*Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled “Cavalry.” We regret the error, which has been fixed.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Chris LaPorte stood in front of a 28-by-8-foot drawing of a 1921 picture of World War I soldiers and tears came to his eyes as he reflected on what he created 12 years ago.

The 2010 public ArtPrize winner spent nine months and around 800 hours creating “Cavalry.” His tears now are different than the ones he shed as he made the art.

“I’m in an incredibly happy place in my life right now. I wish he could have met my son. You know, those are things that come to me,” LaPorte said.

In September 2009, LaPorte’s father was killed by a car while riding his bicycle. It was an unexpected loss that ignited an unconscious desire to bring his dad back through art.

“All these guys are gone and with what power you have, you’ve been bringing them back to life. In each one of them is your dad and in this one drawing, you get 63 shots,” LaPorte remembers his mentor saying when he saw the picture the first time. “This is an indirect portrait of my dad and in at least some way, working through the grief of his passing.”

LaPorte learned through college that art is bigger than the sum of all of its parts. That was a lesson he learned while attending Aquinas College, where he graduated and where he was teaching part-time when he won ArtPrize.

“Cavalry, American Officers, 1921” by Chris LaPorte, which won ArtPrize in 2010, on display at Aquinas College. (September 2022)

“I feel very fortunate. Kind of back-ended into that quality of art education and liberal arts education overall, because there’s more to your life than art. Thus, your art has more life,” LaPorte said.

He credits the liberal arts studies he received through Aquinas with broadening his perspectives on life and developing a unique ability to bring his art to life.

“It’s about people. This shows you all of humanity in one picture: the expressions, the desires, the fears, the exhaustions… You can see yourself in them. It’s not just about that person over there, it’s about me in there,” Aquinas President Alicia Córdoba said, gesturing to the work. “If you look at the different people, you can kind of find your way into the picture.”

Córdoba is new to campus — still in her first year as president — but the effects “Cavalry” has on the Saints community has been evident since she started. She said people frequently ask to see it where it now hangs in the school library.

The campus community has grown to love not just LaPorte’s ArtPrize victory but also the 2018 public winner “The String Project,” co-created by Aquinas graduate and LaPorte student, Chelsea Nix.

“If this is what we produce out of Aquinas, oh my goodness, the world should come running,” Córdoba said. “If this is what we have in Grand Rapids, there’s nothing like it.”

LaPorte said Nix was a communications major with a minor in art. He believes, again, that well-rounded education helped create Nix’s art.

“You learn a lot about a lot of things, while at same time you understand the connectivity. I mean, this is quite literally the concept of this work, the connectivity of it all,” LaPorte said. “You also have the opportunity to self-actualize in a way that’s inclusive.”

It’s that connectivity and inclusiveness that LaPorte believes continues to elevate the spirit of ArtPrize each year. Giving community the opportunity to connect through art and through people.

“As a community event that brings a lot of people together for absolutely good and amazing reasons, you know, for people to head downtown and stand in line to go see fine art, is incredible,” LaPorte said of ArtPrize. “I think art, at its best, is inclusive. So when you have an event that is fundamentally that way, I believe that leads to a lot of good things.”

The connection is what made his “Cavalry” art such a success in 2010. It invited the community to be a part of it in their own journey — to find themselves in the men of that photograph. Twelve years later, LaPorte looks at his art, his life and “Cavalry” with a stroke of change.

“My life’s changed, you know, I’m married and have kids. And so much of this is about working through death and now a lot of my artwork is more about life. You know, I’m drawing my kids, my wife and nature,” LaPorte said, looking at “Cavalry.” “To be able to have this because I went through all that, now gives me a sense of connectivity with something that I, in another sense, couldn’t have. I can’t have it but I can. At least to some sense, in some way.”