Donna Thomas 4-1
By Matt Helm
BELVIDERE ─ Donna Thomas believes that painting is something you’re never too old to do. The local artist teaches painting classes for seniors Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Keen Age Center.
“It will be four years this August since I’ve started painting classes at the Keen Age Center,” Thomas said. “It was supposed to be a six to eight week course, but they just keep coming.”
Thomas is a mostly self taught painter with 30 years of experience.
“People admired my work and requested that I teach classes,” Thomas said. “I started out with a class at my church as a service project, which turned into a once a month class, which then turned into a once a week class. That was ten years ago.”
Thomas teaches a third set of classes Tuesday night and Wednesday morning in her home studio for seniors who are still working or who are recently retired.
Donna Thomas -2“I try to keep the prices very reasonable,” Thomas said. “I provide paints, brushes and tablets for framing and matting. I have beginner lessons but once they get the hang of it my students start telling me what they want to paint.”
Donna assists her students in painting anything from scenery, pet pictures, Christmas cards and portraits.
“I make sure that the seniors sign their paintings so they can have something for posterity,” Thomas said. “I enjoy helping them paint gifts they can pass on. I love hearing ‘grandma I can’t believe you painted that,’ it makes it all worth it.”
Thomas and her students enter their work into competitions like the Boone County Fair and many win ribbons.
“My oldest painter is named Louise Miles and she is 91-years-old,” Thomas said. “She grew up in Belvidere and is very involved in the community. She paints a lot of historical pictures, like the water mill and her grandfather’s farm. It’s very much like therapy almost. A lot of my students call it therapy class.”
Thomas’ basement studio features a “Wall of Fame” with photographs of all of her student artists and their artwork. Some of her students venture out to painting on saw blades, old milk cans, wood and even finch, ostrich and chicken eggs.
Donna Thomas 2 -3“What keeps us coming is the social aspect,” student Gerri Gerlach said. “We are all friends. We all feel for each other when somebody is hurting. You don’t see each other for three hours a week once a week without becoming close.”
Every other month the Keen Age Center displays senior artwork in the foyer.
“Donna is fabulous, there’s nobody that has taken her class that couldn’t paint afterwards,” student Carol Smith said. “She really is a great teacher and anybody you’d ask would say the same thing. She’s easygoing and very helpful.”
Student Cathy Cline is working on a painting of a wolf for her grandson.
“I warn the girls, once you start doing pets and animals everybody is going to want one,” Thomas said. “It’s rewarding to help people accomplish something they never thought they could do. I do this for the seniors who need something new in their life. They really can paint; all they have to do is give it a try.”
Donna Thomas and some of her students will exhibit their art at the 23rd Annual Rockford Egg Art Show and Sale at the Midway Village Museum Saturday and Sunday April 2 and 3.
Donna Thomas 3 -4“I help my students matte and frame their paintings when they are done,” Thomas said. “I love seeing the look of surprise on their face when they see the finished product of what they’ve done. They go home happy and proud of something that they’ve accomplished here. I am happy to have helped them achieve that.”

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