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Local artist intermingles art with life
new kl smithsonian painting rhea
This painting by Rhea Grandon was looked at twice by the Smithsonian Institute for inclusion into its gallery. The name of the painting is Hopi Butterfly Dancer. - photo by KAREN LA PIERRE

ELLINWOOD — Staying busy and loving life, Rhea Grandon finds fulfillment in her art, hobbies, family and friends.
Grandon was raised in Ellinwood and credits her parents, Dorothy and Jerry Van Steenburgh, for a childhood filled with laughter and love.
"My Dad was a wonderful story teller," she said. He only went to 2nd grade before having to drop out to work. But, “he was born with charisma.”
His respect for the rights of others was great, and he always told Rhea, "Don't be the problem, be a part of the solution."
The threads of creativity wind its way through the family tree and when the Jerry Van Steenburgh family left Ellinwood for visits to family in Missouri, cousins and aunts and uncles would bring out the fiddles and make music all night long. "They were very creative people," said Grandon.
"My parents made our lives very fun," she said. "They were simple, honest, hard working people.  I'm glad they were my parents."
"I would say, above all else, our love and laughter was the glue that held our lives together," said Grandon.
And that creativity of the Van Steenburgh family was passed on to Rhea and her sister.
Following the ways of so young people, Rhea left Ellinwood at the age of 20, moving to Central City, Colo. and working in wardrobe for the opera. When “The Duchess and the Dirtwater Fox” movie was filmed in Central City. Grandon said she painted a portrait of Goldie Hawn during the filming of the movie. Rhea was hired to fit costumes for the movie.
Rhea is an artist who prefers to paint realistic paintings. To sell her artwork, she circled the U.S. in her younger years, painting, meeting interesting people yet always finding joy despite barely eking out a living.
A self-taught artist, she horse traded paintings for necessities. About the only classes she had taken in art were in grade school gluing macaroni to paper.
When she was traveling, she did 44 shows a year and lived in a bus. “It was a blast. I loved seeing all of  those places,” she said. “It was hard to make a living, but I wanted to get my paintings out.”
But, the family eventually resettled in Ellinwood. “Sometimes you have to go someplace else before you appreciate what you had to start with,” said Grandon who lives in the home that was formerly owned by her parents.
Grandon still stays busy with her hobbies. “I don’t paint every day,” said Rhea. “I like to do so many things. I paint, then carve stones, sew, cook and grow things. I have lots of interests.”
“I’ve never been bored in my life,” she said. “I love people,” which is mostly what she paints, using acrylics or water colors. She particularly enjoys painting the Native American culture, using items such as animal horns and leather canvasses. Plus, her mother told her that she had Native Americans as ancestors.
Grandon’s ideas for a lot of her paintings come from dreams.
In addition, the artist loves kids and has had 12 foster children, and after the death of her sister, became mom to her nieces than nephews. She has also lost her daughter.
“We were expected to have families and take good care of children,” said Grandon. She can add that to her list of accomplishments.