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Retired architect has turned his love of art into a profitable passion

Whether they are stately Victorian homes, mountain landscapes or portraits of biblical characters, Henry DuPertuis relishes the creative opportunities that painting presents.

The prospect of starting with nothing and turning out something appreciated by others fuels the 86-year-old retired Merced architect's long-standing love of art.

DuPertuis has written or illustrated three books, and his portraits of the Old and New Testament's Abraham, Solomon and others are being featured on weekly church bulletins this year. He indulges his dedication as an artist almost every day, at least two or three hours at a time.

The beauty of being retired, DuPertuis will tell you, is he can set his own pace. He's not likely to accept art commissions because that means having to please someone else's fickle tastes and follow their timetables.

"I stay busy but as busy as I want to be," DuPertuis said. "It's a good feeling when you have finished something that seems pretty successful, when you end up with something that's acceptable."

DuPertuis works with watercolors, pastels, pen-and-ink, oil and acrylic media. In one of his books, the paintings share space with hand-drawn calligraphy. His favorite subjects are mountain landscapes with their trees, rocks and dizzying heights, particularly Yosemite and Kings Canyon National Parks.

He also creates seascapes, portraits, older buildings and makes an occasional foray into abstract art.

Not all DuPertuis' efforts turn out well, he admits. He has thrown away or hidden some less-than-successful works, painted over them or saved them in the hope someday he will be able to rescue them.

He said he has spent 60 years figuring out how to paint, and his technique is still evolving: "You never completely learn; there's always more you can learn."

Artists are their own worst critics, and DuPertuis said he can't evaluate his work objectively. His wife, Leona, a former wedding cake decorator, is a good critic, he says, and many times he will put a painting aside for a week or more, hoping fresh eyes might later spot flaws or places for improvement.

DuPertuis says he likes to check out the work of others in books and magazines and has taken Judy Lynd's non-credit art classes at Merced College. Lynd, an Atwater resident, said she doesn't presume to call DuPertuis a student, but rather a fellow artist.

"It's wonderful to have him there in class," Lynd said. "We're all artists, and we feed off each other. He's a wonderful draftsman and has a real flair for graphite and charcoal."

Lynd, who teaches four art classes at the college in all media, levels and styles, said DuPertuis is hard to beat. He is able to substantially help other students in the class. "He is a great storyteller. A lot of painters can paint but not all artists can draw and that's what Henry is good at," she said.

DuPertuis doesn't know why he harbored a longtime desire to become an architect. He started drawing as a first-grader, beginning with primitive ships and pirates and evolving into movie stars and more sophisticated, grown-up subjects.

After graduating from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1948 with a bachelor's degree in architecture, he got a job with the Walter Wagner architectural firm in Fresno, which did quite a bit of work in Merced.

In 1949 he established a Merced office for Wagner and later became one of seven partners in the business. Not wanting to be part of a big company, DuPertuis went his own way, establishing a 33-year local partnership with Robert Hesse, who now lives in Fresno. He retired 11 years ago.

As for his style, DuPertuis said he feels free to leave some things out and usually doesn't draw real detail, leaving that to the viewer's imagination.

Still the pen-and-ink drawings of turn-of-the-century Merced houses captured in "Homes of Old Merced" from 15 years ago, and the January 2006 update "Homes of Old Merced: Town and Country," appear replete with detailed architectural features. He also authored and illustrated "God and the Gold Pan" four years ago, which shows Mother Lode churches built by the 49ers.

"I'd like to be able to be as good as I used to be and better than I am now," he mused. "You never do as well as you should."

DuPertuis' work is showcased at the Arbor Gallery in Merced's Multicultural Arts Center. Staci Santa, executive director of the Merced County Regional Arts Council, said all the artists represented in the gallery possess extraordinary talents. That's why Merced is so lucky to have such a large pool of talented artists, she added.

DuPertuis is in the midst of creating paintings for the Central Presbyterian Church weekly bulletins. When he taught a Bible class years ago, he would draw a portrait of the subject of that week's lesson. He has done about 30 portraits of Abraham, Joseph, St. Paul, John, Peter, Esther and Solomon, with more to come.

What drives DuPertuis to keep creating works of art?

"I have to do it," DuPertuis said. "Since I can do it, I should. Whatever your talent is, you should do something with it. It (art) is not my profession; I don't have to please anybody. I've been painting a lot of years; now I can do it a lot more."

It takes him about 20 hours, usually a week's time, to finish a painting.

Artists' talents often span other forms of expression. DuPertuis said he still plays the piano once in a while and enjoys writing poetry and children's stories. About 25 years ago DuPertuis contributed editorial cartoons to the Sun-Star for about a decade and still keeps his hand in this specialized form of artistry.

While many people take a camera with them when they travel, DuPertuis brings his sketchbook. Spending some time drawing out the features of a particular scene helps him remember it better than a photograph.

DuPertuis' favorite artist is a Denver-area watercolorist named William Matthews. He also likes the work of Dutch artist Rien Poortvliet, and Western artists.

Some paintings almost paint themselves, DuPertuis said, while others fight you the whole time. Those that paint themselves usually are the best ones, while results from the struggles are less predictable.

If art imitates life, then DuPertuis has amassed a rich heritage, drawing on long-hewn talents to depict the variety and color that surrounds Merced.

Associate Editor Doane Yawger can be reached at 209 385-2485 or