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Addison senior uses art to inspire fellow seniors

Jerry Thomas shows off some of his artwork that hangs in the Addison Township Senior Center. Photos by Trevor Keiser. (click for larger version)
June 19, 2013 - Addison Township Art Group is a place for both learning and teaching.

"We'll gladly mentor others if they want to come in and we'll gladly learn from others," said Jerry Thomas, leader of the group. "It's very rewarding."

The group, which has been meeting for about year, gathers every Friday in the Addison Township Senior Center, located at the Addison Township Hall (1440 Rochester Road) from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

After retiring with over 55 years in engineering, design and management, Thomas didn't want to let his creative side go to waste, so he pursued his love for art, which he's been doing for the past 10 years.

Mary Lee Rover paints a picture of a woman from a magazine. (click for larger version)
I started with the Romeo Arts Studio. Delores Kurily over there was my mentor and teacher," he said. "I took lessons from her for about 10 years and I owe everything to her. She taught me every medium, except for the Chinese art, which I am learning now"

Thomas said he is being taught New Chinese Brush Art by Ms. Lee Tan at the OPC in Rochester. Not only does he do traditional art such as painting and drawing he also does digital art on his computer, writes poetry, plays music and has a love for photography.

"Anything that is artsy I am into," said the 75 year-old. "It's a lot of fun and keeps my mind going, which is very important to me to keep very active."

Thomas was raised in Clawson, then had a home in Shelby Township and then in Oxford Township before being transferred to Cincinnati for eight years due to work. He said he "loved the people, but hated the climate," so he came back to Michigan and settled in Addison Township, where he's been living for the past 25 years.

"The reason I came out here is my father used to come home from Pontiac Motors at 4 p.m. He would put my brother and I in the car, drive us out here to Lakeville Lake, row all the way out on the lake with us," he said. "We'd fish till dark and then go home and the poor guy would get up at 4 a.m. to go to work. He was about the best dad a kid could have."

While there is good money to be made to those who sell their art, Thomas will tell you he's not interested in making a profit. Instead he's given away a lot of his work for free. When people's dogs or cats have died, Thomas has painted a picture of their pet for them.

"The only thing I've asked of them, except for one that I've sold because the guy was so insistent on paying me," he said. Is that they donate to the Humane Society or something else. I don't even recoup (the cost of) my canvass or my paints."

Now that he's retired, Thomas said he may have to charge just a few dollars to cover the cost of his supplies.

"Money disappears when you're retired," he said with a laugh.

Member of the group Mary Lee Rove, who's been coming to the senior center for 10-15 years, said Thomas "motivates everybody."

"At first I felt so intimidated because they (everybody else in the group) were so gifted, but then I thought I can do my own thing even if I am slow. They give you incentive to work on your art," she said. "Otherwise at home I don't take it out. It's not fun at home. It's fun here."

Rove also noted that coffee and sweet treats are offered.

"Coffee is 50 cents all you can drink with sweets. You can't go wrong there," she said. "If you want to stay for lunch it's $3 - where can you go for $3 and have a nice meal?

It's just enjoyable."

Patrice Donnelly said she enjoys attending the group because she loves all the creativity.

"I love being able to have this time and space to work. I love sharing different things I've learned over 25 years of painting. I teach classes, I teach people how to let go of any kind of blocks with regards to their limitations on creating and just play," she said. "I love creative play. That's my life, that's what I do and that's why I'm here."

Another member of the group, Pat Schnur said she's likes coming because she likes art.

"I wanted to learn Chinese art and Jerry said he took courses in it and he taught me. That's how that started," she said. "It's a lot of fun and a lot of nice people. They're all talented, I'm just a beginner."

Thomas said they would like talk to the Township about using the new watershed building and start working with kids on a mentor basis for free on Saturdays.

It would be best if we can supply them with materials, but if we can't it will probably only cost two or three dollars," he said.

"If I got a kid who can't afford it, I'll take care of the canvas and the paints. I have a ton of paints put away for just that reason."

Thomas said he just loves working both with kids and people in general.

"I've had some awful good breaks in my life," he said. "Now it's time to pay back."

Trevor graduated with degrees in English and communications from Rochester College. He wrote for his college and LA View newspapers before joining The Clarkston News in May 2007.
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