In his retirement, at 88, Jerry Norton is a contented, happy artist.
“I think I died and went to heaven, because my studio before was my garage,” Norton said one recent day as he walked into The San Pablo Art Studio at The Starling Independent Living condominiums in Nocatee.
Before moving into his unit at The Starling, he said, “I had my car, the water softener and a table next to the water softener, so this is quite the upgrade. Not a lot of residents paint here.” So far, “In fact, I’m the only one.”
Norton is well known to many in the Ponte Vedra Beach community, because for many years he coached children’s sports and photographed and wrote sports stories for the Ponte Vedra Recorder.
He very recently coached his last football game and no longer covers sports, but he has embraced a new hobby, in which he is finding success. He is a painter, and a prolific one. His many paintings hang on the walls of the Starling art studio, and he only seriously began his new craft in January 2019.
He doesn’t call himself an artist, however. “I’m a copy artist,” he said. “I don’t create anything. I take what others do and I copy it.”
Norton copies well enough to sell some of his works to other residents, who enjoyed an exhibit of his paintings at the recent grand opening of the independent living center at The Starling.
He doesn’t paint for money, however, donating the modest proceeds to charity.
While the spacious Starling studio is designed to accommodate many artists, Norton is glad to fill the space with his supplies and works for now. On one table sits an easel with a painting of his grandfather, Jesus Vidal, who was friends with Sorolla, a famous Spanish impressionist. Norton’s painting is a direct copy of one that Sorolla painted of Vidal, which Norton’s sister has hanging at her home.
On one wall of the studio, Norton’s paintings are displayed as in a miniature art gallery. There is a copy of a Monet sunset in France, and also a copy of a painting of the Brooklyn Bridge, which Norton admired, although he didn’t know the name of the original artist.
“I don’t know who painted a lot of these things,” he said. He finds some images on the internet, including one of his favorites, a little girl on the beach.
Norton painted a few pictures years ago, after retiring from a career as Director of Engineering at Grumman, but he put art aside to focus on sports coaching, photography and writing instead.
He was motivated to resume painting after a visit to the Mayo Clinic pain clinic in September 2018, where he went to get help managing his pain.
“Painting manages pain great for me,” he said, better than medication. “When I paint, I don’t think about things that ail me. So, I paint many hours a day. When I’m not playing Bridge or in the pool.”
Writing used to serve that purpose for Norton, and he said even though he is not covering sports events anymore, he has not given up writing altogether. Through the years, he wrote several nonfiction books, including a memoir, and is currently writing another book, “88 and Counting.” He doesn’t write books for the money, either, but he does donate proceeds to The Junior Development League Football youth program in Ponte Vedra Beach, which he founded in 1998.
Proceeds from his art also goes to the Starling Independent Living Activities Resource Fund.
Norton said he is not happy with everything he paints, but it’s okay that he likes some of his works better than others. He doesn’t take art lessons, saying he’s too old, but he does learn by doing.
“I’m happy as a clam here,” he said, looking around “his” art studio. “It really is a great place.”