Rainbow Lake couple finds creative artistry in China paintings

Authored by Jim Langham on Jul 9, 2010

The Rainbow Lake home of Larry and Pat Elick resembles a China artistic exhibit on display in some well-cased art museum along a scenic body of water.
Even before entering the house, hand-painted placemats decorate the outside table on the couple’s quaint patio. Inside the home, China cabinets, beautiful hand-painted lamps, vases, and other high quality art figures line the walls of the couple’s spacious living room.
A picture window opening to the scenic waters of Rainbow Lake is lined with hand-painted pitchers, plates, and other artistic displays. And the stories told by the local artists as just as masterful as the displays themselves.
“We retired from Jay County Hospital 10 or 11 years ago,” said Larry. “Between us, we had in 85 years of service to the hospital. We were both born in Portland but we used to drive around Rainbow Lake. We liked it so much here that we always dreamed of retiring in this area.
“We purchased this house from Paul and Alice Hunsinger,” said Elick. “We worked long hours and we raised our children. We had both enjoyed art earlier; when we retired we decided to take it up again. Here we are on this lake, but we don’t fish, we don’t have a boat, and we don’t swim. But we love watching the ducks, frogs, rabbits, and hummingbirds.”
At Jay County Hospital, Larry was a laboratory supervisor and Pat, who started in home health care, eventually became the director of nursing.
“She is really an artist; I just do my own thing,” commented Larry. “Her folks had a bakery and she used to do cake decorating. She really has the gift of line design; it just flows for her.
“When I was younger, I did some water colors, but when I started working and taking care of the family, I put my art away,” he continued. “Now we devote almost all of our time to art. We attend seminars and learn from various artists.”
In addition to their own paintings, the Elicks also have other local artists that inspire them. One of those is Jane Louise Fulton. In fact, they have two of her most enjoyable paintings hanging on their wall, behind a towel.
“She water color painted these pictures in 1907. They laid under a bed for many years,” said Elick. “They had never been exposed to light. Her niece was going to sell it in a garage sale and we advised her that her aunt’s paintings could be worth a lot of money.
“The Hoosier Art Salon bought a lot of her work. She (Fulton) was self-taught. She taught art and music in Portland from 1900 to 1943. She founded the art program in Portland High School in 1922.”
Elick’s first attempt at serious china painting occurred when he replaced the top of an antique lamp that was accidently broken by his mother-in-law.
“Virginia Milligan, who lived outside of Portland, painted lamps for 65 or 70 years. She took me on as a student,” explained Elick. “The top of that lamp was the first piece that I painted. It had to match the bottom. That was the beginning; I have been painting China or porcelain ever since.”
Elick said that a big break in his artistry came when Pat Barker, a well-known China painter from Indianapolis, agreed to take him on as a student.
The artist noted that the beginning of creating pieces such as the lampshade begins with placing black and white decals on the lamp. Then, when the shade is fired in the kiln, the colorful paint is brought out, giving the shade its rustic beauty.
“That lamp shade (mother-in-law’s) got me going,” observed Elick.
When asked whether or not they sell or show their art pieces, Elick replied, “We enjoy the satisfaction of our work. There’s no way that we could sell them for the amount of time we put into them, especially when people can buy pieces of China for eight or nine dollars these days.
“This is such a dying art. The average age of China painters is 70-years-old,” continued Elick. “We are always learning from the work of others. This year when we go to the art seminar in Indianapolis, I will be working with a lady from Missouri and Pat will be working with a lady from Brazil.
“You can’t believe some of these older ladies,” added Elick. “I know someone who uses motorcycle oil as a painting medium. My wife did a piece that has automotive fiberglass on it. It was quite a technique to get it worked in.”
Elick said that when he completes a piece of art, he has a sense of wanting to embrace it and keep it. In fact, each piece he completes takes on a special milestone in his life because of an extraordinary special reason.
Elick has Parkinson’s disease. When he works the art, it does something to his brain and the tremors either cease or are greatly quieted.
“The tremors seem to leave when I paint,” said Elick. “On the right hand, I don’t seem to have any tremors. It’s almost like normal, like I forget about the Parkinson’s and all is peaceful and well when I am painting.
“Some people that have something like Parkinson’s sit around and don’t do anything. They look at it as the worst of the worst,” continued Elick. “I’ve got too much to do to worry about that. I feel happy and healthy when I am painting.”
Elick noted that he and Pat find satisfaction in relaxing and painting.
“We don’t trace. We each have our own style and different ways of doing it; our work is still amateurish. We depend on teachers. Our work will probably improve to the extent of the teaching we get,” observed Elick.
“We get a lot of satisfaction out of creating our own work,” said Elick. “We’re very careful with our work; we want to create something that we can appreciate. We do our own thing and receive a great deal of satisfaction from it.”

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