BLOOMVILLE - Out on TR 58, near Bloomville, is the Rusty Plow Country Gallery, owned by Tiffin Art Guild member, Joe Todd. His studio is located in one room of the rural residence, and the living room serves as an exhibition space. The walls are hung with portraits and paintings of rustic, country scenes.
Retirement from Atlas in Fostoria in 1998 gave Todd more time to devote to his painting, sketching and woodcarving. His Hispanic roots and interests in nature, hunting and agriculture have influenced the images that appear in his art.
Todd said his ancestors came to the U.S. from Mexico.
PHOTOS BY PAT GAIETTO
Joe and Sharon Todd are pictured with a wedding portrait Joe painted.
"A lot of them used to be migrants. Some of them settled in the northern states because of the factory jobs," Todd said. "That's been a while. A lot of that occurred in the '40s and '50s."
For a time, his family operated a Mexican restaurant in Luckenbach, located in Texas hill country. Todd said his mother still lives in Texas, but he doesn't get there often.
As a child, he lived with his grandparents in Benton Ridge. Todd said he remembers having to repeat first grade because he spoke little at school.
"I just knew Spanish at the time, because that's all my grandparents spoke," Todd said.
He has aunts who married and settled in Ohio. Todd said he attended part of high school in Port Clinton and graduated from McComb. His artistic activities started at an early age and have continued over the years.
Many of his projects were inspired by places he has lived or visited and people he has known.
During his working days, fellow employees often asked him to paint portraits, which generated extra income for Todd. Sometimes, he would stay awake into the early morning hours working on a portrait and then go off to work with little sleep.
He also has created portraits of his own family from vintage photographs.
One of Todd's portraits is his Aunt Rita with himself as a baby perched on her knee.
When he and his second wife, Sharon, were married, he recreated their wedding photograph.
Sharon's mother, Ada L. Small, is pictured in another portrait.
Acrylic paint is Todd's preferred media.
"I do oils, too, but the clean-up is so much easier - water, as opposed to turpentine or kerosene," Todd said of acrylic.
For a number of years, Todd and Sharon would load his work into a pick-up truck and set up at craft shows and festivals. The truck wore out, and the couple grew tired of spending weekends at shows with only a few sales to show for it.
Todd said patrons at such events often are hesitant to pay for high-quality original art, especially wood carvings.
Many of Todd's woodworking and carvings have remained in his possession. His projects include a small, decorative mushroom sculpture and a grouping of Native American pieces that are on display in his living room.
He also brought out a war club carved in the shape of a snake with wood-burned scales. An over-sized wooden mushroom is anchored next to his gallery sign.
"We had a tree out here, a wild cherry tree. It was a real nice shade tree, but it started dying. ... so I sawed it down. As a tribute to that tree, I carved that mushroom. It was one of those things - you don't mind doing the first one, but you don't want to do a second one. I've had people stop and ask if I wanted to sell it. I just say it's not really for sale," Todd said.
In recent years, many motorcycle owners have contacted Todd to commission bike-related art, so he added that to the gallery sign.
He also obtained a mannequin, refurbished her and dressed her to resemble a female rider in summer attire.
Todd said he plans to place the figure outdoors to attract passersby.
"Because of those poker runs, I get a lot of repeat business," Todd said.
About two-thirds of his paintings, especially portraits, are based on photographs for the main elements with colors and other details added by the artist.
For landscapes, he said he may sketch out a scene on-site and complete it at home. His black-and-white sketches include a depiction of an area farmstead with a large, rustic barn and another of a horse-drawn Smith Coal & Ice Co. wagon.
As for his training, Todd said he is self-taught mostly.
"A lot of times, with a new technique, I just do it, and I don't really know how I did it," Todd said.
One of his works in progress features a hill country background with a cloud formation Todd saw in a National Geographic magazine. The central figure is a Mexican cowboy Todd based on a childhood memory.
While he was eating a hamburger at their restaurant, he said he saw the heads of his aunts and cousins turn in unison to look at the man who had stepped in through the screen door.
"To this day, I think he was the best-looking man I've ever seen in my life. He was tall and V-shaped, just from hard work," Todd said.
Last summer, when a local child was crushed by a falling tree limb, Todd used the little girl's photograph to make a sketch of her and present it to her parents.
He said they became emotional and expressed appreciation for Todd's gesture.
At Sharon's request, Todd painted a covered bridge on silvered barn siding instead of a canvas. On the couple's coffee table is a miniature restaurant Todd constructed out of weathered wood with a piece of scrap metal fashioned into its roof.
Motorcycles and hot rods are lined up in the "parking lot" to complete the sculpture.
He said it is not a replica of his family's restaurant, but it is similar.
A winter landscape that hangs above the sofa sat unfinished for years. Todd said he saw a picture of a pair of pheasants in the office of his chiropractor and decided to try adding the birds to his own painting.
When he asked to borrow the picture, the physician told him to take it home and return it when he finished.
"I borrowed it for a couple weeks. Actually, the hen took me longer than the cock, because the colors are so subtle. They're harder to paint than the bright colors. The hens have to be camouflaged, because they are guarding the eggs," Todd said.
Knowing something about wildlife has helped him to add realistic touches to his art.
The tree line in the pheasant painting was modeled on the view behind Todd's rural home. A picture from a calendar served as the starting point for a western scene. It features a Native American rider and horse atop a distant cliff. At least eight human faces are incorporated into the clouds and the landscape.
"If you look closer at the rock formations, there's quite a few Indians in them," Todd said.
The wooden frame for the painting has arrowheads carved into it by the artist.
Above the painting is a tomahawk with Todd's carvings added to its wooden handle and a buffalo skull the artist carved out of oak. He bought animal horns at a flea market.
Although not buffalo horns, Todd decided they would serve well enough to finish his carving.
Now a member of the Tiffin Art Guild, Todd enjoys observing the work of other members and socializing with them. He would like to see more traffic at the TAG gallery so that volunteers wouldn't be so lonely when the doors are open.
Some of Todd's brochures can be found at the TAG gallery, and the Rusty Plow can be reached by phone at (419) 983-2709.