilizing his experience to pass on his deep love of art to younger generations by teaching his craft at The Pennsylvania State University. 

Through interviews and research, I have come to know Frost as a thoughtful artist, dedicated teacher, and ardent lover of Pennsylvania. In some ways, it may be much easier to preserve a mural than a memory, but Mr. Frost and his art deserve to be remembered side by side. 


Stuart H. Frost was born in Arendtsville, Pennsylvania1. From a young age, it seemed that Frost had an interest in art, one that may have been first inspired by his father2. Stuart W. Frost was a respected entomologist as well as an artist in his own right3 who would create incredibly intricate drawings of frogs and insects, sketching down to the most minute details. In the later stages of his artistic career, Frost’s art largely consisted of intricate line drawings with paper and ink, which may have been a callback to his childhood art:

The Frost Family in 1946. Lowell L. Manfull, “Inside a Work of Art: A Portrait of Stuart Frost,” Town & Gown April 1995: 12.

“I think Stuart grew up being given a pen and paper, watching Stuart’s father do those careful scientific sketches of insects and things,” said Roger Zellner, Frost’s life partner and fellow artist, “and that’s where I think the black and white, working with pen and ink, took root.”4

In 1937, the Frosts packed their bags and moved from Arendtsville to State College so that his father could take a professorial job at the Pennsylvania State College5. There, he taught in the Department of Entomology6. Luckily for young Stuart H., he came from an artistic family who recognized his talent early on in life. Besides his father, his aunt and grandfather also pursued an interest in art. With his family’s support, he began to take art lessons when he was thirteen years old. 

The Frosts lived on East Foster Avenue, so he attended State College High School (now referred to more commonly in the Highlands neighborhood as the Fairmount School). Frost graduated in 1944 as his love and talent for art continued to grow. After high school, Frost spent three years in the Navy serving the United States of America before going on to attend Penn State as an undergraduate student7.


Over his many years of education, Frost studied at Penn State, the Brooklyn Museum, the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine, and New York University8 (not in order). Frost saw his experiences at these different schools as crucial to his ever-changing development as an artist. 

During his time as a student at Penn State, Frost continued to nurture his love of art, finding other mentors and fellow artists to help sharpen his skills along the way. He collaborated with Viktor Lowenfeld, an artist from Vienna, who worked for the Department of Home Economics, teaching art education under that department until a specific one for Art Education emerged at the university9. Lowenfeld was an enthusiastic instructor who deeply loved his craft. Described as “a warm human being with a genuine interest in and affection for everyone,” he was a strong force as both an artist and a professor10.

Plaques explaining the murals in the State College High School cafeteria, as well as a photo of “The Pioneer Mural,” Frost’s contribution. Photos by K. Joyce.

Lowenfeld and Frost partnered through Penn State to paint murals depicting the area’s local history on the cafeteria walls of State College High School, Frost’s alma mater. For the project, the room was split into two, each artist claiming half of the cafeteria as his canvas. Lowenfeld’s half became a community project that paid homage to the legend of Princess Nita-Nee and her mountain. According to a plaque in the cafeteria, the artists behind this mural included “local artists, State College High School faculty, alumni, and students,” all under Lowenfeld’s direction. Frost’s side of the cafeteria was a solo venture. His mural depicted the advancing industrialization of the State College area over its history. The plaques named the two murals “Mount Nittany Mural” (Lowenfeld’s class) and “The Pioneer Mural” (Frost). As I stood in the school cafeteria and took in the entire wall, the artistry of Lowenfeld’s class on the left and Frost’s individual work on the right, the two works could have been one.

Also during his time at Penn State, Frost found a mentor in Henry Varnum Poor, an artist he met in 194911. Poor was once described as someone well-equipped with “modesty, simplicity, directness and a strong sense of humor.”12 It is no surprise that the pair of artistic individuals meshed so well together, considering that Frost’s partner, Roger Zellner made very similar statements about Frost’s quiet yet jovial nature during our interview.

When Frost first met Poor, the latter was working on a project – a big project. Poor was spearheading an effort to paint the Land Grant Frescoes in Penn State’s famous Old Main building. When his daughter, Anne, the original assistant on the project, fell sick, Frost was brought in as her replacement to paint among other artists. Working with Poor on this project sparked a love in Frost for painting murals, as well as just creating massive pieces of art13.

The Land Grant Frescoes in Old Main. Photos by K. Joyce.

I visited several locations in the State College area as I researched for this article, hoping to understand Frost better through his work. The Land Grant Frescoes in Old Main were my first stop. These paintings, shown here, are massive. The task of covering the many walls of Old Main’s grandest room was a Goliathan effort. I can understand how being blessed to work on such a project would have excited and inspired a young Frost. If you have not yet walked through Old Main to see these frescoes, I highly recommend a visit. 

In our interview, Zellner made a point to bring up Frost’s gratitude for his experiences with Poor. “He loved working on that mural with Poor,” he stated. “It gave him a number of different experiences that led him to work with some other muralists.”14 Perhaps the most impressive mural that Frost ever lent his artistic passions towards was in the ceiling frescoes of the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C., assisting artist Allyn Cox between the years 1951 and 195315.

After graduating in 1949, Frost went on to study at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Structure , where he continued to learn under Poor. These years of study gave Frost a new appreciation for the beauty of the State College area, and he felt the urge to portray the area in a new style. It is no surprise, then, that Frost’s love of art and Pennsylvania eventually led him back to Penn State16

“Some people feel the calling to set down roots, and it doesn’t quite go away,” said Alex Bainbridge, who worked on an exhibition of Frost’s work in 2010 for a graduate school project. She is now employed at Penn State’s Eberly Family Special Collections Library. She has also handled the papers of Frost’s father, and still holds an immense love for Frost’s work and an admiration for his family’s Penn State legacy. “They see the beauty in the mountains, and they stick. I guess that’s the way it was for him.”17 

This seems true, because after all of Frost’s adventures in New York and Washington, D.C., he found himself back in State College, but this time, as a professor. In 1956, Frost returned to Penn State18. He spent thirty-seven dedicated years teaching at Penn State19, retiring on January 1, 198620. “I think the majority of the students really adored him,” said Zellner. “He was always there to listen, to give advice when asked.”21


Frost surrounded by paintings. Undated, Photographic vertical files, Portraits: Frost, Stuart H. Box 91.

As someone who spent the semester studying and exploring Frost’s work, I absolutely agree with Bainbridge. In my experience (limited though it is) of studying artists and their work, it seems that most artists find their niche and stick with it, never venturing outside of their self-made comfort zones. Why explore photography when you already excel at watercolors? Why try your hand at pottery when your fame can be traced back to your oil paintings? In other words, why try something new when you already have all you need?

Frost, however, clearly did not see art as something to be contained. Before this semester, if one of Frost’s murals and one of his ink sketches were placed side-by-side, I do not think I ever would have guessed that they were both created by the same individual. It is a remarkable testament to his range of skill and dedication. Frost, it seems, continued to study his craft and evolve throughout his entire life, never settling in one particular artistic medium solely because it was comfortable. Rather, he continued to explore new artistic terrain to express himself in new ways. 

Two artistic works by Frost. Manfull, “Inside a Work of Art: A Portrait of Stuart Frost,” 11, 13.

Bainbridge, who worked on a 2010 art show of Frost’s work during her time as a graduate student, held a similar awe of his creative range. She and her classmates handled and displayed art from all different stages of Frost’s career, from beautiful paintings of the mountains to little ink sketches scrawled out on receipts and other pieces of scrap paper22. An April 2010 press release article described this exhibit as “a retrospective of Frost’s life, including a piece from his childhood at age eight as well as work completed just a few weeks ago.” As a tribute to Frost being part of an artistic family legacy, artwork created by his father and grandfather were also included in this month-long exhibition23. By the time she met Frost, he had adopted the pen-and-paper style of his late-career line drawings, a vastly different approach to art than his early murals and paintings. 

“Stuart’s work seemed to have gone through a decent amount of change,” Bainbridge commented during our interview. She held a particular love for a painting he’d created of a mountain. “He had such a range of style.”24

When it came to the inspiration behind Frost’s work, Zellner spoke of everything from dreams to books to childhood memories. “He was an observer of everything, of life. He was very introspective,” Zellner noted. “He read a lot, was influenced by a lot of things he read. He also read a lot of classical kind of literature.” And yet, one of Frost’s most common inspirations for his work was his love for Pennsylvania, for State College25


Coming from a quintessentially “Penn State family” myself – my parents met here, they both work here now, and my brother and I now attend school here – I love that Frost seems to exemplify this idea as well. We fell in love with Penn State, State College, the Highlands neighborhood… that so many of us continue to follow our journeys back here is a testament to this area’s warmth and charm. 

