Larry Blackwell is a modern-day Renaissance man. He's a machinist, hunter, gardener, family man – and painter.
Blackwell, 58, came to art later in life, in 1991. “I always regretted waiting so long to paint,” he said. “I regret my Daddy never got to see my paintings. I just never had the time.” After his father's death, he decided “painting was the only thing to take my mind off it.”
“I called (York artist) Jack Bolin, and he helped me with my first piece,” Blackwell said. It was an acrylic titled “First Snow,” and it won a ribbon in the first art show he entered.
Although he started with acrylics, Blackwell really wanted to learn how to do watercolors. “I liked the softness of them,” he said.
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He's been taking weekly lessons with another York artist, Johnny Wine, for about eight years.
“I'm still learning, trying to get my complimentary colors worked into my paintings,” Blackwell said. He often paints late at night, taking a nap earlier so that he can stay up until 1 or 2 in the morning. “It's the best painting time.”
His favorite subjects are old houses and barns, though he also does landscapes and “a little bit” of wildlife. One of his next paintings will be from a photo of a bobcat he took in his backyard.
Blackwell is a machinist for Upchurch Machines in Charlotte. He grew up in York and lives with his wife, Gail, on his grandfather's place, the Hartness homestead. Their daughter, Sherry Ramsey, and her family live next door.
His daughter's favorite piece is “Watching and Waiting.” Blackwell used shades of black and gray in his monotone painting of an old woman sitting deep in thought.
“She reminds me of Mother Teresa,” Ramsey said. “I can see all the road maps and lines in her face.”
Blackwell's inspiration for the painting came from listening to the news.
“I'd been hearing about the high cost of insurance and fixed income,” Blackwell said. “It stuck in my mind that the elderly often have to go without. So I came up with this woman who's thinking about her past and watching for the dead.”
Several years ago, Blackwell painted an old mill in Bowling Green, a town north of Clover. It was an acrylic, and “I was so proud of it, it was just one of the best I'd ever done,” he said.
A friend put him in contact with the wife of the man whose family had owned the mill. The wife wanted to buy the painting for the man's birthday, but she couldn't afford it.
“I went down on the price and just about gave it away,” Blackwell said. “Years later, I ran into her. She'd ended up giving it to him before his birthday, and that was a good thing. He found out then he was dying, and the painting did more for him than any medicine, she told me. She said he'd held it and looked at it every day until he died.”
As Blackwell's mother once told him, his ability to make beautiful paintings “is a gift from God.”