91-year-old painter finds youth in art

Stephen Geinosky

Paintings sit tucked away in every corner of Don Oldt’s apartment. His kitchen table is littered with half-used oil paint tubes, paper towels and a poster with old newspaper clippings.

Oldt’s apartment is a mirror-image of his personality. Something is always happening, always in the background.

At 91 years old, he is anything but slow-paced. Between his Tuesday night dances — where he is known as “Disco Don” — and involvement at the Seminary Estates apartment complex he lives in, he finds two hours a day to sit quietly and paint.

Oldt’s easel holds an unfinished snowy landscape he began working on June 29. He found the inspiration for the painting from one of his earlier pieces above his TV.

“I think of snow when it’s hot,” Oldt joked. “And I only have one other snow scene.”

It takes Oldt no more than a week to complete a painting, but he is never in a rush. He usually will be found painting only after lunch.

Staying busy is the key for Oldt. When he entered retirement, the first question he asked himself was, “What is there to do with my time?”

That’s where painting re-entered his life.

What began as a hobby when he was in college at Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, turned into a way to earn an extra buck and eventually became a hobby again.

Originally Oldt used cardboard and black and white enamel paints because he could not afford more expensive, traditional supplies. After a while he moved up to oil paints, but cost again became a factor and pushed him to wood sculptures.

“I saw a guy displaying plastic fishing villages and said, ‘I can do that,’ ” Oldt recalled.

But once he entered retirement, painting crept back into his life. Soon he was back to $8 oil paint tubes and $75 canvases.

Oldt’s passion outweighs the cost, though. Self-taught, he attributes his skills to the “hard-knocks” of painting, also known as practice.

“I don’t think you need an education to paint,” he said. “I think you have to have it in you, and let an education improve it.”

Oldt isn’t completely against classes.

“I can’t do faces,” he said.

Most of his paintings are either landscapes or of structures. His biggest influence is Thomas Kinkade, an artist he often looks to for inspiration.

Oldt said he feels his skills have diminished over the years.

“My paintings don’t compare,” he said contrasting his paintings today to those from the past. “For a man 91 years old, what do you expect?”

But pride isn’t far from Oldt either. He willingly acknowledges he might be the only 91-year-old painter in Galesburg.

Oldt has even profited from his hobby. His first painting sold for $20.

“That really put the flame in me,” Oldt joked.

Now he will be selling his paintings in an art gallery at Seminary Estates from 2-5 p.m. July 25. He wanted Seminary Estates tenants and local residents to see his work, he explained.

“He wants to get everyone involved,” said Susan Meisinger, Seminary Estates manager. “He wants to make sure all the tenants are taking advantage of the activities available.”

The exhibit will showcase paintings created by Oldt throughout his life.

And he has no plans on quitting painting anytime soon.

“Painting makes his quality of life better,” Meisinger said. “He doesn’t want to be treated like an old man.”

And he has no plans to be.

“I absolutely refuse to get old,” Oldt said.

Stephen Geinosky can be reached at