Westfield artists want gallery to inspire the community

4 months ago

For John Holub and his daughter, Lisa Desjardins, art isn’t an elite talent reserved for a few. It’s a creative spark that can enliven everyone at any age, any time.

The self-taught Westfield artists have worked for decades to reflect the beauty of life in Aroostook County. Now they want to enlarge an effort that welcomes creators of any medium: the Artists for Aging Gallery in Presque Isle.

The Aroostook Agency on Aging unveiled the gallery in October 2021 as part of its Aging and Disability Resource Center. Holub and Desjardins helped launch the effort and were the first featured artists. They’re showing their work this month, but they’re most excited about helping the gallery inspire others.

“The gallery is important for people of all ages, because we start aging from the day we’re born,” Holub said. “We all have a special creativity. The medium is different, that’s all.”

Originally from Long Island, New York, Holub served at Loring Air Force Base and eventually settled in rural Westfield, where the family had horses and many other animals. Aroostook County is a magic place and he fell in love with it, he said.

After the Air Force, he took a management job, but found something in life was missing. He had always enjoyed art, and one day he decided to follow that spark.  

Holub started instructing at Presque Isle’s SAD 1 Adult Education. He recalled wishing there was a drawing class offered, and when one later appeared on the roster he asked who was teaching it. “You are,” school officials told him. 

He taught drawing and pen-and-ink sketching, and later offered lessons in schools for local students. But he’s best known for his landscapes, wildlife and city scenes from Maine and Aroostook County.

As Lisa and her sister, Laura, were growing up, he would ask them for feedback on his paintings. Lisa was experimenting with art at the time, often drawing horses. 

She married and lived in Virginia and Maryland for a while, but has returned to Westfield. Laura, a jewelry creator, lives in Maryland not far from where Lisa was, Holub said.

Many people were introduced to Holub’s and Desjardins’ work in the 1980s and ’90s at A.R. Gould Hospital in Presque Isle, which featured monthly artists.

Desjardins loved the concept of a community art space, and when the Agency on Aging moved into its current Main Street location in Presque Isle, she had an idea.

Agency on Aging Executive Director Joy Barresi Saucier had the same thought: a community gallery where local creators and the public could come together and enjoy art — all while learning how to age well in a supportive environment.

“It’s really important to connect people when they’re young to what goes on here [at the agency], because we’re all getting older,” Desjardins said. “One of the reasons we wanted to join the First Friday Art Walk is to bring people in here who didn’t know about the Agency on Aging.”

Well-known Westfield artists Lisa Desjardins and her father, John Holub, talk about their work at the Artists for Aging Gallery in Presque Isle. The gallery, located at the Aroostook Agency on Aging office, is featuring their paintings this month. (Paula Brewer | The Star-Herald)

The Artists for Aging Gallery participates in Presque Isle’s art walks with a different artist each month. It has featured drawing and painting, but also quilts, woodwork, needlework and many other media. Holub’s and Desjardins’ work is featured there through December.

Art can put people of any age in touch with their childhood joy, Holub said. Kids often enjoy creating, but as they get older, busyness, fear of rejection and numerous other things intervene and they stop making art.

The community gallery gets creators’ work in front of other people, which is vital for both artist and viewer. 

“What’s good art and what’s not? I have no idea,” he said. “It’s in the eye of the beholder. When that piece of art is seen by someone who’s drawn to it, that’s when the magic happens.”

Neither Holub nor Desjardins ever took an art class. They just started exploring what they liked and wound up carving their own niches in the local art world. 

Desjardins favors watercolor and enjoys painting sunrises, sunsets, florals and landscapes, but her love for animals has spurred her into her newest venture, pet portraits.

Animals have always inspired her, and she finds it especially rewarding to be able to capture someone’s beloved pet because it makes them so happy, she said. She pointed out a painting of a Maine Coon cat, explaining she enjoys the fine detail work of capturing pets’ eyes and fur markings.

Though they work independently, they collaborated on the popular 1997 painting “Skating on the Presque Isle Stream,” a vintage scene of historic Presque Isle with people skating on the frozen river as snow falls. The project was a fundraiser for the local hospital and took a year and a half to complete.

The gallery will soon feature the creations of Retired Senior Volunteer Program staff, and also plans to showcase the work of Stockholm students, Holub said. He’d like to see more local people join the gallery lineup.

People should never feel it’s too late to start creating. After all, Grandma Moses was 90 when she completed her first painting, he said.

Desjardins encouraged people to take time out of their busy lives to experience the calm and enjoyment of art.

“Find something beautiful that sparks your interest, and use any medium to start,” she said. “It doesn’t always have to be a masterpiece. That fulfilling feeling can come from something simple.”