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Spotlight: Social distancing offers time for oil painting for Hometown veteran

The pandemic has resulted in new lifestyle patterns.

Typically, it means more hours spent indoors, something that can be both frustrating and fulfilling, depending on circumstances.

For Jim Rodick of Hometown, social distancing means more time to explore a lifelong interest - oil painting.

The 70-year-old United States Marine Corps veteran and self-taught artist has been wiling away the hours in his home studio, where he enjoys putting images to canvas.

Sometimes he works from photographs. Other times, pure imagination.

“I always liked art in school,” he says, recalling an early childhood in Mahanoy City. But he didn’t grow up in the coal region.

His family moved to Cherokee Ranch in the Reading area, where he attended school.

“But I didn’t really like school,” he admits.

“I was always looking out the window.”

He recalls being drawn to specific areas of interest, such as science, engineering and, of course, a fascination with art.

In a way, his inspiration and curiosity to try new things came naturally.

His father, John, native of Delano, was an accomplished chef in the United States Coast Guard.

His mother, the former Anna Smulligan of Barnesville, was a seamstress who excelled in creativity. Among her prized possessions were colorful ethnic Ukrainian costumes.

“She was always sewing.”

At one point Rodick had thoughts of going to the West Coast to pursue a career in art, maybe working for Disney or in the commercial field.

But world events altered plans.


Answering a call to serve his country, Rodick enlisted in the Marines in 1967, was trained in artillery and deployed to Vietnam.

There, he took part in combat during the Tet Offensive and was awarded the Purple Heart. Rodick was discharged and sent home at a time of social unrest. In those days, the war was unpopular and returning soldiers sometimes were targets of scorn.

It was a tumultuous time in his young life in many ways. Today, he doesn’t talk much about it. Scars of conflict can be emotional as well as physical.

Of course, public sentiment has changed. But like many Vietnam vets, Rodick remembers what took place.

He went on to accept a job at Dana Corporation in Reading, serving as a crane operator for 23 years, then moving to Progressive Converting in Hazleton for nine more.

In later years, he found himself in the role of caregiver. First, looking out for his parents as their health failed. Finally, taking care of older brother Jack, who passed in 2017.

Now more than ever, he finds solace in oil paints. For him, it’s a therapeutic hobby.

It doesn’t matter if he’s painting landscapes, wildlife or portraits - he loves to immerse himself in a world of color. It allows him to develop his skills and to pass the hours productively.

Friends admire his interpretation of subject matter.

“He pays great attention to detail,” says Dan Christian, Rodick’s neighbor and fishing pal.

“One day while we were driving to Cabela’s, he pulled off the road suddenly because he spied an old truck sitting by a barn. He said he had to get a closer look because he was going to add it to his painting.”

Challenge of art

He easily could work in pencil, watercolor or chalk. But he prefers oils. He carefully brushes delicate strokes on floating canvas for the sheer challenge.

“It’s hard to do. Canvas is flexible and moves. And it needs time to dry.”

But Rodick is up to the task as he continues to learn and advance his skills.

“I prefer four basic colors and use them to blend. I get intrigued by what I’m doing. I get fussy with it. It has to be the way I want it.”

When a piece is finally completed, there’s a sense of achievement.

“It’s your own creation.”

Rodick recommends painting as a hobby for those looking to enjoy themselves in this time of social distancing. Painting is relaxing, he says, and there’s always a lesson to learn.

“You will always see imperfections.”

But that’s OK, because that’s exactly how life can be. Things can change in an instant.

At the drop of a hat, we can find ourselves isolated, spending days in self-imposed quarantine.

And when that happens, it’s important to find comfort in the colors all around.

Jim Rodick of Hometown painted “1920s West Broad Street” earlier this year and already has begun another panorama of Tamaqua, incorporating a steam engine. DONALD R. SERFASS/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
The simple pleasure of a domestic dog enjoying a run outdoors is celebrated in this Rodick work done for a pet owner.
An owl in a tree, a study in nature's camouflage, was painted by Jim Rodick for his neighbor Dan Christian in 2017. DONALD R. SERFASS/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
“Victorian Tamaqua” depicts the 200 block of West Broad Street, illustrated by Marine Corps veteran Jim Rodick of Hometown in 2018.
Sometimes Rodick works from a photo to create an image, such as a portrait of a beloved pet, a gift he presented to a friend in 2018.