For the first 15 years or so of his professional life, Walter Hamm worked in the dry cleaning business.
But in the early 1960s, his friend, commercial artist Jack Dillon, invited him to join excursions into the countryside to capture images of old barns on canvas. Those outings helped Mr. Hamm launch a new career.
With Mr. Dillon's help, Mr. Hamm landed a commercial art apprenticeship with a design firm and worked in the field from 1968 until he retired in 1996. A lover of horses, Mr. Hamm, 78, of Castle Shannon, decided early in his art career to try his hand at equine art to supplement his income.
His first attempt, a portrait in acrylics of the champion racehorse Nashua, sold within two weeks after he displayed it in the now-defunct Winterhalter's restaurant in Upper St. Clair. Not bad for someone who is basically self-taught and never took an art lesson.
Mr. Hamm will exhibit 20 of his portraits Sept. 20 during the 22nd annual South Park Community Day in South Park and, if weather permits, Sept. 21. Community Day events will be held in the oval next to the county police station in the park.
After his early success with his portrait of Nashua, Mr. Hamm began attending horse shows with the aim of securing painting commissions. Most often, he painted his subjects from photographs, but worked from live models from time to time.
Many of his paintings were formal portraits depicting an animal's head and neck. But he also painted full figures, sometimes including a rider or other objects in the background.
One of his works, a portrait of singer Wayne Newton's horse, Blue Spruce Tanzeer, was painted from a photograph published in an Arabian horse magazine.
"After Tanzeer was finished, I contacted Mr. Newton to see if he wanted to buy it, but, although he was interested, he said he was also going through a divorce at the time and had to turn down my offer," said Mr. Hamm.
"I consider it one of my better paintings, and I still have it in my home."
He had more luck selling another work of a famous stud stallion, Bolger. Owner Wallace Dollase bought it, as well as another painting of Bolger's filly, Poshy, a Grade 1 stakes race winner, two years later.
At age 72, Mr. Hamm bought his first horse, a Tennessee Walking Horse named Digger, which he rode frequently. He sold the horse in 2005 after he underwent two major surgeries and was unable to ride.
A year later, however, he was back in the saddle when he purchased a quarter horse. He kept the horse for a year until he began having difficulties walking.
"If I could get my first horse back, I'd still ride because he was very smooth and I find that riding is therapeutic for me," he said.
For his exhibit, Mr. Hamm will show mostly portraits of horses but a few of people from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. near the park's permanent pony ride concession. He's not so much interested in selling his works, he said, as in seeing friends, relatives and "horse people" he hasn't seen in years.
Community Day events kickoff at 8:15 a.m. Saturday with a mile race, followed at 8:30 a.m. by a 5-K walk/run. At noon, a parade will pass by, followed at 1 p.m by a Punt, Pass and Kick contest.
A beauty pageant for girls ages 3-13 is scheduled for 2:30 p.m., and soccer games, entertainment and rides for children will be featured through the day.
More than 150 art, craft and food vendors have signed on for the event. Prizes will be awarded to three vendors whose booth decorations best illustrate the event's NASCAR theme.
"For a little township, we get an amazingly large crowd for our Community Day, which gets bigger and better every year, said township recreation director Colleen Dominick.
For more information on Community Day, contact Ms. Dominick at 412-831-7000.
Dave Zuchowski is a freelance writer.