By Bernie Schmitt
John DeCoursey hasn’t always painted pretty flowers.
The Knox County native has spent many years growing flowers rather than painting them. After all, he’s had a 40-year career as a math educator and during those years also raised a family. But he appreciates learning new things.
“I had been to Michael’s (an arts and crafts store) in Evansville and had seen demonstrations of people doing watercolors,” he said. “I thought, ‘I’d like to try that.’”
So he did.
DeCoursey got his first watercolor lesson from Gloria Baker at Michael’s, and has since been to a number of lessons and workshops in a variety of locations. He attended a workshop with artist Jerry Baum at the former Executive Inn some years ago, and has had lessons from retired VU art professor Bill Updegraff at Nancy Ford’s local art studio. He once studied at a workshop given in Indianapolis by nationally-known and award-winning watercolor artist Birgit O’Connor.
“It’s just fun,” DeCoursey said. “I always thought it was something I could enjoy when I retired, and I am. It’s fun to go places and learn new things, so I’m always interested in lessons and workshops at different places.”
Learning from others
DeCoursey took up painting in the mid-1990s, and he continues to learn. Currently he’s experimenting with china painting, taking weekly lessons from Shirley Wilkes, who has a studio, Shirley & Company, at the former Tresslar’s building at 226 Main St. in Vincennes. He also tries to make it every Tuesday to Nancy Ford’s art studio, The Green Door, to paint and mingle with other artists.
“Being around people who do the same thing helps,” he said. “We learn from each other, whether it’s a discussion on color or composition.”
He never studied art in high school or college, but he’s always done some kind of craft. He loves flowers and enjoys having a garden, something he’s done for years. So it was natural to paint flowers.
“I’ve always been a flower person, but they usually are only around for a season and then they’re gone,” he said. “It’s fun to paint them and in a way have them last longer.”
He’s painted other thing, too. There are landscapes, and people — grandchildren and friends — and all of it is challenging. But loving what he does makes all the difference.
“It’s fun,” he said.
His dream is to take his watercolors to France, and set up his easel to paint in the garden of 19th-Century impressionist painter Claude Monet.
“It would be great to be able to spend a week in that garden and just paint every day,” DeCoursey said.
Old Northwest Territory Art Guild
In the meantime, the artist who lives outside of Oaktown serves as president of the Old Northwest Territory Art Guild, a not-for-profit arts organization that features original art.
“Currently there are 50 members of the Guild,” he said. “They are allowed to sell their work in the Gallery (located at 316B Main St). The Guild gets a 20 percent commission, but it’s a way for local artists to be seen and a way for them to sell their work.”
Each September, the Guild has a juried art show for its members, and $1,500 in cash prizes are awarded to individual artists for work in several categories.
“When I first felt like I was an artist, I joined the Art Guild,” DeCoursey said.
First Friday Art Walks, along with spring and autumn events along Main Street has helped increase the Guild’s visibility. The existence of other galleries on Main Street, the Open Gallery at 329 Main, and Art Space at 521 Main, has helped to draw visitors downtown, and also to the Art Guild.
“We’ve even had people come in from New York City,” he said. “A guy bought $200 worth of art work from the Guild last summer. We get artists and visitors from Evansville, Olney, and from throughout the area. You never know who might come in.”
The Guild, which is more than 50 years old, always is looking for volunteers to help keep its doors open for visitors. Even volunteering a couple of hours per week helps, he said.
Summer is coming, so it may be hard for DeCoursey to paint as much as he sometimes does in the winter (which is sometimes every day). He’ll be busy tending his flower gardens and involving himself with work at the Art Guild.
One can still find him visiting other artists, though, at Ford’s Green Door art studio every Tuesday.
“It’s just fun,” he said with a smile. “Lots of fun.”