Frost passed away in 201626. When I asked Zellner how he thought Frost should be remembered, his answer seemed a fitting one for the artist I had spent a semester getting to know through newspaper clippings, through the walls of Old Main, and through the memories of those who’d known him. “Just as a lover of Pennsylvania, of State College,” he said simply. “He loved State College.”27

Katherine Joyce is a junior at Penn State with a major in English and a minor in History. Additionally, she’s beginning graduate classes in the fall as a member of an integrated BA/MA program and writing an original thesis on J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Though she hails from Schuylkill County, PA, Katherine is proud to come from a “Penn State family” and has absolutely fallen in love with State College over the last year. She loves finding new coffee shops downtown and driving around to explore the natural beauty of the area. When she’s not working or wandering State College, she enjoys movie nights with family and friends, buying flowers, and writing her novel. She can be contacted at kpj5192@psu.edu.

  1. Stuart H. Frost. Stuart H. Frost : recent work (State College: The Pennsylvania State University, 1976), 7. ↩︎
  2. Oral interview of Roger Zellner, interviewed by Katherine Joyce, 18 February 2024, State College, Pennsylvania. ↩︎
  3. Manfull, “Inside a Work of Art: A Portrait of Stuart Frost,” 12-13. ↩︎
  4. Zellner interview, 18 February 2024. ↩︎
  5. Manfull, “Inside a Work of Art: A Portrait of Stuart Frost,” 12. ↩︎
  6. Frost. Stuart H. Frost : recent work, 7. ↩︎
  7. Manfull, “Inside a Work of Art: A Portrait of Stuart Frost,” 12. ↩︎
  8. Frost. Stuart H. Frost : recent work, 7. ↩︎
  9. Special Collections Library faculty/staff. Viktor Lowenfeld papers, 2021, https://aspace.libraries.psu.edu/repositories/3/resources/10894, (accessed on 25 April 2024). ↩︎
  10. Robert J. Saunders, “Viktor Lowenfeld: As Mentor,” Art Education (2000): JSTOR, Online (accessed on 1 April 2024). ↩︎
  11. Manfull, “Inside a Work of Art: A Portrait of Stuart Frost,” 12-13. ↩︎
  12. Howard Devree, “Contemporary American Artists: Henry Varnum Poor,” Parnassus 12.5 (1940): JSTOR, Online (accessed on 1 April 2024). ↩︎
  13. Manfull, “Inside a Work of Art: A Portrait of Stuart Frost,” 12-13. ↩︎
  14. Zellner interview, 18 February 2024. ↩︎
  15. Frost. Stuart H. Frost : recent work, 1. ↩︎
  16. Manfull, “Inside a Work of Art: A Portrait of Stuart Frost,” 13-14. ↩︎
  17. Oral interview of Alex Bainbridge, interviewed by Katherine Joyce, 9 February 2024, State College, Pennsylvania. ↩︎
  18. Stuart H. Frost, https://www.askart.com/artist/Stuart_H_Frost/10019016/Stuart_H_Frost.aspx, (accessed on 5 Feb. 2024). ↩︎
  19. Alaina Gallagher, Exhibit shows work of professor, 2010, https://www.psucollegian.com/archives/arts/exhibit-shows-work-of professor/article_28ad9649-5307-5c30-86df-0fd42ee754d8.html (accessed on 6 Feb. 2024). ↩︎
  20. “Retirement Notice from the Pennsylvania State University,” 24 February 1986, The Pennsylvania State University biographical vertical files: Frost, Stuart H., Eberly Family Special Collections Library, Pennsylvania State University. ↩︎
  21. Bainbridge interview, 9 February 2024. ↩︎
  22. Bainbridge interview, 9 February 2024. ↩︎
  23. Gallagher, Exhibit shows work of professor. ↩︎
  24. Bainbridge interview, 9 February 2024. ↩︎
  25. Zellner interview, 18 February 2024. ↩︎
  26. Stuart H. Frost, https://www.askart.com/artist/Stuart_H_Frost/10019016/Stuart_H_Frost.aspx accessed on 5 Feb. 2024). ↩︎
  27. Zellner interview, 18 February 2024. ↩︎