MONTCLAIR N.J.- Ninety-eight-year-old Montclair resident Lou Chodosh spent most of his adult life as a neurologist and psychiatrist, but when he felt no longer mentally stimulated, he signed up for a drawing class and entered a whole new world– Lou Dhodosh discovered pencil art in his 90s.
For those unfamiliar with the medium, this specialty uses pencils for drawing, like painters use brushes. The pencil artist looks at a picture and draws freehand. The photorealism portrayed is so unique it’s hard to believe artists produced the drawings with only a pencil.
The soft-spoken Chodosh was born in Newark, the son of Lithuanian immigrants who emigrated through Ellis Island and settled in Carteret. His father survived WWI, working for the Germans when they were in control of the railroad depot in Vilna, then switching to the Russian side when they invaded the town. When his father arrived in the U.S., he and his brothers opened three candy stores in their new American hometown. They also had the newspaper monopoly for Carteret, a bustling town of 70,000.
Chodosh was not a prolific artist when he was younger. He dabbled in cartoon drawings around the age of 10 or 11, but that was the extent of his involvement. He didn’t know what else to do when he graduated high school, so he applied to engineering school. Chodosh said religious disputes made it challenging to look for a job, and WWII had started.
“The Dean of Stevens Institute came to our school and begged us to go into engineering because the army needed us,” Chodosh said. “I spent two weeks surveying in a camp in Hackensack and decided it was not the right choice. Math wasn’t my favorite subject.”
Since his brothers and cousins entered dentistry and medicine, he attended the University of Virginia and became a doctor. Chodosh picked neurology and psychiatry as his specialties. Psychiatry would provide an income, yet neurology intrigued him. It was a nascent science at the time without modern medical advances such as CAT scans and MRIs.
“It fascinated me you couldn’t see the organ you were trying to diagnose,” Chodosh said. “We simply examined the person’s reflexes, strengths, and sensations. I felt studying the brain differed from reading EKGs and looking at X-rays. It appealed to me.”
Chodosh explained when one side of the brain is exceptionally superior, the other side follows. With an intellectual brain, the strong artistic side backs it up but sometimes hides; it often comes out later. His successful medical career and accomplished artwork prove that Chodosh possessed the brain qualities he described.
Fast-forwarding through his years of practice and retirement, 90-year-old Chodosh remained physically active. He went to the gym, played golf with his son on Sundays, and tried to walk one or two miles a day. But his mind wasn’t active, and he felt something was missing. Coincidentally, he needed to replace a picture frame in the house and remembered seeing a sign in Pencilworks Studio in Little Falls that said they did just that. They also displayed a sign, “Sign up for art classes starting in September.”
“I looked around the studio and observed exquisite pencil drawings on the walls,” Chodosh said.
“As luck would have it, the owner was free to greet me.”
Owner and famed pencil artist Jerry Winick produced much of the artwork on display. Winick had won over 300 awards in his lengthy career. Museums in the New York metropolitan area display some of his drawings. Walking into the studio was no coincidence, Chodosh said. He signed up for class immediately.
“For an hour and a half every Tuesday, I went to the studio,” Chodosh said. “Instead of lectures, students sat on the outside of two long tables with space in between. Winick rolled up and down the middle, helping us with a problem we encountered while drawing.”
“He gave us prompts, teaching rank beginners like me or somebody who had been there for years and needed some touching up. I loved his format.”
Chodosh said the art class occupied much of his time and stimulated his imagination. A year after he started drawing, his wife passed away. She was disabled for a few years, and they had minimal social activity.
“Mental exercise, physical exercise, and social interaction are the three lynchpins required for aging,” Chodosh said. “After my wife passed on, the physical needs I took care of in the gym, the mental exercise was addressed, but socially, I was at a dead end, Chodosh said.
Sadly, the class wasn’t enough to fulfill what he was missing. Women socialized at one end of the room and men at the other. He felt loneliness.
Then, to his surprise, a local paper published an article about the art class with his picture and name. The message in the article was anyone can learn something new, regardless of age. Afterward, people in the class interacted with him. A woman approached him and relayed that 50 years earlier, he had been her infant son’s doctor. By coincidence, she remembered his unusual name, and they started talking.
His new friend was an award-winning pencil drawer and acrylic painter, and they knew many people in common. They sat beside each other weekly, and she advised him on his work. She invited him to her home to look at her artwork.
“At first, I was hesitant,” Chodosh said. “Despite my recent loss, I felt it would be rude to decline the invitation after a few months.”
As time passed, art class led to lunch, then dinner, and they became good social friends. Her friends became his friends. And it fulfilled the one piece that was missing from his life. Chodosh said it was life-changing.
“I had already given up because my wife couldn’t get around. We no longer went to movies, theater, anything,” Chodosh said. “When people live in seclusion without physical, mental, and social activity, they decline much more rapidly.” Chodosh regained his verve for life when he signed up for the art class.
“A couple of years ago, I displayed four of my pictures in an art show here in this building I live in,” Chodosh said. “I have a portfolio with 100 or more since I started drawing eight years ago.” Anyone would agree that’s impressive.
Chodosh, with a gentle smile and enthusiasm for life that comes across in conversation, is an inspiration who reminds us we can do anything we want to at any age. Chodosh attributed his long life to good genes and stellar health. However, one cannot deny that discovering pencil art enhanced his longevity.