- Associated Press - Saturday, December 5, 2015

BOSWELL, Pa. (AP) - Stand back to see the overall design in Del Thomas’ art.

“It’s like being too close and seeing the trees instead of the forest,” he said.

His art is made up of pennies. Thomas, of Boswell, is known as the Penny Man.

Thomas was born in an area near Somerset, Kentucky. His parents divorced when he was very young and his mother was poor. It was during the Great Depression. He and his mother moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, when he was a year old.

“I was called Virgil and I hated that name,” he said. “After I got out of the Army, I needed my birth certificate to get married. To my surprise, I found out that Virgil is my middle name. My first name is Delbert and I go by Del.”

After his discharge from the Army, he worked as a salesman. But he had always wanted to be in business for himself so he opened a welding supply business in Columbus, Ohio in 1975. He sold his interest in the business in 1990.

Thomas’ first wife died and he was divorced from his second wife. He had moved to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, then to the Pittsburgh area. He was on a dating service website and met Dee Foust of Boswell. They hit it off and he moved to Boswell.

“She’s my life partner; I have the world by the tail,” he said.

Thomas doesn’t like to be idle. He was always interested in coins. He was looking at coins online one day and stumbled across portraits made of pennies. He decided to try to make one. Because Abraham Lincoln is on the penny, the first portrait he made was of Lincoln. He gave it to First National Bank in Stoystown.

“Everyone loves it,” said teller Christine Graham. “People want his business card. I think it’s neat - people can’t tell they are pennies until they walk up to it. It’s an amazing conversation piece.”

Since that first one, Lincoln has remained one of Thomas’ most-requested portraits, along with one of Jesus Christ.

He does custom orders, mainly of dogs, but has done an elephant, a hot-air balloon and two cars. He first does a design, often from a submitted photo. It takes an hour to sort out the pennies into the various contrasting shades he needs. An 18-inch by 24-inch portrait takes 864 pennies. He makes a computer mock-up of the design, then puts the pennies into place, moving them around until he gets the desired result. He then glues them down. The process takes four hours all together. Thomas also sells penny portrait kits.

“This is not a money-maker, it makes people happy,” he said. “The kits can be very satisfying for a child to do. I give most of the kits away or I say just pay me for the materials.”

Some of the portraits have been a challenge. He had to use red nail polish to make fenders for a car portrait, which upset him because he felt like he was cheating. The hot-air balloon was difficult because of the curves. He put a tiny image of Abraham Lincoln in the balloon’s basket.

“Almost every time I do one, I learn something,” Thomas said. “I’ve tried a lot of different kinds of glue to find one that will hold tight and not dry out and drop the pennies. It’s like being paid for learning.”

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Online:

http://bit.ly/1LMdtQc

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Information from: Daily American, http://www.dailyamerican.com

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