Artists create their works using many different media: paint, clay, stone, pencil - the list goes on and on.
Hank Fleischer, a community member at Fox Run, the Erickson Senior Living community in Novi, Mich., gets his inspiration from office supplies—specifically colored file folders.
“I was going against the trend. As people were going paperless, I was going paper,” Hank jokes.
He follows in the footsteps of his dad: “My dad naturally picked up painting during his retirement years, around the age of 80. A real prodigy. I wasn’t quite as smart as he was, so I started at 84,” Hank says with a laugh.
Hunting for a hobby
After Hank retired from his career as an engineer—and finished every project on the “honey-do” list that his wife Rhoda gave him—he was looking for a hobby. One day, he stumbled across someone creating art with paper cutouts.
Feeling inspired, Hank went home and started cutting paper. But he wasn’t as good as the artist he had seen. Rhoda said, “You’re an engineer. Why don’t you draw what you know? Use your compass and make circles and triangles.”
After Hank began drawing, Rhoda made another suggestion: she told him to try making his work three-dimensional. As much as Hank loved Rhoda’s idea, it required some experimentation. He tried working with regular paper, but that was too flimsy. Then he used cardboard, but it wasn’t malleable.
“Then I saw my file folders. They were just sturdy enough,” Hank recalls.
Hank knew that he wanted to use triangular shapes as the basis for his sculptures. He began folding and cutting the file folders, using trigonometry, geometry, and algebra to determine the proper angles. After rounds of trial and error, he ended up with a pyramid form. And by putting two pyramids together—apexes on opposite ends—he built a 3-D shape that could tessellate.
“I used that as my basic module for construction—for making penguins, swans, cats, owls, and a peacock,” he says.
A full-time ‘job’
Hank immersed himself in these projects, working eight or nine hours every day of the week. When he first started, Hank kept track of the time and materials he put into a project. “Rhoda made me keep a record,” says Hank. “In one piece, I used a quart of glue to hold it together!”
Hank starts each sculpture by placing six pyramids in a circle, which creates a star. “I just start putting them together from there, and my mind wanders,” he says. “I can hardly wait to put enough pieces together to see what it looks like. It’s very rewarding.”
Hank has since created countless pieces of artwork. His latest is an “approximation” of the Eiffel Tower, which is made of more than 4,000 pyramids and took him roughly a year to complete. Although Hank lives in a spacious two-bedroom, two-bath apartment; Hank rents a guest suite at Fox Run for visiting family members because his second bedroom houses more than 100 pieces of art. “Even the closet is full!” Hank admits.
Last year, Hank exhibited three of his works grouped together as one entry titled Birds of a Feather, at the Grand Rapids Art Festival. Many people got to see his pieces—a peacock, a phoenix, and a turkey—and he was interviewed by a local TV station. He says he created the trilogy in honor of Rhoda, who passed away a little more than a year after they moved to Fox Run.
To make intricate yet elaborate pieces as he does, Hank says you need two ingredients: patience and perseverance. “If you have those two, then everything else will follow,” he says.
When creating his art, Hank has three goals in mind.
Don't be afraid of math!
“First, I wanted to show young people that they don’t have to be afraid of mathematics. Math is a beautiful subject, and it served me well during my years as an engineer. The second thing is that I wanted to prove that a 98-year-old guy—almost a centenarian—can still soar with the young eagles,” says Hank. “And lastly, art doesn’t have to be done with a computer. With just a pencil, paper, a compass, and a ruler, you can go to work right away.”
The first step toward enjoying maintenance-free retirement living and pursuing hobbies at Fox Run is to request a free brochure.