'Never stop painting; it's like golf,' says artist, 79
By ROBERT S. VANASCO
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH -- Past the 1924 Rolls Royce and the '60s Chevy Impalas, over the sidewalk chalk art, past the food vendors and across the playground, in the far corner, near children shooting their fathers with foam-tipped arrows, was a man standing at his easel.
Ed Bookmyer, 79, has been painting for more than 70 years. As an 8-year-old boy in Philadelphia, he painted the tops of Sears Cigar Boxes white so a cigar-sucking old man could paint landscapes for sale. Bookmyer went on to study at the Philadelphia School of Art for 10 years.
He has illustrated medical textbooks and done freelance work for five Philadelphia publishers. To pay the bills, he managed a liquor store and a car dealership.
"I'm a man of many hats," he said.
Now living in Clearwater, Bookmyer has been coming to the Indian Rocks Beach Fall Festival for 10 years.
He comes to help out the Beach Art Center and to sell a few paintings. The festival, 23 years old now, helps keep the arts center thriving.
"Unlike other community centers," said Betsy Schoepf, current head of the Beach Arts Center, "we rely on the community for three-fourths of our annual income." Schoepf (pronounced chef) added the chalk walk and classic car show this year.
"The festival hasn't grown much," she said. "We started as a small community festival, and that's what we still are."
Bookmyer moved to Clearwater in 1994. Retirement gave him more time to devote to his passion. He has displays at the Beach Arts Center, the Treasure Island Arts Guild and at One Tampa Place. His works are also on the Internet at www.ISMPART.com. He teaches at the arts center one night a week, and he's always willing to talk to passers-by.
"Never stop painting," he said. "It's like golf. Once you get out of it for a few days, you lose your edge."
"He's our most popular teacher," Schoepf said. "He's got a unique method of teaching watercolor." Bookmyer uses a vertical brush stroke that he demonstrates for his students. "It is a very difficult method," Schoepf went on, "and he has a very devoted class."
On a bright blue Saturday afternoon, Bookmyer brushed watercolors onto his canvas, adding whatever came to mind. A barn appeared out of nowhere, surrounded by sunlight and trees. If the colors dribbled down the page, he'd wait for the paint to dry, cover it up and move on.
Crowds formed and watched, then moved on. People asked questions about technique and materials. Some shared their own experiences with watercolors and where they had seen his work. The artist answered their questions, moving from the real world to his own state of barns and lighthouses and sailboats.
The festival shut down for another year. Vendors boxed up their exhibits. Families found their cars along the neighborhood streets. Ed Bookmyer kept painting as the small groups passed his little spot in the shade, tucked in the corner of Kolb Park.
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