Retired pastor turns a passion for painting into instruction for children at Northlight Studios in Arlington

  • <b>By Rebecca Bailey SCBJ Freelance Writer</b>
  • Wednesday, September 30, 2009 5:57pm

Harry Engstrom started painting when he was 10 years old and has never stopped. That was in 1963. His love of painting has served him well and at times he has supported his family solely on his artist income.

Most days you’ll find Engstrom in his Northlight Studio, which is a small craftsman-style building that he built and is tucked behind his house. Here he teaches children how to paint and draw.

Engstrom has been around children most of his life. He first began teaching them when he was in high school. And more recently, he taught art classes for six years to students at Stillaguamish Valley School, which is a home school resource program in the Arlington School district.

“I love how children are so bright, cheerful and communicative. They love learning and are so appreciative,” he said. Engstrom teaches his students how to paint what he loves—landscapes and wildlife.

His art has been inspired by scenes from the Saskatchewan prairie in Canada where he lived as a boy. Early on he painted old farms, grain elevators and railroad tracks. “And maybe even a meadowlark,” he said, as he recalled that he wanted to be a bird artist,. But Engstrom soon discovered the audience was too narrow for this type of art.

The coziness of the studio is just right for his small classes of three students. A few pieces of art are tacked on the wall and easels sit on the tables. The small group lessons allow intensive, one-on-one training during the 90-minute sessions. The classes are pay-as-you-go, so students can continue their training for as long as they want. Engstrom offers three classes per day, three times per week.

He has some students returning for their fourth year. You can hear the pride in his voice as he talks of their progress.

“They begin doing things on their own, and that’s exciting for me,” he said.

But the classroom isn’t the only place where Engstrom shares his talent. During the last eight years, he has painted several large murals around the city of Arlington. His most recent work is “Stream Life of the Stillaguamish River,” located on the west wall that borders the Olympic Avenue hill.

In 2003, he painted a mural on the back of a building in downtown Arlington that faces the Centennial trail. “The Run of Number Three,” mural depicts the steam train that ran from Monte Cristo to Everett in the late 1800s. It was painted as a tribute to Arlington’s Centennial celebration. Murals are kind of a social thing for him, too. He said he enjoys talking to people when they come by and watch. “I like doing large pieces. It’s my favorite thing to paint,” he said.

Engstrom has a Bachelor of Arts in Christian Ministry, and has been involved with churches for the last 14 years.

“So it’s always been artist or minister,” he said. Mostly it’s been both because when he worked as a pastor, he painted on the side. He retired from his work as a pastor last June and is now focusing on his art business. “My business is self-sustaining and growing, too,” he said.

What’s next for Engstrom? He has a unique idea for expansion beyond art lessons and murals. He wants to use chalk drawings for story presentations in school assemblies, perhaps for something like literacy week, he said.

“I draw and tell stories that encourage kids to read.”

In the art concealed pictures are dramatically illuminated with a black light during the story telling. He has done this in some school assemblies, but hopes to do many more in the future.

For more information, email or call 360-474-1019.

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