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Jeremy's brush with glory

May 15, 2000|By ANDREA ROWLAND

Jeremy Wertz rests his paintings in a pew at the Orchard Ridge First Church of God on a hilltop east of Hancock.

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It's a fit setting for the both the artist and his work.

"God is my inspiration," said Wertz, 15, of near Warfordsburg, Pa. "My main ambition is to serve Him."

That's why Wertz is selling his acrylic-on-wood paintings, which reflect his faith and his love of nature, to raise funds for a summer missionary trip to New Mexico.

He's already sold about 10 paintings for $35 each or a donation, and has a waiting list for another 10 paintings. Wertz has only been painting for about a year and a half.


"I tell you what, he never ceases to amaze me," said Pastor Jeff Hawbacker, who has known Wertz since he began attending Orchard Ridge six years ago.

Wertz taught himself not only to paint, but to play piano and guitar by ear. His mother, Kay Wertz, is a choir director and music teacher, but her son says reading music "gives me a headache."

The home-schooled high school freshman recently scored in the 98th percentile in Algebra. He finds time to paint in the evenings after his schoolwork is complete.

His colorful, detailed paintings each take Wertz about 2 to 3 1/2 hours to complete - even "Creation, The Fifth Day," an ethereal and inspirational work that combines creative use of color with natural realism.

"Creation" hangs in the home of Wertz's aunt, who asked him to paint her a picture with both angels and dolphins.

Wertz turned to the Bible to meet the challenge.

He said he based the painting upon the scripture in which God created the animals of the ocean, and took his sister's advice to paint angels alighting from cloud beams.

"It just came to me as I was doing it," said Wertz, who tends to associate with like-minded Christian peers, and said he doesn't miss the social aspects of public high school.

"It's not that much of a welcoming atmosphere. I can see how that would make anyone edgy," Wertz said. "I guess it's sad the way our generation's heading, but everyone's responsible for their own actions."

Wertz wants to use his time to help others and share his faith.

While other teenagers might spend their summer break frolicking with friends and in community pools, Wertz will help organize craft lessons and participate in skits that apply lessons from the scripture to Navajo Indian life.

It will be his second trip to the desert reservation.

"I enjoyed doing something two summers ago that was serving God. Helping others to reach Christ, that was the main key of it," he said. "This is another opportunity to reach people that don't know too much about Him."

Wertz said he "felt led" by God to sign up for the missionary trip a second time. A divine "presence" also directed him to painting, he said.

It was just before his 14th birthday, and Wertz was praying about how to raise enough money to return to New Mexico, when God gave him the answer, he said.

"I've always liked drawing, ever since I was little," Wertz said.

He used to sketch the works-in-progress of his maternal grandfather, muralist Monroe Shear, when visiting his grandparents' Huntingdon, Pa., home. Inspired by nature, he carried his sketchbook to capture mountains, streams and trees during walks through the woods, Wertz said.

He asked his family for art supplies for his birthday, and began painting that day.

That first mountain landscape "didn't look that good," said Wertz, who couldn't quite get the hang of painting the sky.

"After the fifth painting it hit me, why not put the sky down first," he laughed. "Trees took me awhile, too."

He found that his paint bled easily on canvas, so he decided to try painting on wood.

It worked.

The rougher texture grabs and holds the paint, and creates a more realistic effect, he said.

Wertz began snapping photos of sunsets and piecing together to-be-painted landscapes by cutting and pasting his favorite parts of other published works. He learned painting techniques from art books and his grandfather, who tutored him on shadowing and detail work, he said.

He also gleaned knowledge from nature artist Bob Ross, whom he watched paint on TV every Sunday morning.

"Before I saw how he did it, my trees looked like little cones in the background," Wertz said.

Like Ross, Wertz uses various tools to create his works. He swirls clouds with his fingers and creates realistic twigs and sharp mountain peaks with an X-acto knife blade, he said.

Wertz mixes only primary base colors, and plans to start using oil-based house paints, a cheaper and more vibrant medium, he said.

His trademark black hawk graces the sky in each of his paintings, on the backs of which are inscribed one of his favorite Biblical passages: "Holy, holy is the Lord Almighty. The whole earth is full of His glory."

He paints the hawk just because he likes hawks. He inscribes the passage because that's what his work is all about.

"I'll do whatever God leads me to do with the money if I'm still making money on the paintings," said Wertz, who would like to contribute to the fund to build a new Orchard Ridge church.

He plans to attend college, hone his artistic skills and perhaps continue with missionary work.

"I'm praying for direction and so far He's led me," Wertz said. "Every time I've prayed, He's given me an answer."

Wertz's paintings are on display at the Warfordsburg Building Supply on Buck Valley Road.

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