How God Got Me Painting Again

My dad and mom always encouraged me in my drawing and painting as a child. They got me my first oil painting lessons in a class with a local artist in Tulsa and helped me enter my first painting in the Tulsa State Fair. When I had to choose a major in college, they were right there and “forced” me to major in art education, so I could get a job teaching art after college, rather than getting a fine arts degree and having no guarantee I’d ever sell a painting. Wise parents.

Well, life takes you in directions you’d never expect. While teaching elementary art, the pastor of our fledgling church told me he thought I had a pastoral call on my life, and for some reason I believed him. I resigned my art teaching job over the summer, and came on staff as a pastor-in-training in 1980, was ordained in ‘81 and have been a pastor ever since.

Over the years I painted off and on, but not consistently. And that was ok. I had plenty of other things to occupy my time – like my wife and kids! And church. And some songwriting. My dad, who had always liked to paint really kicked in a number of years ago and began creating hand-painted birthday cards for everyone he knew. Everyone in our church, everyone he knew in his previous church, and every friend and relative he had. About 30 cards a month. And people loved them. They often framed them and hung them in their homes. I once estimated that he’d painted about 5000 cards over the years.

In recent years we’d begun having Dad over for dinner every Monday night, after which we’d mosey into the den and watch Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune. Then one night I had an idea. I said, “Dad, you like to paint, and I’d like to paint more. So why don’t we do this – on Monday nights we have you over for dinner, then afterwards you and I head over to your house and paint together?” Thus began a five or six year weekly practice I’m really grateful for.

We’d get to Dad’s house, and I’d put on some jazz – usually The Rippingtons or Chuck Mangione, then paint for a couple hours. Dad was fast – he’d knock out about 4 or 5 paintings an evening while I’d get some paint down on one. Usually within the first 10 minutes he’d say, “Well, got one done!” and he’d show me his first card. “Dad! I haven’t even gotten all my paints on my palette yet and you’ve already finished one!” I’d say. He liked every card he painted. After he’d finish each one he’d say, “Look at this. It’s a real purty one ain’t it?” “Yessir, Dad, that’s a real purty one!”

So we’d paint week after week. Eventually I began to get a backlog, so I ventured to a local gallery and asked if they might be interested in hanging a few of my paintings. I didn’t know if they’d want any but thought I’d take a chance. And lo and behold they did. I hadn’t had a painting in a gallery in over 30 years. Later they hung some of my Dad’s larger paintings, though he preferred painting cards. So Dad and I had paintings in the same gallery. We’d go there together to see local artists perform occasionally as well.

In December of 2013, at age 95, Dad fell on the ice in his driveway (he had refused to let me buy a decent snowblower – he’d always been a tightwad having grown up in the depression), broke his ankle (which he refused to believe he’d broken at first), wound up getting plates on either side of his ankle, then got an infection in the hospital. In January he had a heart attack, then went to heaven in February 2014. If they have paints in heaven, I can see Dad showing a card to an angel and saying, “That’s a real purty one, ain’t it?”

Dad got me back into painting. God used Dad to get me back into painting. I can imagine the Lord, each day of creation when he looked at his handiwork and saw that it was good, may have said to an angel, “Look at that canyon I just created. That’s a real purty one, ain’t it.”

Mark Altrogge

I’m a pastor at Saving Grace Church in Indiana, PA. I’m married to Kristi, have 5 kids, and a growing number of grandkids. I enjoy songwriting, oil painting and coffee, not necessarily in that order.