FAIRMONT - When Wayne Thompson sits down to work in his simple artist's studio at Lakeview nursing home, the 88-year-old carefully selects the tools of his craft: a favorite paint brush, a pallette knife, his colors of choice.
All are laid out neatly in a precise lineup, making it easy for him to locate each item without any fumbling or uncertainty. Holding the canvas inches from his face, he can distinguish only dim shapes of the images he is creating.
Thompson's work is truly an abstract version of the picture he holds in his mind. About 30 years ago, the Swea City native was diagnosed with macular degeneration, a disease that would slowly take his vision, and temporarily rob him of his lifelong love of art.
Wayne Thompson demonstrates the magnification machine he needs to read an art catalog at Lakeview nursing home in Fairmont.
Thompson gets in close to see what he is painting.
Jayne Padgett, who works in activities at Lakeview, remembers well when Thompson first came to live at the facility 18-some months ago. He was quite ill at the time, and had just two pieces with him.
"All he said was, 'I dabble in it a little,'" Padgett said, which gave her no indication of the man's artistic background.
Anyone from the Fairmont area who isn't familiar with Wayne Thompson's name likely knows his work. The wire animal sculptures that were displayed for years around the Christmas season at Ward Park and can now be seen at different sites around town - those were all made by Thompson. In Swea City, a life-size sculpture of a little boy and girl playing with a dog was also created by Thompson, as was a 7-foot piece inside the Bancroft school building.
When Thompson moved into Lakeview, he hadn't created a piece of art in years. Without his sight, he didn't think he could, so though his family moved his supplies into a spare room at the health care facility, they sat unused for some time.
"I like to draw; I like to paint; I like to do all this stuff," he said. "But sometimes you just run up against a brick wall."
If not for his family and Padgett pushing him, he acknowledges he would not have picked it up again.
"We started out with him blindfolded," Padgett said. "He loves to listen to the classical music station ... so we told him, 'Just draw what you hear.' He drew the different instruments in charcoal, and they were amazing."
What Thompson has found is that his love of art, which developed as a "little snot-nosed kid who liked to do drawings," was not based on the final result but the creative process itself.
Since he started painting again, Thompson has been encouraging other residents at Lakeview to renew the hobbies and passions many had long since set aside.
"He's done a lot of good for a lot of people," Padgett said.
Thompson decided he also wants to support the organization that supports him. A few of his pieces are currently on display at Lakeview and available for purchase. Proceeds will go to the Lakeview Auxiliary.
Pulling his wheelchair up to a painting, its rough surface resembling a technique frequently utilized by Vincent Van Gogh, Thompson peered closely to make out any of the details, as he gave a tour of the Lakeview display.
"Can you see how much I love doing this?" he asked.