Springfield-born artist opening downtown studio

Gary Blevins has a story for every painting, and he’s been painting for quite a long time.

Dozens of Gary Blevins’ painting will be seen at an open house from 2 to 6 p.m. Sept. 24 in his new studio at High Street and Wittenberg Avenue.

Beware, Blevins has a story for every one.

Buckeye fans will want to hear how, on the advice of Archie Griffin, the artist swapped Ohio State’s first Black starting quarterback, Cornelius Greene, into a painting beside Coach Woody Hayes.

Springfield music fans will have the chance to swap stories with Blevins as they admire an image of a smiling Johnny Lytle playing vibes.

An even wider audience will tune in as he explains how he came to paint the now 81-year-old woman who as a child modeled for Norman Rockwell’s iconic painting “The Shiner,” a portrait of a girl with a black eye that appeared on the cover of the May 23, 1953 Saturday Evening Post.

The story of Blevins’ own lifelong pursuit of art picks up in the 1960s at Springfield’s McGuffey Elementary School, where, for three consecutive years, Miss Wanda Lane allowed her struggling student to paint likenesses of the American presidents while the rest of the class was focused on other lessons.

Like Lane, art teacher Randy Kapps “encouraged me a good bit,” Blevins said, before Claudia Dinges, while a student teacher at North, offered words that have the two in contact still.

Springfield jeweler David Garrett, whose continuing best friendship with Blevins began at North, obtained his first Blevins painting while they were students there.

Having heard Blevins complain over and over that the picture of a sad old man with his dog was “no good,” Garrett said, “Do you really mean that?” -- and when Blevins said yes, Garrett snatched it off the stairwell wall.

He later heard Blevins’ father, Bill, say “I kind of liked that one.”

Because of poor grades, Blevins considered the Air Force after graduating in 1970, but his parents persuaded him to enroll at the Dayton Art Institute, where he underwent another kind of basic training.

“I drew from 8 o’clock to 12 o’clock every day -- big models, little models, (all) nude models. You do that for two years four hours a day, you get to the point that you feel you can draw anything.”

He went on to Ohio State University, where his artwork measured up but his academics failed him again. Then, after two years of operating Gee Bee’s Art Supplies near Wittenberg University decided a career in art wasn’t in the cards.

Work at the YMCA first at Springfield, then Xenia earned him a living, but marriage and responsibility for two children led him to partner with his father in a photography business that specialized in weddings and team sports photos.

Thirteen years later, in what was called Y2K, his life changed when a Cincinnati businessman whose company had produced playing cards of Ohio State football players stopped in to fill an order.

The customer needed an image of Ohio State’s expanded Horseshoe stadium.

On his own – without being asked -- Blevins’ painted a watercolor of the remodeled Shoe. The company licensed it, and soon, the OSU Athletic Department had Blevins shooting football games from the sidelines and rubbing shoulders with the players.

Eleven years and thousands of images later, the man who had resigned himself to doing one painting retired to paint full time in representative and traditional styles. For obvious reasons, visitors will find plenty of pictures fit for a fan cave. Others may prefer the and rustic cabin and wildlife scenes Blevins’ friend Jim Rolfes likens to Thomas Kinkade’s.

There also are religious images; portraits of Frank Lloyd Wright, the Wright Brothers and Einstein; and tributes to art world luminaries Picasso and N.C., Andrew and Jamie Wyeth.

Then there is Rockwell, whose style Blevins first mimicked in 1975 but that he delved into after a 2016 visit to the Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass., and Rockwell’s Retreat, an inn at Rockwell’s former home in Arlington, Vt..

A stop at the homestead lead to an invitation to paint in the artist’s one-time studio, an experience Blevins likens to “a baseball player walking into Babe Ruth’s House.”

A brochure with a brief biography of Blevins and his work says that in March of 2017, the Rockwell Museum displayed eight pieces he did showing Rockwell at work.

Blevins also was invited this March to a gathering of former Rockwell models, where he did the same. It was there he met and painted Mary Whalen Leonard, one of the Arlington locals Rockwell paid the $5 and a bottler of Coca-Cola to model for “The Shiner” when she was in the sixth grade.

In a phone interview, Whalen said Rockwell first painted her the summer she turned 9.

“It would have been in July that I posed with my mother and my twin brother (Peter). And there was a little girl, who was a cousin in front with a dog.”

In the advertisement, “Peter’s mouth is wide open” the ad has him saying, “Oh, boy, it’s Pop with a new Plymouth.”

The ad won an award and was distinctive for not showing the product in it.

The famous black eye cover followed , and he also used her for a Saturday Evening Post story called “A Day in the Life of the Girl,” in which several cameos of her are arranged all over the cover.

Blevins is fresh back from another gathering of Rockwell models, and there’s reason to believe his series on the artist will continue – which means at 71, he’s still doing the same thing Miss Wanda Lane encouraged him to do in her in McGuffey School classroom 60-odd years ago.

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