Artist uses his talent to bring happiness to others

It is the 1930’s in Minneapolis. Picture a quiet simple neighborhood not far from the Mississippi River where on any given day, you find children out playing and old Fords driving up and down the cobblestone streets.

Roger’s painting of his late wife, Rosemarie, helped him cope with the grieving process. He now paints portraits of others as way to bring joy in their lives. Photo by Jenny Erickson

Now zoom in on one particular house on Grant Street.  It is an early summer morning and a boy about 8, tall, dark-haired named Roger bounds out of the house onto the porch. He is a happy child, and especially on this day because the milkman left some bottles on the step.  It’s interesting to know, as Roger did, that each bottle of milk has formed about a one inch topping of delicious, thick cream under the cap. Roger opened one of the bottles and after skimming the cream off, licked his fingers. He smiled, very content for the morning treat.

“Mom never minded if I helped myself to the good stuff on top,” he explained with a chuckle.

These are the kinds of memories Roger, now 85 and living near the Twin Cities, recalled during a recent conversation.

Reminiscing is something everyone does, especially as we get older—but one remarkable thing about Roger is that he just doesn’t talk about his lifetime memories. He also paints them on canvas.

“When I was 10 years old, I often carried around a pencil and a pad of paper.  When I saw something fascinating, I would just sit and draw it,” he said.

At first, he practiced sketching houses and other buildings. Then he was determined to give them a 3-dimensional look.

“Once I figured it out,” he said, “I felt great about my accomplishments.”

Later, when Roger was married and busy raising his family, he took time to attend various art classes. Among them was a wood carving class. He took the class and that wood carving proved to be a successful hobby for many years.  Other art classes gave him a desire to learn how to paint beautiful pictures.

When Roger was about 50, he discovered a small shopping center that he had never noticed before. Right away, he saw a shop that had beautiful paintings decorating the walls. He walked in and met a talented art teacher named Joanne.  Soon enough he began art classes there and learned how to paint nature scenes with oil on canvas. Whenever Roger had a dilemma about how to paint something, Joanne would come and take the brush out of his hand and say, “Here, let me show you…”

“The Honey Tree,” by Roger. Photo of artwork by Jenny Erickson, used with permission.

Roger studied with Joanne for about 25 years.  During that time, he brought home many finished paintings which still hang in his gallery today.  When he first began, he remembered telling his wife, “It’s like I’ve finally found something I was meant to do!”

Later, Roger attended The Atelier Studio Program of Fine Art located in northeast Minneapolis. The teachers there gave him a lot of good advice on doing portraits, such as shadowing, coloring, angles, 3-D, how to paint hair and make eyeballs so they looked real.  He spent 36 weeks there, which totaled about 180 hours.

Roger’s gallery is full of paintings that feature scenes from his life, portraits of people he has loved and things that have roused his interest.  Each picture speaks to the viewer, “I am an important part of history.”  His paintings also convey the love that surrounded those moments in time.

One of his favorites is of his old neighborhood in northeast Minneapolis. It includes the cobblestone street, with the “Bamby” bakery truck and ice man delivering to different houses

“The Honey Tree” is colorful painting of an actual tree, its insides full of honey. The tree was found by his dad and his dad’s family about 100 years ago.  As the story goes, the family needed every wheelbarrow and bucket on the farm to hold all the honey from the tree.

Being a very imaginative guy, Roger created on canvas an old 1850 Colorado town which he named “Dry Gulch.”  In the scene, he included a train station, church, dry goods store, stage coach, sea gulls, his favorite dog, and more. Roger told a story about this painting as if the town had really existed.

“Dry Gulch,” by Roger. Photo of artwork by Jenny Erickson, used with permission.

Another favorite oil on canvas illustrates “Rosie’s Café,” a vintage train car-turned-diner in a popular part of town.  He painted this as a gift for his wife. Running a café together was a dream they both shared.  And it was near the top of their bucket lists!

Other paintings include images of Jesus, farm and nature scenes, historical places, ships, WWII airplanes, trains, cars, castles, lighthouses, cabins, birds, flowers, and others.   

One painting in the gallery had been displayed in the Fine Arts Center at the Minnesota State Fair. It was of the Grain Belt Brewery.   

“I went and took about 20 Polaroid shots before I started it but then I realized I didn’t have a picture of the roof,” he said. “One night I prayed, ‘Lord, I need a picture of that roof– please show me what to do.’  And I didn’t have to wait long before He answered me! One morning, as I was reading the newspaper, a photo of the Grain Belt brewery campus was in there and it included the roof!  You can imagine my excitement.  I couldn’t wait to start painting!”

Whenever Roger is baffled about something, he always turns to prayer.  One day he attempted to mix a certain color of green.  He tried different combinations, all with no success.  He prayed, “Lord, I just don’t know what colors to mix in order to get this green I want.  Please show me how to do it.”  He said when he went to bed that night, he had a dream.  He saw two hands.  Each hand held one color.  When he woke the next morning he pondered awhile about what he had dreamt.  Then he went to his studio and mixed the colors he saw in the dream.  And it made the exact green he wanted!

Some friends of Roger. Photo of artwork by Jenny Erickson, used with permission

Today, Roger is going strong, always painting away.  He feels that his mission in life is to make people happy by his artwork.  When Rosie, his wife, the love of his life, passed away, he grieved a long time.  He missed her more than words could tell.  And so he decided to paint a portrait of her and hung it on his wall.  He said it helped him every day to see her face smiling at him.

He decided, then, that he wanted to help other people in the same situation. And so he asked his friends who were married couples if they wanted their picture painted. He explained, “Someday, one spouse will die and the other will need something special to remember them by.” So far, he has painted at least 30 portraits of couples he knows.  He gives the painting to them as a gift and keepsake.  The best reward for his efforts, he said, is just to see the smile on their faces when they receive it!

“All my life, I felt that the Lord has been with me and has answered so many of my prayers,” he said. “I believe He called me to do  something special with my art.  I know I have the talent and I have to use it to bring joy to others.”