Manhattan transplant at home with watercolors

By Bryan Richardson

Even after having produced 344 watercolor paintings of houses, Cora DuChene still doesn’t consider herself a professional.

“Even though I sell paintings, I don’t know when you become more professional,” DuChene said. “I just know I still have a lot of learning to do.”

The self-described amateur started keeping records of her work in 1998.

DuChene has painted pictures of homes at Fort Riley for soldiers.

She sells some of her work — pictures of government buildings — at the Fort Riley gift shop.

“In fact, I need to be doing the new hospital, too,” she said.

DuChene has painted for the Riley County and Geary County historical societies. She also paints for ESB Financial, who gives her art as gifts for new homeowners.

DuChene is a part of the Manhattan Arts Center watercolor group that meets once a week. She also golfs, plays bridge and bowls in a ladies league.

“I like to keep busy,” she said. “I do read, too, but it’s hard for me to sit down and stay still.” In a way, this made painting with watercolors the perfect match for DuChene. “I like watercolors because I can sit down and paint for 30 minutes and then put the lid on (the tray),” she said. “You can just come back, spray it with water and get right back to it.”

DuChene said she tries to paint three days a week. If there’s anything that can keep her still, it’s watercolors.

“I like it when I have a day with nothing to do but paint,” she said. “That’s a real pleasure for me. I get lost in it. I lose track of time.”

Before making money by painting, DuChene worked for JC Penney at five different stores, going from clerk to office manager.

Her late husband, Ed, spent his career in the U.S. Air Force, and the family moved 27 times.

She and Ed married in 1955 in Wisconsin.

The family also lived in Alabama, Florida, North Carolina, Texas, and Louisiana and spent three years in Spain, among other places.

“But I didn’t paint in these places because I had little kids,” DuChene said.

DuChene always enjoyed painting, but she didn’t get back into it until her two children, Peter and Renee, were grown.

“I used to paint acrylic, but my son’s high school teacher in Iowa decided to teach watercolor class at night for adults,” she said. “I gave that a try, and I got hooked.”

DuChene’s current home is Manhattan for the second time. She previously lived here for five years, starting in 1982.

They moved back in 2001 after her husband retired from his second career in the garment industry.

“We decided to come back here,” DuChene said. “This is a good spot in the middle of the United States.”

Last year, DuChene started working on her first series involving 14th Street houses near City Park.

“I found nine houses in a row that I really liked, so I’m doing them in threes,” she said.

She’s depicting three in spring, three in fall and three in winter.

DuChene recently finished her spring painting, and she’s in various stages with her fall and winter paintings.

She keeps a storyboard with multiple pictures of each house at various times of the year.

“Since I keep wandering back down there to take more pictures, somebody’s going to arrest me if they see me out there all the time,” DuChene joked.

To start the painting process, DuChene photographs a house if she isn’t given a photo. She used to draw it by hand from the photograph, but she now uses a tracing machine to start off.

“They say watercolors are difficult, but because I didn’t know any better, I just kind of fell into them,” she said.

Even after producing 344 watercolor paintings of houses, DuChene is still working on improving her art.

“Even if I paint the same house three times, I still don’t get tired of doing it,” she said. “I want to do it better and different.”

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