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  • Jun20Thu

    With Open Arms

    With a little encouragement from The Salvation Army, Larry Foster is pursuing his passion. June 20, 2013 by Ashley MacInnis
    Filed Under:
    Faith & Friends
    The Salvation Army - - With Open Army Larry Foster shows off his mural. (Photo: Daniel Bonner)

    If you've ever needed proof that anything is possible with a little determination, look no further than Clarence “Larry” Foster.

    Orphaned as a child, Larry bounced from foster home to foster home. In the process, his self-esteem was crushed. Growing up with a disability proved tough and finding a job that allowed Larry to exercise his artistic abilities was nearly impossible, but that didn't stop him from pursuing his passion.

    The Triumph of Perseverance
    “Larry was so limited in what he could do,” says Trish Foster, Larry's wife. “Because of his disability—which we believe is a severe form of dyslexia—he was unable to do math, and you need math for every artistic career, from carpentry to drafting.”

    Larry took a course in spray painting but, after losing his job at an automotive painting centre, gave up that career path to work in kitchens. Though he was unfulfilled, Larry continued to work until his health prevented him from doing so. It was then that Larry and Trish decided he should pursue his passion and become an artist by trade.

    With a specialty in cartoons, the two decided that painting murals for children would help Larry put his artistic capabilities to work. This new direction gave Larry a sense of self-worth and accomplishment that comes from doing a job you truly love.

    After spending his life doing pencil sketches, Larry needed to learn size and colour techniques in order to put his artwork into large-scale pieces. He enrolled in evening classes, took painting lessons and even hired a private instructor, who came to his home
    to teach him.

    “Larry doesn't have a natural eye for colours, but he's working on it,” says Trish. “He's always practising and he works hard.”

    “The More, the Better”
    Last September, the perfect opportunity for Larry to put his artistry to work came when his friend, Darren Hill, invited him to The Salvation Army's Open Arms Centre in Halifax. Darren had been helping the program co-ordinator, Bonnie Hill, renovate and brighten up the walls with a fresh coat of paint. Larry arrived at the centre eager to help, and Darren suggested that Larry paint a mural on the wall for the children to enjoy.

    Larry began work, and it quickly became the largest mural he'd ever done. In the past, Larry would draw his vision on paper and then project it on the wall in order to paint, but this time he did it freehand, without planning.

    Larry enjoyed every minute of the process. “I like painting because it is fun, relaxing and creative,” he declares. “I didn't really know what I was going to paint when I came here, but once I started to paint, it just seemed to flow out.”

    Bright green grass and colourful flowers dot the wall in the centre's snacks and crafts room, ducks bathe in the pond below the window and children laugh as they fly kites and spit watermelon seeds.

    “Larry represented the many cultures that pass through our doors,” says Bonnie, referencing the smiling faces on the wall. “He put a lot of time into his painting. It's the details that make it stand out, and the hours he spent working on things you don't even think about, like the grass. He did such a great job.”

    The Open Arms Centre offers a variety of programs for children and women in the community, from Bible studies to after-school drop-ins, while providing a safe and nurturing environment for everyone.

    Larry's mural has fuelled his passion. In the past, he put together a colouring book that he donated to a health centre and drew images for use in Sunday school classes, but now he plans to do more.

    “I look forward to learning more about cartooning and art in general,” Larry says, and he hopes to spread his gift of artistry across the city for all to enjoy. “The more, the better.”

    “Painting is Larry's passion,” Trish says. “He is dedicated to his artwork and he has overcome so many obstacles in his life. He's come a long way in the last 20 years with his speech and comprehension. I'm proud of what he has accomplished, and I'm lucky to have him.”

    In addition to sharing his gift with The Salvation Army, Larry has shown the world that you can succeed in spite of a disability. You just need a little dedication, some perseverance and a positive attitude.

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