John Parkinson is a bit embarrassed with one detail of a painting in the living room of his Hancuff Place apartment.
“Do you notice anything about that painting? It’s not like those,” he said, waving his hand to two of his paintings hanging on opposite walls of his apartment. “There’s no mountain. I forgot to paint it in. I’m going to call the painting ‘Mystery Mountain.’ If people ask where is the mountain, I’ll tell them that’s the mystery.”
The paintings on the wall were done long ago, when the 57-year-old Parkinson painted regularly and before he was considered legally blind. Eight years ago, a stroke following quadruple bypass surgery left him with limited sight.
“If you were to take a pair of glasses, coat the lens with Vaseline and look through them, that’s basically what I can see,” he said. “I’ve got a TV. I can’t see much, but I can see the colors.”
He’s painting again because of the gift of an easel in October from two fellow Hancuff Place residents, Bob Goulet and Mike Moran. The two men had seen the paintings in Parkinson’s apartment and wanted to motivate him to take up the brush again.
“We wanted him to quit watching TV all day,” Moran said. “He used to be a painter. We wanted to get him started again.”
Parkinson said he had been involved with art since he was a child, growing up in San Diego, Calif. His drawings of World War II aircraft are in the collection of the San Diego Air and Space Museum, and he started painting oils in 1977, he said.
He shared an interest in hobbies with this father, applying his artistic talent to model trains and the radio-controlled airplanes they built, Parkinson said.
About 20 years ago, he built a dollhouse for his daughter, Jenifer. After adding furniture and wallpaper, he noticed one thing was missing.
“There wasn’t any paintings on the wall,” he said. “So I decided to paint some. It turns out there is the International Guild of Miniature Artisans. I joined and started doing miniature paintings. It absolutely took off.”
He sold 1-inch by 2-inch miniature paintings on eBay, getting a thrill about how the bidding price would skyrocket in the last 30 minutes, Parkinson said. His most noteworthy placement was a 2-inch by 4-inch painting of the Titanic in a museum in England.
He’d thought about starting to paint again in recent years, Parkinson said. When Moran and Goulet gave him the easel, he decided there were no more excuses. He enlisted his daughter Jenifer Waters of Baldwin City, the same daughter for whom he had built the dollhouse years ago, to help him shop for art supplies
“I went down the aisle, saying ‘I need cadmium yellow and yellow ochre.’ She’d hand me brushes, and I’d tell her ‘I need one with stiffer bristles than that,’” he said.
That same retained knowledge allowed him to paint despite his limited vision.
“I can’t see, but I can see up here,” Parkinson said, tapping his head. “I can do it because I’ve been doing it for 30 years. I know what I’m doing.”
Waters said Goulet and Moran’s gift has meant more than painting to her father.
“He’s received a really good reaction,” she said. “It’s definitely lifted his spirits. I think it’s given him more confidence in himself, too.”
Parkinson said returning to painting reinforced a lesson he learned when, after his stroke, he was placed in a room at a rehabilitation facility with a man in his mid-20s with severe cerebral palsy.
“I realized he had a disability,” he said. “What I have is an inconvenience. I was pretty down after the stroke, but I think that was God’s way of telling me to quit feeling sorry for myself and get on with it.”
Parkinson is ready to move ahead with this painting.
“My next painting’s going to be of a barn,” he said. “It’s based on one of my miniatures. It’s a big barn. Big enough for farm equipment and everything.”