By weaving art back into his everyday life while being a highly regarded adjunct professor of Spanish at Towson University, Jim Medvitz is finding himself in a happier and happier place these days.
When he first studied art at the school 20 years ago, the Towson resident took some painting courses while spending most of his time learning how to make pottery. The proper term is "throwing clay" on a potter's wheel to make, say, a vase or a bowl.
Now, at 72, making pottery is a thing of the past, given a bum shoulder and carpal tunnel syndrome that has limited his ability to work with both hands.
Still, the need to make art blossomed from Medvitz three years ago when he took up painting.
And with a brush and canvas, he is finding his bliss.
"Painting just sort of evolved from my pottery making, and now I get more relaxation from painting than anything else in my life," said Medvitz, who has been teaching Spanish for nearly 50 years in public and private elementary and high schools and at TU. "It's a way of getting away from the mishaps of life. It centers me, and I come out refreshed."
His style, he said, is decidedly on the realist side of things, while still admiring a wide range of artists ranging from Pablo Picasso to Jackson Pollock.
"I paint what I like," said Medvitz, who often paints scenes from his travels to Europe and South America. "I try to capture the moment and the atmosphere. I'm very much a traditionalist who likes to paint moments in nature as well as places and things that capture my imagination."
His work has been shown several times, mainly at Ascension Lutheran Church in Wiltondale, where he sold five of 20 pieces in July and 10 a year earlier.
"An honesty and patience is shown by the detail he puts in his work," said Idewylde resident Mike McKee, chairman of Ascension's art committee and the senior art handler at the Walters Art Museum. "You could see how diligent he was in putting the exhibition together. It's definitely worth seeing."
Each painting, Medvitz said, depending on its size, can take up to two weeks to paint, mat and frame in his Towson apartment that features a small studio area in the living room. The works range in price from $150 to $550.
Medvitz has earmarked four of his most recent paintings for a cause near and dear to his heart, the Assistance Center of Towson Churches and its upcoming "Hunger Bites" fundraiser.
His paintings will be part of a silent auction at ACTC's gala 30th anniversary event held Oct. 10. (See sidebar.)
Medvitz is a volunteer for the organization of 48 churches that helps people in financial distress from 21 ZIP codes from the central Maryland area.
He gives his time and artwork to the ACTC for a simple and heartfelt reason: "I volunteer at ACTC because I like to give back rather than receive," he said.
His part-time job — he teaches three classes, twice a week — keeps him busy and his Towson University students and administrators happy.
"Jim has been a really steady presence here," said Lea Ramsdell, chair of the TU Foreign Languages Department. "He's always helping students. When I walk by his office, there's usually a student in there. And he uses his art to teach. He makes drawings to illustrate a story sometimes, almost like a comic book version."
One student, sophomore Jake Wolpoff, said that Medvitz's teaching style sets him apart.
"He's not like most teachers," said Wolpoff, who took a required semester of Spanish and then added a second semester in his freshman year because he enjoyed the course so much.
"He'll take a friendly jab at you in class and then make you want to prove him wrong, but in a good way. He's a very funny guy, and he makes learning fun. I looked forward to his class every day," he said.
Medvitz began his teaching at Franklin and Randallstown high schools and Cockeysville Middle School after graduating from King's College in his native Pennsylvania. Medvitz then taught at Loyola Blakefield before landing the job at Towson.
During that time, though, he also took time off to earn three master's degrees from the University of Madrid (Latin American literature), Loyola University Maryland (education administration) and the University of Salamanca (Spanish grammar and culture).
Despite boasting all those postgraduate degrees, Medvitz is constantly striving to improve his teaching methods.
"I talk to different professors about how they teach," he said. "And I attend workshops that help teachers to keep their subject matter fresh. My first 10 years, teaching was just a job. But it's way more than that now. I try to be very considerate of the student, and, if I feel their story is reasonable, I can bend a little. I try to teach them as individuals who have more issues to deal with than I had back in my college days."
Medvitz, who has never been married, also counts cooking, traveling and being an "avid" movie buff among his hobbies and interests.
Volunteerism is also a major motivating factor in his life.
"At ACTC we help people who might need a little money to avoid eviction or pay a BGE bill," he said. "It's gratifying, but painful to watch. We also serve daily lunch for the homeless. It humbles me and makes me realize maybe I don't need as many (material) things as I thought."