MUSCATINE, Iowa–Making things has always felt like second nature to Sunnybrook at Muscatine resident Alan Arkema. “I’ve been a tinkerer all my life,” he explained.
Growing up on his family’s farm, he remembers keeping himself busy on rainy days by inventing things out of wood. “I would always go into Dad’s shop and use his saw to make things out of wood,” he reminisced. One of many people in his family who loved to create things, Arkema developed quite a knack for woodworking over the years.
Later, as an adult living in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Arkema stumbled across an art set while shopping at Sam’s Club. It appealed to him so strongly that he bought it. Not long afterwards, he started taking art classes offered by the local Gilda’s Club. He also began watching Jerry Yarnell’s television series on painting with acrylics and purchased several of his books as well. Soon, Arkema found that he enjoyed working with acrylic paints using a technique called underpainting, which gave his work a very lifelike three dimensional effect.
Arkema also dabbled in watercolors too, using them to create paintings based on photos he took both close to home and while traveling. A painting of a Dutch windmill he saw while traveling in the Netherlands, as an 80th birthday gift, stands out as a particular favorite for him.
Over the years, Arkema kept painting. Once, he requested his son, a farmer and avid hunter, save a deer hide for him so that he could use it as a canvas. Though it took him years to decide what he wanted to paint on it, he finally decided on scenes representing his son’s farm.
After a life spent painting, as well as woodworking and even writing his own book, Arkema found he had many works he took pride in. Wanting to share them with the wider community, he reached out to Virginia Cooper at the Muscatine Art Center. “I asked Virginia one time if my work was worthy of display, and she said, ‘of course it was.'”
Thrilled by the prospect of getting to show off his work, Arkema eagerly looked forward to the prospect of having his exhibition in 2022. However, a cancelation of a different scheduled exhibition made it possible for him to have his show a whole year early. The timing proved perfect, as he already had many of his works packed up from a recent talent show. “It just amazes me to have it on display,” he said. “I never thought at 92 I would have an art show.”
Arkema’s exhibit will remain on display through Oct. 17. Visitors may visit it at 1314 Mulberry Ave. anytime during the Art Center’s open hours.
Even with 20 of his best works on display, Arkema has not stopped painting and has no plans to do so. He recently painted a large palm tree to decorate Sunnybrook for several themed activities during the summer as and created a lovely tree outline for one of their chalkboards.