CHAMPAIGN – Harold Kauffman's work in agriculture took him and his family to countries like India and the Philippines where he helped rice farmers improve their crops.
His wife, Jean Kauffman, a registered nurse, couldn't work overseas so she immersed herself in the local culture and arts.
"She started studying Chinese brush painting when we were in the Philippines," said Kauffman, who retired early from the University of Illinois international agriculture office to catalog watercolors painted by his wife, who died in 2005 after a 10-year battle with cancer.
Now he has reproduced them digitally, using a process called giclee, for a current exhibit at The Great Frame Up, 2141 S. Neil St., C.
Mrs. Kauffman's paintings document the family's travels around the world, but they also focus on the world outside her studio at the family's Pesotum home where she planted flowers, especially irises, to paint them.
Subjects range from daily life in the Caribbean to daily life at Amish farms in the Arcola area. Landscapes include Indian temples and Chinese rice farms but also scenes of Lodge Park near Monticello, downtown Champaign's Grubb building and the Pesotum train station.
Kauffman said his wife's first serious art studies began with those lessons in Asia, but she turned a corner artistically during a sabbatical year at Penn State University where she took classes. He said she had four shows, one at the UI in 1984, one at a local gallery in 1989, two in New Delhi and one in Paris in 2002.
"She knew it was going to be her last," Kauffman said. He said that as his wife's health declined, art was a refuge, and when she could no longer paint because of her illness, she made quilts to satisfy her need to create colorful art.
"Painting was therapy," Kauffman said. "It's amazing to see how someone with a chronic disease adjusts and goes on."
He said his wife didn't want prints made of her work, but he convinced her the quality of the digitalized giclee process was high and he and a Chicago printer reproduced four paintings. After she died, Kauffman started the process in earnest to create a memorial to her work and to make her paintings available at an affordable price.
"Giclee is good, crisp and clean," he said. "It's all part of the digital revolution. The result matches the original.
Kauffman borrowed original paintings from people who had purchased them and took them to Lance Dixon at Dixon Graphics, who reproduced 71 of them on paper that's the same quality as the original paper.
"We're not making limited editions so the number of reproductions will depend on demand," Kauffman said. "My interest is not to make money but to make her work available. After expenses, we'll donate the money to cancer research or to groups that work overseas. "
Mrs. Kauffman also studied for about 30 years with Parkland College watercolorist Don Lake
"She had very high skills," Lake said. "She was a dedicated student and gardener, and those two paths crossed a lot. Most of her work was autobiographical, views from her windows. She painted her experiences. She was a hard worker and very serious about her painting."
He said the art world is on the fence about the giclee process.
"We're at a crossroads," Lake said. "You can almost make an absolute reproduction of the original print. The good news is it's a very faithful reproduction. The bad news is there's some concern about the reproductions being thought to be original so the reproductions are not the size of the original and they must be marked as prints."
But to the art world, prints are etchings and engravings in limited editions, and that's caused some definition issues, he said. "Giclees can be cranked out in any size," Lake said. "In the printmaking world, giclees are not welcome."
But, he said, they're a good way to make good art reproductions available at extremely reasonable prices
Kauffman just wants more people to enjoy his wife's colorful work.
"It's very rewarding to see in one place the accomplishments of a lifetime, especially the last 30 years," Kauffman said. "Technology's bringing it all together."
His favorite paintings from his wife's diverse body of work? Kauffman doesn't have to think long about that.
"My favorites are the Amish ones and the ones she painted overseas in the many places where we worked and were part of the local culture," Kauffman said.