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Longtime artist lives with her paintings

Many years ago, Helen Atterbury “just took a notion” that she wanted to paint.

“My husband asked me what I wanted for Christmas, and I said some paints,” she said. “He thought I was crazy.”

After all, Helen was the business manager of the Big Eight Conference. She was used to working with numbers, not images.

Nevertheless, she received paints as a gift that Christmas from her husband, Earl Wayne.

She took lessons from a neighbor, who taught her tole painting, a decorative painting technique with roots in folk art. For many years, Helen was a member of the Society of Decorative Painters, an international organization based in Wichita.

The women soon branched out into more traditional oil painting techniques. Helen often took inspiration from images in art books and gravitated toward landscapes, animals, buildings and still lives.

“At one point I said I’d paint anything that would hold still for me,” said Helen, who moved to Wichita Presbyterian Manor last July. Her work covers an incredible variety of subject matter, although she was never interested in portraits.

Over more than four decades, Helen made hundreds of paintings. Though most are no longer in her possession, she has postcards of all of them.

The 93-year-old gave up her avocation when her late husband fell ill several years ago. That’s when they moved from the Kansas City area to Wichita to be closer to their only child. Now that she lives at Presbyterian Manor, she can explore art again with our life enrichment staff.

Although she may no longer paint, Helen lives with reminders of her creative history.

When she moved into her apartment in the assisted living neighborhood, Helen chose several of her favorite paintings to decorate her new space.

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