South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Al Lowe
Contributing Writer 

Mount Washington artist takes on project of teaching others his craft


Mt. Washington artist David Fretz has taken on his latest challenge, teaching drawing to fellow senior citizens at the Allentown Senior Center, with enthusiasm. Examples of his work hang on the wall of the apartment he shares with his wife Carol.

David Fretz has actually seen the Bridge on the River Kwai.

"It looked like it did in the movie," he remarked.
Mr. Fretz, 74, has experienced a series of adventures during his lifetime of travels through more than 50 countries.

Now he is starting a new adventure – teaching drawing at the Allentown Senior Center, known as the Hilltop Center at 631 East Warrington Avenue. He is an unpaid volunteer for the classes which are offered free of charge.

He and his wife Carol live at the South Hills Retirement Residence, the former South Hills High School. He taught economics at a college and was once a Peace Corps volunteer for two years. Mrs. Fretz taught such subjects as English, biology and French at a high school in Columbus, Ohio.

The managers running the center said they were delighted when Mr. Fretz suggested they hold the art classes, which are now scheduled at 12:30 p.m. each Monday for the senior citizens who regularly visit the Allentown site. They were also surprised by the great interest shown by class participants. There were 15 who attended his first class.

"It's a very positive experience," said senior Joan Freeman. "It is therapy for my mind and hands, like the crocheting I also do here."

"I never did it before," said Joyce Waters, another participant.

"It has given me a lot of confidence."

"He really pays attention to you," participant Jo Ann Baum said.

In a typical class Mr. Fretz shows his students how to combine circles and squares and create caricatures of animals and people. The students often giggle as they follow his instructions. The amount of previous artistic experience among the students greatly varies.

This is not as tough a job for him as was one of his early teaching assignments – when he was the only teacher for various grades in a one-room schoolhouse in Severville, Tenn.

A stressful teaching job he once had involved teaching economics in Grahamstown, South Africa. "I saw people getting beat up. I didn't like it."

He also visited a dozen African countries.

"I got to climb to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. It was a lot of fun and exciting. Two of the people in our party of six couldn't take the altitude," Mr. Fretz said. The mount was made famous by Ernest Hemingway when he wrote "The Snows of Kilimanjaro."

He and Carol became involved in a cultural exchange between White Plains, Ohio, and a school in Siberia.

He also has visited Canada, Australia and South America. He got to "camp out" in the Canadian Rockies.

His father was Canadian and his mother was from Ohio.

Mr. Fretz graduated with a business degree from Wayne State University in Detroit and received a master's degree in economics from Memphis State University, now called University of Memphis.

One of the reasons he feels that his art classes are so successful is "that I can draw fast and it turns out pretty good."

He enjoys producing all kinds of art – except for oil paintings. He admitted he might not care for it because he still remembers being chastised by his mother for spilling ink on her new carpet.

"When I started learning about art, I didn't know how it was going to go. I used pen and ink and pencil and I did pastels. I found I really enjoy it. I have a lot of enthusiasm," he said.

He said he particularly loves sharing his new hobby with other people.

Other weekly activities at the Hilltop Center include: wii bowling, guest speakers, blood pressure screening, chair dancing, bingo and the showing of classic films.


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