PORT TOWNSEND — Behind Drew Elicker, near a window in his studio, dozens of bottles of brightly colored paint are aligned on a series of shelves, each with a well-used smudge along the label.
A rainbow of dried drops sits on a workbench, on Elicker’s sweatshirt and on the arm of his wheelchair.
Above him, the wire outline of a figurine hangs on the wall, possibly ready for Elicker’s crumpled morning newspaper.
That’s his chosen medium following a 22-year career as a darkroom technician at The Port Townsend Leader.
Now his first art exhibit is on display.
Elicker, 67, has a curated show called Touching Color through Feb. 24 in the Ferguson Gallery at the Jefferson Museum of Art & History, 540 Water St. in Port Townsend. The museum is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays through Mondays and closed Tuesdays.
Elicker has created half-size standing figures based on people performing everyday tasks — walking a dog, sweeping a sidewalk or bringing home a box of pizza. He also has a series of wall pieces called polychrome constructions set inside shadowboxes.
“It’s exceeded my wildest dreams,” he said.
The collection was curated by Ann Welch, the vice president of the Jefferson County Historical Society’s board of trustees.
“Color is the main tool that I use,” said Elicker, who sat in his standalone studio outside of the Cape George home he shares with his wife, Pamela.
In most cases, touching the artwork at a museum is frowned upon, but Elicker encourages patrons to touch the 32-inch-tall figures, which are designed to be “cleaned and rejuvenated,” he said.
Elicker grew up on Bainbridge Island and took instinctively to art, learning calligraphy at an early age. He studied graphic arts and silk screening when he was young, and he dropped out of high school to attend a program that focused on art.
“I had taken everything [high school] had to offer by the end of my junior year,” he said. “I was faced with the idea of a senior year full of electives.
“Back then, I had an extremely clear vision of my life and what I was going to be. It’s diminished quite a bit since then.”
Elicker suffered a stroke many years ago and only regained limited movement on his right side through physical therapy sessions. He was forced to re-learn how to perform everyday activities and become left-hand dominant when he was right-handed.
But that doesn’t limit his abilities.
“I basically reject all adjectives in front of ‘artist,’ ” he said. “Those words are not necessary. The work should be enough.”
Elicker studied both fine arts and graphic arts at Cornish School in Seattle, now known as the Cornish College of the Arts. He helped to start Blue Sky Printing in the 1970s in Poulsbo, and then he attended The Evergreen State College in Olympia in 1971, the first year it welcomed students.
Elicker said his father, the late state Sen. Charles Elicker, was part of the legislative team that founded the liberal arts school.
Then he went to the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he studied in 1973-74.
Elicker moved to Port Townsend in 1977 and spent five years in a residency program with Centrum, designing graphics and teaching a statewide gifted high school program based at Fort Worden.
When he and Pamela got married in 1987, Elicker was focused on buying a house. Unfortunately, he said his income statements from supporting himself as an artist didn’t satisfy lending requirements, and he was told he needed a steady full-time job.
He started his 22-year career at The Leader in 1989, processing rolls of film in a darkroom, making half-tones by hand and eventually learning how to perform the same duties through digital software.
Elicker continued his own artwork throughout his career, and he took a bronze lost-wax casting class in 2000 with Tom Jay, who built a foundry in Chimacum.
The process takes a clay sculpture with a mold in silicone or plaster and creates a replica, Elicker said.
“You burn out the wax in a kiln, then hollow it out in the shape you want, and you fill it with bronze,” he said.
The largest piece he created was 18 inches tall.
“Detail always will be my downfall,” Elicker said. “I can get a little caught up in that.”
Trouble is, the smallest ridges of a fingerprint can be left behind, he said.
The figures in Touching Color were molded with multiple layers of newspaper within a wire frame.
“I took steel rods, welded and bent them into the shape I wanted,” Elicker said. “With the newspaper, I soaked it overnight in acrylic resin.”
It often took weeks to dry before Elicker felt comfortable putting on another layer, and the process could be repeated up to 25 times. Rather than wait, he said he often would have six to eight figures in process at any one time.
After he retired from the newspaper business in 2014, Elicker said he had “an astonishing burst of activity,” often in his studio from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Jenny Westdal, the president of the historical society’s board of trustees, asked Elicker if he would like to have his own exhibit at the museum, and Elicker said he was blown away with Welch’s selection and display of his work.
Elicker said he was determined to allow his figures to be touched because he remembered one classmate from The Evergreen State College who was blind, and he said sculpture is the only form of art she could experience.
On the first day of Touching Color, Elicker said a grandmother went through the exhibit and knew instantly what she was feeling when she ran her hands across one of the figures.
She was blind, Elicker said.
“My art is an honest representation of what I am and what I’m feeling,” he said. “You owe it to your patrons to give them the highest quality with the best materials and best techniques available.”
Jefferson County Managing Editor Brian McLean can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 6, or at [email protected].