After a long career, most people just want to relax.
Some move to a place that is warm year-round or at least take lengthy vacations to someplace nice. Others take to golfing or other leisurely activities to enjoy their newfound free time.
There aren’t a lot of people retired from business life who embark on another full-time career as an author and artist. Although he wasn’t a professional artist before, Jeffrey Birch’s past experiences made the transition to his current lifestyle a natural one.
“In the early to mid-1970s, I was the director of exhibits at the Science Museum of Minnesota. I was in the museum industry for 13 years before I went into the business field,” says Birch of his professional background, which, in retrospect, he says also provided an outlet for creativity. “The Science Museum was an art job; I was a designer for mostly natural history exhibits.” Even when Birch moved into the business realm, he opted for a job involving the design and construction of custom trade show exhibits. “I have always migrated to something in the arts, because that’s what I have always been interested in,” he says.
Then in 2002 at age 56, the company he was working for, Entolo, went out of business and Birch found himself at a crossroads. Still “fairly young,” he says he wasn’t ready to drift into complacency and began looking at different things that he still wanted to do. He began buying, remodeling and reselling houses before officially retiring at age 62.
Since then, he’s only been doing things he enjoys.
“In my fine arts life, which has been a part of my life forever, I am an oil painter, a sculptor and a writer. I do a couple of paintings a year and piece a sculpture or two. It’s not so much about the idea of selling them, it’s just when I have a concept that moves me, I will do something,” Birch says. “I have painted and sculpted for as long as I can remember. I sold my art for years and was fairly active in trying to promote and sell, but never really made a living at it. The writing now is very much a career for me, though. I started getting really serious about my writing five years ago. I found what really moved me, and what I really found exciting, was murder mysteries.”
Writing has been something he’s dabbled in on the side since he was in his 30s, Birch estimates. But it was only in retirement that he added the writing regimen he considers serious writing—one that requires two to four hours of writing a day, seven days a week. Today Birch is an author who has written and self-published six e-books, which are available on his website.
“He’s always done everything he is currently doing, but retiring gave him the opportunity to be able to do more of it. In the past, before retiring, he would write in the night and on the weekends, because it’s always been something he really had to do as an expression of creativity in one form or another,” says Birch’s wife, Gail, who first met the occasional artist when he was interviewing her for a position at a North Carolina museum years ago. He didn’t offer her the job, but offered a dinner instead. The rest is history.
Four of Birch’s titles—Magnet for Murder, Frozen Solid, The Hunting and Conflagration—revolve heavily around one central character named Chance Colter; the remaining novels, Crossings and Kin, follow the same themes of suspense, mystery and thriller fiction, but are based on different characters.
“It’s something about the pace of the novels; it’s what I like to read and what I like to write, so that’s the genre that I migrated to,” Birch says. “Some people are good at one thing and not another. I have never been very good at math, but I have always had fairly strong language skills. You kind of do the things that you’re good at, and I always have been able to write a sentence and put ideas together.”
Both Birch and his wife of 32 years agree that painting, writing and sculpting are essential parts of his creative persona. The affinity for artistic expression is something he was born with, they say, and also a healthy and pivotal way of expressing himself on a daily basis.
“I think that when you are creative, you are given a talent … It’s not something that you just ignore, but it’s something that has to be expressed. And when you’re in a position to be able to do that, I think that’s when you’re at your happiest,” Gail Birch says.
“It’s kind of a cliché to say that one lives a creative life, but that’s really been true for me,” Jeffrey Birch adds. “There are some of us who just need to be creative; it’s fundamental to who we are, and we will always be that way. I have a need, and I fill it.”
Whether or not Birch will become the next Stephen King or Pablo Picasso is for only the public and time to decide. In the meantime, he plans to keep expressing himself, learning and helping others whenever possible.
“I am interested in also getting into 3-D art and animation, so I am always looking for something to learn about,” he says, adding his relationship with the Science Museum of Minnesota continues to offer opportunity as well. “The museum has a need from time to time for artwork that will support their research. I’m currently working on a painting for a fossil fish. The Science Museum has a huge exhibit department, but these are things that are kind of a special need, and I am happy to help out. I enjoy giving back whenever I can.”
“He’s told me from day 1 that it was just something he needed to do, to express his creativity and how he sees the world,” Gail Birch says. “And he works out every single day. He can write, he can paint, he can talk very articulately; he is our Renaissance man. And you do not want to play Trivial Pursuit against him.”