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Adding purpose, color to retirement

Hector woman re-discovers love for art, shares it with her granddaughter

By Jamey Rosenau

Julie and Esmae posing with Julie’s favorite thing to paint, foxes! Photos by Jamey Rosenau

Never say never. It’s never too late. Never give up on your dreams. Follow your heart. These are a few well-known phrases that capture the spirit of Julie Schweiss of Hector, a recently rekindled artist and lifelong lover of painting. This hobby, however, comes with a somewhat unexpected and much deeper benefit that is sure to last for decades.

Julie was originally inspired by her high school art teacher who saw real talent in her. This would be the only formal art instruction ever received by Julie. Through this support and encouragement, she decided to develop her talent further with practice and exploration using primarily oil-based paints while recreating wildlife.

After painting for a few years, Julie made the sad realization that she likely wasn’t going to make a living as an artist.

“It’s true about artists; you can starve,” Julie lamented.

In 1987, Julie’s husband started a business. He needed salespeople and Julie saw an opportunity to supplement their income and help raise their four children. As it turns out, Julie was good at sales and continued that career path for 35 years, formally retiring just recently.

What made her decide to retire at a relatively young age? She was burnt out talking on the phone and tired of sales. “My ears have scabs,” she told her husband.

After a very brief rest period, Julie realized how boring retirement was for her. “Once your house is cleaned and food is cooked, what do you do with all the hours?” That’s when she decided to refocus on her artistic talents, however this time would be different. There was no stress of trying to sell artwork to support the family and all the major assets like their house were paid off by this time.

Piper Farm outside Medford, Minn. (printed photo on top), painting in progress on bottom.

“The family was very supportive. I think the community was a little surprised at first but now they realize I’m back,” (being a full-time artist), said Julie.

Julie quickly realized this would be the best stage of life to enjoy her passion for painting. “Today it seems people have more appreciation for art and are willing to invest in it.” She is able to take her time and truly enjoy the artistic process. If she made a few dollars here and there, fine, but it wasn’t the focus. Julie spends at least six hours each day painting, Monday through Friday.

“I ask God for guidance, to be my hands, to be my eyes” she added, especially for the incredibly finer details of her painting like the bark of a tree, shingles on an old barn roof, or individual hairs of a pet’s face that captures their personality.

It’s normal for Julie to be painting five or six things at the same time. When she gets “stuck” or one layer needs to dry before adding another color, she can easily shift to another painting project. One of the current pieces is the Piper Farm outside Medford, Minn. It’s unique since the barn is connected to the house. Originally built by a lumber tycoon, the structure is now at risk of being demolished by a developer while the town wants to see it improved to an event space. No one knows what the result of that debate will be, so Julie decided to preserve it forever on canvas. Once she finishes a piece, she typically posts to Facebook to sell but not all of them. She has family members routinely ask to paint something that has special meaning to them—a family pet or a past vacation perhaps. She has also donated certain paintings to their church if they seem like a good fit.

Julie and Esmae in the main painting space, painting by Esmae included. Contributed photo

Here’s the twist to the story of the Renville County painter. A few years ago, Julie and her daughter noticed Julie’s granddaughter, Esmae, enjoyed doodling. Much like the art teacher years ago that took an interest in Julie’s talent, she did the same for Esmae.

“I’m not gonna let this pass by,” she said while recalling those early days of her granddaughter’s own artistic journey. Esmae began transitioning from the doodling days to more formal painting when she was just four years old. Today she’s nearly 10 as these two multi-generational artists spend lots of quality time painting and learning together. The great relationship they previously shared as grandma-granddaughter has become incredibly stronger. She’s very happy to spend this extra time with grandma painting and it becomes obvious when visiting their painting space as the paintings of both artists adorn the room. Esmae’s mom also noticed the development of some important life skills the past six years. She’s much more dedicated and likely to see things through to completion and that also transfers to her schoolwork. She’s learning that some things don’t get done instantly and that’s okay. Sometimes the best things worth waiting for require time and a little patience. Julie encourages all kids (young or old) to develop life hobbies rather than excessive screen time or mindless scrolling through social media.

Julie Schweiss and granddaughter Esmae with some of Julie’s displayed paintings. Photo by Jamey Rosenau

What advice does she have for those walking in shoes similar to her own?

“Prepare yourself for retirement. What will you do to fill the time? Embrace your hobbies and pass them on to the next generations! Grandmas who sew or bake, grandpas who are mechanics…pass it down!” she stressed.

The next step for Julie and Esmae is to transform their former office space that housed the sales calls of yesterday into a modern, well-lit painting studio for this talented duo to enjoy for years to come.

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