Super Senior: Michael Strauss

Published: Apr. 14, 2022 at 6:09 PM EDT
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SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - At his home studio in South Burlington, Michael Strauss’ passion is painting.

“I spend at least three-quarters of my day up here,” Strauss said. “I don’t do a lot of my own self portraits.”

One of the few is from when he was a young boy growing up in California. A self-described “sickly kid” who was poor in sports but loved to draw. “My life is now art,” Strauss said.

The retired University of Vermont chemistry professor taught students for decades. He’s still teaching but now it’s all art - virtually.

“I have a little light down here that I put on myself so I look healthy,” Strauss said. “When Covid came -- I’m retired -- I bought all this stuff and I started zooming.” It’s a free, weekly tutorial where mostly seniors participate.

Reporter Joe Carroll: Are you a tough teacher?

Michae Strauss: No. No grades, no exams, no enrollment.

The painting class helps put a pause on the pandemic. Strauss says it’s been particularly difficult for seniors to cope with loneliness and isolation. “And this drawing class... you should see the emails I’ve got. I’ve got 300 emails telling me this is helpful to them -- and for me too,” Strauss said.

The last year has been especially tough for the 82-year-old artist. His daughter Merissa died in September after a long illness. She was just 48, and for Strauss, creating art helps him with his sorrows. “When you’re in the moment and you’re doing something actively, you’re engaged in that and the past and the future are not there,” he said.

The basement is a kind of gallery of the prolific painter’s work. He calls it his “boneyard.” “Piles and piles. This is a year and a half worth of teaching,” Strauss said. “Here’s one that’s not going to work because it looks too macabre.”

Strauss holds up an abstract nude. “You’re not going to put this on TV here,” he said. “Here’s one that doesn’t work. You can see why. It’s like a Rorschach test. It makes people think that I got a bad mind.”

Reporter Joe Carroll: Fair to say your work is eclectic?

Michae Strauss: Oh, I’ll say. It’s beyond eclectic.

Back in his studio, Strauss is the portrait of a painter still living his dream. “I’m having a good time, that’s the bottom line. I’m enjoying myself,” he said.

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