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Local self-taught artist can do it all

By JUDITY LINDER-ASHAKIH • Sep 6, 2017 at 2:59 PM

James A. Andrews lives in Thompson Township, south of Bellevue. He has become very well-known for his prize-winning miniature watercolor and oil paintings.

They are neither the beginning nor end of an extensive list of abilities. He is a self-taught master who says he became an artist due to a blizzard that kept everyone snowed in for a few days when he was 35 years old. After everyone was tired of all the usual games, he got out the Prang watercolor set, some paper and painted with the kids. “That was fun.” he said.

Then along came the chalk talks when he volunteered to take the role of his minister who was ill. He found he could give a short message from scripture and draw a picture to accompany it with color on a chalkboard. He really enjoyed doing that.

During the 42 years he worked as an engineer at Capital Aluminum he used numbers to create blueprints for the company which manufactured and installed windows in schools and offices from Ohio to Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Michigan. Could the care needed to create blueprints be the gateway to creative career in sketching, watercolor, and oil painting, as well as miniatures, woodcarving and stained glass?

When Elnor Hilty organized a group pf painter friends into the Firelands Area Art League, Andrews says that “Elnor invited me to join. She was doing oil, and I played around with it for about 10 years. A fellow bought one of my paintings for $10. Wow! I thought. I can pay for my supplies.” He also displayed some of his work at the Thompson School Fair fundraiser which was like a mini county fair, with food, vegetables, art, even animals — all squeezed into a school, he said.

His interest in art kept growing. He is one of the founders of the co-op [email protected] on South Sandusky Street in Bellevue, where he was volunteering the day we met and where much of his own art is shown. He teaches watercolor there, as well as in Fremont for the Elder College at Terra Community College.

The [email protected] co-op has 15 members whose work is displayed for sale. Not only paintings are available. Creations include jewelry, woodcarvings, stained glass and more. 

“It came about that one year when the Bellevue Society for the Arts put out a questionnaire asking, ‘What would you like to see improve in Bellevue?’ I got involved and represented fine arts. I finally got past amateur to fine art and sell quite a few paintings. Have some prints and make my own frames, cut mattes.” This takes a lot of time, when he would much rather be painting, Andrews said, but he has continued to encourage artists. 

“We had several outdoor shows and some in the theater lobby. They asked me, ‘Do you want to paint scenery?’ We had the Cherry Festival art show and for 10 years I was in charge of that.”

He painted the Edmund Fitzgerald before it sank. He also did a working tugboat named Magret. Seven or eight of these paintings of ships will be on display for one day only, Oct. 21, at the Kalahari Conference Center & Resort in Sandusky, and can be viewed for free. They are being shown in relation to the Bay Area Divers Shipwrecks and Scuba Symposium that will be held at Kalahari in Sandusky.

“About 10 years ago, I began woodcarving. I was watching a presidential speech on TV and saw a bronze plaque on the wall behind the president. It was a buffalo bull facing down two wolves. I grabbed a sketchbook and got the idea on paper,” Andrews told me. The resulting carving, 14 feet long, is an amazingly exact three-dimensional replica of the animals, and there it was on the shelf behind me, right in the co-op, created entirely with knives and gouges, his carving tools. A laser could not do better. A snowy owl at six feet tall, and an elk stag with perfectly delicate horns are some of the diverse and beautiful pieces available at the shop.

Don’t miss seeing his carved and painted carousel horse, along with several other of his special works, in Saturday’s Woodcarver’s Show at the Merry-Go-Round Museum in downtown Sandusky. This is free to the public. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Andrews’ diverse talent is breathtaking. “I do some wildlife paintings. I’ve got about 16 or 17 sketchbooks that some people want to buy. They’ve got notes in them about what I felt — it’s my journey through my painting life. Once in a while, I’ll write a paragraph about a painitng, a description of how I feel. Sometimes I stick it on the back of the painting and people have bought them. It’s very satisfying and rewarding to put my stories down in painting, in color, and at the same time, I do a lot of landscape painting. I’ve been told my paintings have ‘air’ in them. The air has to be there to give it depth and perspective.

“The color has to do with feeling.”

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