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two kittens cats snuggling family pet ellen heath dixie watercolor painting

Simple Living and Joy — The Watercolor Art of Ellen Heath

two kittens cats snuggling family pet simple living ellen heath dixie watercolor painting

Two Kittens Snuggling, watercolor painting by Dixie artist Ellen Heath, capturing the simple living of life with our pets.

Much of life’s most profound philosophy shows up on dish towels.

crab apple blossoms spring flowers simple living ellen heath dixie watercolor

Crab Apples, watercolor painting by Dixie artist Ellen Heath, celebrating the simple living of springtime blossoms

Most of us have seen a sunny little potted flower image on fabric, with “Bloom Where You Are Planted,” written in script underneath. But with wisdom reduced to one-liners, it’s easy to overlook perspicacity.

There are people, however, like Dixie watercolor painter Ellen Heath, who get it. With or without reassurance from the kitchen aisle at the local box store, Heath understands, and lives, the simple life that adds depth to our existence.

“It would be great to travel to exotic places, but I don’t need to,” Heath, who focuses on floral paintings, wildlife, and domestic animals, says. “I look around me, right now, where I am.”

The Profundity of Living Simple

From her home and studio in the foothills of the Blue Mountains outside of Dixie, Heath finds an abundance of inspiration and ideas by doing nothing more than looking through her window, where mother deer show up with their fawns to eat and play under two ancient apple trees. A country walk with her husband Cliff results in more deer sightings, along with owls, squirrels, and the occasional bear or cougar.

doe fawn wildlife animal spring simple living ellen heath dixie watercolor

A doe and fawn, by Dixie watercolor artist Ellen Heath, capturing the simple living of wildlife in the country

On another outing — with the purpose of viewing newborn twin baby cows — a kitten stole the show when it bounced in their path and arched its back.

“He looked so brave and tiny that I took lots of pictures, which I used as reference for ‘Kitten Attack.'”

Heath sells her original paintings, as well as prints and boxes of note cards, to clients who love color and the allure of country life, and she is especially pleased when she hears that a work has been hung in a spot where it can be readily seen and often enjoyed: one couple hung the commissioned painting of their kittens right above the box where the cats sleep. Another purchaser showcases in his hallway a painting of his father’s favorite fishing spot.

Simple Living, Beauty, and Joy

“I want people to catch a glimpse of the beauty and joy that I see in the world around us,” Heath says. “I know all is not this way, but I hope people get a warm, good feeling inside when they look at my paintings.”

leafy bridge country rural forest woods simple living ellen heath watercolor

Leafy Bridge by Dixie watercolor artist Ellen Heath, capturing the simple country life of the rural woods and forest.

It may not sound deep and artsy, she adds, but her primary subject matter revolves around happiness.

“I don’t want to spend my days probing the dark and deep depths of the world.”

Heath, who retired from teaching elementary school a year and half ago, transformed an extra bedroom in her house into a studio. She credits her mother, still active and dynamic at 95, for inspiring her from childhood to do art — “She was always painting, creating things, sewing, cooking, and more. There were art supplies, beads, ribbons, yarn, pressed flowers, cards to make.”

Through the years, Heath has studied art at workshops and college classes, and acknowledges Walla Walla painter Joyce Anderson as the major influence toward her decision to focus on watercolor, which is anything but an easy medium in which to work. But the difficulties, Heath adds, are also the advantages.

Watercolor: Anything BUT Simple

“The challenges and benefits of watercolor for me are the same, as in the rest of life,” she says. “It seems that those things that are the most difficult also bring the most joy.”

cat family pet animal simple living ellen heath watercolor painting dixie

Cat, watercolor painting by Ellen Heath of Dixie. Simple living is normal living for our house cat friends.

Watercolor paint doesn’t necessarily stay where you put it, she explains. It can sink into the paper, creating  darker or lighter spots, or it can flow with the water. Sometimes, this results in colorful, swirling images, but other times — not planned and certainly not desired — the hues turn into mud.

To take full advantage of the translucent, exquisite color of the medium, Heath builds a painting in layers, starting with the lightest colors, and often leans the incomplete picture against the wall to dry while she reviews the areas of light and shadow.

“I’ll put it up again and again, sometimes waiting a couple of days in between. It may be a couple of weeks or even more before I’m finished.” And even then, she admits, it’s tempting to go back and “fix” it up after it’s matted and framed.

Simplicity, Tranquility, Clarity

But there’s no reason to overwork things, to add complications where they are not needed, to fret and fuss and brood — ultimately, the image itself announces that it is done, and ready to be launched into the world. What matters is the joy, the beauty, the invitation to the viewer to step into a world of simplicity, tranquility, and clarity.

“I paint things that make me happy and relaxed, either because of the bright colors of the subject matter.

“I hope others will also find a smile or a bit of joy in them.”

Wenaha Gallery

Ellen Heath is the featured Art Event artist at Wenaha Gallery from Monday, March 26, 2018, through Saturday, Saturday, April 21, 2018.  

Contact the gallery, located at 219 East Main Street, Dayton, WA, by phone at 509.382.2124 or e-mail art@wenaha.com. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Monday through Saturday, and by appointment. Visit the Wenaha Gallery website online at www.wenaha.com.

 

 

steptoe battlefield spokane indian wars 1858 nona hengen historical painting

Native American & Pioneer History: The Paintings of Nona Hengen

steptoe battlefield spokane indian native american wars 1858 nona hengen historical painting

Steptoe Battlefield, depicting the war between the U.S. Government and the Spokane, Coeur d’Alene, and Palouse Native American tribes, by Nona Hengen

It’s easy to forget that, for most of history, there were no cameras.

