Lincoln artist continues sketching with Parkinson’s disease
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — The artist’s hand moves up and down making small, even pencil strokes on the paper.
“This is a gorilla,” Bob Sharp said.
Up and down, the fur. Shorter strokes, an eye.
When he lifts his right hand, the pencil is still in motion — up and down, up and down, like a conductor waving a baton.
It started on his left side, a limp and then his foot, perpetually in motion. Grandpa, his grandkids would ask, why are you tapping your foot?
That was nearly 20 years ago. Bob and Ellen Sharp were living in Ord, where he worked as postmaster. Five years ago, the high school sweethearts from Bridgeport moved back to Lincoln — where they’d worked and raised their three daughters — to be closer to Bob’s doctors.
Ellen died in May. Bob moved to Orchard Park Assisted Living after that.
“I sure miss her,” the 75-year-old said from his sunny room near the courtyard.
His Parkinson’s is advanced. It’s hard for him to hold his head up. His glasses slip down his nose. He wipes his mouth with a white washcloth to stop the saliva. He wears support socks and black shoes that close with Velcro.
He takes 18 pills a day and he’s hoping to start another treatment soon, one that involves electrodes attached to his brain and a remote to zap the synapses and make the shaking go away.
He’s smart and kind and talented.
On a recent Friday morning, he’s in his wheelchair, a walker nearby. His visiting nurse, Amber Russell, just finished tending to a wound on his foot.
Her patient drew a sketch of her son and his dog. “It’s not very good,” he said.
“A lot of his artwork, it just amazes me,” the nurse said.
The evidence is on the wall of Room 38, held up with thumbtacks. A portrait of a young man — a former employee with mischievous eyes. An old cowboy, a solemn Indian, a half-dozen sketches of a bushy-haired old man, Bob Sharp’s attempts to bring John Neihardt to life.
In the middle of the gallery, there’s a photograph of a younger Bob, tall and strong, posing in a friend’s front yard with Ellen. “We’d been out dancing.”
Bob Sharp started drawing as a boy. His mom was artistic, painting the glass panels of the doors in their Panhandle home for the holidays. His sister had talent, too. And Sharp took a few art classes in college, first at Chadron State and then UNL, but he never learned much from his professors. “I was better than they were.”
Back in Chadron, a secretary asked him to draw a picture of her family. Get this done by tomorrow and I’ll give you $5, she told him.
He sold other drawings, too, but usually by the time he paid for mattes and frames, he lost money.
He got his degree in psychology, taking classes during the day and walking over to the downtown post office to start an eight-hour shift.
He kept drawing. Teaching himself and emulating the techniques of others. The shading he does was inspired by Paul Calle, a now-dead artist who sketched scenes of the American West and designed dozens of postage stamps.
Calle used something called the “line-stroke method,” Sharp said. Quick, short pencil strokes to shape the images.
“It makes the drawing just come alive,” he told the Lincoln Journal Star .
Sharp has a clipboard on his lap; the gorilla drawing taking shape in one corner. One eye staring out, the body just beginning to form.
He puts the pencil down.
“I’m having trouble.”
Her dad’s hands shake more when he’s excited, said Jewell Ronne, one of Sharp’s three daughters. When she calls from Chicago, they FaceTime and his face shakes on her phone screen.
She can’t remember a time her dad didn’t draw. One drawing in particular impressed her — a little girl and her dog.
“The whole picture was done with just dots. I used to take it for show and tell.”
Her father’s disease has taken so much from him, she said. The ability to move and be independent. His left hand is bent, nearly frozen in place.
But it hasn’t taken his art.
“It does amaze me that he still has the ability.”
It amazes Jane Wasserman, too. She worked with Sharp years ago and she and her husband, Ron, have helped him in these last years as he and Ellen transitioned back to Lincoln.
He has returned their kindness with art: Ron on a horse. Ron in a cowboy hat playing the guitar. An intricate Western scene in a frame that he no longer had room for.
“Talking to him on the phone and the receiver would just be banging against his head,” Wasserman said. “It just seemed unbelievable he could still draw.”
Sharp draws nearly every day. He finds photographs on the internet and pulls them up on the big screen of his computer. He puts on headphones and plays Billy Joel.
“I get lost in it. I can sketch for hours.”
He’d like to draw his fellow residents. He’s thinking of hosting a little art show, asking if anyone wants to sit for him.
“I’m working up to it,” he said. “I don’t want to impose.”
On a recent morning, Sharp thanks his nurse for tending to his foot.
Sharp is so kind, she said. “He’s super appreciative of everything.”
The artist’s life is so different now, so much smaller. He remembers the day back in Ord a decade ago, driving his car out of the garage and not being able to find the brake. He hit the garage wall and then a parked car. He quit driving, thankful he hadn’t hurt anyone.
“I don’t feel sorry for myself. I did once and I don’t want to go there again.”
But he sees his limitations on the paper. He points out the pencil strokes going in just one direction because he no longer has the dexterity to change the arc.
You can see, too, if you look.
But mostly you see beauty and perseverance.
When he puts down his pencil, the people on the page don’t look like the images he’s trying to recreate, Sharp said.
“But I do like the people who show up.”
Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, http://www.journalstar.com