High Point man turns to painting after stroke

Feb. 24, 2013 @ 01:00 AM

Just watching Creed Smith paint, you suspect nothing.
His right hand rests in his lap, while a small brush in his left hand dabs at the snow scene on his canvas. He wastes no movement and speaks not a word, his eyes focused on the developing creation before him. Yes, his work is eye-catching, but to the uninitiated, this is still just another artist bringing life to a landscape.
Beneath the surface, though, there’s more to Smith’s story — much, much more — than meets the eye.
“Creed had a major stroke in 1989,” explains his wife, Jo. “It affected his right side totally — he lost the use of his right leg and right arm — and it affected his speech.”
That’s what gives Creed’s paintings an added layer of texture — the fact that the 76-year-old High Point man, who was righthanded, learned to paint with his left hand, and he does it quite well.
“I think his work is excellent,” says Helen Mendenhall, who has taught Smith in classes at the Roy B. Culler Senior Center for several years. “It’s sure better than I can do with my left hand.”
Ironically, Creed had never desired to become a painter — didn’t even have an artistic side, honestly. He had grown up wanting to fly airplanes — which he did after taking lessons and getting his pilot’s license — and when he suffered his stroke, he had a successful career going in the textile chemistry business.
The stroke, suffered on Nov. 28, 1989, changed everything. He had to quit work and give up flying, not to mention driving. His physician at what was then N.C. Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem painted a grim picture of Creed’s future.
“The doctor told me, ‘If Creed has any disability insurance, apply for it today,’” Jo recalls. “He said, ‘Apply for Social Security today, because Creed’s not gonna get better.’ And he told me he thought Creed would likely die within five years.”
That was more than 23 years ago.
“You fooled them, didn’t you?” Jo says with a glance toward her husband. Creed smiles and nods, and gives the thumbs-up sign with his left hand.
After about three months of physical therapy, Creed left his wheelchair behind and returned to his home in the Willow Creek neighborhood. He’s been walking with a cane ever since. He can also speak a few words clearly, though much of what he says is more difficult to understand, particularly if you’re not accustomed to being around him.
The communication problem is what led to Creed’s interest in painting.
“When he came home from the hospital, he talked to us through drawings,” Jo explains. “If he wanted to go somewhere, he would just draw (with his unaffected left hand) where he wanted to go. Later, he would leave notes on the kitchen counter of things he needed, like he would draw a picture of toothpaste or whatever he needed.”
Finally, his daughter Lindsey said, “Well, Dad, if you’re gonna draw pictures, why don’t you go learn how?”
She went to Guilford Technical Community College and signed him up for an art class, and a hobby was born. Since then, he’s also taken classes regularly at the senior center, and he has steadily improved.
“It was a struggle for a while,” Jo says, “but Creed is very determined, so he worked really hard. He can also tie his shoe (with one hand), and he can tie a tie. I think he has definitely exceeded the doctors’ expectations.”
The doctors certainly never counted on Creed being the focus of an art show, as he is this month at the High Point Public Library. About two dozen of his oil paintings will remain on display in the library’s lobby through the end of the month. The paintings are available for purchase, according to library officials.
Creed paints mostly landscapes — “He does snow scenes really well,” Jo says — and occasionally paints birds and other wildlife. He works almost exclusively from photographs. His paintings have even won a few awards in Senior Games competition.
“He’s a very talented man,” says Mendenhall, his instructor at the senior center.
“And he just impresses me with how he keeps pushing on. A lot of people in his situation would just sit down and quit, but he won’t do that. He just keeps pushing on, and you forget that he even has a handicap.”
jtomlin@hpe.com | 888-3579

Want to go?

Many of Creed Smith’s oil paintings are on display through the end of February in the lobby of the High Point Public Library, 901 N. Main St.
The paintings are available for purchase.
A reception for Smith will be held Thursday, from 6 to 7 p.m.
Admission is free and open to the public.