DONALD R. SERFASS/TIMES NEWS Retired art teacher and football coach Joe Evanousky, Barnesville, has spent a lifetime illustrating the culture of the coal regions, a passion he shares with wife Rochelle, artist, educator and former swim coach.
Joe Evanousky is telling the rich story of anthracite coal and the people who mined it. But he's not using a single sentence.
Instead, the Barnesville man speaks through his hands, relaying every intricate detail through the eloquence of a charcoal pencil.
At age 58, it's a passion he's had all of his life, even though his earliest artwork focused on other subject matter.
Truth be told, the former football coach and art instructor at North Schuylkill School District began doodling as a child while spending time one-on-one with his father.
"I was just sitting on my dad's lap," he says. "He'd draw a cowboy. Then I'd follow along and do it. He'd draw an Indian and then I'd follow along and do that."
Like other children, Evanousky enjoyed drawing cartoon characters - Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, the Flintstones.
In fact, he still owns some of his earliest work, carefully stored away in his personal files.
As Evanousky grew older, he acquired a strong sense of appreciation for the hard life of his parents and the struggles of coal region families. Evanousky's father was a coal miner, a driller at the Shen-Penn stripping pit, a worksite he walked to each day from the family homestead in upper Schuylkill County.
Evanousky graduated from high school and studied art at Kutztown University, where he also played college football. While completing his Master's degree, Evanousky turned to what he knew best - coal mining culture.
"The prof said 'I want you to do three pieces.' I wanted to do something of my heritage," he says, "and my hometown of Shenandoah was a coal mining town." It was the start of Evanousky's devotion to heritage art.
Evanousky went on to create a mule boy sketch, then later, a pencil drawing of a mining scene which depicts three generations of men in a coal mining family. Titled "Generations," the work features the haunting image of a young boy with his arms resting on a board above a mine opening.
Those works sparked his creativity and led Evanousky down a path of cultural preservation through art.
He researched his subject matter at historical societies and gleaned information from old newspaper images published in the Shenandoah Evening Herald. Evanousky's passion for heritage illustrations eventually grew as deep and meaningful as a coal mine.
Sadly, the man who first inspired him had departed. Evanousky's father passed away at 56 of lung cancer, perhaps exacerbated by effects of black lung from years of mining
Evanousky took the loss hard. But like all artists, he channeled his emotions into the creative process. Over the years, he created an extensive gallery of coal mining art and designs. He now has his own website and does commission work, plus he routinely displays pieces at regional heritage festivals and art shows.
He has become so prolific that "we can't display all of his work," admits his wife, Rochelle, retired elementary school teacher at Tamaqua Area School District and former girls' swim coach.
Rochelle is Joe's number one fan and supporter. Moreover, she, too, is an accomplished artist. When the two displayed paintings-on-slate during an event in Ocean City, Md., some years ago, Rochelle's creations where quite the rage.
Most importantly, Joe and Rochelle share a bond in understanding the power of visual interpretation.
Evanousky's gift for realism also works in other genres and mediums.
For example, he's known to dabble in acrylics and excels at 3-D paintings, a form of relief-type art that lends itself to creating dynamic sports illustrations. They're part painting and part sculpture, chockful of detail.
In addition, Evanousky has just about completed a 30-page, history-oriented coloring book comprised of pen-and-ink sketches suitable for elementary age.
He's also produced signed prints available to history buffs, art lovers, decorators and others.
Eventually, Evanousky would like to make connections with a mainstream gallery or perhaps team up with a professional representative to maximize exposure for his creations.
Perhaps the one underlying theme of Evanousky's work is how it seems to accomplish so much. Admirers say he has mastered a technique that provides an accurate and educational depiction of coal mining and the people whose lives it defined. His renderings carry an underlying emotion so pervasive that Evanousky's images become seared into the consciousness. It's a special element inherent in every piece he does. So obvious, yet so hard to explain.
For Evanousky, that gift might stem from the early spark of creativity; those special moments shared between a talented young boy sitting on his father's lap as the two doodle with crayons.
Of course, so much has happened since those early days.
"He'd be amazed," says Evanousky. "Absolutely amazed."
And that's the power of inspiration, the very essence of art.