Art in the Park Area artists collaborate on unique work

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Retired art teacher Ken Balk created this tree using cattle markers, rope and other medium. Eighteen members of Clayton County Artists contributed the smaller canvases. The piece will be auctioned off as part of the Art in the Park festivities this weekend in Elkader.
Retired art teacher Ken Balk created this tree using cattle markers, rope and other medium. Eighteen members of Clayton County Artists contributed the smaller canvases. The piece will be auctioned off as part of the Art in the Park festivities this weekend in Elkader.

By Pam Reinig
Register Editor

A product often found in barns was integral a painting that will be auctioned off this weekend during Art in the Park.

Retired art teacher Ken Balk of West Union formed the painting’s central element—a large, dramatic, 3-dimensional tree—using cattle markers. These oversized paint sticks were originally made to mark animals for identification purposes. Artists have been using the medium for years, citing the inexpensive cost, array of colors, consistency and fast drying times as their reasons for turning to this unusual product. One artist likened it to painting with a large tube of lipstick.
Cattle markers are also the reason Balk became involved with Clayton County Artists, who are sponsoring the work.

“I was asked to give a presentation on markers at one of their meetings,” explained Balk, who recently retired after 37 years at North Fayette Valley Schools. “I knew about the group because they gave scholarships to my students. But after meeting the people, I decided to get involved with them.”

Clayton County Artists have about 28 members. The work of 18 of them is featured on the 4-inch canvases that decorate the tree. A three-dimensional representation of a goldfinch created by Julie Kane, Elkader, inspired Balk to go 3-D as well.
“We brainstormed ideas and decided on a tree,” Balk said. “I found a picture of a tree that I liked, and started working from that. But after I saw Julie’s work, I decided to go 3-D with the tree, as well.”

To give the tree dimension, Balk used liquid nail and barn rope. He used a basket-weaving technique to create smaller branches and eventually added leaves made from cardboard, tissue paper and polymer.
The large finished canvas measures 40x50 inches without the frame. The frame adds another 2 inches to each side of the work. Balk has affixed the individual canvases in a manner that ensures they won’t pop off or sag.

One of the most impressive aspects of the finished piece is the way the individual canvases represent the unique styles of each artist and yet work together to form a cohesive piece. Mediums used include watercolor, oil paints, collage and beads. Birds are a common theme but the piece also includes a squirrel, Monarch butterfly, barn quilt, flowers and even a fanciful fairy.

Balk’s contribution to the piece took him about 50 hours to create. The time spent on individual canvases varied but the piece easily represents more than 100 hours invested by more than two dozen artists. Proceeds from the sale of the work will be used to further Art in the Park activities.

Art in the Park is August 17 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and August 18 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Founders’ Park, Elkader. The Clayton County Artist work is displayed at Sharp’s Art Gallery, Elkader, through August 17. The following artists contributed canvases to the tree Balk created: Cecil Carnes, Cathryn Chancellor, Judi Crandall, Arthur Geistart, Leslie Gibbons, Beth Gilana, Bev Hamann, Carol Hartmann, Rebacca Hennessy, Jillian Herrmann, Rosalyn Hurley, Julie Kane, Gail Larson, Verna Lenth, Pat Peck, Helen Rowell, Lucy Sharp, and Tom Webber.
 

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