On Christmas Eve in 2009, Tom Day — an Air Force veteran of 23 years, who served as a test flight engineer — suffered a stroke, leading to a diagnosis of Broca’s aphasia and apraxia of speech; damage to the area of the brain involved in forming sentences, which makes it profoundly difficult to speak.
Additionally, the stroke resulted in right-side hemiparesis, a condition that causes Day to use his nondominant left hand for daily activities.
Before his stroke, Day had little interest in drawing or painting. (In the words of his family, “He never drew anything but a paycheck.”) To help supplement Day’s speech, his clinician gave him a pad and pencils and asked him to go home and draw anything. He began to draw to communicate — drawings unusually detailed and spatially aware.
On Father’s Day 2012, his adult children gave him art supplies. Slowly, he began to explore the process of oil painting using his nondominant left hand. In the process, he discovered an ability and passion for painting.
His work was stunning. Day’s therapist sought artistic help at the University of South Florida and encountered renowned Ruskin artist Dolores Coe.
“I began a very small pilot project that has been evolving and expanding into a program over the past two years, working with and inspired by Tom,” Coe said. “It is centered on a shared studio experience with clients with aphasia and also open to caregivers and clinicians who work with them. I work with and mentor advanced arts students to facilitate and work side by side, as artists, with participants.”
Several of Tom Day’s paintings, from his first to his most recent, are now on display at the SouthShore Regional Library in Ruskin. The paintings show the development of an artist; subtle nuances change and appear over the timeline. Coe points out that the exhibition is not of the Aphasia Open Studio work but rather Day’s independent paintings.
“The show and the focus is Tom’s paintings, and his quite remarkable path into art making,” Coe said.
The paintings include current works that are primarily focused on landscape and the natural world he enjoys. He often creates paintings based on the photographs that he and his wife take together. Day also participates in Art-in-Health’s Arts Studio for Aphasia project at the University of South Florida. USF Art in Health is a program of the USF Contemporary Art Museum.
An opening reception for the current exhibit was held July 2, with Laurie Burhop, art coordinator of the SouthShore Regional Library, welcoming the many attendees and opening a discussion that involved both Day’s therapist and Coe.
The exhibition will run through July. It is open to the public for viewing. The SouthShore Regional Library is at 15816 Beth Shields Way in Ruskin.
Tom Day lives in Tampa with his wife, Hatsumi. They have three adult children — Yukiko, Minako and Tommy — all very supportive of his artwork.
Tom Day maintains an art blog called “Artist by Day” at http://tartistday.blogspot.com.