Bob Ulsh and Roy Carr don’t mind one whit if you call them “old geezers.”
For the South Kitsap artists, being a geezer is a source of pride. The two have been part-time painters for decades. But they’ve shared a decades-long passion for creating nature and maritime scenes on canvas.
Ulsh and Carr have dozens of their works on exhibit through the end of April at the Sidney Art Gallery in Port Orchard. The name of the art show? “Two Old Geezers,” naturally.
The show hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, and 1-4 p.m. on Sunday.
Ulsh took a fancy to painting at age 10 when his mother bought him a cardboard painting set filled with art supplies suitable for a beginner. Carr took up the hobby later in life, after he transferred in 1978 to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. He began dabbling in pastels after joining the South Kitsap Arts Association; today, he is the organization’s president.
Often painting side-by-side during their years as members of the arts association, these hobbyists became full-time friends for life. Just as an artist’s paint bonds to the canvas, Ulsh and Carr’s friendship has endured well into their retirement years.
Their lives have run parallel in many respects. Both men worked in the design division at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. Their lives became even more intertwined when Ulsh, 84, suffered a stroke two years ago and another earlier this year. The strokes have been life-changing for Ulsh, but Carr keeps watch over his painting buddy. He drives him to artist events and, on this day, gives Ulsh an arm to grab onto as he navigates the Sidney gallery’s stairs. But while Ulsh’s brushstrokes and step are a little slower, his mind continues to create new ideas destined for the canvas.
“I get immersed in it,” Ulsh said of painting. “When I don’t like what I’ve painted, I’ll change it completely. And I never keep something I don’t like.”
Carr differs. “Bob and I are different. I don’t throw my art away.” “That’s because he’s so good,” Ulsh quipped.
Carr was a relative latecomer to painting. He first dabbled in art in seventh grade but began seriously studying art and painting regularly in the early 1980s.
After retirement, Carr ventured into the homebuilding field as a contractor, but it became too much work — he decided it didn’t leave him enough time to paint. Now unencumbered by “work,” Carr said he has plenty of time as a man of leisure to “just paint.
”One of Carr’s paintings, “Morning Fish,” depicts fishermen trying their luck in a boat. Carr said he takes “bits and pieces” of nature he sees around him and combines them images from his own imagination.
Ulsh’s best-known work is likely the 12-panel mural he painted that hangs on Sidney Art Gallery’s west-facing exterior wall. It depicts a timeline of Port Orchard’s history starting in the late 1880s. Ulsh said the mural panels were so large he wasn’t able to see the finished product until they were installed. “And it was fantastic. It all came together,” he said.
When Roy and Bob met, Ulsh was firmly an oil-painter; Roy liked to work with pastels.
“I used to kid Roy and tell him he needed to switch over to oil,” Ulsh said. And Carr did, but not without a bit of trepidation: “I always liked oils but was a little intimidated by it.
”Both say oil paint provides artists with the ability to mix and create any color of the rainbow, something not possible when using pastels. The pastel medium is applied as a dry pigment to the canvas and can’t be tested beforehand
.“Art is something that’s always constantly moving for me and Bob,” Carr said. “Occasionally you’ll reach a plateau with your work. Then you learn a new technique and then can move forward.”
Ulsh is also a historian who’s an area expert on early Puget Sound steamboats, including the mosquito fleet that plied the waterways of Kitsap County. He is penning a book that delves into the subject of “chemistry for painters” (he was a technical writer during his shipyard days, and is a much sought-after painting restoration artist).
Ulsh said his book reveals what he calls “bogus” products that line art-shop shelves worldwide. Those oil paints contain solvents, Ulsh said, including a petroleum byproduct called benzine that shortens the lifespan of paintings and alters their colors.
The amiable painter and aspiring author also is writing a memoir of a time in his early years when he and some friends headed by plane to Central America. They barely escaped an uncertain fate in Managua, Nicaragua, when dictator Anastasio Somoza sent out a squadron of troops to meet their plane after it had landed — (“We all didn’t have a brain in our heads,” Ulsh said.) — As if that wasn’t frightening enough, the plane had been piloted by a 19-year-old friend who hadn’t yet obtained his pilot’s license.
“We were saved by the immigration people, who put us in a taxi and had us whisked away,” Ulsh said.
The two painters are busy, but they say they do spend time with their wives and family. Ulsh has been married to Sandra for “eons,” he said — 47 years to be precise. He claimed his love of aviation and “other distractions” delayed marriage plans until he reached his 30s. The Ulshes have a son, Brian, who lives in Seabeck.
Carr and his childhood sweetheart, Linda, have been married for 55 years. They have a son, Rick, and daughters Kathy and Cheri.
Although their show ends April 30, the two “geezers” will present a couple of paintings at another art show at Sidney Art Gallery May 3-28, during the 46th annual Helen Norris Open Art Show. Norris was a former gallery manager and a noted area painter.
The Sidney Art Gallery and Museum is located at 202 Sidney Ave. in Port Orchard.