Madison man finds therapy through art

Published: Jan. 20, 2020 at 7:29 PM CST
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At almost 75 years old, a Madison man is discovering a new passion for the arts, using it as a kind of therapy.

Don Lueck turned to painting after a tough diagnosis a few years ago, and it has become something he loves and wants to share with everyone else.

"There's nothing I can do about the world, but I can bring a little paint to people," Lueck said.

Lueck spends several hours painting every day, starting at 4 a.m. and churning out one watercolor after another.

"At least 20 a day. The most I ever did I think was 38 in one day," Lueck said.

However, even a year ago, Lueck was not a prolific artist.

"I had never done any kind of artwork like that at all," Lueck explained.

That changed when a doctor diagnosed him with mild dementia three years ago.

Lueck's wife Jenny Villwock heard that learning something new could help her husband's diagnosis, so she signed both of them up for a watercolor class.

Lueck said he is not great at following instructions, but his art teacher Kathy Engelberger, encouraged him to paint whatever he wanted.

"They'd have all these beautiful designs, and I'd come up with something like that," Lueck joked, holding up one of his abstract paintings.

After just a few months, Villwock said she noticed a difference.

"His thinking skills seemed to improve, be bumped up," Villwock remembered. Villwock added that at Lueck's last evaluation, doctors said his cognition skills remained steady and credited the result in part to his painting.

Lueck has no plans to put down his brush.

"I shouldn't just sit there now on a couch and figure that my life is over," he said.

Every creation - Lueck calls them "critters" - has a story.

"Oh this guy is having a really bad day, or these two figures are impinging on this figure and he's looking weird, or these two guys are friends and they've known each other a long time," Villwock described.

For Lueck, what started as a hobby has become much more.

"All these different things represent to me all the diversity of life that there is," Lueck said.

For Villwock, seeing her husband find so much joy in this new passion has changed her life.

"This whole experience has made me realize, we don't have to fight this, we can just go with it and still be successful," she explained.

In the last year, Lueck has created over 3,000 paintings, and he continues to paint between 10 and 20 every day.

In early January, Villwock and Lueck, with the help of Kathy Engelberger and her husband Mike Engelberger, hosted an art show at Fitchburg's Oasis Café, featuring a small selection of Lueck's paintings.

"I love that the people really love the paintings," Villwock said.

Some of Lueck's paintings will be on display at Oasis Café through February.

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