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Mel Tillis shows off his creative flair - on canvas

It's not enough that Mel Tillis sings, dances and writes award-winning songs. Now he's developing yet another talent - painting!

Mel was bitten by the "brush bug" during a trip last winter to the Caribbean island of St. John, where the colorful scenery inspired him. He returned to Branson, Mo., with a new passion and started taking lessons from local artist Marcia Hamlin.

"I'm enjoying it so much," Mel says, grinning. "It came at a time in my life when I just needed something else to do. In the beginning, it was hard to get the perspective and learn how to layer the paints to add depth and highlights."

It wasn't long until he invited Hamlin to move her studio into his theater lobby, where his works are on display.

Mel has tied his new hobby to his favorite charity, the Masons' Scottish Rite Childhood Language Disorders Program, which helps children at 150 clinics across the nation. Over the years, Mel - a longtime Mason - has been part of fund-raising activities for the program and was awarded the Scottish Rite's Grand Cross in 1999 for his efforts.

When the charity's chief executive presented the award to Mel, the exec spotted the singer's art and asked if Mel would consider doing a painting for the organization.

"I was so honored," Mel says."Then I had to figure out what I was going to paint. I wanted to do a still life that would have something in it to represent all the aspects of our country's history."

He chose a muzzle loader to represent frontiersmen, cotton to represent slaves, a teakettle to represent housewives and George Washington because he was a Mason. He also included a jug of corn whiskey. "That was probably pretty important to someone back in history," he says with a smile.

While the original will hang in the Scottish Rite headquarters in Washington, D.C., Mel had a limited edition of 1,000 prints made. They're available for a $250 donation to the Scottish Rite Temple made through Mel's theater at P. O. Box 1630, Branson, MO 65615.

Mel also may make a little money himself from his painting. One of his favorites, hanging in the theater's gallery, is also becoming a favorite of his fans.

It's called "Huckleberry Summer," a scene Mel drew from his childhood memories of life in Florida. "They come in every day and ask if they can buy prints of it," Hamlin says. Mel is planning to paint a series featuring the same young man.

"I used to be just like that," he says, gazing at the young fisherman dozing on the shore.

- Kathryn Buckstaff