Volunteer Teacher Proves Art Knows No Bounds; Her Philosophy Is That No One Is Too Old to Learn Something New --- Including Painting

Article excerpt

Byline: Mary Maraghy

Jessie Bellamy shook her head when she looked at the portraits she painted recently.

"I just can't believe it. I didn't know I could do that," said Bellamy, a 78-year-old stroke victim from Orange Park who learned to paint with her left hand. A stroke in 1990 left her dominant right hand paralyzed.

"I'm so excited that I can do it. Thank you, Lord," she said.

Bellamy's daughter, Minerva Dubose, said she's awestruck by her mother's achievements.

"Isn't this great? She has never painted before," she said. "She can write a little bit with her left hand, but to do something like this is amazing."

Bellamy gives credit to her teacher, 81-year-old June James of the Westside, a volunteer art instructor at the Orange Park Senior Center.

James is helping people who have never before picked up a paintbrush, like Joe Zelenak of Fleming Island, become artists.

"Eighty-seven is a little old to be starting out, wouldn't you say? I forget what colors I mixed the day before," Zelenak said. "This is something I've always wanted to try, but never had time for before."

James' philosophy is that no one is too old to learn something new.

"I don't want to hear the words, 'I can't,' " she said.

In class recently, James helped Bellamy mix blue, white and green to make a shade of sky blue for Bellamy's latest project. Bellamy smiled as she stroked the pale color on the canvas.

"[Painting] relaxes you. It's just good. I wish I could explain it," Bellamy said. "I look at my painting, and I say, 'I did that? At this age?' I'm like Grandma Moses."

Center manager Susie Page said it was a godsend when James called her about 18 months ago asking if the center offered art classes. When Page said no, James offered to teach one. She's been faithful every week since, Page said.

"She's wonderful," Page said.

James said she taught herself to paint by reading books, renting videos and visiting galleries. She prefers oil paints because they dry slower. She paints in layers, adding more detail with each layer. She's especially fond of students who have never painted before.

"I tell them, 'That's all right; I've never taught before,' " she said, laughing. "This is fun. I love this."

There are no fees for her class, but students must bring their own supplies. …