Ricki Wertz turns to art

Former host of TV's 'Ricki and Copper' tries to add beauty to life

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Ricki Wertz lives passionately.

Fifty-three years ago, she rejected her mother's warnings and married Tom Bordenkircher, a man raised in another faith and 11 years her senior.

Ricki Wertz shares opinions with her husband, Tom Bordenkircher, on where to hang a painting of her first dog and companion, Copper.
Click photo for larger image.

Together, the pair chased down careers in television and went on to produce "Ricki and Copper," a children's show that aired on WTAE-TV from 1958 to 1969 and co-starred the couple's beloved pet dog.

Ms. Wertz ended her involvement in the show in 1969 to care for her daughter, who was born prematurely and, as an infant, required specialized attention.

However, she continued working in the medium she loved by hosting a quiz show and later developed public television outreach projects that raised awareness on issues such as adolescent drug use and literacy.

Today, with two grown children in Columbus, Ohio, and retirement stretching out before her, the former TV personality has discovered yet another pursuit, albeit a more relaxing one: Ms. Wertz paints.

Since signing herself and her husband up for art classes at the Norwin Art League in 2000, the North Huntingdon resident has evolved into a prolific and award-winning artist.

She and her husband's oil paintings and pencil sketches are part of a seven-week exhibit sponsored by the Norwin Art League that opened Sunday at the Java Trails coffee shop in the Norwin Towne Shopping Center on Route 30.

Among the two dozen pieces available for sale is an oil-based portrait of Copper, painted by Ms. Wertz.

The memory of her first dog and canine co-host is still very dear, she said. In addition to being a loyal pet and reliable co-worker, Copper was a wedding present from her husband when they married in 1954.

"Back then a groom bought his bride a wedding present and it was either luggage or pearls," she said. "I said I didn't want luggage or pearls. I wasn't that type. I wanted a dog. Growing up I had a mother who worked, and I could never have my own dog."

They found Copper, a whippet and golden retriever mix, at an animal shelter in Florida.

In addition to animals, Ms. Wertz's painting subjects vary widely. She has done birds, flowers and landscapes.

"You just do stuff you feel like," she explained. "I know I'm never going to snorkel, so one time I did a coral reef."

Because of her television career, Ms. Wertz turned a few heads when she and her husband began attending classes seven years ago, said Patti Vaughn, vice president of the Norwin Art League. But her celebrity is relatively confined to the boomer generation, so the fanfare has been minimal among the league's more than 100 members, she added.

"Most of the people who recognize me are older and balding," agreed Ms. Wertz with a laugh.

In addition to its creative release, Ms. Wertz said she has found painting to be another way to add something positive to the world.

"Hopefully, it's bringing a little beauty into people's lives. If I had a wish it would be that the young people would look at what we do and think 'I can do that and I could do that better.' It's not a real pretty life in a lot of ways, so you do what you can to create your own beauty."

For more information on the Norwin Art League, go to www.norwinartleague.com.

Kelly McKinney is a freelance writer.


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