Local Obituaries

Artist and Transy teacher Joseph Petro, who designed bicentennial stamp, dies

Joseph Petro.  Photo supplied.
Joseph Petro. Photo supplied.

Accomplished artist and teacher Joseph Victor Petro Jr. died Tuesday at age 78.

Mr. Petro, a Lexington native, graduated from Henry Clay High School and attended Transylvania University, where he studied fine art.

Mr. Petro's career spanned a wide range of artistic subject matter, including art applied to medicine — in which he pursued graduate study at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine — portraits and bronze sculptures.

Two of his most famous works are a 9-foot-high, 75-foot-long mural at Hardin Memorial Hospital in Elizabethtown, which depicts the history of American medicine, and a painting of My Old Kentucky Home that appeared on Kentucky's bicentennial postage stamp.

Mr. Petro lived for a time in Rome, where he was head of the Department of Applied Art in the Rome Center of Loyola University Chicago and a visiting professor of art at John Cabot International College.

He returned to Lexington in 1977 and became the artist-in-residence at Transylvania.

Those who knew Mr. Petro described him as a sweet man with a gentle soul.

"I think that he probably was successful as a teacher because he was very nurturing and was very understanding toward students and helped any student who came to him to get as far and they could go," said Dan Selter, professor emeritus, who worked with Mr. Petro at Transylvania.

Lexington photographer Jeff Rogers, a longtime friend and former student of Mr. Petro, said he originally came to Transy because of a girlfriend, but he stayed because of Mr. Petro.

He described Mr. Petro as a "classy gentleman" who was a gifted artist and had an impact on many people's lives.

"I had seen his work at an exhibit at Transy before I actually met him," Rogers said. "When I went and saw him in ... a suit and tie, he looked like much more of an ambassador than the person I expected to see.

"One thing that he showed me that I had never seen — he showed me that it was possible to be an artist and be a professional."

Mr. Petro's paintings are found in museums and private collections in the U.S. and Europe, as well as in personal collections of four U.S. presidents and 37 governors, according to his family. His work has appeared in numerous major magazines, medical textbooks and journals, and other publications.

Selter said Mr. Petro provided a bridge between the sciences and the arts at Transy, where he taught a special medical illustration course and painting classes.

"He has an impact on so many people's lives," Rogers said. "I really admired and respected him very much and I'll never forget the influence that he continues to have in my life."

Ralph Huffsey, a professor of engineering at the University of Kentucky, said he had coffee with Mr. Petro on Friday mornings for more than 20 years. He said Mr. Petro was "quiet, reserved, knew a lot of people" and "was very talented."

Mr. Petro is survived by his wife, Patricia Anders Petro; a son, Joseph V. Petro III; a daughter, Jennifer Leslie Petro Steck of New Orleans; sisters Lois Petro Edmiston of Lexington and Marilyn Petro Pace of Richmond; three grandchildren; and nieces, nephews and cousins. He was preceded in death by a son, John Andrew Petro.

Visitation will be from 5 to 7 p.m. Sunday at Milward-Broadway. Additional visitation will begin at 11 a.m. Monday at Transylvania University in the Chapel in Old Morrison, with a memorial service at noon. Burial will follow at Lexington Cemetery.

Memorial donations may be made to Transylvania University, The Arboretum or Hospice of the Bluegrass.