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A work of artist

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Rochester artist Thomas Armstrong's small apartment is filled with paintings, sketches, notes clippings and ideas. A recently published book of his work is his latest effort to get people to see his art.

Rochester artist Thomas Armstrong unties the string around a flat, worn wooden box to reveal his prized possession.

"This is what Degas would have used," he said, referring to Edgar Degas, the French artist regarded as one of the founders of impressionism.

Inside the box is a set of pastels given to Armstrong as a gift while he was painting the exterior of the home of a retired Central High School teacher.

"These are rich, deep colors," Armstrong said. "I'm waiting to use them until I make my masterpiece."

Until then, Armstrong, 62, is scratching by, looking for any job he can get to make it through the winter.

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One true love

Armstrong worked as a house painter for years, and was good at it, he said, but the work seemed to dry up over the last two years. Plus, his true love lies in pastel, chalk, oil and water color.

Of the hundreds of works he's created over the years, about a dozen are for sale at local galleries and restaurants, including The Restaurant, Sontes and the Doubletree in Rochester and Crossings in Zumbrota.

"I've admired Tom's work for a long time and I think that he has so much innate talent," said Marie Marvin, owner of Crossings. "Oftentimes, I'm reminded of some of the great masters when I see his work."

While some of his pieces, such as "Poppies" and "Tree of Life," sell well, others take years to sell.  Some never do.

Yet the inspiration keeps coming, prompted by photos, movies and the works of the masters. Then again, so does the doubt.

Sidelined by health

Armstrong's career track was sidelined at an early age when he was a student at Lourdes High School then the University of Minnesota. He suffered from ulcerative colitis, a potentially deadly  disease that affects the lining of the bowel.

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While his doctor at Mayo Clinic urged Armstrong to have his colon removed, at age 19 Armstrong said he couldn't imagine living the rest of his life with a colostomy bag. Intrigued by a lecture on macrobiotics in 1969, Armstrong cut 50 percent of the dairy, meat and fat out of his diet and noticed that his symptoms were reduced by half.

At the end of that semester of college, he went to a commune on the East Coast to learn more about the diet.

More than 40 years later, Armstrong controls his disease through diet, but says he still struggles, having not finished his degree.

In 1986, Armstrong began taking classes at Rochester Community and Technical College, only to be sidelined again when his father got ill with Alzheimer's Disease. Armstrong quit school to help his mother care for him.

An independent study course at RCTC in 2003, however, gave him a new direction.

Over the next few years he created more than 100 images. The paintings grew into a fictitious World War II story line, which also represented his feelings on the need for a more peaceful approach to medicine.

"I just kept putting things together," he said.

Armstrong took photos of 130 of his works using his 1965 Pentax camera and worked it into a book titled "Lost Ties, A Journey By Image" which he released under the name Tim Anthony in 2008.

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Book sales, he hopes, will help him make ends meet — until he creates his masterpiece.

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