So when we see a movie of an historical event, or an illustration, or a painting, we rely upon the artist’s interpretation of what they thought happened, hopefully based upon scholarly historical research.

steptoe government indian native american wars historical painting nona hengen

Steptoe Meets the Coeur d’Alene, historical painting of the U.S. Government and Native American conflict, by Nona Hengene

“There are no photographs, no ‘cast of thousands’ to help establish placement, maneuvering, long shots, medium shots or close-ups for cameras,” says artist and historian Nona Hengen, who has spent 30 years researching, and painting, the “Indian Wars” of the Inland Northwest. One of Hengen’s focus has been the Steptoe Battles of 1858, in which government troops led by Colonel Edward Steptoe were routed and defeated by the Spokane, Couer d’Alene and Palouse tribes.

On the eve of the Civil War, this battle, also known as The Battle of Pine Creek, set into motion events that led eventually to the extermination of the Native Americans’ traditional way of life. And because this happened in the region where Hengen presently lives, she has studied it, spoken on it, and painted it extensively. It’s what she does: she brings history to visual life, whether that history is the war between the Native Americans and the U.S. government, the life of the pioneers and immigrants in the region, or even carousel horses.

History and the Present

horse buggy nostalgic history vintage painting nona hengen

Don’t Sell the Horses Yet, Bob! Vintage nostalgia, capturing early 20th century pioneer life, by Nona Hengen

“The subject matter of her realistic canvases are the houses, the barns, the tractors, the horses, hills, and fields of the Palouse country,” wrote Dr. W. Robert Lawyer, director of libraries at Western Washington University, in an introduction to a showing of Hengen’s works in Bellingham.

“Her deep attachment to the land and to country  life, coupled with her fine powers of observation, find expression in genuine recreations infused with the life, the strength, the vigor, the loneliness, and the vastness of life in the country.”

Hengen, who at 10 years old wrote to her uncle that she planned to be an artist, took the long way round, earning her PhD in education and history, then teaching at universities, because there were no art schools in the area. When her mother became ill, she returned to the 1904 family homestead in Spangle, later settling in permanently and picking up the dream she had set aside 23 years before.

carousel odyssey vintage nostalgia horses nona hengen poster

Carousel Odyssey, an exploration of a different kind of history, by Nona Hengen

She began writing and illustrating for numerous magazines — Cats and Kittens, Dog and Kennel, Bird Times, Wheat Life — and authored 16 books on life in the Palouse region. Her artwork appeared on cards from Leanin’ Tree, as puzzles from Sunsout, and on the front page of the 1998 Voters Pamphlet. National Geographic has contacted her, seeking permission to include paintings from her historical series in two recent publications.

Preserving the Barn, and History

In 2014, Hengen applied for, and received, a grant to restore the homestead’s historic barn, which now houses a generous selection of her many, many paintings. By appointment, she shepherds interested groups through the gallery, explaining the rich and diverse history of the area, seeking to show the people of today their connection to the people of the past, whether those people were the pioneers, or the people who were here long, long before that.

To bring this life to visual life, Hengen pores over historical accounts: diaries, memoirs, letters, sketches by eyewitnesses, and then adds a dose of artistry to the research. For one of her historical works, Horse Slaughter Camp, depicting the U.S. Army’s shooting of more than 800 Indian horses in 1858, Hengen relied heavily upon the cooperation of her Quarter Horse, Sam.

“I spent numerous leisure moments on hot days observing my horse cooling himself off in a dust wallow he had made for himself in the farmyard,” Hengen explains.

horse slaughter camp history government indian native american wars nona hengen

Horse Slaughter Camp, a depiction of the U.S. Army’s shooting of 800 Native American horses by Nona Hengen. Hengen’s quarter horse, Sam, served as the principal model for this artwork.

“I would nudge him and coax him to pull himself up on his front legs, giving me opportunity, sketchbook in hand, to observe the ‘getting up’ maneuver.

“At other times, he seemed to say, ‘Really? And just what is the purpose of this unwarranted pestering and intrusion into my naptime?'” Eventually, many photos and sketches later, Hengen had the material she needed to work out a composition.

Native American and Pioneer Life

It’s a combination of history, research, reading, sketching, writing, artistry, and imagination, and the result is a body of work that invites the past into the present, encouraging people of modern day to notice not only the differences between the eras, nor the similarities as well, but the pain and the joy, the injustice and the adventure.

Such is human history: family, hard work, leisure time, hopes, dreams, disappointments, the day to day activities that comprise a lifetime, violence, peace — it can all be found in the Palouse region.

“These are the sorts of subjects that revive family memories and look back at the experiences of pioneering in the Palouse — in short, the tie to the land, and the shared bonds of a life lived in earlier times.”

Wenaha Gallery

Nona Hengen is the featured Art Event  at Wenaha Gallery from Monday, January 29, 2018, through Saturday, Saturday, March 3, 2018.  She will speaking at the gallery Saturday, March 3 at 1:30 and 3, discussing the U.S. Government/Native American conflicts of the Inland Northwest. Joining her that day will be watercolorist Roy Anderson of Walla Walla and glass artist Gregory Jones of Pasco.

Contact the gallery, located at 219 East Main Street, Dayton, WA, by phone at 509.382.2124 or e-mail art@wenaha.com. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Monday through Saturday, and by appointment. Visit the Wenaha Gallery website online at www.wenaha.com.

 

 

 

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