Like a flower budding in the spring, Shlomit Mintz is used to new beginnings.
A Newton resident and Holocaust survivor, Mintz, 88, has spent much of the last 30 years creating vibrant watercolor paintings depicting flowers much like the ones her husband used to grow in their garden.
Her decades of artistic prowess culminated most recently on Feb. 10 at the Scandinavian Living Center in West Newton, where Mintz was one of six city residents between the ages of 75 and 90 presenting paintings and drawings they have made throughout their lives and telling stories about their careers, families, and inspiration.
The showcase, organized by Newton at Home , a nonprofit dedicated to helping the city’s older residents live in their own homes independently, presented the artists with an opportunity to share their talents with like-minded contemporaries.
“We’re here today to celebrate some of the artistic skills of the very talented members of Newton at Home,” Maureen Grannan, the nonprofit’s executive director, said after the event. “Every one of them is active. I think it is a wonderful testament to keeping your mind busy and keeping your skills busy.”
Sharing their paintings alongside Mintz were Herb Plovnick, 75; Marilynn Lifsitz; Jack Lifsitz, 84; Carole Slattery, 85; and Hank Kearsley, 91, according to Newton at Home. Kearsley was the only presenting artist who had made a career out of painting.
A native of Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y., Kearsley said the two biggest sources of inspiration for his art have been social justice issues and the scenic landscapes of his hometown, nestled in the heart of the Hudson River Valley.
“It was pretty tough for a Black family at that time,” Kearsley said of his upbringing about 40 miles north of Manhattan. “But it influenced my artwork because it’s a beautiful area. I was always out there drawing and doing things of that nature.”
His portfolio is studded with diverse paintings depicting just about everything, from the New Croton Dam to people in his life. He has three painting series, portraying images of New York City subway trains, apartheid in South Africa, and the little-known Black pioneers who helped develop the land and culture of the American West.
Kearsley began the series on the Black West around 1968, about four years after launching a career as an art teacher. He taught in the Wellesley Public Schools for more than three decades, and has been teaching in his own home since 1974.
“I like [teaching] because it keeps me involved,” he said, noting that he is currently on hiatus due to his deteriorating eyesight.
Mintz, a former kindergarten teacher, is also in the midst of a break from her watercolor painting, having lost some of her inspiration following the death of her husband nearly five years ago. Nevertheless, she continues to satisfy her creative drive by writing poetry, a hobby that was born out of her mourning, she said after her presentation.
“That goodbye freed me,” she said. “I said to myself, ‘I’m on my own. What kind of life do I want to live? What do I want to do with my life?’ What I love about [poetry] is that it connects us with what it is to be human — the human experience. All of it.”
Her husband had encouraged her to start painting when she was 56 years old — a time when she felt she did not have the painting skill to justify the time or money she would have to sacrifice in order to paint, she said. But she quickly grew to love painting the flowers — roses, hydrangeas, and irises — that her husband was growing. It became her passion.
“I surprised myself and everybody around me, and the rest is history,” Mintz said, smiling. “He’s responsible for my art … They say that behind every king is a queen, but behind this queen was a king.”
However, her transition to poetry in the last five years was not her first personal reinvention. As a Jewish teenager living in communist Hungary during World War II, Mintz experienced danger and trauma that forced her to eventually escape in 1949, she said.
“My life was interrupted. My life really began — or started again — once I left Hungary,” she said. “I think it made me become a more sensitive person, seeing beauty more.”
Mintz’s work has been displayed in multiple exhibits over the course of her artistic career, during which she has amassed a collection of more than 50 watercolor paintings. But recently she has been downsizing, she said, giving them away to her children and grandchildren, and even donating three to Newton at Home, which she says has changed her life for the better.
She said she hopes to start painting again soon, reigniting the passion her husband instilled in her decades ago.
“When my husband passed away, it looked to me like that was one lifetime and now I have a new lifetime, you know? I’ve gone in a different direction, but I’m just as strong,” she said.
The art showcase will remain open at the Scandinavian Living Center’s Nordic Hall through late March, according to Amy Kraus, program director for Newton at Home.
Andres Picon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.