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Local Artist Brightens Habersham Co. Health Department

December 13, 2013

If you ever meet Leo Gehrtz, you will hear stories that show his deep love for his wife, family, God and country. And if you see his artwork, you will find he has another deep love: painting scenes of the north Georgia area and its history.

Leo Gehrtz stands in front of the mural he painted at the Habersham County Health Department.

Gehrtz, 69, works in the Habersham County Health Department as a part-time custodian, but he’s also the department’s resident artist. Working with old photographs, Gehrtz created a mural on the wall of the patient waiting room, showing various locations around Habersham County and north Georgia.

One prominent part of the mural highlights one of his favorite subjects: old mills, important features in the South’s agricultural history. One full 7-by-35-foot wall in the health department shows the grist mill located on Highway 197 near Habersham Central High School.

“The mural is almost complete,” Gehrtz said, standing in front of what looks like a perfectly finished product. He usually finds something in his work that he wants to critique and fix.

Gehrtz began painting in high school, but abandoned the hobby when he enlisted in the U.S. Army and later studied to become a welder. After a few years as a pipe welder, he joined his father’s tile and marble business, providing customers with high-end designs for custom jobs. Gehrtz said putting together intricate designs in tile helped him improve the composition of his paintings.

In 2012, Gehrtz had retired, but he decided to apply for a part-time job as the Habersham County Health Department’s custodian to stay active. When he heard the staff discussing replacing the wallpaper and repainting the walls, he offered to paint a mural on the wall of the patient waiting room.

Gehrtz would let children in on the fun as he painted the mural. While waiting for their appointments, and if their parents allowed it, he would let kids paint on the blank spaces of the wall as he worked.

“All of the kids got a kick out of painting on the wall,” he said.

Staff members at Habersham County Health Department said Gehrtz’s mural and his jolly personality have made a visit to the health department more enjoyable for clients of all ages, from children who get to help him paint to older clients who recognize the historical places depicted on the wall.

“Before, it was just gray on gray on gray in here,” said Kim Canup, the department’s office manager. “But he has really brightened up the place. And that’s just what you want a health department to be.”

Gehrtz also began painting his own projects, giving away most of his finished products to family and friends. After some prodding from his children, he began selling some of his paintings at the Sautee Gallery near Helen, Ga. After reviewing his work, they asked to display some of his paintings in their gallery, and since 2012 have been handling his original paintings and prints.

For more information about Gerhtz’s work, visit:

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