Staying busy is fine art for Decatur’s Rick Henry

By Bruce McLellan | Living 50 Plus

Rick Henry reached a crossroad in 2004.

“My kids were gone. They went off to college and then went off and got married. I had some free time,” the Southwest Decatur resident said.

In his early 50s at the time, he began thinking about what he’d do to stay busy, especially with retirement from a management job at ITW Sexton about a decade away.

He had enjoyed recreational sports while raising his family and said, “It’s probably things like racquetball and running that kept me busy then.”

However, sports had started to wear on his body, making them impractical. That left an opening for a passion he hadn’t pursued for a long time.

“When I was young I just sketched a lot. I woodworked.”

He decided to return to art.

“I picked up a paintbrush and started to paint,” Henry said. “I’m pretty much self-taught.

“I’ve been doing it for like 18 years.”

Now 72, Henry regularly has artwork displayed in the Carnegie Visual Arts Center’s annual Embracing Art exhibit, and he has two paintings hanging in the home of Decatur’s mayor.

“What makes Rick’s paintings unique to Rick is that they are a reflection of his experiences,” said Mary Reed, exhibit coordinator at the Carnegie. “He’s a fan of the blues, and he’s got one painting that I love that is Microwave Dave.

“His works are from his own life experiences.”

The two paintings by Henry that Decatur Mayor Tab Bowling has purchased include one of the city’s historic railroad depot before its renovation and another of the section of Bank Street with bricks and rails in the roadway.

Bowling was sitting at a table while dining at Simp McGhee’s when he spotted the painting of Bank Street on the wall and asked restaurant owner Christy Wheat if it was for sale.

It was.

“We were thrilled to be able to get it,” Bowling said. “It’s a lovely piece of Bank Street, and it was done by Rick, and that makes it even more special.”

Before becoming mayor, Bowling had done business with Henry at ITW Sexton and also knew him because both belonged to the Rotary Club.

Bowling said Henry has a personable and calm demeanor, “kind of cool, or maybe hip. With this, I can see that in his art, and I enjoy that. And I enjoy having art from someone local that I know.”

Although Henry has sold many paintings through the years and has some on display at Josie’s restaurant downtown now, his motivation for painting isn’t to make money. He says he “would be a starving artist if that was the case.”

He paints for pleasure.

“I don’t like doing commissions because that creates stress in itself. … I’ll paint landscapes. I’ll paint people. I’ll paint animals,” he said. “It’s kind of whatever I want to do.

“I don’t paint for other people. I paint for myself.”

He says he’s probably given away more paintings than he’s sold.

“My problem is … I have a hard time letting go of my art. I had a friend tell me that. That’s probably why I don’t sell a lot.”

Henry has found painting has benefits other than providing a pastime and occasional sales.

“It’s a good stress reliever. You can just sit down and start to paint and just kind of lose track of any stress you have.”

Born in Massachusetts, Henry was raised in West Virginia. He received a degree in education from West Virginia University but spent his career in management after coming to Decatur in 1976 with his wife, Mary Beth, to work for what was then Sexton Can. He stayed there for 37 years.

He rented studio space on the second floor of a building on Bank Street for about 10 years until 2020. Now, he has turned a building behind his home into a studio where many of his paintings hang.

He said when he’s in a working mode, he spends two or three hours a day painting, which is less than when he had the studio downtown.

“When you have a studio at your home, you have plenty of distractions,” he said. “You walk out and say, ‘This yard needs to be cut.’”

His preferred medium is oil on canvas.

“I was just drawn to it. Oil seems to be something you can sit down and pick it up the next day.”

He feels it’s harder to stop and then resume a painting if using acrylics or water colors.

In addition to his own painting, Henry helps out at the Carnegie Visual Arts Center every six to seven weeks when exhibits change.

“Every time they have a new display, there’s three or four of us who volunteer, and we help hang it.”

His advice to others with a nest emptying or retirement looming is “they just need to find something they enjoy. I’ve had friends say ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do.’ ”

He said it’s important to find an activity before reaching retirement.

He has seven grandsons ranging in age from 1 to 16 and has space set aside in his studio where they can work on art projects when visiting.

“They deal basically with acrylics. … It’s easy to clean up. They don’t make a mess. It’s fun to see them do stuff.”

Mary Beth is retired from Morgan County Schools. The couple has three grown children. Their oldest son, Michael Henry, lives in Priceville. Daughter Megan Youngblood teaches at Walter Jackson Elementary in Decatur, and youngest son Matthew Henry lives in New Orleans.

The Carnegie’s 2022 Embracing Art exhibit runs from March 15 to April 16.