Watercolor painting saved Henry Walker when he was at his low point in life. He had just been diagnosed with throat cancer, and could no longer teach college English, when he went to pick up a paint brush for the first time in two decades.
The Kent artist's one-man show opens at 6 p.m. Saturday in Western Reserve Academy's Moos Gallery located in the Knight Fine Arts Center at the corner of Hudson-Aurora Road and North Oviatt Street in Hudson. The show runs through Feb. 23.
"It's a reflection of what I've done in my life and my career," Walker said. "It's a pretty broad spectrum of topics and moods."
More than 30 of his watercolors covers the past 22 years of his life, with many trips to Italy, Florida, the West Coast and Lake Erie where he spent summers.
"After I got cancer, painting helped me through a couple of bad years," Walker said. "It's wonderful. It takes you away. All you need is water and a brush. It's a simple process."
Walker's work reflects the natural world as he sees it.
"I take pictures and then I bring them back to the studio," Walker said. "I pick one part of the photo, just a little tiny part and work my way out. I'm a very structured painter."
Walker's masterful use of the Italian technique chiaroscuro, the play of contrast between light and dark, make his works come to life.
"You'll recognize it if you look at the paintings," Walker said. "The lights and darks in my paintings are really dramatic. Italian light is unique, the sepias and umbers just glow in the sunlight. Go to the East Coast here and the light is totally different. It's an old, old process that goes back to the renaissance. I don't think I've mastered it. My paintings just tend to go that way."
Walker, 75, has won recognition in numerous shows both locally and nationally. This year, he was invited to the American Watercolor Society national competition in New York City. His works are regularly shown at the Butler Museum in Yougstown and in San Diego.
Very few people have seen one or two pieces at a time until now.
"I've been painting with Henry for five years," said local painter and student Tim Auld. "I've never seen a third of the paintings in the show. The works he's selected are spectacular."
Auld helped Walker track down many of the pieces for the show.
"A lot of them are just not available any more," Auld said. "Some pieces are from private collections and museums, but some are still for sale. We're hoping to sell-out."
Walker's favorites in the show include the "Olympic Alders," white trees painted in contrast with the green background in Washington State's Olympia forest and the striking "Ringling Banyan" trees in Florida.
"It's traditional, representational art, but it's a style that once you see two or three pieces, you'll know that's a Walker," Auld said. "The display is in one large room with a glass wall. It presents the work as it should be presented. The concentration on these pieces will amaze people."
Walker studied for art for only one year the Columbus School of Art and went on to take a double major in history and English at Kent State University.
A reception with Walker will be held from 6 p.m. to 8 on Saturday in the Moos Gallery.
"One Man's Vision" will be featured in the Moos Gallery from Saturday, Jan. 11 through late February.
Gallery hours are from 8 a.m. To 3 p.m. weekdays and Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon.