Bob Boroski pulled the drawings and paintings out of a cardboard box, placing them on a table.
Each piece of artwork brought back memories. “I save all my students’ first drawings,” said Boroski, who has operated the Bob Boroski School of Art in Shelton for two decades.
“You can smell the smoke on them, but they are in pretty good condition,” he said.
The artwork in the box is what survived the massive downtown fire that destroyed the school facility on Bridge Street at Howe Avenue.
Most of the artwork in the school — by Boroski, by students and by friends — was ruined. Almost all of his personal paintings at the studio were lost, including a prized painting he did of the four Beatles.
But fire officials called him the day after the blaze to tell him a pile of drawings and paintings had been found.
Not all of them were salvageable, and some of those that were now have what he calls “battle scars” on them from the fire.
The massive fire destroyed most of a city block on Howe Avenue, downtown Shelton’s main retail road, destroying about two dozen apartments and impacting eight businesses.
Looking at fire: ‘I was in shock’
On Jan. 6, Boroski had been on his way to the art school in the early morning when his wife called to tell him about the fire.
“My heart was beating loudly,” he said of driving to the scene, worried about the lifetime of artwork he had accumulated as well as all the school’s supplies.
“I got there and it was ablaze,” Boroski said. “I was in shock.”
Still, compared to the apartment residents he stood next to that morning, he felt lucky. They had lost their residences and all their belongings.
“Why should I feel sorry for myself when I have a home to go to?” he thought to himself.
New location to open soon
The good news is that Boroski plans to reopen the art school in a new location within the next week or so.
He has secured space in the White Hills Shopping Center on Route 110, and was busy last week working with contractors to get the new studio ready.
“Everything here is new except for the file cabinets, which someone donated,” Boroski said.
The day after the fire, determined to relocate the school quickly, he looked at four potential sites and chose the one in White Hills.
The new location is a 1,000-square-foot storefront, slightly more than half as big as the old site downtown.
“It’s totally different, but I like it,” Boroski said. “It will take some time to get used to it.”
He has been moved by the many calls and messages he’s received since the fire — from former students as well as strangers. One young art school student offered his savings to help Boroski relocate the school.
Any money he accepts will be used to pay for scholarships for students at the art school, he stressed.
“The response has been overwhelming,” Boroski said. “People wanted to volunteer — to paint the walls, to clean the floors.”
Art as an early passion
Boroski, a Shelton native, was attracted to art from a very young age. “My parents encouraged me to pursue it,” he said of his passion.
He was voted Most Artistic at Shelton High, from which he graduated in 1972. He also was active in the ice hockey club at the high school, and still plays hockey today.
Boroski then attended the Paier College of Art in Hamden and worked for three decades as a graphic designer and art director, mostly for ad agencies.
He produced advertising, brochures and logos for corporations and institutions nationwide.
Boroski, who is married with three children and four grandchildren, still works as an artist at a Trumbull engraver that does high-end artwork on products for well-known national brands. He lives in Derby.
The art school’s beginnings
Boroski began the art school in 1994 when the minister at his wife’s church wanted his son to take art lessons.
The school’s first location was inside the church hall. Then word of mouth brought him more students and he outgrew the church location, moving downtown in 2002.
“I tried to create something they didn’t have when I was young,” Boroski said of the school.
Students of all ages, backgrounds
He usually teaches from 75 to 120 students, with class sizes generally limited to 14 students. Five part-time instructors work with him.
Students range from age 6 to senior citizens. “There are all kinds of people, with different professions and backgrounds,” he said.
A few of his students through the years have gone on to stellar art careers, including one who is nationally recognized in the fantasy art genre.
Favorite scene in Shelton
Boroski continues to draw and paint himself. One of his favorite local scenes is the Ousatonic Dam on the Housatonic River, just north of downtown.
“I’ve drawn it many times,” he said. “They always sell — some are in private collections, some to banks.”
His passion for art — for creating it and for teaching it to others — has not lessened through the years. “Art is something I’ve always enjoyed,” he said. “You can just get lost in it.”