Chuck Haston said he didn’t know if he had an artistic flair. The former judge picked up a paint brush some 25 years ago as an experiment to see what he might create.
Consider it an experiment painted in a positive light. Haston quickly discovered his canvas could be a powerful portal of expression as his designs jumped to life and captured imagination.
Now Haston has decided to call it quits. He held his final art show Thursday night at Magness Library, a well-attended social gathering that stimulated more conversation about his paintings and their vibrancy.
“This is my swansong,” said Haston, 79. “I actually stopped painting about a year ago. I haven’t picked up a brush since. Now I mostly watch TV,” he said with a laugh.
Haston’s artwork was for sale during the show and remains on display at the library until May 31. Prints can still be purchased and all money from the sales benefits Magness Library. Sales thus far have generated $3,000 for the library, according to director Brad Walker.
“I don’t think some people realized how talented he is,” said Walker. “With some of his paintings, it’s amazing the precision. Then on other paintings, like his butterfly, it’s so whimsical. It’s not something you’d think of from him.”
Haston certainly presented a hard-nosed, no-nonsense persona during his years on the Circuit Court bench. Some referred to the former judge as “Hang ’Em High” Haston, while others said they were scared of him – on the bench, or off it.
But that menacing exterior is only a silhouette of a man who deeply appreciates the arts and higher learning.
“He’s just a small-toy boy from Spencer,” said library volunteer Carol Caldwell, who spent about two months organizing the art show. “For him, growing up in rural America, this library opened the door for him. It was a great source of knowledge. He did a lot of the research for his paintings here at the library. He was so meticulous on his details. He wanted everything to be perfect. That’s why he did so much research. I know this library has meant a lot of him and that’s why he wanted to have this show and donate everything he made from it back to the library.”
Haston’s butterfly pictured, entitled “Flutter-Bys,” is one of his most popular. While a variety of butter-flies are the focus, the painting also features castles from Austria, fairies, and a lakeside village he once visited.
A painting he did for Dr. Norman Rone called “Rone Eyeways to the Stars” took an entirely different twist. Rone had requested a painting of a tree, but got something entirely different -- an orbital glimpse of the solar system with a peek into aerial travel.
“Dr. Rone had asked me to do a landscape painting for him to put in his office, but I can’t paint landscapes,” said Haston. “I saw an old Pan Am Airlines poster and my imagination just took off from there. The result is this painting.”
Haston’s last painting “A Lot of Planes,” has never been finished. It was originally intended for the Na-val Air Museum in Pensacola, Fla., and includes over 20 planes flying over two aircraft carriers.
“The sheer number of planes and the detail required to portray each one just go to be too much,” said Haston in giving his reason for stopping before completion.
“This painting represents the end of an era,” said Caldwell while looking at the planes. “I think his goal is perfection and he’s not going to be satisfied with anything less. When he saw he wasn’t going to be able to get that, I think that’s why he stopped.”