By DELANIA TRIGG, City Editor
Gainesville Daily Register
“I’ve got a long history,” Bob Schafer said as he sat down to talk about his life and his art.
He isn’t kidding.
A native of Canada, Schafer is a member of Gainesville Area Visual Arts (GAVA). At 97 years old, he is the most senior member of the local art organization.
He’s held various jobs — including a stint as a junior engineer on a dam project in Montana, a position as an art director in Detroit where he met his wife Mimi, and as a musician on a Cunard ocean liner.
He studied art in New Orlean’s French Quarter — paying for his classes with his earnings as a janitor — and eventually opened his own advertising agency which he sold when he retired in the 1990s.
Schafer said he always loved art, but wasn’t sure he was talented enough to make a living at it.
“I took some of my work to two of my professors and said, ‘Have I got talent or not?’” he recalls. “They said, ‘We think you’ve got talent, but you have to be willing to work eight to ten hours a day,’” he said.
It was a challenge Schafer accepted.
His first commercial art jobs were with advertising agencies in Detroit.
He opened his own agency in 1966 after he moved to Dallas.
Today, Schafer lives near his daughter and continues to paint everyday in watercolor, a medium he said he chose because “it was cheaper to use than oils.”
Schafer has hundreds of paintings in his workshop.
Most are finished and stored in shelves on his sun porch.
All are organized and each has its own title. For instance, there’s a sweet painting of a dog. He calls it “Who me?”
Although he’s won awards for his paintings, Schafer said he is not obsessed with winning prizes and earning praise from critics.
“I don’t get excited about judges and shows. Judges come with their own feelings that can make them biased. When I enter a show, it’s so the public can see my work,” he said.
He also sells his paintings, but admits business isn’t as good as it once was.
“The economy is poor and that hurts sales,” he said.
But it hasn’t stopped him from painting.
He paints landscapes, seascapes and lighthouses. He paints birds and dogs and flowers.
Schafer said it’s more difficult to work with water colors than oil paints.
“Once you put (watercolor paint) on paper, it’s there forever. With oil, you can scrape it off,” he said.
Before he begins painting, Schafer said he evaluates his subject.
“First, I decide if and why I want to paint an object,” he said.
He then develops a working title for the project.
His paintings start out as drawings on transparent paper.
“I take a sheet of transparent paper and draw what I’m going to paint on that sheet.”
He adds other objects to the composition and occasionally moves them around until he finds an arrangement he likes.
Then he staples the transparent sheet to a board.
“So it doesn’t buckle,” he explained.
From there, he traces it from the transparent paper to heavier quality paper he keeps in a large metal cabinet.
The paper he uses must be sturdy so it can stand up to the application of several layers of paint.
Schafer said he cannot get in a hurry when he’s painting.
Each addition to the composition must dry before another layer can be added, he explained.
Schafer said people often look at his work and believe the paintings depict a place they have been or a site that is special to them.
For that reason, he has long since stopped naming the locations of some of his paintings, preferring to allow customers to imprint some of their own memories onto his work.
Contemplating his existence, Schafer said he has concluded that it takes about a century to live a good life.
He also said he’s glad he wound up in Texas.
“I love Texas. I love the people,” he said.
GAVA artists such as Schafer display their work at area banks including First State Bank, American Bank of Texas, First State Bank (East Highway 82 location), Prosperity Bank and Muenster State Bank.
The group plans to meet in September. For information on GAVA, e-mail Darlene Horst at email@example.com or Cindy Westbrook at firstname.lastname@example.org.