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Art of giving

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Photos by Hank Lohmeyer Artist Ella Kelly in her studio near Cedaredge shows a landscape done in the "fire painting" technique; a medium which illustrates how others have taught and shared their skills with her in ways that have enabled her to advance bot

Art is part of life, and life is about giving. Cedaredge area artist Ella Kelly has found that art and giving have been center points in her personal and professional life.

"We are so blessed to have people in our lives who teach and help us with their talents," Ella says.

The events that have woven a life tapestry of giving and art were at work before Ella took up art as an avocation. Her previous career was in law enforcement; a career that took her through 29 years of life and during which she attained the rank of sergeant as a sheriff's deputy in Denver. The other officers she worked with in those years still call her "Sarge."

She was working an off-duty security detail helping guard $10 million worth of gems and minerals at an annual trade show and, quite naturally, she made acquaintances with some of the exhibitors. They interested her to get started in beading and helped her along with advice and in obtaining supplies for the hobby.

She recalls, "As a single mom, I didn't have the money to buy jewelry." So she learned how to make her own. And, eventually, she found herself able to give something back for all of the kindness she had been shown when just starting out. She created a necklace that contained 1,500 carats of topaz stones. She donated the necklace to a charity which then sold the piece for a large sum. Ella worked off-duty security at that trade show for 26 years.

Her law enforcement career provided another avenue for learning and for giving back. For 17 years she worked another off-duty security assignment at a church in Denver -- Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

"The reason they had security is because of the location." Ella explains that many homeless and indigent people often gathered there, especially during special occasions. "I worked in positions [as a deputy] that most females would not want," she said.

She got to know many of the indigent people and tried to help them by relating to them. "As a cop, I could listen to anybody," Ella says. "I should be [able to] as an officer. It incorporates all law enforcement and was one of my best lesson learned."

She began seeing the need of the homeless people she encountered. As a result, she began making shopping trips on the last day of estate sales where she would load up on unsold garments that she bought inexpensively by the bag full. If she encountered an indigent person in need of something while at the church, she would open the trunk of her car revealing a bounty of warm clothing free for the taking.

Ella says that she got her start in law enforcement because "I'm just so Irish; someone told me that I couldn't do it." That same kind of passion still expresses her view of the profession. "Political correctness has [messed up] the view of society towards cops," she says. Ella explains that officers are "just regular people trying to do a job who have families of their own to go home to."

Ella retired from law enforcement in 2012. She and her husband, Dennis, found a home with an ideal studio space near Cedaredge in April of last year. Now, Ella has found that the same blessings of "people in our lives who teach and help with their talents" are proving as true in her art career as they had during her law enforcement years.

A local artist has helped her learn the techniques of alcohol ink painting, and another is teaching her about polymer clay. "You are given the knowledge of someone else and then you do something with it," which she is doing now in both mediums.

The new knowledge and talent shared in alcohol ink has led to work in a type of medium she calls "fire painting."

The fire painting process uses an acetylene torch to heat a copper sheet in a way that brings out shades of color and various forms in the metal. Alcohol inks are applied to bring out the forms and develop them in to recognizable shapes in a painting. Then a final step involves heating the inks with the aid of an unlikely artistic tool - a butane-fueled barbecue grill lighter. "I don't ever use anything that it is intended for," Ella says. The process creates a work of haunting beauty with a rich metallic appearance.

Artistic lessons in polymer clay learned from friend Karen Brueggemann are leading Ella to new designs that incorporate polymer clay with metal. It will be a new medium of artistic expression added to the list of Ella's works.

"I dream nothing but art. I have taken a lot of classes in the various art mediums," she says. The list of artistic mediums she works in includes metal smithing, etching, polymer clay, polymer clay with metals, beading that she learned from her gem show friends, and alcohol ink on metal and the fire paintings.

But her signature medium is metal smithing. Ella is also a blacksmith at Pioneer Town and teaches blacksmith classes there.

Her education in metal smithing began 15 years ago. She has taken classes and lessons at Denver and elsewhere in the required skills. She said she will soon travel to Arkansas for instruction with an artist who accepts only eight students each year. "To be a metal smith you have to learn all of the different chemical processes," Ella said.

Some of her work involves metal etching, a long process using heat and various chemicals to engrave patterns into metal for jewelry making. She has developed a process for etching patterns onto the cylindrical shapes, and she incorporates her polymer clay skills into the works to make pendants.

And still, while having learned so much from other artists, giving something back remains important. She and a neighbor are starting a project of refurbishing, decorating, and lining a large collection of little "treasure boxes" Ella has acquired. When completed, the boxes will be given to disadvantaged young girls to keep their own few little treasurers in.

"There have been so many different people in my life" who have helped and taught, Ella says.

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