Grace Elmore in Sage Chapel with her drawing of it

Grace Elmore ’25 in Sage Chapel with her painting of the building's iconic organ and stained-glass window. (Noël Heaney / Cornell University.

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From the clock tower to Risley and beyond, Grace Elmore ’25 finds inspiration in Cornell’s eclectic architectural styles

By Lindsay Lennon

A drawing of the Cornell clock tower
McGraw Tower

At the start of the fall ’22 semester, craving a creative experience outside the classroom, Grace Elmore ’25 sat on the Slope and sketched the buildings of West Campus—playfully, a bit mindlessly, and (as she admits with a laugh) “really inaccurately.”

When Elmore shared her work on Instagram, it garnered an overwhelming positive response—along with a slew of requests for her to draw other Cornell buildings.

“It made me stop and think: people enjoy this,” says Elmore, a double major in English and religious studies in Arts & Sciences. “Like, really enjoy it.”

The reaction prompted her to explore more potential locations, leading to what she calls the first real piece she did of campus: a playful rendition of Goldwin Smith Hall.

In it, the building’s signature pillars are askew, the texture of trees is expressed through black squiggles, and the footpaths that crisscross the grass are presented more like gently flowing gray rivers than concrete walkways.

Using a technique known as line-and-wash, Elmore sketches in pencil, then goes over the lines in pen and fills in with watercolor.

The process (which takes her about two hours for an eight-by-10-inch work) produces what she calls a “lighter and happier feel” than one might find in acrylic or oil paintings.

A drawing of A.D. White Reading Room
A.D. White Reading Room

After Goldwin Smith, Elmore began tackling other halls, then a slew of Greek houses.

In just a few months, she built a collection of these colorful, almost comic-strip-like paintings of some of the Hill’s most beloved buildings, which she now promotes and sells as prints and greeting cards on her website and Instagram.

“I appreciate each building for its own details,” says Elmore. “They’re all so different.”

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Before moving to Ithaca, Elmore’s only visit to East Hill was a brief trip from her home state of Indiana with her mother. (Due to the pandemic, she couldn’t take an official tour.)

When she matriculated, she was struck by the campus’s wide assortment of architectural styles, eras, colors, and materials.

It’s a dream canvas for Elmore, who jokingly cringes at the idea of drawing human beings.

The Hill, Reimagined

“I enjoy solid things, like buildings and objects,” she says, “because they’re precise.”

While she gladly took a recent commission from a Cornell mom to paint the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity house, she politely declined to include the woman’s son in the picture—fearing, she explains, it would turn out “more insulting than complimentary.”

A drawing of Boldt Hall
Boldt Hall archway

Despite her affinity for distinct, recognizable subjects, Elmore presents the University through her own luminous, animated lens.

Her pen and brushstrokes whimsically capture the turf of Schoellkopf Field; the sky-blue reflections in the windows of Rhodes Hall; a jolly rainbow of books lining the shelves of the A.D. White Reading Room.

She happily dances along the line between imagination and reality, dwelling on some details while intentionally downplaying others.

When she was sketching McGraw Tower for the first time, for instance, she found herself fixated on its topmost layer, painstakingly counting the stone bricks in the narrow, alternating pattern just below the roof.

“But then I didn’t care at all about the brick that makes up the rest of the clocktower,” she says with a chuckle.

“I was just focusing on the smaller details. That’s what I love about these buildings.”

Top: Elmore in Sage Chapel with her painting of the building's iconic organ and stained-glass window. Photo by Noël Heaney / Cornell University.

Published December 2, 2022


  1. charles+camisa, Class of 1973

    Great! Love her artwork.

  2. Richard Do, Class of 1996

    beautiful eye!

  3. Bette Kingan Witt, Class of 1962

    Enjoyed that so much. I lived in Risley 2 years. Freshman year my roommate and I shared a “double single” that had a nice view out the front of the dorm. We were the farthest on our corridor from the shared one phone and gang bathroom! Ate dinner in the dorm every night and had a curfew every night. Times have changed.

  4. Rick Cochran, Class of 1971

    During 4 years of undergrad, and 38 years on staff, one of my favorite things was to wander around and through the elegant Cornell buildings. I think I can see myself in some of Grace’s delightful artwork.

  5. Jackie K., Class of 1989

    So beautiful! Wish we could buy Elmore’s work on postcards or greeting cards.

  6. BLANC, Class of 1972

    I love this view of Risley.

    It was so great in 1970 with all these resident painters, architects, actors, engineers …

    I wish I could go back to that time !

  7. Laura Anne, Class of 1981

    I hope she’s having as much fun as I have been having as an artist, since I was 3. In 1996, I became a “professional.” Best wishes.

  8. Jake Cornelius

    These are delightful. I anticipate Grace being very busy with student and alumni orders in the future.

  9. Julian Max Aroesty, MD, Class of 1953

    I worked in the Risley kitchen from 51-52, then won a scholarship that allowed me to spend my senior year with working part time. Females were 9% of each Cornell class when most of the ivies were 100% male. Tableware was silver plated. All dishes were beautiful Syracuse china with a broad red band, edged with gold, and with the full color Cornell seal in the center. Food was meticulously placed on a plate with the seal centered and upright, the point of a pie slice superimposed on the point of the Cornell seal, etc.. All the students dressed appropriately for dinner — no slacks or jeans. Weekend dinner was special as a limited number of guests were allowed to attend. It was awesome. For my family our special china, crystal and silverware was used only for 3-4 special dinners each year. My family could not believe the best table settings were used each day!!

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