HARRISBURG -- Jesse Rouse learned to draw upside down.
That's not a metaphor.
"I started drawing at 3 years of age. I had a brother and a cousin 3 years older than me. We all lived in the same house, my great-grandfather's house," said Rouse, who grew up in Carrier Mills. "They would come home from school and start drawing in the yard. I would go and draw with them, because I thought I was as big as they were. They were at one end, and I was above them. I learned to draw upside down. That was normal to me. I would finish it, and turn it around. That might be part of the reason I developed skills I did."
Rouse, who is 71 now, inadvertently learned a skill advised by many current art teachers. Drawing images upside down is believed to allow more influence of the right side of the brain, which is believed to have a greater influence on artistic ability.
In the late 1940s to early 1950s, though, it was a minor issue, Rouse said.
"The teachers at the school were impressed with my drawing ability for my age, but thought I might have something wrong with me," he said. "Mom would take me up to the Egyptian Health Department, where I would take tests and they would ask me these questions about what I thought certain things looked like. It was because I would always draw upside down."
No one ever asked him why he drew upside down, to his recollection, Rouse said.
"I could have told them why I drew that way, but no one ever asked me. They were looking for a problem that wasn't there," he said, with a light chuckle.
Later he would graduate from Carrier Mills High School, take classes at Southeastern Illinois College, and then marry and move to Elgin to start his career in a state hospital.
A couple of years later, Rouse became a certified instructor there, and later had enough training and qualification to apply to the Elgin city police department. He was hired.
A few promotions and changes of duty later, the department was assisting a murder and robbery at a 7-11 in a neighboring town. The survivor began to describe to police the assailant, but said he would have an easier time describing it to a police sketch artist if they had one.
As it turns out, they did.
"People around the department knew I drew. They asked me if I could help. I made a sketch, and it was successful. Up until I retired, I did it as it was needed. Probably over the course of time I did about 400 composite sketches. Plus, I drew some crime scenes and sometimes they asked me to design city stickers, but mainly I was a police officer."
Rouse retired in 1996 and moved with his wife Shirley back to Saline County. They now live in Harrisburg, as do their three daughters. One son stayed in Elgin and is a police officer. The other works in the insurance industry in Crystal Lake, Calif.
Currently, Rouse has a gallery of his work on display in the community room of the Harrisburg District Library. He said he was approached by a member of the Friends of the Library a few years ago about sharing his art, but at the time he felt he didn't have enough pieces to share. Now, he has quite a few more works.
Most of his works are of a personal nature, meaning they depict family members or friends. Sometimes they also are buildings of significance to him, like images of an old school building or a train depot.
He said he prefers to work in graphite, but he learned oil painting as a youth and enjoys it as well.
"I did not want to be one-dimensional, and I was introduced to oil paintings when the Women's Club in Saline County sponsored me to go to the art gallery at Arlington House in 1963," he said.
The Arlington House was donated to the University of Illinois by a man named Robert Arlington to use for educational purposes.
"I did two oil portraits while I was there. I came home and from time to time I would do one. I still prefer pencils, though," Rouse said.
Rouse's gallery went up Jan. 5, and will continue through March 5, when the library will host a reception for him. He said he was very happy with the gallery time.
"I had wanted it to be up in February, because that's Black History Month, and then they told me it would be up most of January and a few days in March as well. That was great," Rouse said.
Besides being a hobby, drawing and painting has therapeutic benefits for him, he said.
"That's a big part of why I do it even today. It's a stress reliever," Rouse said.
"And I don't do it for pay. The reason I don't do it for pay, somebody's telling you how to do it. Someone's critical of it. This way, I do what I want to do and somebody else can look at it. If they enjoy it, good. If not that's fine, too.It's very therapeutic. If it's one of those nights I can't sleep I get up at 3 in the morning and start painting until I get tired and go to bed. There's nothing stressful about it. I'm doing what I want to do."
He said he gives credit to God for both his artistic ability and how his life has worked.
"I always thought I wanted to teach art. I didn't really prepare myself for life. I had things I wanted to do, but I wasn't the best student in the world. It's just the grace of God I ended up where I did," Rouse said.
"I seemed to take a path that maybe didn't make sense at the time, but looking back, I ended up where it's at and it's good. When I do my artwork, I don't understand how I can do it."