Santa Rosa artist Lewis S. Miskelly has one wish before turning 101 in May
Santa Rosa resident Lewis S. Miskelly discovered the beauty of watercolors after some mist splattered on his paper as he sailed around Greenland during World War II.
“Painting makes me feel like I belong,” Miskelly said. “It helps me understand myself.”
The dapper artist turns 101 on May 14, and his one wish is for his life’s artwork to be displayed in a gallery. His neighbor, Michèle Misino de Luca, is helping him fulfill that wish.
His life’s work of watercolor paintings will be displayed at her studio at Fulton Crossing Art Gallery now through March 26.
Miskelly, born in 1922, grew up in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, alongside a younger brother and older sister. His father worked as a secretary for a congressman in Pennsylvania, and his mother was a housekeeper.
“A darn good one, too,” he said with a laugh.
When he was 20, he served in the U.S. Coast Guard where he painted the men on the ship who were “nice enough to hold still.” He since traveled independently across Europe and took photos and painted people on the streets of China, a culture he grew to love.
“That’s what I love about them, they eat veggies and live simply,” Miskelly said of the people of China.
Switzerland was his favorite place to visit, he said, since walking and hiking is the way of life there.
Miskelly was born with the gift of artistry. At 5, he took an illustration out of an edition of the Saturday Evening Post, an American magazine, and drew it exactly as it was, he said. After that moment, he didn’t stop.
“When I paint, I lose any sense of time,” Miskelly said. “It’s the same feeling I get when I’m walking in the forest all alone, through the trees, and listening to the birds. It gives me a feeling of solitude.
“I painted because I wanted to be loved.”
He continued his passion and went on to study illustrative art at Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art. After the war, in 1946, he studied at the San Francisco Art Institute while living in Stinson Beach.
When he was 52, he learned how to surf. He cruised the waves of Pacifica and Santa Cruz until he was 85. He does tai chi everyday and still loves biking and driving his car.
For most of his life, he worked as a structural engineer and naval architect, which took he, his late wife June and four kids from Marconi to Petaluma in 1963. He worked until he was 75.
Aside from his day job, hobbies and adventures, painting remained a constant in his life. He has stacks of paintings stored in his closet to prove it. A room inside his apartment is full of simple hobbies that have brought him delight all these years. His multiple Chinese paintbrushes rest in a tin container near his bedside, his yellow surfboard with his name on it leans against a wall.
“Wherever we went, dad was always painting or sketching,” said his oldest daughter Vickie Chapman, 75, who lives in Forestville. “It’s his lifelong passion.”
Perhaps doing things he loved afforded him a long life, but he said he’s also managed to avoid life’s vices, like smoking, drinking or eating meat.
Having good genes, too, doesn’t hurt. (Miskelly’s grandfather lived until he was 96.)
“These are remarkable genes,” his daughter said while pointing to him.
Miskelly isn’t yet considered a supercentenarian — a person who has reached the age of 110. He’s still behind a handful of people who have mastered the gift of longevity. The oldest living person is Maria Branyas Morera, 116, of Spain, according to Gerontology Research Group. The third oldest living person is Willits resident Edie Ceccarelli at 115.
“I’ve lived it all,” Miskelly said. “I’ve never regretted my life once.”
When asked what’s the key to a good life, Miskelly responded: “Honesty.”
You can reach Staff Writer Mya Constantino at email@example.com. @searchingformya on Twitter.
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