The “art” of turning a passion into a career with St. Stephen’s Aaron White

ST. STEPHEN – What do you do when your job gets too hard on your body, but you still need to earn a living? If you are Aaron White of St. Stephen, you turn your hobby into a full-time career. White always loved art in high school, but after he graduated he went on to other things and put his artwork aside. That is, until he decided that his job of delivering furniture was getting too hard on his body. Then, he decided to make a go of his artwork.

“I guess I started in 2014,” said White. “I was good at art in high school, and then I kind of just dropped it. Then, we moved back here to New Brunswick. That’s when I got into art, when we came back. We started at the Algonquin. We were going to move back to Ontario, so that’s when I picked up my art again and I started painting. I started with sports stuff.”

Born and raised in Montreal, White moved to Charlotte County as a teenager when his parents divorced. His mother purchased a small home in Saint Andrews, and White graduated from St. Stephen High School. Although he didn’t spend many years in the area, it was always his dream to come back and settle here.

“We were from the city, but I always felt like this became my home,” said White. “My wife and I moved back here just before COVID, last November. She had been hired at the college in Saint Andrews, but with COVID hitting she lost her job. So, we’re settled back and in for the long haul. This is where I’ve wanted to be for years.”

White has always loved sports, so he decided to combine his love of both art and sports. He started out by painting as a hobby, painting on his own goalie sticks. While he worked delivering furniture for The Brick in Ontario, he was gifted with a limited edition sports print by an elderly woman, and it reignited his interest in art.

“I’ve always collected hockey collectibles and stuff, and so I started painting sports stuff. I started with goalie sticks,” said White. “In Ontario, there would be lots of opportunities, like celebrity golf tournaments. I started preparing pieces of some of the athletes that were going to be there. I kind of started collecting autographs for myself on the artwork. The first thing I started painting were my hockey sticks. I was a goalie. I hurt my shoulder playing men’s so I decided to sell my equipment and started painting my sticks.”

White has no formal training in art. His natural talent was inherited from both of his parents. His father, who worked for CN, used to draw cartoons for his job, and his mother was a jeweler with a shop in Saint Andrews. White said his mother also does some painting.

White has given many of his pieces to his sports heroes. For instance, he became friends with New Brunswick hockey player Goldie Goldthorpe, who was the inspiration for the character, “Ogie Oglethorpe” from the 1977 Paul Newman movie, “Slap Shot”. White said the friendship was kind of “accidental”. He had gotten Goldthorpe’s email address, and sent him a photo of a painting he had done of the hockey player.

“I told him that I’d done it for him, it was my gift,” said White. “He really appreciated it. He said for years he’s had people sending him stuff, wanting his autograph, at his expense. He said it was the first time somebody had done something for him. He had a book, and he gave me a mention in his book. I did a couple more things for him, art-wise and stuff.”

These days, White uses a different sort of canvas for his paintings. He has been commissioned by a member of the Facebook group, Kaboom Sports, to paint portraits of hockey players on signed jerseys. The jerseys are sent to White, who paints them and then sends them back to Ontario.

“The jerseys were suggested to me. I was painting canvasses and stuff, but the jerseys, people really like them. They’re all autographed jerseys too. The guy that gets me to do them gets them all framed up nicely, so they become a framed canvas with the autograph and the artwork.”

White didn’t think he would be able to sell his art after the onset of the pandemic, but it has actually seemed to be more of a help than a hindrance. Since people are spending more time at home, they are doing more decorating, including decorating “man caves”, and the painted jerseys fit in perfectly with this type of décor.

“I was a little worried when COVID hit, but I think there’s a lot of people at home and kind of focusing on home. The demand for the jerseys has been good. The sports industry is quite big. I’ve collected hockey cards and the market has gone crazy on those during COVID,” said White.

There is a great appreciation of White’s art among athletes and fans, and he said he has become friends with many of the subjects he has painted. He has painted several NHL players, and hockey legend Guy Lafleur even has one of his painted jerseys.

“Along the way, I made friends with some of the people I painted. It’s kind of neat. In the beginning, I was just doing it as a hobby.”