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'Rural weirdness needs to be celebrated'

Professional artist shares art and experience with Washington

GTNS photo by David Hotle

Artist in residence Chad Elliott shows some of his artwork that will be displayed at Art Domestique through most of March. The art is featured in Elliott’s series of children’s books.
GTNS photo by David Hotle Artist in residence Chad Elliott shows some of his artwork that will be displayed at Art Domestique through most of March. The art is featured in Elliott’s series of children’s books.

When Chad Elliott is making any kind of art — be it playing a song, painting, or writing a children’s story — he says the key is “going into” the work.

“I think the commodity these days are people who are really diving into their own journey as artists or writers,” he explained while hanging several pieces of his art on the walls of Art Domestique. “That is a trait that is being more and more celebrated.”

With his stated goal is to build in character and spread the knowledge he has gained, Elliott’s life reflects the philosophy of “going into” his work, including his return to Iowa and embracing small town life rather than chasing fame and fortune in a larger area. Over the next month Elliott will have several chances to pass his knowledge of art in all its forms to people. As an artist-in-0residence in Washington he will perform at the Mills Seed Building beginning at 7 p.m. March 15. On March 16 he will host a songwriting workshop in the LETS Center and appear at an artist reception from noon to 2:30 p.m. in Art Domestique. The reception is free and open to the public. He also will spend time in area schools helping young people to connect with their art. Elliott already brought his message of art to Stewart Elementary last Friday.

Reflecting on the nature of modern art, Elliott believes people’s stories are taking the front seat.

“I think that is why things like blogs and podcasts are as popular as they are today is because people are realizing that everyone has their own unique story and they need to be heard,” he said.

Elliott, a professional singer-songwriter, artist and author, has 22 CDs, showing his love of rock, blues and soul, to his credit. he performs 200 shows a year. He also authored the series of children’s books called Wilderman’s Treetop Tales. While not busy with those pursuits, he homes his skills as a painter and sculptor. Elliott explained his life has provided plenty of material to create art.

As a professional artist, Elliott commented he is surprised at the number of professional artists and musicians from Washington County that he meets. He marveled as people in Art Domestique told him of the importance of art in the Washington community. They described the Washington Municipal Band to him, as well as discussed the art walks that are a regular part of special summer events. He only stopped the discussion to utter “I love it,” about the Washington arts.

Elliott grew up in the southern Iowa town of Lamoni. From there he started on his path as an artists, even announcing at the age of 5 years old he would be a professor of art. (he is very close, but does not have a Ph.d in art at this time) Learning art from several aunts and uncles who are art teachers. In college he picked up a guitar and his path with art took another turn.

“I have always loved music and always sang in choirs, but it was my way of getting into the writing aspect of music,” he said.

In high school, Elliott had a teacher who played acoustic guitar and sang folk music to her students. He fond himself compelled to play a six-string acoustic guitar. His room mate offered to teach him some chords. The music came easily. Elliott recalls spending the summer hfter his freshman year of college learning to write songs. He learned as many 1960s folk songs as he could.

“It changed my life,” he said. “I really became more of a songwriter then.”

His first concert came three years later. It was two hours of original material. Elliott said it would still be years before he felt he had his own voice in the writing. To this day, he doesn’t feel all his work is entirely his.

The exhibit in Art Domestique is a culmination of the blend of arts, as the prints on display are made from children’s songs Elliott has written. He said sometimes the painting comes before the story. All the images show a background in rural Iowa, with many being set on a farm or in a wooded area from the state.

“I think that rural weirdness needs to be celebrated,” he said.

With many of his family being educators, he expressed his desire to teach through his children’s stories. He had considered writing children’s stories growing up, but it wasn’t until he had children of his own that the spark was really set. In his books, each page is a separate painting and story.

The Southeast Iowa Folk Music Club (SEIFMC), a loose affiliation of musicians, in partnership with many other groups, are bringing Elliott to Washington for several times during March as an artist-in-residence. This is the first time SEIFMC has brought an artist-in-residence to Washington and required much fundraising. Many young people in the community help raise money to bring Elliott to town. The fundraising continues as donations will be requested at the events.

“I think that to never lose sight of the idea that every day there is something that can be inspiring is what I hope to teach,” he said. “I listen to stories from people all the time and am inspired by that. I want kids especially to come away with that and hopefully catch fire and find their own passion.”