The art of learning old tricks


David Fong


More than once, my high school art teacher Herb Hartman probably looked at my work and thought, “As an artist, he has a pretty good future as a sports writer.”

Twenty-five years ago, I was a student in Hartman’s art class. Hartman likely is better known as the erstwhile Troy track and field coach who has coached at Troy for 50 years and was recently named as an inductee into the Troy Athletics Hall of Fame. His acumen on the track aside, however, it doesn’t take away from the fact he was an excellent art teacher, as well.

I, on the other hand, just happened to be a terrible artist. It wasn’t for lack of effort on his part … I just happened to have zero artistic talent. He happened to be saddled with me because, before I graduated, I had to take a fine arts class to get into college. And as bad as I was at drawing, painting and sculpting, I was even worse at singing or playing a musical instrument.

Granted, my lack of ability likely was matched by my lack of effort. I was a senior who was just looking to get an art credit out of the way before I graduated. As such, I probably didn’t come to class on a daily basis with the best of attitudes (which actually probably applied to many of my classes my senior year).

The older I got, however, the more I began to regret not taking his class a little more seriously. I love art history and looking at works of art. I regularly visit the Dayton Art Museum on my own and, sometimes, drag my kids along with me (hopefully they’ll someday learn to appreciate art in the same way I have to do so later in life).

I always kind of figured my chance at actually creating art on my own had passed, however.

Until last weekend, however.

For my daughter Sophie’s birthday, she decided she wanted to have a painting party at the Mayflower Arts Center (www.mayflowerartscenter.com) in downtown Troy. I was thrilled she was expressing an interest in art — and that I may get a chance at redemption.

The last time I had been inside the Mayflower was Aug. 19, 1998, when it was still a movie theater. My wife and I actually went on one of our very first dates there, where we saw “Armageddon.”

Obviously, much has changed in the intervening two decades, as the Mayflower has made the complete transition from movie theater to arts center.

We were greeted by our teacher, Lisa Bauer, who also happens to be the owner of the establishment. For the next two hours she broke down, step by step, how to make a beautiful painting of a flower with a peace sign in the middle. Truthfully, it would end up being two of the best hours I’ve spent in a very long time.

It was a truly relaxing experience being in there painting. I was able to forget about the world for a few hours as it was just me, the paint and the canvas. By the time I was finished, I felt as though I had something resembling Vincent Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers,” which would eventually sell for $39.9 million following his death.

Maybe after I’m dead, mine will sell for 39 cents. Regardless, I was proud of my work, which may not have been perfect, but was at least better than Sopie’s friend Madeline’s painting — and, more important, brought me a little peace of mind.

I learned a few valuable lessons this week. For starters, despite what you may have heard, you really can teach an old dog some new tricks. It’s never to late to gain a new passion — or perhaps revisit one you thought may have passed you by many years ago. Life is way too short for regrets; if you missed out on something the first time, you may want to go back and give it another try.

Second, buy local. It would have been easy enough for us to pack up and take our kid someplace else for her birthday. Instead, we got the satisfaction of patronizing a small, local business and were rewarded with excellent customer service and memories that will last a lifetime.

David Fong writes for the Troy Daily News, a division of AIM Media Midwest.

David Fong
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