Framed pastel paintings of animals hang on the living room walls of Terry Simon’s home in West Hempstead — and she has even more pictures in boxes. In recent years, Simon’s artwork has been shown at exhibits in Rockville Centre and Garden City. Now she has her first solo art exhibit in the downstairs lobby at the West Hempstead Public Library from now to February.
A retired paralegal, Simon, 73, hadn’t painted for more than 30 years. “It took a little while to kind of get my feet wet again, and remember the laws of perspective and color theory,” she said.
Simon, who grew up in the Bronx, said she had long been interested in art. She studied fashion illustration and advertising design at the New York Phoenix School of Design from 1964 to 1966, but she decided to pursue other work, because maintaining a career in the field was difficult. Instead, she took part in a medical training program at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, and worked in the college’s histology lab in 1966. She then went to Hunter College at night while working in the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s metabolic lab, doing research on dietary practices that could help cancer patients.
Then Simon switched careers again, earning a paralegal certification at Queens College in the late ’70s and working as a paralegal until her retirement in 2010. Shortly afterward, she became a member of Hofstra University’s Personal Enrichment in Retirement, in which retirees and semiretired older adults meet and interact in a variety of programs. She has run the curriculum there for the past three years.
In 2016, Simon’s son, Jeffrey Kunis, suggested that she return to her childhood passion. “He told me, ‘It’s time now, Ma,’” Simon recalled. “So I said, ‘You know what? I think I’m going to give it a try.’”
Simon came across local art courses conducted by the Town of Hempstead and joined a pastels program taught by artist Jane McGraw-Teubner once a week.
Simon meets her classmates at Harold Walker Memorial Park’s recreational center in Lakeview to paint during their spare time. “It’s easy to get sidetracked when you’re doing this by yourself, but having a group to paint with works much better,” she said.
Simon had done oil painting when she was younger and painted landscapes, but this was her first time working with pastels. She said that each painting takes anywhere from six to 18 hours, depending on how detailed it is.
“Pastels doesn’t mix like oils,” she explained, “but it’s a wonderful medium, because you don’t have to wait for it to dry. You can layer things, and it’s vibrant.”
Most of her recent work was inspired by her son’s summer trip to Africa, where he photographed animals. Her current exhibit at the library is a mix of landscapes and animals, both wild and domestic, along with a few floral paintings and portraits. Simon said she hesitated to share her work because she was unsure of herself, but her peers kept praising her talent.
Resident artwork is featured at West Hempstead Library’s Artist’s Alley throughout the year. “The paintings are small in size, but they’re very detailed,” said West Hempstead librarian Cynthia HoSang.
Terry’s husband, Alex, inspired some of her paintings at the library. A photographer for more than 50 years, Alex said he takes photos of landscapes during the couple’s annual trip. Their most recent outing was to Michigan.
“It gives her an outlet,” Alex said. “She’s very busy with other things during the day, but when she needs some time to break away and find some peace and comfort, art fills that need.”
Terry said that some of her work would be on sale, but what’s more important to her, she said, is for people to enjoy it. “I hope that people can see that you can start something new like this at any age,” she said. “You never know what you’re capable of doing until you try.”