For John Skrabalak, retirement turned out to be a blank canvas – literally.
Ten years ago, the Monessen native called it quits after 36 years of teaching art at the Altoona Area High School.
It was an enriching career with cherished memories.
“I learned more from the students than I probably gave them,” he joked. “When you’re around creativity, it’s the biggest high you can have in life. Every day there were surprises and discoveries and different interpretations of things.”
As remarkable as those years were for Skrabalak, the next adventure was about to begin.
All those years of teaching never allowed him the time to engage in his own art.
“I could never work that into teaching,” he admitted. “There are a lot of art teachers who could do that, but I was exhausted at the end of the day and couldn’t do it until I retired.”
Over the past decade, the artist in Skrabalak has blossomed.
He considers himself an abstract painter who finds inspiration in nature.
He enjoys encaustic painting, also known as hot wax painting. It involves adding colored pigments to heated beeswax, which is then applied to a surface.
Skrabalak is affiliated with Art In Common, a collaboration of regional artists. He won first place in the group‘s recent juried competition.
The winning piece, titled MINEscape, is an oil and cold wax painting.
The inspiration came several years ago when Skrabalak saw a photo exhibition at his alma mater, the Indiana University of Pennsylvania. It included what he called an interesting view of a mine.
“I found it to be very fascinating,” he recalled. “It just stuck in my mind.”
MINEscape is currently featured at the Altoona location of the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art.
Besides SAMA, Skrabalak’s art is sometimes featured at 321 Gallery in Hollidaysburg and through the Allied Artists of Central Pennsylvania (similar to Art in Common) in Lemont and State College.
His work is also on his own website.
Skrabalak is grateful that he found success in his new career. He offered encouragement for aspiring artists.
“If you yearn for something, you should pursue it,” he advised. “It’s a process, but you have to get through the criticism. You have to get past the hurdle of caring what people think. I used to paint to please, and I realized this wasn’t going anywhere.”
Instead, he embraced his calling to be an abstract painter and, ultimately, found his niche.
“I do see it as a passion,” he added. “It’s just in me to create, to paint. It has always been there. It needed time to be addressed. When I finished teaching, I went after it.”
And now the canvas is not blank anymore.