Retired Navy captain's art commands thousands

January 19, 2000|By RICHARD F. BELISLE, Waynesboro

BLUE RIDGE SUMMIT, Pa. - Lester Jay Stone can't remember ever wanting to be an artist.

"It doesn't seem to me that I started. I only remember that I could get a pencil and piece of paper and that was it," said Stone, 88. "I paint because I have to. It's there. I could not do otherwise."

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He said he doesn't consider himself to be talented. "I don't see it in myself. I just do the best I can. My talent comes from the people who look at my paintings."

Stone's studio is on the third floor of his century-old arts and crafts style home. The house, a landscape in itself, sits on the edge of a wooded hillside off Buena Vista Road.


The studio's place in the house is perfect for painting. Its north-facing window bathes the space in just the right light.

Stone, whose specialties are portraits, nudes, seascapes and landscapes, paints mostly in oils and water colors.

He retired from the Navy as a captain after 35 years in 1964.

"My pension was enough to support me, so I never had to paint commercially. I can paint what I darn well please," he said.

He has painted the sea in Spain, Portugal, the West Coast, Nags Head on North Carolina's Outer Banks, and on the rugged Maine Coast. Many of his landscapes come from his own Franklin County backyard.

He also paints from photos he takes of his subjects and sometimes just from his own imagination and memory.

Stone's work hangs in no art gallery. His spacious home serves that purpose. Walls on three floors abound with his art, and he sells his paintings off the walls. Many customers commission him to do portraits, he said.

Prices begin at around $1,000 and can go as high as $15,000 for large oils, he said. About 30 of his paintings have been transferred onto prints that he sells.

Stone enlisted in the Navy in 1929 after high school. A year later he had an appointment to Annapolis. He was a Navy pilot at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked on Dec. 7, 1941.

He spent much of World War II as an air officer on command ships that participated in campaigns in the Marianas, at Leyte Gulf and Okinawa. After the war he was stationed in Japan, where he took lessons from a Japanese painter.

He and his first wife lived in Europe for two years after he retired, a move that gave him the chance to study painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence, Italy, for a year.

The Stones lived in Annapolis for eight years after their return to America. They found their Blue Ridge Summit home, which they call Faraway, during a visit to the area In 1967.

Stone's first wife died of complications from a heart condition in 1984. He married Sherry Meyers in 1996.

Stone also runs an artist's school. His winter class has about five students, a comfortable number for his small studio, he said. In the winter they paint portraits, often from live models. In the summer the number of students doubles as the class moves outdoors for landscapes.

His classes, winter and summer, cost $15 for a three-hour session.

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