Al Horvat’s passion for both art and aviation developed at an early age. Despite two strokes which resulted in medical issues, the 85-year-old retired Realtor has combined his talent and passion into a post-retirement career as a successful award-winning artist. And doing what he loves has had the added benefit of improving his overall health and dexterity.
“I first found my love of aviation when I was 11 years old,” Horvat says. “My dad and uncle took me to the Gary Airport which was located at 61st and Broadway. TRI-Motor landed there and gave rides to people for five dollars. My dad asked me if I wanted to go up and take a ride. I told him ‘yes’ and ever since then aviation was my love.”
At Gary’s Froebel High School, a teacher encouraged Horvat to pursue art as a career. In 1950 he graduated from the Academy of Art in Chicago, Illinois, however, the war and life interfered with the pursuit of his dream.
Married to Rosemary Feczko in 1951, Horvat served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War in Germany. There, Horvat helped set up division maneuvers and was an observer for the Air Division which flew over the Czech border looking for refugees trying to escape Russian control.
After his military service, Horvat sold insurance, later working as a timekeeper for a transportation company and at art instruction schools before beginning his 20-year career as a Realtor. He was President of the Merrillville Board of Realtors in the 1980’s and was named Realtor of the Year during that decade.
In the early stages of his retirement during the 1990’s, Horvat began painting watercolors under Mark Polomchak.
“He was discouraged from not being able to get the amount of detail needed for his aviation art so he naturally progressed to acrylic painting,” Horvat’s daughter Karen Cox says. “However, he started colored pencil workshops with Fred Holly who eventually led him to acrylic detail work in his paintings.”
Horvat says Holly has been his mentor and inspiration.
“At times he has also had health issues but has never let those issues affect his pursuit of his artistic endeavors,” Horvat says.
After Horvat’s stroke in 2003, he had to learn to regain the use of his hands and refine his hand-eye coordination, Cox says. Doctors advised Horvat to resume and pursue his passion for painting with great results.
“Once he returned to painting and his art, his blood pressure returned to normal,” Cox says.
Horvat says his art work has been exhibited in shows and galleries throughout the United States. His proudest accomplishments he says are receiving the Peoples’ Choice Award at an acrylic show in Ohio in 2004, a First Place Award in Cincinnati, Ohio in 2005, First Place and Second Place Awards in the “All Acrylic National Show” in Cleveland, Ohio in 2007 and being selected to represent aviation in a nationwide travelling art show sponsored by the Lily Foundation in 2010-2011.
“I consider myself a life-long learner,” Horvat says. “I always am looking to learn new techniques and I don’t feel anyone can know everything. Also, the older I get the more I look around and realize all the beautiful things around us that we take for granted.”
Horvat’s commissioned paintings include: “Three Corvettes Rule with a Lockheed SR71 Blackbird;” “Balloon Buster;” “Lieutenant Craig;” a painting of Crown Point native and retired astronaut Jerry Ross; and a painting of a lieutenant’s airplane landing on an aircraft carrier.
Most satisfying for Horvat is the enjoyment others get when they look at his artwork.
“Also, I realize that I could paint for the rest of my life and still be able to learn new things,” Horvat says.
To get ideas for his artwork, Horvat constantly reads magazines and books on aviation.
“I often find a particular plane or aviator that interests me,” Horvat says. “Once that peaks my interest, I do research to find out everything I can about the plane. Oftentimes during my research, a story plot develops and I include that story plot when I paint the plane.”
A second stroke in 2010 affected Horvat’s speech and walking.
“He also suffers from left neglect so his brain does not recognize anything to the left of center of his vision,” Cox says. “Of course, as an artist that has provided many challenges but he has not let any of those challenges stop his efforts.”
Horvat’s passion for art was inherited by his daughter and granddaughters.
Horvat says his daughter, a Crown Point High School art teacher and chairperson of the school’s Art Department, and granddaughter Lindsay Cox, also a Crown Point High School art teacher, inspire him.
“Their love of art and teaching is reflected in their everyday life and profession,” Horvat says. “They not only care about their students trying to guide them to be the best artist they can be both artistically and creatively but they truly care about them as individuals.”
Another granddaughter, Alexis Sopher, will attend Indiana University Northwest in the fall of 2014 minoring in art.
Cox credits her dad with fostering her love of art.
“I remember being a young child and my dad always having supplies and materials available to me so I could draw and paint,” Cox says. “Because of that, I was able to participate in my first art show when I was 15. The main accomplishment that impresses me about my dad is the fact that his strokes have not stopped him from working to become the artist that he wants to become.”
Lindsay Cox says she was lucky to have her grandpa as a mentor.
“His work ethic of painting eight to ten hours a day is inspirational,” Lindsay Cox says. “Also, you can see that he has a true love for art. The main accomplishment that impresses me about my grandpa is that fact that he is still working on his skills as a professional artist. He is always learning and I admire him for that.”
Horvat says painting after retirement has its advantages.
“That freedom from having to make a living with my art has removed restrictions and I am allowed to make the kind of art that I want to without worrying about people buying my art,” Horvat says. “It seems to have worked out well as I found a niche with my aviation art and people seeking me out.”