Career Artist, Artist Finds Community in Arthur’s New Hometown | Art
ARTHUR – As he walked past the stuffed animals, designer handbags and expensive paintings at his downtown Arthurian art gallery, Jerry Winters asked a question.
“Do you want me to play something for you?” ” He asked.
Dressed in a navy blazer, a pink shirt, orange and blue plaid pants and a gold cashmere tie with a matching clutch, his style contrasts directly with the small town known for its large Amish community and Mennonite.
Minutes earlier, a horse and buggy drove past his store, which is full of expensive artwork, some worth as much as six figures, he said.
The 80-year-old sat in front of his Steinway & Sons upright piano behind the counter, and as his fingers pressed the keys, his eyes lit up and his voice took on a British accent.
He swayed back and forth singing an upbeat tune from the musical “Stop the World – I Want To Get Off”, sometimes turning his head towards the empty store as if speaking to an audience.
Sometimes he would improvise lyrics to refer to the conversation at hand.
Winters is comfortable performing in front of an audience, whether it’s a crowd of hundreds or a lone reporter. He spent much of his eight decades on the road, performing in Broadway musicals, piano bars and other venues around the world, and on USO tours during the War of the United States. Vietnam.
“When you cut me off,” he said, “I’m bleeding notes. “
Few things in Winters’ life would have predicted his move to a small and unassuming community in east-central Illinois.
His career started as a child. When he and his siblings were on the road with their father, a well-known artist, he got odd jobs in the town they were in.
Once, he says, he worked as a rodeo clown. Other times he would perform in a local hall or in a play.
“I worked all I could out of the company,” he said. “My dad encouraged us a lot to learn whatever we could, so we took tap dancing, ballet, we had to take the voice, we had to take the theater, we had to master the piano, not just to play, but the music. theory was important.
Winters continued to perform into adulthood, transforming into a classic variety artist, even making forays into opera and comedy. Soon, however, he became famous for another art form.
Since his childhood, when he enjoyed painting by numbers, Winters loved to paint. When he went on the road, his provisions always accompanied him. Usually he would give away his intricate folk art paintings or sell them for a small fee.
After he started dating his future wife, Joan, that changed.
Joan, who had grown up in poverty on a southern Illinois farm with no running water or electricity, had transformed into an accomplished businesswoman, eventually becoming a senior marketing director for Mary Kay shortly. time after its foundation. She encouraged him to view his art as a career.
“She said very fondly one day, ‘Don’t be offended when I say that, Jerry. But some of your artist friends and your musician friends are some of the worst businessmen I have ever seen in my life, ”he said. “She said, ‘Do you want help, do you think? You can’t afford it, but I’ll do it for you.
Jerry obliged, and Joan took over the management of his art, forbidding him to donate paintings without clearing it up with it. She quickly got a contract with Sun-Maid Raisins to produce paintings of the California raisins, and her paintings began to sell in the thousands.
Always an itinerant artist, he became known for his paintings, exhibited around the world.
Joan eventually sold her shares in Mary Kay for a significant sum of money to open an art gallery in Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif., Where they settled. The original small town about 120 miles south of San Francisco was formed as an artists’ paradise and became known for the poets, artists and actors who inhabited it, including former mayor Clint Eastwood, who was the Winters’ neighbor.
All the while, the couple traveled to Illinois regularly to visit Joan’s family, and a few decades ago, on a whim, they decided to buy a big house in Decatur. Several years ago, the couple decided to open a new gallery, but they weren’t sure where it was.
“I said, ‘What are we going to do next? ”Said Jerry Winters. “She said, ‘I’m thinking of Arthur, seriously.’ And I said, ‘Who is Arthur?’ She said, ‘It’s kind of like Carmel when we found it 50 years ago.’ “
Return to Illinois
In 2015, the Joan Winters Fine Art Gallery opened in downtown Arthur, alongside an advertising agency named Amish Country Marketing.
Immediately Jerry realized he was a fish out of water. His wife mentioned that he might want to tone down his clothing choice. He was surprised when people stopped to chat, bringing them meals to welcome them into the community.
It was a different world, he found, from that of the theater community, where he said he had learned to be careful with his confidence.
In Arthur, however, his guard fell.
“It’s a whole different (thing) there,” he said. “I can really say that I have never been so relaxed in my life. I have made more friends here in the past year than in my entire life. I mean real friends. You have to invest in friends. And I can just be me and not have to be protective. So, it’s been a time of rich, rich growth. “
Four years ago, the couple moved into a house a few blocks from their gallery. Soon after, they sold their house in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Joan passed away on Thanksgiving Day last year at the age of 93, a loss Jerry said he was still dealing with.
The community, however, made it bearable.
“People came here and helped me and I was like, ‘I can’t handle this,'” he said. “I haven’t cooked for a year. There were always fresh casseroles in little zippered containers on my door here, going on every day.
Jerry, of course, always finds notoriety with his paintings. While making the difficult decision to sell his house in France, the Musée d’Art Naïf de Nice recently purchased two of his paintings.
However, his performing career ended when he retired eight years ago.
When he can find a willing friend, client or interviewer, of course, he will be happy to sit down and play a tune. But in Arthur, he found a new kind of comfort that was foreign to him.
“People have time for each other,” he said. “They eat lunch for three hours and sit there and visit and just do special things, you know?” You get used to it here. That’s wonderful. You can really slow down and listen to people.