Last Night, nine of the Stoddart Avenue Community Gardeners gathered for social gathering and an art show in an impromptu gallery to view the art of Gardener Dwain Penny. Dwain has been one of the most active neighbors in the SACG and has attended virtually every work event at the Garden. He helped to pick up litter and dig out rocks in early April; move the wood chip pile, chopped down a weed tree, dig out construction debris, spread wood chips and compost, and sink fence posts in mid-April; mow the grass; dig out and carry large construction debris out of the plots of us feeble gardeners; put up the Girl Scouts' Scarecrows in May; build the Plot of the Unknown Gardener in June; and most recently, build the pallet compost bin last week. I don’t know what we would have done without Dwain being there when we need him.
Except for six years when he lived in Reynoldsburg, Dwain has lived on Stoddart Avenue since 1989. Gardener Barb mentioned that he was an artist and that she was curious to see his pictures. When I asked him about his art, he offered to show it to me and I suggested that we invite the all of the Gardeners. That gathering was held last night. Light refreshments were served.
During the show, Dwain told us a little about himself. He is originally from Washington, D.C., is the eldest of eight children, and began sketching when he was in the second grade. He branched out into other media when he was twelve, but did not turn to oil painting until 2000. He likes oils because he can spend days working on the same painting and can put it aside to work on another painting and then come back to it later. Although he tends to paint when he’s feeling down, his pictures are bright, colorful and hopeful.
Dwain has not always been an artist. He had told Alysha and I while we were moving the wood chip pile in April that he began working as a brick mason when he was very young because his father would wake him up on Saturdays and during summer vacation to go to work. Although it was very hard work, he liked the money and so kept at it. Over the years, he became a very skilled brick mason.
In 1986, he decided to see the country and hitch-hiked across country from Washington to Los Angeles and was hitching his way back when he stopped in Columbus in March 1989 and ended up staying. He had some very amusing stories about his travels. Although I’m sure that I cannot do them justice here, I’ll summarize a few.
As you can imagine, he met a lot of people while hitchhiking. About the only place he had trouble finding a ride was walking along U.S. 50 in West Virginia (which was mountainous and hot). A lot of Christians – including a nun – picked him up, would tell him about Christ and often bought him breakfast. He said that God always provided for him and in the three years that he hitchhiked, he only got wet once from a rain storm. While near Kansas City, he stepped inside a storefront church for spiritual refreshment and discovered that he had been “adopted” by a family with 24 children that ran the church. During the nine months that he stayed there, the family housed him upstairs from the church and sent him to college to obtain degree in the medical field.
In March 1989, he was hitchhiking on Interstate 70 on his way back home from St. Louis when he was picked up by the Columbus Police. He offered to get off the highway, but they insisted on transporting him and put him in the back of the cruiser. While checking to see if he had a criminal record, they offered to buy him breakfast at McDonalds and ended up dropping him off at the Open Shelter downtown, where he obtained a map of the City.
The next day, someone came in and offered to hire a few men to pick up trash. He volunteered. That same day, he met a man who not only gave him a more permanent job, but also a room in a house on Stoddart Avenue. The rest, they say, is history. He had never returned to Washington, D.C. to live, but still hopes to. He has been working on building and financing a prototype of a machine invention he designed 30 years ago. He has a very large extended family and attends a few family reunions in Washington and North Carolina. He finally married a few years ago and dotes quite a bit on his dog. When he’s not rehabbing apartments in the area, helping me with the Garden or painting, he can be seen riding his bike with his dog.
At the end of the show, one of the Gardeners provided him with contact information for a local art gallery and another gardener offered to construct a website for him to showcase his art.