Barn and farm landscape painting

Deep Dive into Pocahontas’s Artistic Side at Paintings in Oil

It’s a truly special person who can look at a piece of wood or an old clock and see the masterpiece that it could be. Someone who can appreciate the beauty with which the world is endowed and display it for everyone else to see. Jerry Reiter, owner of Paintings in Oil in Pocahontas is one of those remarkable people.

PIO PaintedSaw
Photo source: Jerry Reiter, Paintings in Oil

Having started painting in 1976 when he was 35 years old, Jerry was a latecomer to the art world. However, he has the talent of someone who has been painting his whole life. After moving to Pocahontas to manage the two theaters in town, he met a woman in town that did oil painting. She showed him the style she used, and the two even went to some painting classes together. Eventually, Jerry developed his own unique style from those basics. With his mentor, he worked with oil paints, but now he uses primarily  acrylic because it dries quicker. This is because acrylic paint is water-based while oil is, well, oil-based, “With oil you put one mark on the canvas and it will take a week to dry,” Jerry explains. “Acrylic dries in five to ten minutes so you can layer your painting.”

But Jerry’s style isn’t just unique, it’s phenomenal. When asked when he realized he was good at painting, Jerry explained “I always thought it would be fun to do…and it’s one of those things I believe everyone can do. You just have to want to do it and work at it. If you work long enough, you’re going to get good enough at it.” He may be a little modest. The work he spends hours or even days on is incredibly detailed, with wonderful color composition. He captures the essence of whatever it is he paints. Whether it’s something you can learn or it’s just in you, Jerry certainly has it down.

Jerry’s style of painting isn’t the only interesting thing about the work he creates. His subject matter is based in realism. Jerry says he isn’t one for abstract paintings, “I like something that when you see the mountains, you know you’re actually looking at a mountain. That’s what I try to do.” For example, he paints lots of birds, cardinals and bald eagles especially. He also creates plenty of tractors and nature scenes. What makes his work even more uncommon is what he paints on. Jerry started out doing everything on basic canvas and frames. Now, there are very few of those in his shop. Instead, he works a lot with found objects. Frequenting places like Goodwill and flea markets, Jerry looks for items with a good existing structure that he can repurpose. He gives new life to plenty of old pieces like 60s style clocks, antique saw blades, window panes, old records or CDs, and he even takes old tin cans, has them cut up, and makes them into flower yard decorations. His art is irreplaceable. You can’t find someone else who does art this way – Jerry puts so much thought and care into these pieces, and you can feel that when you look at what he does.

Man holds wooden slab with oil painting
Photo source: Jerry Reiter, Paintings in Oil

Jerry also really likes to work with wood. He absolutely loves finding a beautiful piece of wood because it’s “ half the painting right there – finding where the bark is unique. I love the way it comes in and goes back out. That is the most fun. Just painting on a tile is okay, but I like something that’s different.” His favorite element to work with may be wood, but his favorite subject matter is birds. Cardinals, bald eagles, and pheasants are some of his favorites. However, the most difficult thing for Jerry to paint is tractors, “They’re a little bit of a hassle to paint sometimes because they have to be just right.” Though tractors aren’t the only thing that he has issues with. Jerry has some stories where people have come wanting something really different, but he won’t take the commission if he just doesn’t think it will turn out the way he wants it to. And that’s really important to Jerry. If he doesn’t believe he can produce something of the best quality, he won’t do it. Though it’s hard to believe there’s anything he can’t paint because what he does do is simply flawless.  

Jerry has gone above and beyond the things he can put in his shop. One of the biggest things he’s ever painted is in the recreational room at a Le Mars apartment house. The apartment house, which is where the old hospital used to be, was where his mom and grandma lived for a while. So in the late 1970s, Jerry painted a winter barn theme on 3 or 4 of the walls. He’s pretty sure the painting is still there to this day. 

What Jerry really would love to paint someday is a silo. He thinks the people who are able to do that are truly amazing, and he really wants to give it a shot. When asked what he’d paint on a silo, he said it would have to be a farm scene. “When I think of Iowa, I think of old barns and maybe a pheasant flying up from the with a fence, a post fence, and maybe an old tractor,” Jerry explains. “That’s what I would do when I do Iowa. I think it would be beautiful.” And if his other works are anything to go by, it would be absolutely enchanting.

