Ellensburg Daily Record, Saturday, November 22,

AN INNOVATIVE ARTIST UNTIL THE END:
Ellensburg's Dick Elliott dead at 63, owned Dick & Jane's Spot with wife.

By Mary Swift, staff writer

 ELLENSBURG- Some lives are masterpieces.

Count Richard (Dick) Elliott's among them.

His artistic endeavors won him a national reputation.

His integrity and generosity earned him a wealth of friends.

Elliott, who graduated from Central Washington University in 1971, was named a Distinguished Alumnus in 2000 and received the Washington State Governor's Arts and Heritage Award in 2007.

He died Wednesday at his Ellensburg home after a 14-month battle with pancreatic cancer.

He was 63.

He and his wife, artist Jane Orleman, married in 1971. They turned their home in the 100 block of North Pearl Street into Dick & Jane's Spot, an art site. They were Dick and Jane. Spot was their dog, now gone but memorialized via a weathervane commissioned in his honor.

Elliott forged a career doing large-scale art with reflectors, using a process he patented. His commissioned works have been done for entities ranging from the New York Transit System to Minneapolis' light rail system to the University of Washington's Henry Art Gallery to the Ellensburg Public Library.

A work commissioned by Sound Transit in Seattle, "The Sound of Light," was honored by Americans for the Arts as one of the outstanding public artworks for 2007.

If cancer might have slowed another artist, the diagnosis seemed to energize Elliott.

"This turned my life upside down," he wrote of his diagnosis. He turned from doing large-scale paintings to painting on the computer. Not only was it something he could handle physically, but the computer allowed him to move through ideas quickly in what he called "a creative explosion."

Before his diagnosis, he'd envisioned another 20 years doing art.

"That timeframe has now been condensed," he wrote on his Web site.

Orleman became the chronicler of the journey she and Elliott were on, updating friends and family with e-mails.

"We are surrounded by angels who help us at every turn," she wrote on May 30.

Simple pleasures grew even more important.

"Dick and I seem to be going along nicely with whatever the day brings, happy to be together, making art, reading, sitting in the garden and sometimes just trying to figure out how to handle the latest twist in the road," she wrote in July. "I have become Dick's 'energy police' because he is not one to slow down until he hits the wall -- at high speed."

Thursday, Orleman sent another e-mail.

"Dick died last evening after a pleasant day with prospects of a fine meal brought by a friend earlier in the afternoon," she wrote.

On Friday, she was busy getting the house ready for a potluck she will hold in his honor tonight.

"When you've been dealing with sickness for a year," she said, "things pile up."

The art community was reacting.

"I've always been a commercial graphic designer, a 'Sunday painter' if you will," said Glen Bach, professor of graphic arts at Central. "It was hard to say I was an artist. One day he told me, 'You're an artist.' He gave me voice to say that. It was a great gift."

He recalled one of Elliott's shows.

"It was with his reflectors," Bach said. "You wore these helmets with lights on them into the darkened gallery and when the lights hit the art, it came alive. It was incredible."

Julie Prather, a stained-glass artist, said she "always admired the fact he went after what he believed in with gusto. I was totally impressed with what he'd done since he'd been sick. He was going gung ho, pushing hard I think because he knew his time was limited."

John Agars, a retired CWU professor who knew Elliott for more than 30 years, called him "a really neat guy who did some things that were marvelously innovative."

William Folkestad, art historian at Central, echoed those words. Elliott, he said, was "a consummate professional" who had been "working for decades on a new way of presenting color and space."

Understanding from their own experience how difficult it is to forge a successful career as an artist, Elliott and Orleman "were always open to finding ways to assist aspiring artists," Folkestad said.

And Elliott made clear that success required hard work, he said.

"Once, giving a lecture on campus he told the students if they don't have three refusals per month for things they're trying to engage in they weren't working hard enough," Folkestad said. "Even when he passed away, he had two or three public commissions he was working on."

At the time of Elliott's death, Folkestad was working on interviews with him.

"I'm trying to give him a voice," Folkestad said. Because Elliott's work was primarily public commissions rather than gallery shows many people aren't familiar with it, he said.

"The idea is to develop a manuscript and illustrate it with images that will bring his philosophy and art to the people."

John Bennett, a longtime friend of Elliott and Orleman, said Elliott, despite a sometimes brusque manner, had a heart for people.

"He and Jane were about the best friends you could have," he says. "He had sterling integrity. One thing the man didn't have was a shred of self-pity.

"He was extremely intelligent and totally focused when he was doing something. He quit playing chess a long time ago because he was so consumed by it."

In an article about the couple, Bennett wrote, "It's hard to talk about Dick Elliott without talking about Jane Orleman. Their lives and their art are inextricably intertwined."

On Friday, he reiterated that thought.

"He and Jane were inseparable," Bennett said. "It's going to be very hard on her."

 

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