Stephen Crooks

Stephen Crooks of Halethorpe displays one of his watercolor paintings that was raffled off last week as part of the Arbutus Senior Center's anniversary celebration. Crooks joined the center when it opened in 2010 and last September began teaching watercolor painting classes at the center on Sulphur Spring Road. (Staff photo by Sarah Pastrana / August 16, 2012)

Stephen Crooks and his wife of 38 years, Susan, had recently turned 65 last September when they went to the Arbutus Senior Center to take advantage of its activities and amenities, particularly the exercise room.

While his wife, a retired nurse, began volunteering in the exercise room, Stephen Crooks decided to use his talents to start something new at the center at 855 Sulphur Spring Road.

"As we got involved, I noticed there was not much of a focus on anything artistic," the Halethorpe resident said.

"I'm a watercolor painter. I was just thinking it would be nice to have some focus on art. Whether it started with watercolor didn't make any difference," he said. "I was just hoping to stir up some creative juices over there."


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The 1968 graduate of Maryland Institute of Fine Arts, now known as Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), began talking to members, and then he compiled a list of those interested in taking art classes.

Before the end of September, he taught his first watercolor class.

Last spring, he offered a second semester.

This year, as part of its weeklong celebration of its second anniversary, the center raffled off a painting by Stephen Crooks on Aug. 23.

On Sept. 12, the class will resume with 15 people who have already signed up and paid the $35 fee, which covers expenses for art supplies, for either the advanced or beginner class, said Susan Patry, the senior center director.

That number doesn't include many of the students who took the class last year and intend to do so again but haven't signed up, Patry said.

"He is a wonderful person and he really helped to jump-start our art program here," Patry said of Crooks' influence on the growing program at the center.

"He's just helped a group of people who thought they had no talent have talent," she said.

Last year, the classes combined to have about 10 students in both semesters, Patry said.

The only change from last year to this year, Patry said, is that the class will take place on Wednesday instead of Tuesday.

Mary Rose, a 72-year-old Halethorpe resident, said she was one of the first to sign up as a member of the new Arbutus Senior Center when it opened alongside the Arbutus Library on Aug. 24, 2010.

"It was just Wii Bowling and pinochle," Rose said of the center's offerings of activities when it first opened. "They had a few little entertainments at lunch time and they had lunch. It's grown considerably."

Rose, a Lansdowne native, took part in the art classes started by Crooks last year and plans to take the class again this year so she can improve on mixing her colors, something she has worked on since taking the class.

Halethorpe resident Eileen Martindale said she had never taken an art class before.

"All I knew was which end of the paintbrush was which," the 84-year-old deadpanned.

Martindale said she was amazed by the talent of her instructor and his ability to make the work enjoyable and lessons "click."