"ALS disease hasn't slowed my will or ability to draw,"

Tom Hoisington

Artist with ALS

The Eagle-Gazette Staff

Tom Hoisington, Lancaster, talks about the techniques he used to create his artwork. His 2002 version of Renoir's "The Umbrellas" was the last painting he completed after being diagnosed with ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease.

A tie-dye pillow and comforter lay on either ends of Tom Hoisington's bed. On this particular day he wears a yellow shirt -- all of the colors, including his yellow afghan, tell the story of an artist.

Artwork hangs on the walls surrounding the bed of his new home at Rockmill Rehabilitation Center. The paintings and watercolors depict everything from rock star Peter Frampton to the walk on Emmaus Road with Jesus and two disciples.

Hoisington is proud of these, his life's work, and even more thrilled that 10 pieces from his collection will be featured in the Lancaster Festival Artwalk today.

"I've been an artist (for as) long as I can remember," Hoisington said. "I started out cutting out cartoons in newspapers. I liked it so much and I realized I could do it myself a bit."

The featured art will depict Hoisington's progression as an artist from 1986 to 2002.

However, he won't be there to watch the expressions on the faces of people as they gaze upon his version of Mona Lisa or his favorite painting of Carl, a neighbor in Baltimore, where he grew up.

In February 2002, Hoisington was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease.

It's a progressive, fatal disease of the motor neurons that control the skeletal muscles of the body. It results in total paralysis and respiratory failure, and there is no cure. Hoisington no longer can get around on his own and uses a motorized wheelchair.

"The Umbrellas," one of the paintings that will be featured in the show was his last painting -- completed in December 2002. The original was done by Renoir.

"I was literally laying over that picture," he said. "I was so tired, and I kept working."

In the course of his illness, Pat Hoisington, Tom's wife, took a grief class. Before the class ended, family members were asked to make a presentation.

Pat brought in a book of Tom's artwork, to explain and show exactly who her husband is as an artist.

"(Grief counselor Sheila Cripps) looked at it and liked it and that's how all this came about," she said.

Besides the Fairfield County Fair, where Hoisington has won ribbons, the Artwalk is his first big show.

"It's a celebration of his life's work," Pat Hoisington said. "We hoped when he retired that he'd do it full time."

In 1986, Hoisington took a couple of classes at Columbus College of Art and Design.

"I was working at Anchor Hocking and wanted to learn how to design boxes and graphics," he said. "The first class was line drawing. The teacher told me to stop drawing cartoons."

Through the course, Hoisington began to further develop his hobby, learning how to make images jump off the page by defining shapes and shading, along with other helpful tools.

"Just from that, I was able to come around to my own -- see things more clearly," he said.

That was his only formal training.

Art, next to his family, may be deemed as the love of his life.

"I just look out the window and see the birds and flowers -- it's all there for the artist to copy," Hoisington said. "It's calming and relaxing. I'd block out all outside noises. (I would) play rock music at high volumes and drifted into the picture, where I didn't even hear the music."

With more than 300 pieces of art, Hoisington has made copies of the work of other famous artists.

"I look for pictures that please me. They're all over the world," he said. "But they're expensive. If I like something, I draw it so I can have it in my house."

For example, some say his rendition of Mona Lisa is prettier than the original. "My brother (saw the original version)," Hoisington said. "After all these years, with the dirt and dust, you can't even see the background. My brother said my version looks better."

A painting of a moose was done through a process of stippling, a method of tapping the paint brush on the paper. "I did it on a brown paper bag -- a grocery bag," he said. "Everything's expensive. You have to take care of your family first. You just don't blow it on art." These days, his use of his hands is deteriorating, so using his beloved tools to create art isn't possible.

In some ways, he's still able to capture these subjects via computer. With the digital pen in hand, Hoisington can create art through a program called Painter. Presently, he's working on a self-portrait.

But his dream of using his hands to sketch hasn't dissolved. Next to his computer sits a container full of brushes and pencils along with a mini sketching book. "I'll start sketching when I can," he said. "There's plenty of subjects. I can see something on TV and just start sketching. "ALS disease hasn't slowed my will or ability to draw," he said. "It's obvious I won't be able to have the same output."

Although the future is uncertain, Hoisington is content.

"I can feel good leaving my art with my family as something to remember me by," he said. "I feel they have always liked my subjects."

Hoisington's work will appear at the Fairfield County Foundation, 162 E. Main St.
Originally published Friday, July 18, 2022
ŠThe Lancaster Eagle-Gazette

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