Above the sink in my studio is a montage of photos of College of Wooster professor Phil Shipe. Phil was a professor of physical education, head football and head wrestling coach (Phil was my wrestling coach 75-78 ). To the right of Phil's photos is a team picture from 1975 including me at the College of Wooster.
From 1950 to 1980 Phil Shipe was a friend, and more often than not, a mentor to everyone he met. Phil was also an accomplished artist and many of my early art lessons came from Coach. I owe a great debt of gratitude to Phil (as do so many who moved through Wooster during the "Shipe years") for so many things--including nearly 30 years of friendship. Although Coach Shipe passed in 1996; few days go by when his gentle wisdom does not help guide me.
My first church painting hangs in the new, large, fellowship hall in Fredericksburg Presbyterian Church. It adds a great deal of color to a large space that is entirely white. Oil on Masonite Panel 8' x 3'
My other church paintings. All three are 6' x 4' and are masonite panels.
"The Day the Music Died"
Self Portrait 1989
One of the rescue paintings.
Phil working on one of his
barn siding paintings with his
wife Mary (Pem) looking on.
As a kid, I very much wanted to be an artist. To be like one of the many oil painting artist I admired was my original career goal. Better still, was to be one of the working portrait artists I admired! Ah..., the dreams of youth.
Unfortunately, a funny thing happened on the way to a career in art--I got side-tracked by a 35 year career as a history teacher and wrestling coach in the Dalton Local School District. But, as they say--better late than never! From roughly 1990 until my retirement in 2014 I was simply too busy coaching, teaching, and being a father to do much (more like any) painting. Retirement has renewed my interest in art and granted me the luxury of time to paint.
My formal art training includes an art minor from the College of Wooster (class of 78) (I started out as an art major--but that is a whole other story ), commercial art courses, from the University of Akron, and, at various intervals, individual study under the watchful eyes of: Wooster artist Gertrude Ward (Gertrude my first art teacher. She was an original and quite a "card". She read palms, told fortunes and was generally a delightful eccentric who lived with her 100-year-old mother and a house full of cats-- she would not have been out of place teaching at Hogwarts! At the time Gertie taught out of a place in downtown Wooster that no longer exists called -- " The Green Gashouse". Got to love the 60s! I was 10 and enjoyed every minute of her instruction. ) College of Wooster professor Phil Shipe, well known Akron artist Jack Richards, magic realist Sharon Kinzer, and the noted artist Daniel Greene. Although I was never able to study under Charles Pfahl, he was and still is, a big influence on my work. I was very sorry to learn of his passing a few years ago as well as that of Jack Richards. Unfortunately, people get old and people die--even those we admire.
As a graduation present Coach Shipe took me to New York to meet Pfahl--it was a wonderful experience and the advice Pfahl gave me was invaluable. It was from these conversations that I was directed to study under Jack Richards, whom Pfahl studied under when he lived in Akron.
At the time of my visit, Pfahl was living in what appeared to me to be a multi-story warehouse. The living quarters were on the top floor and consisted of many open spaces with heavy old furniture, back drops like those used in plays, and a variety of other props Pfahl would use in his paintings. It was cool! During this visit, I learned two very important lessons about myself. I did not want to live in a warehouse (no matter how cool) and I did not want to live in New York! I was and proudly remain, a small town boy.
Another large influence upon my art was the famous landscape artist and author, Eric Sloane. Coach and Pem Shipe were good friends with Eric (and a few of his various wives--I think there were six,...maybe seven total-- if I remember correctly). Sloane influenced Coach, who in turn influenced me. For well over a decade, once a year, Phil and Pem would make a yearly visit to spend a few days seeing Sloane.
A number of times Sloane was in something of a funk from a recent divorce and could not finish a painting. On two occasions, when Coach and Pem were guests of Sloane and he was- "between" wives- he took the painting he was working on, (usually a dark and brooding cloudscape) announce he was unable to finish it, removed it from his easel--and threw it in his fireplace! Before he could light the fire, however, Coach was able to convince Sloane to give him the unfinished painting instead of destroying it. One of the two "rescue paintings" Phil saved can be seen at the right.
These unfinished rescue works hung in Phil and Pem's home for many years. They were a constant source of inspiration for me. When Coach died, I inherited one of the two. It still inspires me to this day. So, I guess when I paint cloudscapes or landscapes my work still somewhat echoes that of Eric Sloane (Impressionable kids grow up to be impressed adults!).
I enjoy painting portraits, landscapes, and still life --and more importantly; I will paint, upon commission, pretty much anything you want to hang in your domicile, public space-- or dog house for that matter!
Although I truly miss teaching and coaching I am looking forward to my new career as an artist (especially since I don't have to worry about being a starving artist ). When I decided to actually build my studio I did a great deal of internet research and found a great many artists in the same situation as myself. I learned much from many and am grateful artists are so willing to share.
Thanks for visiting my website.
"I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else." C. S. Lewis
The book that first introduced me to Charles Pfahl autographed by Pfahl
My love of art is very much tied to my love of history. So much so, that I don't know which I loved first or even most. I guess my love of history and of art developed together; one shaping and giving understanding to the other. Today, my motivation for, and intention in all that I do artistically can be found in my love of history. I've often looked to the words of the great essayist of the last century G.K. Chesterton when I'm at a loss to verbally explain certain feelings I have. In truth, before I had read Chesterton I sometimes felt that perhaps I was the only one feeling certain ways regarding what it meant to be human. Reading Chesterton quickly disabused me of that thought. He always seems to have the right words to express what it means to be part of the human condition; especially in regards to life and the passage of time.
