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Harry Danos mixes artistry with helping local veterans

Harry Danos is a generous man who at the age of 95 has not stopped thinking about how he can give to others.

Danos is a World War II Army Air Corps hero and the architect who designed East Lyme Town Hall and Niantic Village. Niantic residents and visitors enjoy his work every day on Main Street or Pennsylvania Avenue as his aesthetic contribution is significant. This nonagenarian is also an artist. Danos was born in Enfield, only 60 miles north of his current home in East Lyme.

Danos started his advanced studies at Amherst and then Yale. His education plans were hijacked when he landed in the Army Air Corps. After time with the Strategic Air Command in Omaha, Nebraska, Danos hopped on a boat that stopped in Hawaii, then Japan. He then worked as an air/sea rescuer in Iwo Jima, one of the Japanese volcanic islands.

Danos tracked planes as an air traffic controller, sending rescues as needed. Right in the middle of everything, he was there when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Looking back, Danos said, “I am very appreciative of being alive after these many years and having seen some of the stuff I have seen.”

Danos designed his home, which resembles a Frank Lloyd Wright style. It is a resurrection of his heart and spirit after he lost everything he owned in a horrific house fire that destroyed his previous dwelling.

His home contains a working art studio where the Long Island Sound is visible from his enormous rectangular windows. Ample light beams in from four directions. His living room doubles as a commemorative studio and gallery. Military medals are displayed beside newspaper articles cataloging his contributions to the safety of our country.

“War is never good,” he said. “People need to get along.”

Beautiful watercolor paintings of local seascapes, landscapes and mountains adorn his walls as well.

“If I didn’t have this, I would be in a bug house,” he said.

Danos said that art helps you to think, feel and see things differently. Danos has a painting that he completed with his son that now hangs as a memory of a very special time that they had together. Danos’ son grew up along the marshes, developing a special relationship with the water.

When Harry started painting, his son asked his dad what he was doing. He wanted to help. Together they worked to create a masterpiece.

“He just needed a helpful hand to express what he felt,” Danos said. “It was a tremendous joy to see him accomplish what he thought he couldn’t.” Since his son is no longer alive, it is even more special than it would be otherwise.

Danos has a new goal. He wants to spread that same experience that he had with his son and other students to a new group of learners.

“Young artists will gain skill and confidence,” he said. “Art is an unknown commodity. My joy is watching students who don’t think they have any abilities create something.”

Danos expects a two-fold benefit for teaching water color painting classes.

“Those who think that they don’t have talent will grow in their abilities,” he said. “They will learn that water reacts differently to different surfaces. The sky changes. The marsh changes. Change is constant. Art teaches you that. Art teaches you how to adapt. Life is either self-inflicted or self-chosen.”

Danos said any proceeds from classes will be appropriated for the improvement of services and programs for veterans in East Lyme. The Veterans of Foreign Wars site at 39 Columbus Ave., for instance, could institute renovations as needed.

Programs that are popular and successful in Florida could be taught in Niantic.

“One hour is not enough,” Danos said. “Art is not something that can be rushed. It takes time.”

Danos’ model for art classes is similar to some that he enjoyed with his late wife in Naples, Florida. In Naples, art is used on a daily basis to benefit the older citizens. Art, he said, should be a major feature for retirees in East Lyme.

“Eventually, I hope that we will have waiting lines for people to get into art classes,” he said. “My generation is leaving this planet. We need to open avenues for younger generations.”

Classes at the VFW post will start in the next couple of weeks. Call 860-739-7364 if interested; $100 will cover three, three-hour classes. To reach Danos, call 860-876-3284.

Danos has a wealth of knowledge he would like to share, having taught at Mystic Art Center, Naples Art League (in Florida) and Guilford Handcraft Center. He served as chairman of East Lyme Art League and has exhibited paintings in local galleries.

Being of Greek descent, Danos has led tour groups to Greece through the International Art League. Danos is an AHEPA member whose mission is to promote the ancient Hellenic ideas of education, philanthropy, civic responsibility, integrity and family and individual excellence through community service and volunteerism.

Danos is a magnanimous man who sees art as his medium to heal his own broken heart and the heart of others.

“Art is a good self regulator,” he said. “You learn a lot about yourself by the art that you do.”

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