WAUWATOSA — When Tony Handzlik retired from electrical engineering, he decided it was time to start what he calls his “second vocation” – painting.
“It’s the best anti-depressant I ever had,” said Handzlik, now age 95. “All I have to do is start painting and the world changes. I’m always looking for a masterpiece.”
Thirty years later, Handzlik is still making art as a member of the Wauwatosa Art Guild, a creative collective that meets at Hart Park Square independent and assisted living facilities, where Handzlik has lived for the past two years.
To highlight the work of the guild members and to encourage other seniors to pursue their passions, St. Bernard Parish, Wauwatosa, will stage an art show to coincide with the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s VIP (Very Important Parishes) event, Saturday, Nov. 5. The show will feature mixed media works of art created by members of the guild, and will be open to the public for viewing for two weeks prior to the VIP event in the parish’s Griffey Hall.
The VIP event is a one-day occasion where behind-the-scenes tours of four parishes will take place, similar to Historic Milwaukee’s “Doors Open Milwaukee” event held annually. In addition to St Bernard, Immaculate Conception, All Saints, Our Lady of Guadalupe churches, all in Milwaukee, will be open.
An Oct. 21 senior luncheon will mark the opening of the art show, said Christine Meyer, director of administrative services for St. Bernard. Seniors from six parishes have been invited, but all seniors and their caregivers are welcome to attend the event.
The free luncheon, preceded by Mass at 11 a.m., will feature a presentation by Adele Lund of the Laureate Group titled, “What’s Your Story?”.
“The whole point of this is to remind seniors that just because they are retired or they’re past 60, it doesn’t mean they can’t still fulfill their dreams,” said Meyer.
Though it is based at Hart Park Square, the guild includes residents and community members of all ages, said Nina Bischbach, lifestyle director at HPS. She described the guild as “a really wonderful marriage of our community with our residents.”
At one point, said Birschbach, the youngest member was in his 20s and the oldest was more than 100.
Comprised of amateur and professional artists, the group meets regularly to paint, she said. At the conclusion of the session, members will critique each other’s work.
“They’re each other’s biggest fans,” she said.
“I thought, initially, it’s going to be all retired people. But we have women and men as well with kids in high school who take time out of their busy schedules to come,” she said.
The group will be bringing around 40 pieces to display at Griffey Hall for the art show, representing a wide variety of artistic styles – from upcycled jewelry to stained glass, watercolor and more.
As an artist, Handzlik said he appreciates the diversity of genres and techniques practiced by the guild members.
“Some are excellent portrait painters, some are good landscape painters,” he said. “I never thought much about abstract art, but we have some abstract painters, and (their work) is just beautiful! I’m mostly photographic impressionistic – but they really create something.”
Like Meyer and Birschbach, Handzlik said he hopes the show will remind seniors life doesn’t have to slow down after retirement. In fact, for him, retirement was just the beginning. He joined a men’s sketch club and eventually became a member of the Wisconsin Watercolor Society. He also taught at LaFarge Lifelong Learning Center and Alverno College.
“It would be wonderful if people could take up a little art. People don’t understand – there are so many different ways of painting,” he said. “They look at a real good painter and they say, ‘Oh, I could never do that.’ They could do the same thing if they only joined a class or take a few lessons.”
It’s important for seniors to keep busy and engage in fulfilling activities, said Birschbach. For residents at Hart Park Square, the Wauwatosa Arts Guild provides an invaluable creative outlet.
“We have one lady who always wanted to do watercolors – it was on her bucket list! She’s been doing watercolors for two years now,” she said. “She’s just an amateur but she loves it, and she’s actually very talented. You can always learn something new and improve a skill or try another type of skill.”
For Handzlik, that couldn’t be more true.
“A lot of times I’ll start painting at 10 o’clock, and (I’ll get so carried away) I miss my lunch – I forget to eat,” he said. “If I’m really down, I’ll take out my paints, put the colors down, and I’m gone. I’m not thinking about all my problems.”