G.K. Chesterton once expressed the idea of connections, past to present, when he wrote "Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about." This idea of past holding hands with the present is a thought I first encountered as a college sophomore backpacking around Europe in early 1976. While visiting the Vatican museums in Rome I came across an early Renaissance painting of a skeleton in a coffin with an epitaph painted at the bottom of the work. It went something like this, “As you now are—I once was. As I now am, you soon shall be.” That thought stuck with me from that day to the present. We’re all just moving through this life! It was then and there (after a few more nights sleeping in train stations, a lot of hitchhiking and exhausting my Eurorail pass ) that it struck me--Wouldn't it be nice if we could bring as many people along on the ride as possible!
Since that youthful revelation, it has been my desire to turn the moments of my life into preserved artifacts in oil. I have always wished to communicate with an audience that may not yet be born,..to talk with a future I will never know. Understanding that I live, love and experience this physical world, as those that came before did, and as those who come after will, somehow, to me, seemed an ultimately important concept--one that too many people don't seem to get! My works are meant to convey the simple truth of a shared humanity. If I come across sometimes as an awestruck observer in my works so be it! I lived, loved, and experienced the very same things the viewers of my work do! We are, indeed, all in this together. That has always seemed to me to be the greatest lesson a teacher could teach or an artist could convey! Because of this I never tire of translating the light, the colors, the textures, and moods I have seen and felt as I experience the world around me, into oil paintings that others far beyond my realm of personal experience can enjoy.
Hopefully, I am creating a bond that will transcend the brief moment I share this physical world with others now alive. If I'm lucky, I am communicating through not only space,... but through time as well, with people, I will never know. I believe a good oil painting serves the same purpose as Chesterton believes tradition does, in that it ties the creator of the work to the viewer with bonds that neither will ever truly understand and, yet,... exist nonetheless.
In regards to influences upon my work, there are four main sources: American landscape artist Eric Sloane, the American illustrators Norman Rockwell and Maxfield Parish and, finally, the noted America realist Charles Pfahl.
Although, unfortunately, all of artists with the greatest impact upon my work are no longer alive on this plane of existence; I feel their life force and share their thoughts and feelings every time I view their work. What better eulogy could there be for an artist?
Recently, I've discovered that I very much enjoy painting large panel paintings for local churches. The realization process began with a request from my dying mother to paint something for her beloved Fredericksburg Presbyterian church, in Fredericksburg Ohio. My mother was a devoted member of the church and she wanted something from our family to hang in the new church being built to replace the 150 year old building they were tearing down. Upon her request I painted the 8 foot by 3 foot work "...A Season for Every Activity Under the Heavens". As a result I discovered that I very much desire to paint scenes, concepts, individuals, and stories from the Bible--both Old and New Testament. If there are any churches out there who might want large oil paintings depicting individuals, stories, and moments from the Bible-- I very much desire to work with you in making a work of art for your congregation. Call me and we can work out something that would be beneficial to all concerned. I'm open to anything as a subject you might suggest. As a result of your contacting me, hopefully, I would get another church to hang my art in-- and you would get a greatly discounted work of art that would hopefully enhance your church and its worship services.
A BLAST FROM THE PAST
Not long ago I had the wonderful experience of reconnecting with my time with Coach Shipe in a most unusual way. Out of the preverbal blue I received a phone call from a person who had a few of Phil's barn siding portraits. The pieces in question were portraits of their children. Apparently these works were painted by Phil as a gift sometime in the 80s. Unfortunately, for one reason or another, Phil was only able to paint two of the three of the couple's children. (Phil stopped painting roughly a year before he died in 1996.) Anyway, the person on the phone had seen my website, knew about my friendship with Phil, and wondered if I would be able to complete the set by painting a picture of their daughter (who is now in her 30s).
The fact of the matter is I had seen Phil prepare and paint hundreds of his "barn siding wonders". Phil literally painted hundreds, if not thousands of houses, people and pets using his barn siding surfaces. I knew every step in the process, and could indeed duplicate the technique. However, while it is true I knew the technique and could duplicate it, I wasn't sure I could acquire the necessary material--ancient weathered barn siding.Phil had a supplier, a man named Wyant I believe, who was a builder that tore down old barns and used the siding to build unique rooms in homes, hotels, and bars. However, I was willing to attempt to resurrect Coach's arcane techniques and paint the portrait--provided they could get me the barn siding. I never expected to hear from them again. Yet only a week later another phone call revealed they had indeed obtained the siding and I commenced with the project.
The most difficult aspect of the project involved preparation of the board. For a brief time, I became more of a carpenter than an oil painting artist. Cutting the board to size was messy-old barn siding is dirty! It also requires careful preparation to create a flat paint surface where the portrait will be and this involves sanding the board. Talk about dust everywhere!
While the painting of the portrait of the little girl was a pretty straight forward process-- duplicating the older (by nearly 30 years) portraits was difficult. The type of paint Phil used tended to yellow with time. Also, the oil paint tended to draw dirt and other things from the wood and thus increase the yellowing of the paint.
Another problem for me was the fact that Coach used a nearly monochromatic approach when painting his barn siding portraits limiting his pallet to very few colors. As you can see from viewing my painting galleries--I like color! However, once I got started and began to actually paint the portrait I had a great deal of fun--and for a brief while, I felt I was under Coach Shipe's tutelage once again as I recalled all the great times we had talking while Coach worked in his garage preparing the boards. Sometimes Coach would smoke a cigar (usually a cheap Phillie--he was from Philadelphia originally and I guess at one time lived near the factory) and we would talk about everything from flying saucers to the meaning of life. Anyway, I owe a debt of gratitude to Mrs. Sue Wiles for the opportunity to go back in time and visit Phil while completing her set of barn siding paintings.
Below you see my finished portrait of the girl. In the photo below that are the two original portraits, Phil did nearly 30 years earlier. It was a fun and interesting experience!