PIO Birds
Photo source: Jerry Reiter, Paintings in Oil

The inspiration for Jerry’s artwork comes from all over. Personally, he’s been very inspired by Bob Ross. He thinks watching him, especially early on when he was still doing oil, was very helpful to him developing his style. Lots of his ideas come from pictures he’s seen, “You know when you’re traveling, you see these pictures of old barns and I think you get inspired by that. I love the new cameras and phones you got now because they take beautiful pictures.” All that traveling has also given him plenty of ideas for new paintings. He and his wife have gone all over the United States on vacation and to visit their children. While he’s exploring, he keeps all of the things he’s seen in his head, so he can paint them later. One places he was inspired by was Utah, saying it was incredibly beautiful out there, especially Devil’s Tower. In fact, he painted Devil’s Tower for his son with a B-2 bomber flying over it because his son works on B-2 bombers. However, you can only give so much art to family and friends, and Jerry had so many pieces that he definitely needed to find a wider audience. This is what led him to start selling his art. He started as a vendor at the Clay County Fair and has continued to sell there for the last 19 years. In fact, Jerry gets a lot of commission work from the fair as it draws over 300,000 people. But he sells mainly smaller pieces there. For bigger pieces he opened his store Paintings in Oil. It’s a great place for him to share his hobby during his retirement, and he gets a lot of painting done every day in between talking with people visiting or traveling through the town. These are the best things about painting to him: staying busy, meeting new people, and getting to hear their stories.

PIO Cannisters
Photo source: Jerry Reiter, Paintings in Oil

Jerry offers classes at his shop for people wanting to learn like he did once upon a time. He teaches the Bob Ross style which he has always been fascinated with. Of course, Bob Ross uses oil paint. His style is wet on wet where the whole canvas is painted white, then you mix your paint as you are painting. The whole idea is that you can work with it for half an hour and it’s still wet. “It looks easy, but it’s really not,” Jerry says. Instead, he uses acrylic paint when he teaches. Also, he usually will only teach scenery. 

Through all of this, Jerry has given a lot back to the community that has supported him and his shop. He’s always eager to offer donations for any event. He donates a lot to veterans, specifically. Usually, this is in the form of gift cards, but if someone comes to him and wants something specialized for their event, he won’t say no. He’s grateful to all the people who have helped support his hobby and encouraged him along the way, and he wants to help encourage other people who might be looking to get into the art world. 

Jerry has advice for people looking to make a living as an artist. First of all, Jerry recommends finding a place you can afford if you’re looking to open your own shop or gallery. “Starving artist is a real thing,” he says. “You have to sell a lot of stuff to make a living. I always tell people that I could never make a living doing this.” It’s definitely different to sell art from a retiree’s standpoint than it is to sell art as someone looking to make a living from it. He recommends starting slow by being a vendor at local shows or fairs first. Also, since you have to sell a lot of product to make ends meet, you have to have a lot of product. Jerry recommends spending as much time as possible making your pieces, so you have a lot available for people to buy. Finally, and most importantly, keep at it. “People get discouraged. When you first start out, and you paint something and it just never looks right – I still do that. It takes a lot of time. You just have to keep at it and work at it. That’s what I would recommend: just stay with it,” Jerry advises.

PIO Winter
Photo source: Jerry Reiter, Paintings in Oil

But selling isn’t what’s most important to Jerry. What he sells and what he makes isn’t how he defines success with his artistic hobby. “I think success is loving to do it,” he says. “You like to sell things, but I don’t charge much…it’s a hobby. I think success is painting something and someone loving it and buying it. If I don’t make a lot of money, that doesn’t matter to me.” Jerry is special and one-of-a-kind, without a doubt. His eye for detail and beauty is inspiring, and you can get a chance to see this amazing beauty when you look at one of his paintings.

If you find yourself in Pocahontas, stop in and see Jerry. You can schedule a class with him in advance or just come and browse what’s already on the shelves. He has plenty of stories to tell and tons of art for you to look at and purchase. If nothing catches your eye, you can commission a work from him, and it’ll be the best piece you’ve ever received. Jerry doesn’t stop at good enough, and he doesn’t stop at almost perfect. Jerry goes until he is satisfied that what he has created is the best it can possibly be. That’s how he does everything in his life, to the best of his ability and never stopping at second place. There’s plenty to learn and experience at Paintings in Oil, and you’ll always leave with a smile on your face.

If you want to learn more or see some of his art, visit his Facebook page Paintings in Oil by Jerry Reiter. You can send him a message to set up a class, to arrange a visit time, or request a commission.

Arts & Culture Posted August 10, 2020

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