PORT RICHEY — Lyndon Scheeren's Florida-style watercolors hang in local art galleries and a bank, and his drawings adorn a church and a nursing home. But he carries his most important artwork in his jacket pocket: prints of religious pencil sketches embossed with prayers on the back, which he hands out to anyone who could use a boost.
They've become known as faith cards.
"With the little bit of talent that I have, it's a God-given gift and I have to share it with others," said Scheeren, 78, who hands out the cards to strangers at the mall and other public places. He figures he's given out about 600 of the blue and white cards over the past two years.
"I try in my own little way to make someone feel better, and it makes me feel better," he said.
Art and faith both came to Scheeren later in life.
He grew up in the Bronx, joined the National Guard at 17, then served in the U.S. Navy until 1956. He met his wife, Vi, a widow with two children, while he was stationed on Malta. They married in the back of her church because he wasn't yet Catholic.
"I was not really much of a churchgoer," said Scheeren, who had been raised Lutheran.
He spent most of adulthood working as an embroidery designer for manufacturers of men's, women's and children's clothing in New York's garment district and New Jersey, until a series of heart attacks changed everything.
"I got religion in a hurry when I came that close to death," he said.
He no longer felt at home in the Lutheran church, so he converted to Catholicism. He and his wife retired and moved to Florida in 1980.
He found peace through prayer and painting. He often paints Florida-style landscape scenes, but he also depicts religious scenes. One of his donated works hangs in St. Michael's Church in Tarpon Springs, where he goes every Tuesday to pray for a list of people in need.
"I went down there looking for answers and help in my own way of praying," he said.
His work is displayed at No Naked Walls Art & Frame Shop, and Progress Energy Art Gallery in Port Richey, which last year featured a show with his religious artwork.
"If anything was sold, he was donating his portion of the profit to a religious organization," said Nancy Ciesla, director of the Progress Energy gallery.
"His work is so detailed — not just his religious work. His other artwork is phenomenal," she said. "He really puts a lot in his work. He's very dedicated to what he does, and he takes what he does very seriously."
The originals are usually quite large and take about 150 hours to complete. He works out of his garage, where he installed an air-conditioning unit. His art supplies spill over tables surrounded by Christmas decorations. He apologizes for the mess as he shows a few prints he's especially proud of.
His opus is one he calls God's Family Tree, depicting a mix of Judaic and Christian images, including Moses receiving the 10 commandments at Mount Sinai.
"I'm trying to get people to realize that out of Judaism, Christianity was born," he said. "I happen to believe that the word of God has never changed. The world would be such a wonderful place if people would just accept each other."
Florida Capital Bank has one of his pieces on display. And he donated one to Peninsula Care and Rehabilitation Center in Tarpon Springs, where one of his friends was staying and eventually passed away.
"That's what our company is about, bringing all faiths together," said the Rev. Melody Kidd, the facility's chaplain.
"He has a spirit of being able to include all persons, and that is very evident in that drawing," Kidd said. "He sees beyond his eyes. He sees with his heart."
Scheeren visits another man at the facility weekly. He also gives Kidd some faith cards to pass out to "folks that have needed special encouragement," she said.
Scheeren and his wife recently celebrated their 53rd wedding anniversary. They have four children, nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. After giving a tour of his art-filled home, he proudly shows off pictures of the little ones.
"We've been blessed in many ways," he said. "God has been good to me and my family."
"Faith In Motion" is a series of features about an individual or group doing something inspiring in the course of a spiritual journey. Ideas are welcome via e-mail. Send them to [email protected]