The Artistic Journey of a Madison Financial Consultant

Journeys can be made by body, mind and soul, and as Madison financial consultant Jay Handy visits Bay City, Michigan this week, the three seem certain to resonate.

Four years ago, Handy, 59, who attended Harvard Business School and ran Merrill Lynch’s Madison office, decided to take seriously the art that had been a passion since his troubled childhood and teenage years.

Handy rescued a 1,200-pound printing press from a junk dealer outside Chicago and, with great difficulty, installed it in his Madison basement.

Handy worked hard, took lessons, and found he had talent as a printmaker. His prints have now been exhibited in galleries as far afield as London and he was recently accepted into a prestigious bi-annual exhibition in Florence, Italy.

But it will likely be a long time before Hardy has a more meaningful performance than the one that ended May 14 in Bay City.

It was an exhibit Handy envisioned and embraced by Bay City, where he grew up. Last July, after consulting with community leaders, Handy released a appeal to residents for photographs of their life in Bay City, significant or poignant moments. The response was overwhelming with hundreds of submissions. Handy used his work with color, contrast, hand dye, tissue paper and printing press and transformed photographs into works of art. The exhibition opened in March and Handy made a artist-in-residence weekend during which he taught a class. His trip to Bay City this week is to pick up the few pieces of the 37 in the series that didn’t sell.

A piece by Jay Handy (Courtesy of the artist)

Handy loves Bay City and his family has deep roots there — a high school is named after his great-grandfather. But his own upbringing was difficult. His parents were away, plagued by drug addiction and mental illness. Handy was in and out of foster care, often alone, but didn’t tell anyone.

“It was shameful,” he says.

Still, he was class president, an Eagle Scout. A friend’s father insisted that Handy take a college entrance exam, and he eventually received a scholarship to Michigan State.

From there, Harvard, where he met his wife, Kim. She had attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and on Easter weekend 1992 the couple, seeking to live in the Midwest, visited Madison.

“I had never been in town before,” Handy says. “We went out on a Thursday. We bought a house that Sunday. They have been here ever since.

Handy had worked for Merrill Lynch in Boston and arranged for a transfer to the company’s Madison office. In 2009, with a couple of associates, he formed an independent registered investment advisory firm, which is ongoing.

Even before his recent stint in printmaking, Handy had notable side adventures. He hiked in the Amazon rainforest, entered China via Pakistan, and engaged in extreme sports.

The latter — including a 105-mile bike ride through Death Valley — has often been to raise money for the American Diabetes Association and the Junior Diabetes Research Foundation.

Handy was diagnosed with the disease at age 13. When he ran his first marathon in 2000, he spoke to his doctor, who said, “I wouldn’t recommend it. Others express their opposition more bluntly. Blood sugar levels can be affected by extreme exercise.

Handy has since done four Ironman triathlons and says, “With new diagnostics and new insulins, he can now be managed more safely.”
It was July 2018 when Handy says he asked himself a profound question.

“What do you think of when you think of nothing? »

In other words, when your mind is free. For Handy, the answer was simple: Art.

little boy holding a cat

Piece in the Bay City exhibit (Courtesy Jay Handy)

“All my life,” he says, “it’s always been art.”

Handy, as noted, quickly found his printing press.

“I fell in love with it and what I was doing. I kept working on it and working on it.

He traveled to Omaha to attend a week-long workshop taught by UW-Madison Associate Professor of Printmaking Emily Arthur. The irony of traveling to Nebraska to study with someone who lived less than a mile from him in Madison didn’t escape Handy.

Still, the class and Arthur were a revelation.

“She called me the class baby,” Handy says. He was probably the only one without an art degree. “She ended up being a major mentor to me.”

A few years after Omaha, it was Bay City, but this time Handy was the teacher.

“It was amazing,” says Handy, to bring his art to Bay City. “It was a moving experience for me. To be able to come back and artistically hold up a mirror to the community that I love was really powerful for me.

So powerful, in fact, that he hopes to do a similar show in the fall — this time in Madison.

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